Last weekend was Easter weekend in the UK – Friday and Monday were holiday days meaning a four day weekend! Here, in the Outdoors Father family household, we decided to extend it a little and take Thursday off too and go up to the Lake District national park in northern England. The idea was to get the best of both worlds: 2.5 days (2 nights) of the whole family together – sight seeing, walking, seeing some of the scenery, and then, 2.5 days (2 nights) for me to go solo. Mika took our daughter back home on Saturday to give me a couple of days of solo time to discover that magical place.
The Lake District is England’s largest national park and is also the home to England’s highest peak: Scafell Pike. It is called the Lake District because, well, you guessed, all the lakes. I won’t bore you with all the facts, you can just read more here. From what I could see and my experience with the rest of England, the Lake District is mainly characterized (besides the lakes) by how “vertical” it is – throughout the park are many ridges that are steep and high, giving a wonderful effect of size. I’m a real fan of this kind of landscape and it took me back to the Andes, the Alps and the Fjordland in New Zealand.
So, to be able to give you the chance to enjoy the Lake District as we did, here is a run down of what we did, how, where etc.
Transportation – The key to going anywhere in the UK using public transportation is planning – train tickets can be very expensive, but early purchases can be much, much cheaper. If you have kids then planning is a must anyway, so try and buy your train tickets 8-12 weeks in advance to get up to 80% off the full price (!).
Accommodation – We stayed in Windermere, spending our nights together in a B&B in the village close to the train station. In retrospect we should have stayed in one of the more “distant” villages like Ambleside or Glenridding – bus connections are simple and frequent so there was no real need to stay in Windermere. Prices can vary but we paid £230 for a 2 night stay for all of us including breakfast (it was ok..). You can find cheaper places, but again, key here is planning as places get fully booked fast.
Food – there are more than enough places to find food in the bigger villages such as Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere, including supermarkets, but be ready for fewer options in the smaller and more remote villages. Stay away from the more commercial pubs that tend to have very mediocre food and aim for the smaller places. You find much of a price difference.
Supplies – Ambleside is an outdoors gear Mecca and you will find any missing bit of kit to go outdoors, and some that isn’t missing…. We got our daughter some thicker socks there despite being unable to find any online!
As a rule of thumb we like to stay away from the crowds and find the quieter places, so we tried to do the same in the Lake District. We arrived in Windermere at 13:45, and after checking in went to search for the ferry to the other side of Lake Windermere. The ferry is at the far south part of Bowness-On-Windermere and it ended up being a longer walk than we planned. You can take the bus (£2.10 single) and it will take no time or a taxi (£3.5) for making it even quicker and more efficient. The ride to the other side is nice on a car ferry that crosses the lake every 20 minutes. We ended up on the other side of the lake and had a lovely walk in Harwood Hows Wood. The walk was longer than we planned and took almost 3 hours (and that is while rushing back!), so give yourself time there. The path on the ridge is not marked very well and there is not really anywhere to get some refreshments, so come prepared (including water).
The second day we took the cruise from Bowness-On-Windermere (took the bus this time) to Ambleside that takes about 35 minutes, had a stroll through Ambleside and then tried to reach Wansfel Pike, but a heavy cloud on the ridge and our daughter’s impatience with the carrier dictated a change. We had a nice walk of a couple of kms around the north eastern corner of Ambleside, mainly on paved side roads that allowed our daughter to run around. We walked through some woodland, saw a few streams and met farm animals – the perfect combination for a young child. It is important to remember the fact that walking with a baby is limiting, so be flexible (I learned the hard way…). After the walk it was time for a coffee and pie and another couple of kms of the south of Ambleside through some woodland on the way to catch the cruise back.
There are many small trails around Ambleside, so it is easy to go out for 2-3 hours, showing your kids a bit of outdoors but still be close to civilization if needed.
The third day was the ladies’ last day and the weather had finally cleared, so we went up to Orrest Head just above Windermere for a great view and a bit of walk (1 km round trip). After that it was checkout time, sorting out the last of the gear for myself and spending some more time together before we part ways and Mika and our daughter took the train back to London.
If the family time included much planning, my solo time featured only the following limits: train back on Monday afternoon (17:00), two available nights and I have no climbing gear, but that was it. Using the OS maps OL5 and OL7 that cover the whole eastern side of the Lake District, I just decided to take it as it comes.
