Ullswater - a whole new world

By John Gwilliam, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Penrith.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 3 votes)
Recommended for:
Adventure, Road Trip, Romance, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

The Lake District makes me feel happy purely by its very existence. Knowing that its always there, ready to transport me to its carefree alternate reality when the real world gets too much.

The story starts at the sturdy market town of Penrith, the perfect place to equip yourself for whatever stay you have planned. Be it a picnic by the lake, self catering at a cottage, or maybe camping? Everything you'll need is here. It's a real pleasure to have a wander around the old cobbled streets with the charming shops and delicatessens. Why not have a lazy cappuccino in one of the unexpectedly modern cafes?

Whilst you're here, I'd recommend checking out the ruined Castle, or St Andrews church in the town centre where, legend has it, the true king of all Cumbria rests in the churchyard, his grave marked by two stone pillars which are the weathered remnants of 10th century Norse crosses.

Try to catch some of the locals conversation if you can. The Cumbrian tongue is quite unique - their highly specific slang the linguistic legacy of dark age Viking settlers. Starting your Cumbrian odyssey here is like stepping through a mystical gateway, as you invariably start to notice a certain otherworldly atmosphere that captures the imagination and whisks you away into the almost magical ambiance of these ancient and romantic surroundings.

For me, that's the reason for coming here; to get away from it all. To lose yourself for a while in whatever it is you want to do. Be it lie on the grass and space out, chase adrenaline rock climbing and wind surfing, or absolutely anything in between.

When you're done with Penrith, head southwest towards the shimmering perfection that is lake Ullswater. En route you weave along the country lanes, passing the improperly picturesque Dalemain stately home on your right before rolling up at the lake.

Time to choose at the T junction where you meet the lake road. Left takes you to the stone hamlet of Pooley bridge with its tiny shops and pubs with stunning beer gardens that back right out onto the river Eamont as it gently drifts its way out of the lake. Right takes you on a pleasantly lengthy jaunt along the lake road. At first the road hugs the lake's shoreline, showing off its sweeping waters with the towering fells beyond before then heading uphill through green fields, past farmhouses, inns and multi-million pound homes. The journey finishes with a snug winding pass along rugged cliff tops overlooking the lake before finally descending into the tiny village of Glenridding.

It is in this picture perfect village that it'll hit you, as it always hits me. The Lake District is not just another national park, it is visually and emotionally spectacular. Viscously, wickedly and overwhelmingly so. The kind of spectacular that makes you want to stand and stare open mouthed, unable to comprehend that such a place exists in the country you actually live in. There are tiny local convenience shops here, old pubs full of character (and characters), walking tracks leading to ascents of Lake District favorites like Helvellyn, and (being a lakeside village) a sailing centre.

The sailing centre lies on a curved shale beach reached down a narrow track beside an intensely inviting stream that babbles its way through the village into the lake. Residents keep their own boats here, and you can hire one of your own for the day. Be it the humble canoe, full on sail boat, or even the paddle steamer ferry, there's nothing like taking in those peerless views of the lake from within it. I like to head for silver bay on the far shore – a secluded shale bay unreachable by road. You'll be sharing the beach only with fellow sailors and occasionally a few weary hikers on their way around the lake.

The ferry (the lady of the lake) runs between Glenridding and Pooley bridge, calling at the isolated lakeside hamlet of Howtown on the far shore - great if you don't fancy sailing under your own steam. Lunch at the Howtown hotel, with the fells rising behind you and the flat sheet of the lake out in front, is about as idyllic as it gets. 

Once you're done with your boat, and if there's still a bit of daylight left, head back towards Pooley bridge and pull into the signposted car park for the Aira Force waterfall. Or better yet, if you can handle the walk, take the left turning just before the car park (the A5091 signposted Dockray) to the national trust car park found on the right past a small wooded area a few hundred yards up the hill.

From here, hop over the fence and take the path downhill. You'll meet Aira Beck as it cascades over massive rocks in a wide-open setting of such improbable beauty you half expect distant Celtic pipes to start playing 'for the love of a princess' from Braveheart to accompany the scene. Or maybe that's just me... Err, anyway, from here follow the flow of the beck downstream to the Aira Force waterfall. Peer over at the falling froth from the arched stone bridge that spans the beck as it plunges 70ft down a cleave in the rock before spurting out into a contradictorily calm pool at the base.

From the top, make your way down the steps to admire the falls again from the pool whilst enclosed by the treetops in warm windless bliss. The place is surreal, and dreamy, as though the journey up the M6 has transported you into a Garden of Eden like parallel universe.

Practical points


The weather in Cumbria is an unpredictable thing. Summer days range from hazy perfection to dreary and damp. Winter days are anything from crisp blue skies and snow capped peaks to windswept lead coloured skies and rain. Winters here will frequently remind you that this part of the country hasn't really been domesticated fully, and despite polite attempts to tame it, life here is very much at the mercy of the elements. Glenridding for example, is often cut off from the outside world by snowbound mountain passes or floods. Whatever the weather, the place never loses its amazing beauty and atmosphere, but the precarious conditions need to be born in mind, especially during mountain walks or when boating.

Where to eat

The Bewick Coffee House, 1 Princes Court, Penrith 01768 864764

Modern and stylish with a country town twist. Drop in for a walnut and date scone with your latte or hot chocolate. The menu is restaurant standard, and the eggs benedict breakfast sublime.

The Ramblers Bar, Inn on the Lake, Glenridding 017684 82444

Part of the spectacular and sprawling Inn on the Lake grounds, this cosy pub serves up good food and drink to backpackers, sightseers and other passers by throughout the day.

The Howtown Hotel, Howtown, Ullswater 017684 86514  (www.howtown-hotel.com)

Secluded and sensational. The location and food is unbeatable and a genuine gong calls you to dinner. It is open from Easter to November. Oh, and at the last count, they didn't take credit cards!

Boat Hire

Paddle steamer (www.ullswater-steamers.co.uk)

Glenridding Sailing Centre, The Spit, Glenridding, CA11 0PE 01768 482541 


Kayak hire: £9 for 1 hour

Canoe hire: £15 for 1 hour

Traditional sail boat hire: £35 for 1 hour (sailing tuition available)

Where to stay

Hostel (www.yha.org.uk)
Patterdale YHA, Patterdale, CA11 0NW: £12 per person per night
Short walk to Glenridding, great base for mountain hikes or lake activities, sports massage clinic, party atmosphere, great pubs nearby.

B&B (www.the-royal-dockray.co.uk)
The Royal Hotel, Dockray, CA11 0JY: £42.50 per person per night
A stone's throw from the lake, great food, a warm atmosphere, charming cottage style en-suite rooms, friendly colourful locals, plenty of parking, gorgeous surroundings, short walk to Aira Force.

Camping (www.ullswatercaravanpark.co.uk)
Ullswater Caravan Park, Watermillock, CA11 0LR: Prices vary by plot size and by season - see website. 
A large caravan and camping site, cottages to rent, very close to the lake, on site shop, bar, laundry and playground.

Hotel (www.northlakeshotel.com)
North Lakes Hotel and Spa, Ullswater Road, Penrith, CA11 8QT: From £165 per room per night (two adults)
4 star hotel within the town of Penrith, 15 minute drive to the lake, short walk to the town centre, lovely gym and spa area, plenty of parking.

Save money on booking

flightshotelscar hire

by following our money-saving guides. They are written by our Simonseeks team of travel gurus.

More information on Ullswater - a whole new world:

John Gwilliam
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (3 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
22 September 2010
Last updated:
4 years 36 weeks 13 hours 45 min 14 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Adventure, Road Trip, Romance
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
hiking, water, sailing, boat, Lake District, Ullswater, Penrith, Patterdale, Glenridding, Aira Force

John recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Patterdale Yha
2. Ullswater Caravan Camping And Marine Park
3. The Royal Hotel
4. North Lakes Hotel And Spa

What do you think of this guide?

Did it tell you what you needed to know?
Do you agree with the writer's recommendations?

Share your views by leaving a comment on this page.

Community comments (9)

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

You have a really nice writing style and have captured the magic of the Lake District very well. You clearly love this place and the passion shows. Perhaps a few more photos of the beauty you describe could enhance the guide even more. I like your tip about listening to the locals. Many of the guides concentrate on what there is to see and do; we often forget that the people who live there are just as important.

I like that you included 4 accommodation options to suit all budgets. It's nice to be presented with a choice. Perhaps some more information about how to get there; is there any public transport options? And some eating recommendations- you mention modern cafes in Penrith. Do you have a favourite?

Was this comment useful?

Hi Colin,

Cheers for the comment. I have acted upon the suggestion of adding more photos, quite a few up now. I have also included a section on where to eat and drink.



Hi John,

The photos are beautiful. What a lovely place!

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Made a discovery this morning that I thought I'd share- Ullswater Outdoor Festival is on this week, Sept 25- Oct 3rd and there are a series of graded walks from Glenridding and involving the steamer. Details on www.ullswater.com/outdoorfestival.

Was this comment useful?
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thanks for the comments guys. Yeah the lady of the lake is still going strong, and as for the photos, I'm sure I'll be up there again soon, camera in hand!

Was this comment useful?
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Huge enthusiasm here. The Lakes certainly do have an aura which you capture well and I have a lovely image in my minds eye of Glenridding on a calm day. Pooley Bridge can be a bit hectic in season but I like the sound of the walk to Aira Force, singing as I go.
I think that the paragraphs are a bit long overall, but the content is good. Murray's right about the photos- I'm sure you could find some inspirational ones. Have a look on Flickr.com maybe?
I'm surprised that you don't mention the steamer that docks at Glenridding- the Lady of the Lake isn't it? Is it still running- it's a while since I was there?

Was this comment useful?

Hi Johanna,

Thanks for your kind comments. I have included a section on the paddle steamer and took a load of photos when I went up there last week. Great suggestions.



1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Your first sentence captures the place: the Lake District can be in your thoughts, even when you're not there.

There's some excellent prose here, that does justice to England's most beautiful region.

I'm sure that readers could have done with loads more photos, as the Lake District deserves them. I found your first paragraph was a bit long, which meant that some impact was lost. Putting the factual stuff at the end helped the guide to flow - good idea. By the way, some of these hotels have websites, so links would have been good.

Thanks for the guide.

Was this comment useful?

Hi Murray,

Thank you for your comments. I have now put up loads of photos and added links to various websites. Thanks for your suggestions.