Coniston Water, one of the Lake District’s largest ribbon lakes, stretches from Coniston in the north to the tiny hamlet of High Nibthwaite in the south – a total distance of five miles. It’s a particularly slender body of water, never more than about half-a-mile wide. Rising above the eastern shores are steep, wooded slopes that lead up to Grizedale Forest and Bethecar Moor. A narrow road winds its way along this side of the lake, but it’s a slow, tortuous drive. To the west, the terrain is more open – room for grazing land and low moorland as well as an A-road. A delightful trail hugs the water’s edge on this side, from Torver Back Common to Coniston, making an easy outing for walkers when combined with a trip on the Coniston Launch.
There are several small islands on Coniston Water, including Peel Island, which became Wild Cat Island in Arthur Ransome’s children’s adventure story Swallows and Amazons. Dedicated fans might want to follow in the wake of their heroes by sailing out to the island for a picnic; less adventurous types might settle for having a peep at the ‘secret harbour’ from the relative luxury of one of the cruises that operate on the lake.
The boats of the Coniston Launch operate between Coniston and Lake Bank, with additional piers at Brantwood, Sunny Bank, Torver and Waterhead. For something a little more special, there’s the National Trust’s restored Victorian steam yacht, Gondola. If you don’t mind getting wet, the Coniston Boating Centre hires out kayaks, canoes, rowing boats, motor boats and dinghies.
Lowther Castle sits on the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park, in the gently rolling countryside beside the River Lowther. What you see today is just the outer shell of the mansion built for the first Earl of Lonsdale, William Lowther, in 1814 – largely with a fortune derived from the West Cumberland coal mines. The family’s wealth, however, was squandered by the fifth earl and his ostentatious lifestyle in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and the Lowthers were forced to dismantle the castle in 1957.
Today though, the site is so much more than just these outer walls; it’s a place for lovers of gardens and woods to wander, it’s part of a larger estate for cyclists and walkers to explore and, for children, it’s a huge adventure playground.
Visitors enter the grounds through an exhibition explaining the history of the castle and the family who own it, and then step out into the informal garden that’s been planted within the walls of the mansion. The best view of the ruin is from the massive lawns and landscaped grounds that lie to the south of it. First laid out in the seventeenth century, these have only recently been restored and work continues on returning them to their former glory.
Paths criss-cross the grounds, providing vantage points from which to admire the ruins, the gardens and the surrounding countryside. The Western Terrace, in particular, provides superb views across the valley to the fells of the eastern Lake District. Should the weather turn bad, there are restored summerhouses scattered about; grab a hot drink from the ‘into the woods’ refreshment hut, and wait for the rain to pass.
Younger visitors will find lots to do, whatever the weather. There are tree swings, a willow den and balance beams. But best of all, there’s the Lost Castle. Hidden away in the woods, this is a wooden representation of the real castle – a massive maze of walkways and turrets big enough for the whole family to explore. There are slides and zip wires and climbing walls... some of it designed for older children, some intended specifically for toddlers.
As well as the ‘into the woods’ refreshment hut, Lowther Castle also has an indoor café that serves hot and cold meals. This is located in the entrance courtyard where you’ll also find a souvenir shop and bike hire. Bikes aren’t allowed within the castle grounds, but there are many miles of trails across the 3,500-acre Lowther Park and out into the surrounding countryside. For walkers, there is a waymarked route that leads down to the banks of the River Lowther and then up on to the low moorland above the pretty village of Askham. Known as the Lowther Castle Loop, this is a seven-mile extension to the 20-mile Ullswater Way.
At 3209ft, or 978 metres, above sea level, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England. The views from its barren, rock-strewn summit – when not covered in cloud – take in much of the Lake District as well as the Isle of Man, the hills of southern Scotland, north Wales and the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland.
The fell, composed largely of the resilient igneous rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, lies to the south-west of the central ‘spoke’ of the geological dome that makes up the Lake District. It can be approached from several valleys, although the route from Wasdale is the shortest and most frequently used. This steep pull to the summit – 2.5 miles long – is the preferred route of those attempting the National Three Peaks challenge, which involves ascending the highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, usually within 24 hours. Like many of the most popular paths in the Lake District, it has suffered considerable erosion in recent years – due to a combination of heavy footfall and high rainfall – and path repair teams, led by the National Trust, work hard to maintain it.
Another well-used route starts in Borrowdale – climbing to Esk Hause and then tackling the mile-long, broad but bouldery spine linking Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag with the Pike. Walkers then return via the Corridor Route, a rough, rugged trail that traverses the craggy north-west face of the range. This passes above Piers Gill, a deep, dark and horribly steep-sided ravine that has been the scene of many accidents over the years. The longest route on to the Pike starts at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Landgale, 5.3 miles from the summit. Trickier still, and less well-used, is the approach from Eskdale, involving a lot of rough ground and requiring particularly good navigational skills.
Scafell Pike’s nearest neighbour is England’s second highest mountain, Scafell (3162ft/964m), but the two are separated by the rocky saddle of Mickledore. Dropping into Mickledore is one thing, but getting out of it is another. Broad Stand, the formidable buttress looming over it, is no place for walkers; the only way up on to Scafell is to go down first, on steep, loose scree, and then clamber up on routes suitable only for the sure-footed.
In 1919, soon after the end of the First World War, the summit of Scafell Pike and about 40 acres surrounding it was gifted to the nation by the landowner Lord Leconfield in memory of the local men who had died during the bitter conflict. An inscription on the summit cairn, the highest war memorial in the country, commemorates the men who “fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War 1914-18”. Four years later, members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, after much negotiation, managed to purchase an even larger tract of the surrounding land, encompassing no fewer than 12 summits including Great Gable. This too was handed over to the National Trust in memory of the fallen, some of whom had been members of the club and were among the leading climbers of their age.