I’ve been visiting the Lake District since I was wearing short trousers. More recently, I returned to explore with fresh eyes, both as the author of the Footprint guidebook, Lake District with Kids (http://www.footprinttravelguides.com/c/1421/travel-with-kids/&Action=pro...), and on family trips as father to two little girls. These trips have spawned numerous articles on Cumbria for the travel sections of newspapers, such as The Independent and magazines, including Heritage, Walk and Coast (find cuttings at www.atkinsondavid.co.uk).
I've stayed in all types of accommodation from luxury hotels to camping pods and indulged my passion for the excellent local cuisine everywhere from Michelin stars to service stations. I've walked the fells and visited the museums. I’ve even jostled with Japanese coach parties fixated with Beatrix Potter.
When I'm not exploring the Lakeland fells or sampling the tastiest Cumberland sausage at Cumbria’s latest gastropub, or on my travels elsewhere, I'm at home in Chester. You will find me writing articles, blogging at http://nowhitthenorth.wordpress.com, reading bedtime stories and sneaking out for a pint of Guinness.
My Lake District
Where I always grab a beer: The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal (Highgate, Kendal LA9 4HE; +44 1539 725133; www.breweryarts.co.uk) is a little gem. Grab a pint of local ale, snack on the pizza menu and maybe even catch a film. Perfect for a wet afternoon.
My favourite dining spot: I'm a big fan of the Cumbrian gastropub for its combination of local produce, no-fuss cooking and a pint of local ale. Some of the big names are a bit bloated on their reputation these days but a new discovery, and now a firm favourite for me, is the family run Brown Horse Inn at Winster (Crook Road, Windermere LA23 3NR; +44 1539 443443; www.thebrownhorseinn.co.uk). Great food and microbrewery ales.
Best place for people watching: For a free people-watching sideshow, tag along with a Japanese group about to descend on the gift shop at the World of Beatrix Potter (Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3BX; +44 844 504 1233; www.hop-skip-jump.com) – 20 years in 2011 of over-excited shouts of ‘kawaii’.
Where to be seen: Go Michelin starred. L’Enclume (Cavendish Street, Cartmel LA11 6PZ; +44 1539 536362; www.lenclume.co.uk) is Simon Rogan’s flagship eatery, a haven of chic design and unfathomable dishes. Swanky.
Most breathtaking view: Sunset across to Wasdale Head from Wastwater. Don’t believe me? You voted it England’s favourite view.
My favourite stroll: It has to be Grasmere. Wordsworth called it “the fairest place on earth” and the Daffodil Garden Trail, just by the graveyard where he is buried, never fails to move me.
The best spot for some peace and quiet: To sit and ponder, nowhere beats Innominate Tarn, just below the summit of Haystacks. Alfred Wainwright requested his ashes be scattered there to avoid the crowds for eternity.
Where I’d go on a date: Call me an old romantic, but if the local food and ale at hot new gastropub, The Plough Inn & Restaurant, near Kirkby Lonsdale, doesn’t win her over, then it’s her loss (Cow Brow, Lupton LA6 1PJ; +44 1539 567700; www.theploughatlupton.co.uk).
One to watch: Major new developments this year at Piel Island, situated off the Cumbrian coast at Barrow in Furness, bring new b&b accommodation, a visitor centre and a chance to be knighted by the King of Piel (07516 453 784; www.pielisland.co.uk).
Don’t leave without: At least putting your walking boots on once (try Catbells if stuck), taking a lake cruise, wandering lonely as a cloud, sinking a pint at the Hawkshead Brewery, stocking up on Cumberland sausage and breaking your journey at Tebay Services. No, really. Trust me.
My expert information
“A sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.” – William Wordsworth, Guide to the Lakes (1810).
Wordsworth, the Lake District’s most famous son, puts it so well: the truth is we all can find something to love about the Lakes.
And with holidays at home firmly back on the agenda, it’s a region that is surprisingly adept at reinventing itself for a new generation of eager-to-explore visitors.Read more...
For a great central location.
Ambleside, located at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, is a major transport hub for boats, buses and cars (but beware those heavily congested roads in summer). It is home to huge range of hotels (see my Ambleside hotels page), plus it boasts shopping, dining and a host of attractions on the doorstep.Read more...
For romantic bookworms.
William Wordsworth rented a cottage in tiny Grasmere during the late 18th century and it has been home to the Romantic literary movement ever since. The big-name attractions of his former homes and his family grave ensure his legacy is today writ large across the tiny, grass-valley hamlet. For more details, see my Lake District attractions page for more.Read more...
For tales of Beatrix Potter.
Top of the hill
While the tiny, traffic-free hamlet of Hawkshead is a picture-postcard idyll of cobbled streets and inviting cafes, it’s the nearby village of Near Sawrey that serves as the main draw. The reason? Hil Top (see my Lake District attractions page for more details). The house that belonged to Beatrix Potter, and the landscape that inspired her stories, today attracts visitors from all over the globe.Read more...
For grass-roots Cumbria.
Kendal lies just outside the Lake District National Park boundary and, as such, escapes the frenzy of the other tourist-heavy honey pots – despite being just 20 minutes from Windermere by car. It has a more living, breathing feel with a good range of shops, restaurants and an excellent local arts centre, The Brewery – see my Lake District nightlife page for more.Read more...
For lakes and fells.
The commercial centre of the northern Lakes, the market town of Keswick has grown to become an important base for visitors. But, despite the abundance of places to eat and stay around the pedestrianised Market Place, plus the beacon-like eatery from TV chef Peter Sidwell, it still feels like a typically Lakeland town.
The community guide Indulge yourself in the Lake District has more.Read more...
For a real Cumbrian market town.
Local shops for local people
‘Old Red Town’ is the hub for visiting the northeastern Lakes and located just off junction 40 of the M6. It’s a more workaday affair than the other places listed with traditional shops, cobbled streets and a ruined castle.
The Dark Lake
Rather than a place to stay per se, Penrith is a good place to stock up on supplies and visit the excellent tourist information centre before exploring the country roads around Ullswater, Cumbria’s second largest lake.Read more...
For the heart of the action.
Take to the water
Windermere is split confusingly between Windermere town with its train station and Bowness-on-Windermere, the accommodation hub and base for the must-do Windermere Lake Cruises (see my Lake District attractions page). It’s the beating heart of the Lakes, bustling with infrastructure and packed out in high season – you have been warned.
The community guide Windermere: loveliest of lakes has more.Read more...