Traveling in the UK outside of London felt like I was getting to see something closer to an authentic English experience. My weekend in the Lake District was a foray into something beyond London.
Virtually unheard of by nearly everyone I told in advance about our visit, the Lake District is mostly visited by English tourists. The area is a combination of rolling hills, delightfully friendly sheep, and architecture that you’d be sure inspired Hogwarts. Hike during the day, head to the pub at night.
Plus, it gave me the chance to try using British English sayings without sounding like a douchebag, which I quite fancied. At least no one had a go at me for it, so I cracked on. If you aren’t yet tired of my British idioms, continue below.
Just a short 1 hour flight away from Amsterdam, we headed to Manchester where we picked up our rental car and drove 2 hours to our destination… luckily I didn’t have to drive on the “other” side of the road and could shout directions from the GPS like “Turn left… You’re in the wrong lane… We’re gonna DIE!!! Oh no sorry, you’re good, we are on the right side.”
Since it was our first time visiting, we thought we’d play it safe by staying in Bowness-on-Windermere, the largest and most touristy town in the Lake District. One of the best parts about visiting the Lake District is that nearly the only options for hotels are cozy B&B’s complete with an English breakfast served every morning. Its great for A) getting that English experience and B) raising your cholesterol. We stayed at Elim House, owned by an older lady who let me know that while her son lives in Arkansas, she can’t understand why he would ever want to live there. Great…I’m from California so I’d never want to live their either. Anyway, Elim House was located in the heart of Bowness-on-Windermere, just steps from many restaurants, but luckily with free parking.
The forecast for the rest of the weekend was pretty dismal, so we headed out ASAP while the sun was still shining to Grasmere, which is just north of Bowness. This little village is the stuff dreams are made of. Seriously. Stone houses, trickling streams, original gingerbread, and all that before you even start the hike. If you’re in the area, head up to Helm Crag Summit, where we hiked, to earn that afternoon gingerbread.
The hike up Helm Crag led through stone fences, and winded up and up giving impressive views of the area below with every new height. The rolling clouds added to the drama highlighting areas of the landscape – almost better this way than to have pure sun.
After our morning hike we couldn’t help but continue to take advantage of the limited sunshine, so we headed to Tarn Hows where we wandered around amongst the beautiful scenery.
What is Tarn Hows? Well, its a tarn obviously. Clearly, I don’t know what a tarn is. But its a picturesque area to go on an easy walk in nature.
Tarn Hows above
A weekend in the Lake District can be, shall we say, wet. Incredibly, chillingly wet. But that wasn’t going to stop us! We went there to hike after all, and hike we would. So on day 2 we headed out to Conniston hoping to take on the Old Man of Conniston. That’s the name of the hike. Not some old guy we wanted to fight.
Our start was pleasant… it was raining, but not terribly. We both had jackets that we thought were waterproof… I was wearing running tights so I thought “how wet can they really get? they wick of sweat so… probably the rain won’t really stick.”
1 hour later and nearly to the summit after being pummeled with hail, blown sideways by the wind and with my feet soaking in my ASICS, I said “uncle” and ran down the hill back to the car as fast as possible, feeling incredibly sorry for myself that it was so cold that I couldn’t even consider continuing our hike. Meanwhile the sheep lazily looked up from their constant grass chewing to see a very wet and very irritated tourist cursing her way down, and local tourists continued their hike up the hill, properly kitted out in rain-proof gear.
So, lesson learned, and after very long hot showers, we headed to the Mountain Warehouse to avoid this situation the following day. Waterproof hiking boots, hiking socks, and 2 pairs of sexy rain pants later, we were ready to take on whatever else the Lake District weather had to throw (or blow) at us.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” – Alfred Wainwright
With new gear and a new attitude we headed northeast of Bowness to visit Aira Force in Ullswater. My usually trusty Lonely Planet didn’t do it much justice – I found it on TripAdvisor instead and I’m so glad I did, because it was one of the spots that really made our weekend in the Lake District for me.
Aira Force is what Pinterest dreams are made of. An arched stone pedestrian bridge over a dramatic waterfall in an English forest – I mean come on, it doesn’t get better than that. At least not for an American who had been pinning the shit out of all the romantic looking places around there.
Anyway, nearly immediately after walking away from the car toward Aira Force, the hail set in. Normally this would have been a downer, but with our new gear I was ready to suck it up and hike, damnit. Lucky for me, the pants and boots really were waterproof and we enjoyed stunning Aira Force.
At the top of the waterfall is a stream (river if you will), which we followed up, up, up the hill, farther and farther until we were suddenly reaching another peak.
Looking for more off the beaten path tips in the UK? Check out this post on the best outdoor markets in London.
Our last day in the Lake District. Despite the rain, wind, and hail the area had sincerely charmed me, and I was sad to leave. Our flight was around 9pm, so we had a decent chunk of the day to kill – but weren’t too keen on hiking another day and getting on the plane wet and covered in mud. Instead, we took a boat ride across Lake Windermere, which I can say was worth much less than the £12 we paid. I’d recommend seeing the lake from above.
On our way back to Manchester we made a lunch stop at Hawkshead Brewery. If you like checking out microbreweries when you travel, definitely make a stop here. Not only is the beer great, but the food was pretty impressive for a brewery: sweet corn & coriander fritters, duck & chili sausages… this is the place to sip some brews and have lunch. In the same area they have mountain bike rentals, so there you go – I’ve already planned a day of your weekend in the Lake District!
My telling you about the Lake District would not be complete without telling how how freaking cute the sheep are there. They are no ordinary sheep. Well, at least not to me. The Lake District is home to the Herdwick sheep – one of the most adorable creatures you will ever see. They are on nearly every hill you cross, munching grass and looking curiously at you as you walk by… or as you take a selfie with them.
Each day in Bowness-on-Windermere we passed by Herdy, a precious little store that sells Herdwick sheep trinkets and supports the local community. How could I say no? So a set of espresso cups, a key chain and several stickers later, I left the store very happy – and very much in love with the Herdwick sheep.
So that’s how we spent our weekend in the Lake District. Put it on your travel list!
If you visit:
- The most easily accessible airport is probably Manchester – took us about 2 hours to drive there from the airport
- Pack all the waterproof gear you have – you’ll need it
- I recommend buying Lonely Planet: The Lake District if you’ve never been there
- And of course, its probably best to go in the summer – if you want to try to avoid getting as soaked as we did 🙂
What did I miss? What would you add to a weekend in the Lake District?
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.