As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Lake District, Nicola Forsyth explores England's largest National Park - home to England's five tallest mountains, including the famous Scafell Pike, as well as its largest and deepest lakes - Lake Windemere and Lake Wastwater.
Where to stay
Regardless of what you’re looking for, you won’t be short of options here - from luxury country houses and hotels to yurts and secluded eco cottages. The pretty market towns of Kendal, Keswick and Ambleside offer the perfect bases for exploring the stunning surroundings.
To give you a head start, here are a few options to consider - many of them have been certified by the strict auditors of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, so you can be assured that your stay will have a lighter touch on the environment and help support the Lake's local economy.
For any vegetarian, dog owning explorers (like me) who often struggle to find somewhere accommodating, look no further. Lancrigg in Grasmere (which also caters for meat eaters and vegans) is a traditional 12 bedroom country house that has been popular with writers, painters and explorers since it first opened in the 1800s. Also in Grasmere, Moss Grove Organic is a luxury boutique hotel that (following a major refurb in 2006) marries modern sustainable practices with original Victorian character. The food and toiletries - as well as the paint used to coat the bedroom walls - are organic. Every room comes with a spa bath.
Backpackers looking for something a little more cheap and cheerful in Grasmere may prefer Thorney How. The independent, family run hostel and walker’s cafe/bar offers rooms in a 400 year old farmhouse and bunkhouse within its 2¼ acres of land. It is located within easy reach of a number of popular walks - but electric bikes are also available for hire if you want to give your feet a rest.
For a very off-grid eco experience, consider Low Parkamoor Cottage - a Grade II listed 16th Century farmhouse nestled 200 metres above the shores of Lake Coniston. It has no mains services and only a traditional compost toilet, while cooking and hot water are provided by the restored Georgian wood-burning range. It is part of the accommodation on offer from the owners of Dodgson Wood farm. The luxury end of eco-friendly can be found in every detail of the four 5* cottages at Southwaite Green perched on the Paddle Beck boundary of the National Park, nine miles from Keswick. Sitting on 10 acres of organically maintained woodland and meadowland, the cottages are solar-powered and use green design and technologies. Glamping enthusiasts will be in their element at Long Valley Yurts. Their collection of yurts and bell tents, complete with Moroccan-themed furnishings and solar powered fairy lights, can be found in no less than four sites in the Lakes - Windermere, Coniston, Keswick and Ullswater.
For a more “at one with nature” experience (read: basic amenities) Syke Farm Camping Ground in the hamlet of Buttermere is ideal. Whilst the relatively recent addition of a few yurts, larger shower cubicles, hot water and heating nods towards a more “glamping” style experience it retains its nostalgic “good old-fashioned campsite” feel. The site is perfectly located for exploring the Lakes with plenty of space for families to play and relax.
For Beatrix Potter fans, there can only be one option - Yew Tree Farm in Coniston. Built in 1693 and owned by Potter in the 1930s it still houses a number of her possessions and featured in the film Miss Potter.
Where to eat
The area's many farms and local producers make it a haven for field-to-fork specialities as well as artisan bakeries. One of the best ways to tuck into the culinary delights on offer is at Kendal Farmers' Market if your visit happens to coincide with the last Friday of the month. Stock up on locally produced breads, cheeses and locally-reared meats.
There are plenty of fine dining options, including award-winning The Cottage in the Wood, whose menu is made of locally sourced produce fresh from the fells and West coast harbour or foraged from the surrounding wilderness. Creations that have helped Head chef Ben Wilkinson gain a Michelin Star crowning. Another fine dining option, and also another of Miss Potter’s former abodes, the restaurant at Lindeth Howe Hotel boasts 2 AA Rosettes and serves up what it terms “British classics with a cumbrian twist” in either a “civilised” or cosy and comfortable setting. Fellow veggies have not been left out in the fine dining stakes either - Quince and Medlar in Cockermouth offers a completely homemade menu of vegetarian and vegan courses - to be washed down with one of the organic, vegan or veggie wines on offer. The restaurant has attracted a number of accolades, including recognition by 'The Good Food Guide' for the last 30 years.
Lovers of traditional and hearty pub fayre won’t struggle for choices either. The Watermill Inn which is a ‘pub first’ kind of place, dishes up an extensive menu of traditional pub grub. The dog friendly pub in Ings (just outside of Windermere) brews its own ales and offers an amusing range with dog themed names. You’re guaranteed to find around 16 ales available at any one time - so drink too many and you may want to take advantage of the onsite B&B - just be careful you don’t feel too “ruff” in the morning… (terrible, I know). Wainwright's Inn in Ambleside is another good choice for traditional pub fayre with a view. Endorsed by CAMRA and the Good Beer Guide, ale lovers and those looking for a more liquid lunch won’t be disappointed. If walls could talk this Inn would have a lot to say having had many former guises including a farmhouse, gunpowder factory managers house, petrol station and hotel.
For a little entertainment with your food, head to Zeffirelli's, an award-winning pizzeria that doubles up (or even triples) up as a jazz bar and cinema. The ingredients are local and organic - and if you order the 'Rainforest Pizza' 25p will be donated to a small botanical sanctuary in Kerala, India. What more convincing do you need?
