While UK holidays have somewhat become en vogue in recent years, the perennial complaint is the cost. And let’s face it: if you’re staying in some of Cumbria’s top-end places, or making the Lakes your main family holiday, then bills can soon rack up. So here are some suggestions on how to keep the costs down and make the most of those free facilities.
Eating and drinking
- Save on lunch by taking a picnic, or go self catering. An ideal place to stock up on quality local produce is the Booths (www.booths.co.uk) chain of supermarkets with five branches across Cumbria: Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale, Windermere, Keswick and Ulverston.
- Good picnic spots include Grizedale Forest Park, Talkin Tarn Country Park and Derwentwater; buy supplies at the farmers’ markets at Ulverston (third Saturday of month), Kendal (last Friday of month) and Keswick (Saturday).
- Don’t underestimate how good a fish n’ chip supper can be. There are some great little chippies across the Lakes – one of my favourites is Fryer Tux in Kendal. They are best eaten with lashings of salt and vinegar, or gravy.
- Eating out with small children? Chances are you’ll want to have dinner around 6pm. The good news is that many restaurants offer early-bird menus with special deals, such as free dessert for children. See my Lake District Cafés and Restaurants page for more information.
- Service is often added to the bill in restaurants, so tips are not expected. However, if you had great service, then it’s fine to leave 10-15 per cent of the total on the table as you leave.
- If you just want a simple soup-and-sandwich lunch in pleasant but unchallenging surroundings, then nothing beats the café at Lakeland (www.lakeland.co.uk), the kitchenware and home store in Bowness. The First Floor Cafe is clean, friendly and good value. Open Mon-Fri 8am-7pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
- The easiest way to travel between Manchester Airport and the Lake District is by train operated by First TransPennine Express. Services stop at Windermere, Carlisle and Grange-over-Sands. See my Lake District flights page for more information.
- Taxis are useful and generally affordable, especially to transfer from rail hubs to hotels, but be aware that fares increase late at night. See my How to get around Lake District page for more information.
- If you’re heading to the Lakes by train, equip yourself with a Senior, 16-25, or Family & Friends Railcard to save up to one third off most rail fares.
- Check out the latest value-for-money rail tickets or local journeys. Choose from Day Ranger or Round Robin tickets; details from www.northernrail.org/offers. See my How to get around Lake District page for more information.
- By car, the M6 is main the artery and the bottleneck junctions are 36 for the A590 South Lakes road, 37 for the A591 Windermere road and 40 for the A66 Penrith to Cockermouth road via Keswick. The good news is that the best motorway service station in the UK, Tebay Services (www.westmorland.com/tebay-services), is located at junction 38 to break your trip.
- For navigation, Sat Nav will only get you so far – especially in the rural areas. But the AA (www.theAA.com) Road Atlas to Great Britain and Ireland will serve you well.
Sights and attractions
- Some attractions, such as the Lakes Aquarium, now offer advance tickets to buy online. You can skip the often-long queues to enter and save money.
- The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) manages many of the Lakes’ attractions. An annual family membership is money well spent for free parking and reduced entrance fees. A family membership of the RSPB (www.rspb.org.uk) is useful for budding Attenboroughs.
- Look out for linked or combination tickets to save money on admission and make a day out of it. For example, Windermere Lake offers a car-free combination ticket with a lake cruise from Bowness or Ambleside, and entrance to the Lakeland Motor Museum. Hill Top offers a combination ticket with the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead.
- Bring your bike for a cheap and easy way of getting around. The ride from Keswick to Threlkeld along the River Greta, for example, is ideal for a family cycle on a sunny day.
- The Lakes is close to nature, so stop and soak up the natural world. One of my favourites is watching the spring lambs gambling around Great Langdale.
- Take a hike. Not all the fells are the domains of serious walkers – the views can be stunning even on a simple trail. Try Aira Force at Ullswater, probably the most famous waterfall in the Lake District, where woodland paths lead to the mighty falls.
Other useful tips
- Cumbria's tourist information offices have been hit by recent cuts (Kendal recently closed), yet they are a fantastic resource for visitors. They often give out free maps, brochures and literature, and offer invaluable local knowledge. Support them. The main tourist office in Windermere is beside the lake (Glebe Road, Bowness-on-Windermere LA23 3H; 01539 442895) but gets very crowded.
- Free WiFi is now increasingly available at hotels, b&bs, cafés and bars. Sometimes you need to ask for an access code. So make use of the free service to check email, surf the web or make free phone calls via Skype.
- Work the sales. Many walkers buy expensive outdoor gear before heading to the fells but, time your trip right, and you can pick up top-quality gear at bargain prices at outdoor specialists, such as Ambleside’s Head to the Hills or Gaynor Sports. January, Easter and August are often good times for off-season bargains.
- Many hotels and b&bs offer mid week, low season or dinner, b&b deals with a free night, or a free dinner. See my Lake District Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Lake District page for more information.
- For a cheap night out, try one of the local independent cinemas. Many have a cheap-deal night with reduced prices and some offer baby-and-parent screenings in the morning. The Brewery Arts Centre (www.breweryarts.co.uk) in Kendal offers all films on a Monday for £4.50; the low-season Reel Deal promotion offers a pizza and a film for £10 Tues 5-9pm.
- Before you go, check out the BBC Cumbria website (www.bbc.co.uk/news/england/cumbria/) for local news and three-day weather forecasts; tune in to BBC Radio Cumbria (101FM) in your car for the latest traffic updates.