After saying goodbyes I took a bus to Ambleside (£4, 35 minutes) and head north from the village, climbing up to Dove crag along the famous north Ambleside horseshoe. This trail is apparently very popular, especially on sunny days, so I was not alone. At around 15:30 I reach the curve of the horseshoe (Fairfield peak) and was left by myself – everyone was hurrying off the ridge back home. I was very near Helvellyn (The 3rd highest peak in the Lake District), so I decided to try and get the summit to myself the following morning. To do an early climb you need a nearby camping place and I found mine at the shores of Grisedale Tran. The descent off Fairfield to the tarn is hard on the knees and has lots of loose gravel, so should be done very carefully.
At Grisedale Tarn I was happy to meet 2 local fathers making their first stab at wild camping after a visit to Helvellyn and I very much enjoyed their company. Wild camping tends to be lonely in the UK, but a long weekend in the Lake District with good weather provided a few more campers near the tarn and I enjoyed some more conversation. The soil next to the tarn is very boggy and wet, so finding a descent pitch wasn’t easy, but I found part of one to try my new Nordisk Telemark 1 tent that was purchased for the Cape Wrath Trail next month.
The following morning offered a chilly start and a quick climb up Helvellyn just to find it completely deserted – I had the peak for myself to enjoy for half an hour or so. It is a rare event in the UK to find Helvellyn on a beautiful sunny Easter weekend empty, and to add to the solitude – I had the chance to see the area surrounded by inverted clouds – another rare occasion in the Lake District! I was tempted to scramble down Swiral Edge from the summit, but slushy snow and a recommendation from a local scrambler sent me to an easy nice descent.
From Helvellyn I made my way to High Street ridge taking in Angle Tarn and the Knot on the way. The day was amazingly hot and sunny, giving a me chance to catch up on my vitamin D needs. The walk had the option to pass Glenridding village but I decided to stick to the ridge and walk around it, avoiding the hundreds of people that flooded the trail to the peak on my descent. Passing trough Patterdale, the trail climbs again to reach Angle Tarn – probably one of the prettiest places I have seen in a long time, if it wasn’t so early in the day I would have camped there. The tarn sits in between the hills around and has some great beaches, a peninsula and a very vibrant community of geese, worth a visit just to have a family picnic next to the lake.
From Angle Tarn it is a straight climb up to High Street while passing around the Knot; the climb is not steep but it is long and tiring. The views continued to be amazing and I decided to try my luck in camping at a higher altitude after not doing so for a long time. I arrived to the beacon on Thornthwaite Crag at around 17:00 to find it empty with a bright sun and snowy patches. Despite my hopes, no running water or descent sized water holes were available for a comfortable camp, but there were still enough snow patches for me to source water. The evening offered a relaxing time to read and watch an amazing sunset that can only be enjoyed while choosing to spend the night on a ridge. As the sunset started at around 18:30 the temperature dropped and the wind picked up dramatically and I was grateful for my thick down jacket.
A great night sleep after some star gazing and a full orange moon ended with a chilly and vibrant sunrise and clear skies. That morning offered another round of inverted clouds covering the whole of the Lake District national park, giving me a feeling of being stranded on an island surrounded by many other small islands. I didn’t see anyone until I started my descent after a slow and lazy breakfast. My day had only 10km to the train station and roughly 10 hours to “burn” until my train, so I took my time to enjoy the sun. I was also trying to avoid going into the clouds that covered the valleys, opting to stay at the higher elevation for longer. The walk down involved staying on the spine of the Cumbrian Mountains climbing Froswick, 3 Bell and the Yoke and then just descending into Windermere. I met a few fell runners but all together the fog kept most people off the hills so I had the trails to myself.
I had a long lunch just above the clouds line near a stream that included some washing (so I wouldn’t smell that bad in the train!) and sunbathing; but eventually the cloud climbed up and pushed me down the valley. The last part of the trail went through farmland that, as expected, was muddy and boring, but towards Windermere the cloud finally burned off and the day went back to being warm and inviting.
The Lake District is by far the most exciting national park in England in my opinion – the vertical mountains and the sense of size despite being close in hand to climb makes it a perfect combination for any outdoors enthusiast. The ability to both enjoy as a family with a toddler and find so much to do by myself is excellent and very recommended.
We will be back for another visit and I have already started planning the next time with better understanding of the geography and the local public transportation, I just need to hope the weather will be as good. Any recommendation what to do?