For more casual dining take a visit to Blackwell tearoom, where the real attraction is as much the Grade I listed building it resides in. Built in 1901 as a holiday house for a Manchester brewer, Blackwell Arts and Crafts House is a masterpiece of artistic design. The food is locally sourced with all dietary requirements catered for. Dine on the terrace and you’ll be treated to views of Coniston Fells and Lake Windermere. For afternoon tea, a whole host of locally sourced and speciality food - as well as all the goodies you’d expect to find in a farm shop - head to Low Sizergh Barn farm shop & tearoom, housed in a three-floor 17th century barn. Come hungry - there’s an extended cheese counter.
After long days walking or hiking, why not reward yourself with a visit to one of the Lake District’s well stocked bakeries. Prepare to be spoilt for choice at Brysons of Keswick, where the range now extends to breads, cakes, fresh creams, award-winning pies, pasties, cakes, biscuits, ice Cream, jams and chutneys. Local specialities made to age old secret recipes include Lakeland plum bread, Borrowdale tea bread, Westmoreland fruit cake and Cumbrian fruit cake. Gingerbread lovers won’t want to leave without a stop off at family run Grasmere Gingerbread. The former school (with original coat pegs still intact) has been baking gingerbread since 1854. It also sells award-winning rum butter, Cartmel Village Store Sticky Toffee Sauce and Kendal Mint Cake.
Where to visit
The list of things to do in the Lakes is almost as large as the National Park itself. Aside from the many joyful days you can while away at the Park’s big hitters, such as Scafell Pike or Lake Windermere, you can also retrace the steps of famous poets and writers or visit some of the many historic stately homes and castles.
History buffs, horticulturalists and ghost hunters alike will enjoy a trip to 13th Century, Muncaster Castle. The estate, which includes 70 acres of gardens, includes the World Owl Centre, one of Europe's largest collections of rhododendrons and a number of alleged ghouls that play tricks on those who dare to brave The Tapestry Room. Overnight vigils are hosted a few times a year for budding ghostbusters and hardy souls. Muncaster is thought to be the only historic home that still appoints an official Fool at the annual Festival of Fools.
Standing 3,209ft (978 metres) tall, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and the English part of the UK’s popular “Three Peaks” challenge. It is also the UK’s highest war memorial, gifted to the National Trust in memory of those who died in WW1. There are three main routes to the top, which will enable you to summit and back within half a day or so. When you’re done climbing the Park’s largest mountain, why not try your luck with its largest lake? Lake Windermere stretches for more than 10 miles and reaches depths of 220 feet. You can wander its shoreline or sail, kayak or windsurf across it. Fell Foot Park at the Southern tip of the lake, offers all of these activities plus an adventure playground for little ones. Refuel at the boathouse cafe.
Once you’ve tired yourself out, consider seeking refuge in the form of cinema, theatre, live music, creative learning or comedy at Brewery Arts Centre. The cultural hub in Kendal also has a bar and restaurant.
Literature lovers can lose themselves in The World of Beatrix Potter, which brings to life the author's famous tales, their well known characters and the Chelsea Flower Show gold winning Peter Rabbit Garden. You can also visit Potter’s 17th century farmhouse, Hill Top, in which every room offers a connection to one of her books. Another of the Park’s most popular attractions to be entwined with Potter is Tarn Hows. The natural beauty spot, which offers a scenic circular walk just shy of two miles, was bought by Potter in 1929. She went on to sell half to the National Trust before leaving the remaining half to them in her will.
Fans of the famous romantic poet William Wordsworth and his poet and author sister Dorothy can step back in time to see the world as they would have as children at Wordsworth House, the traditional Georgian townhouse they were born in. To learn more about their lives, visit 17th Century Dove Cottage where they both lived and penned most of their famous works. The adjacent Wordsworth Museum displays manuscripts, books and paintings relating to British Romanticism.
Things to do
The Lake District is a year-round destination, promising mountains to climb, lakes to marvel at, open hillsides to traverse, food festivals to whet your appetite, trails to cycle and culture and history to absorb. One of Britain's best natural playgrounds, the Park is well maintained so you’ll easily stumble upon footpaths for both gentle strolls and demanding hikes (probably best not to confuse the two though). It makes for the perfect getaway for friends, families and lovers alike.
For a heady mix of work and reward, there's Jennings Adventure Ale Trails. Follow the self-guided routes to enjoy the best scenery, cosy accommodation, good food and real ale. Listed routes include 1-4 day walks around the likes of Cockermouth, Borrowdale and Grasmere.
Nestled between the lakes of Windermere and Coniston, Grizedale Visitor Centre is a one stop shop for adventure seekers, featuring a sculpture trail, 10 walking routes, 9 cycling trails, Go Ape treetop hopping, horse riding and a segway experience. Water babies can take a lake cruise across Coniston Water with Coniston Launch. Or for something a little different, take a ride across it on a rebuilt Victorian Steam Yacht Gondola. If you’re Ullswater way, consider Ullswater Steamers - one of the largest heritage vessel fleets in the world. Environmentally accredited, they offer a number of connections, with a chance of seeing red deer, red squirrels, waterfalls and Wandsworth’s famous daffodils along the way.
To be as accessible and accommodating to all, the Park has 48 routes suitable for visitors with limited mobility, the visually impaired and those with young children. Miles Without Stiles are the routes with wide gates allowing for easy access for those with wheelchairs and pushchairs.
See also our Car-free guide to the Lake District
For more ideas of green holidays in the Forest of Bowland, see our: