It’s a region of superlatives: England’s longest and deepest lakes (Windermere and Wastwater), its highest mountain (Scafell Pike)... and some of its finest hotels, restaurants, pubs, walks and views
Getting drunk on the scenery. The phrase could have been coined for the Lake District. Surely nowhere else in England packs so many heart-stopping views – craggy fells, tranquil lakes, tumbling waterfalls, sleepy cottages – into such a compact area. It’s not all walks and water, however. Base yourself in the Central Lakes and you are within easy reach of pretty Lakeland villages, the thrills of mountain biking in Grizedale Forest or discovering piranhas at the Lakes Aquarium. Plus, it’s an easy jaunt north to Borrowdale – the most picturesque valley in the district – or south to sleepy Cartmel and its sticky toffee pudding.
WHERE TO STAY
Overlooking Lake Windermere, The Waterhead has a traditional exterior that belies its sleek, townhouse modernity. Uncluttered rooms have polished wood floors, white walls and oversize headboards. Doubles from £106 b&b. Voted Britain's funkiest b&b in the 2009 AA Awards, Windermere Suites (01539 444739, The Drunken Duck Inn mixes a breezy contemporary look with soft, country comfort; effortlessly relaxing. Doubles from £95 b&b (£135, weekends). At Coniston, the 17th-century Yew Tree Farm has rooms that are cosy with beams and panelling, and spoil with power showers and home-made cake. Doubles from £104 b&b. Coppermines & Lakes Cottages (015394 41765, www.coppermines.co.uk) have a mix of traditional cottages, village and more remote, around Coniston.
WHAT TO DO
Stroll the shores of Windermere before catching a launch (+44 15394 43360, www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk) to take a leisurely ‘lake’s eye’ view of the fells. Children will adore The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction (+44 15394 88444, www.hop-skip-jump.com) in Bowness, where the author’s stories are brought to life in a wonderland of woodland glades, cottage gardens and sunlit meadows. Take the ferry across Windermere to Hill Top (+44 15394 36269, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hilltop), Potter’s 17th-century farmhouse home, unchanged since she died in 1943. Nearby Hawkshead is a picture-perfect village of slate-roofed, whitewashed cottages and cobbled lanes. Dove Cottage (+44 15394 35544, www.wordsworth.org.uk) at Grasmere, north of Windermere, was home to the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. His grave, in the churchyard, is close to the irresistibly sweet-smelling Grasmere Gingerbread shop.
WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH
The Mason’s Arms (+44 15395 68486, www.masonsarmsstrawberrybank.co.uk) in Cartmel Fell, overlooking the lovely Winster valley, is an atmospheric inn that’s big on Cumbrian produce, ranging from sandwiches (local hams, cheeses, chutneys) and tasty salads to hearty dishes such as Cumbrian lamb chops. About £5 to £12. For daily-baked cakes, tarts and scones – as well as savoury dishes such as wild boar sausages and mash – head to Chesters (015394 32553, www.chesters-cafebytheriver.co.uk ) in Skelwith Bridge. Mains about £8.
WHAT TO SEE
Take the A591 north from Windermere, past tranquil Rydal Water and Grasmere, to Keswick, a bustling market town on Derwentwater. Drive south along the lake’s eastern shores to craggily beautiful Borrowdale – stop for tea and cake in Grange or Seatoller – and up the spectacular, twisting Honister Pass with its 1-in-4 gradient. Westmorland slate is still mined at Honister Slate Mine (+44 17687 77230, www.honister-slate-mine.co.uk) at the summit, where you can take a guided tour. Head south-west from Ambleside to Coniston Water – the setting for Swallows and Amazons, by the children’s writer Arthur Ransome, and the scene of Donald Campbell’s ill-fated 1967 attempt to break the world water speed record in Bluebird. His story and memorabilia are found in the charming Ruskin Museum (+44 15394 41164, www.ruskinmuseum.com). For a more sedate lake crossing, sail on Gondola (+44 15394 41288, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gondola), a gleaming Victorian steam-powered yacht, to Brantwood (+44 15394 41396, www.brantwood.org.uk), home and gardens of Victorian art critic and philosopher John Ruskin, sublimely set above the water.
WHAT TO BUY
Holker Hall Food Hall (+44 15395 59084, www.holkerfoodhall.co.uk), near Cartmel, sells local produce including cheeses, damson gin and saltmarsh lamb.
WHERE TO HAVE DINNER
At The Drunken Duck (+44 15394 36347), local ingredients are treated with flair – pepper-crusted carpaccio of beef – and there’s a whole menu of cheeses. Mains about £20. The Jumble Room (+44 15394 35188, www.thejumbleroom.co.uk), in Grasmere, is a bohemian mix of pink cushions and bluesy music; the food a Mediterranean/Asian spin on Cumbrian produce. Mains about £17. Lucy’s On A Plate (+44 15394 31191, www.lucysofambleside.co.uk), in Ambleside, is a friendly eaterie, with simple, unpretentious cooking – home-made fishcakes, grilled steaks, lamb tagine – and staggering puddings. Mains about £16.
The Theatre by the Lake (+44 17687 74411, www.theatrebythelake.co.uk) in Keswick has an impressive programme – from classics to contemporary. For locally-brewed beers, try The Sun (+44 15394 41248, www.thesunconiston.com) in Coniston or The Tower Bank Arms (+44 15394 36334, www.towerbankarms.co.uk), Near Sawrey, featured in Beatrix Potter’s books.
THE MORNING AFTER
For a blast of exercise, stride up Gummer’s How at the south-eastern tip of Windermere. The easy 20-minute climb gives stunning views over the Lakeland fells, the Pennines and the coast.