If you’re thinking of exploring far and wide, you could do a lot worse than base yourself in either Grasmere or Ambleside. Yes, they’re honeypots, busy during peak holiday periods, but they’re both gorgeous destinations and centrally located, meaning you’re never more than an hour from anywhere else in England’s largest National Park.
The geographical centre of the Lakes lies on the fells above Grasmere, and some might say its spiritual heart lies here too. This, after all, was the home for many years of the poet William Wordsworth, the man behind probably the most famous opening line of English verse: “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” Today, several of his former homes are open to the public: Allan Bank, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount. His grave, and those of his family, can be found in the grounds of St Oswald’s Church in the middle of the village.
There are dozens of places to stay here, ranging from hostels to luxury hotels and almost as many places to eat. Whether it’s a lunchtime sandwich, a warming winter stew or a classy fine dining experience, you’ll find it in Grasmere. Walkers will find enough to keep them busy for several days, if not weeks. For serious hikers, England’s third-highest mountain, Helvellyn, is within easy reach. Gentler rambles take in the lakes – Grasmere and Rydal Water – as well as Easedale Tarn and the fantastically shaped summit rocks of Helm Crag. For even wilder country, head into Great Langdale, where craggy fells tower over one of the region’s most dramatic valleys. The Langdale Pikes, Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell are among the summits crying out to be climbed. Or you could simply relax in one of the dale’s many cafés or pub beer gardens and gaze up at the hills.
If you’re staying in Ambleside, with its equally wide range of accommodation and eateries, the best indoor attractions are the tiny, much-photographed Bridge House, spanning Stock Ghyll; and the Armitt Museum, which houses art collections by Kurt Schwitter and Beatrix Potter. Windermere Lake Cruises stop off at Waterhead, a 10-minute walk from the town centre. Just down the road, near idyllic Troutbeck, are Townend, a restored, seventeenth-century farmhouse; and Brockhole, on the shores of Windermere, where families will find plenty to keep their younger members entertained – from treetop adventures, caving tunnels and water-based activities to archery and mini golf.