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When deciding where to visit in Cumbria, your thoughts may first turn to the Lake District, the largest national park in England, known for its glimmering lakes, enchanting forests, and spectacular mountains. The central area of the national park provides no shortage of excellent accommodation, eateries, and country pubs, as well as offering easy access to the other regions. Head north to discover Derwentwater, known as the Queen of the Lakes, and Skiddaw, the fourth highest mountain in England. To the east, there is beautiful Lake Ullswater, to the west you will find ancient woods and mesmerising waterfalls, whilst the south is home to Windermere, the largest natural lake in England.

Beyond the Lake District, there’s the idyllic coastal town of Ravenglass, and Eden Valley: home of the River Eden and delightful scenic walking trails. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Dales provide stunning scenery consisting of moors, hills, valleys, and quaint villages.

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Keswick

Keswick, the National Park’s largest town, sits at the heart of the northern Lake District. With Derwentwater lapping at its southern fringes and steep-sided fells bearing down on all sides, it has always had its natural resources to thank for its prosperity – from Elizabethan times, when miners first started exploiting the area’s mineral deposits; through the Industrial Revolution when its rivers and becks powered countless industries; to the twenty-first century, when sixty per cent of its population is employed in tourism.

Understandably, people come here to enjoy the spectacular scenery, to get a rejuvenating kick from being outdoors and interacting with nature. That might mean lounging on the deck of the Keswick Launch or sitting in a beer garden gazing up at the fells. It might mean strapping on protective gear and hurtling down one of Whinlatter’s mountain biking trails at break-neck speed. Or it might mean indulging in any one of the many activities on offer in this great outdoor adventure centre – rock-climbing, kayaking, wind-surfing, paddle-boarding, fell-walking, ghyll-scrambling, paragliding, ice-climbing, sailing, canoeing, wild swimming, road cycling... You name it, you can probably do it somewhere near Keswick. You can even go and climb the walls of England’s only working slate mine – at nearby Honister – if you want.

Of course, there are indoor attractions too. The Derwent Pencil Museum, the Keswick Museum, the Puzzling Place and the Leisure Pool are just a few within the town itself. Come the evening, you’ll find pubs and restaurants galore as well as the Theatre by the Lake and the Alhambra, one of the oldest British cinemas still in operation.

Keswick hosts a diverse range of festivals throughout the year. In the early spring, speakers from the worlds of literature, politics and the media share their love of the written word at the Words by the Water Festival. During May, the colourful and noisy Keswick Jazz and Blues Festival takes place, as does the Keswick Mountain Festival. Come July, it’s the turn of the Keswick Convention, which attracts thousands of people to Bible teachings and Christian seminars. There’s also a film festival (February), a beer festival (June), the Victorian Christmas Fayre and the Keswick Agricultural Show, which traditionally takes place on the Bank Holiday Monday in late August.

Visitors can normally find a place to stay whatever their budget. There are hostels, campsites of varying sizes, pods, yurts, cabins and, of course, lots and lots of B&Bs, inns and hotels. If you want to self-cater, you can do that too. Be warned though, the area gets very busy during some of the key festivals, school breaks and at bank holidays. If all else fails, the friendly assistants in the tourist information centre in the Moot Hall – that’s the distinctive-looking building with the tower in the middle of the pedestrianised area – can help visitors find something suitable. They’ll even find something for people who have brought their dogs on holiday with them. After all, Keswick is doggy heaven! Thanks to its canine-convivial accommodation providers, shops, pubs and cafés, the town has three times been voted the UK’s dog friendliest town in the Kennel Club’s Open for Dogs Awards.

For those travelling to Keswick by public transport, the nearest mainline railway station is about 17 miles to the east, at Penrith, which is on the West Coast Mainline. From here, you can catch the X4 bus (every two hours, no Sunday service).

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Lake District - North

Keswick is the largest town in the Lake District National Park but it’s far from being a big settlement; urban visitors might be forgiven for calling it a ‘village’. It sits at the foot of England’s fourth highest mountain, Skiddaw, while Derwentwater, the Queen of the Lakes, borders it to the south-west. Walkers come here to scale the fells, to stroll along the lakeshore or to wander Borrowdale’s ancient oak woods, and there’s also plenty to keep you busy if the weather turns foul. The Derwent Pencil Museum tells the story of graphite, first discovered in Borrowdale, while the recently refurbished Keswick Museum and Art Gallery has exhibits covering the worlds of literature, mountaineering, art and geology. Just outside town is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle, built about 5,000 years ago. Come the evening, there are restaurants galore, an old-fashioned cinema complete with balcony and the Theatre by the Lake.  

Beyond the theatre is the glorious lake itself, which can be explored in leisurely fashion from the deck of the Keswick Launch or, for those seeking a more energetic experience, by hiring a canoe, kayak or rowing boat. Hugging the eastern shore of Derwentwater is the B5289, one of the loveliest roads in England. In summer, open-top buses ply this route up into beautiful Borrowdale. Hop on and off to visit some of the key attractions, including the Lodore Falls, the Bowder Stone, picturesque Ashness Bridge and the tranquil villages of Rosthwaite and Grange. Beyond the valley, the road climbs steeply to Honister Pass and the Honister Slate Mine, where visitors can join an underground tour or scale the scary via ferrata up the side of the craggy fell.

Keswick vies with Kendal for the title of Cumbria’s festival town, hosting a diverse range of events – from film, literary and jazz festivals through to the massive Keswick Mountain Festival and the Keswick Convention, which attracts 15,000 people to Christian seminars every summer. 

North of the town, the holiday crowds begin to thin out. This is where you’ll find Bassenthwaite Lake, the Northern Fells and tiny villages that time (and tourists) seem to have forgotten, such as Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket. Attractions include the elegant 17th-century Mirehouse, the Lake District Wildlife Park for kids and, for adults, the Lakes Distillery. Whinlatter Forest is home to miles of hiking and biking trails. Some are family-friendly; others more challenging. And those screams you’re hearing? They’ll be from the brave souls swinging from the Go Ape tree-top obstacle course high above your head.

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Lake District - West

Cross Lakeland’s steepest, remotest passes or venture around the little-visited south-western tip of Cumbria, and you enter a visually stunning world where England’s highest, most rugged mountains drop away to the sea. Here lie the less accessible valleys of Eskdale, Wasdale, Ennerdale and Buttermere

This is where serious hill-walkers come to climb England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike, to stride out along the rocky crest of the High Stile ridge or to tackle Great Gable, one of Britain’s best-loved peaks. Many would-be fell-walkers cut their teeth on lower summits such as Hay Stacks, one of legendary guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright’s favourite fells. The western Lakes is also where rock-climbers and mountaineers have, for generations, honed their skills. These peaks claim many ‘firsts’ in the climbing world, including Walter Parry Haskett Smith’s 1886 ascent of Napes Needle, regarded as the birth of rock-climbing as a sport. Even earlier, in 1802, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ascent of England’s second highest mountain Scafell – and subsequent, terrifying descent of Broad Stand – is possibly the first recorded climb for leisure purposes.  

But there’s plenty here for lesser mortals too – lakeside ambles along the shores of Buttermere and Crummock Water; strolls through ancient woods that are among the last strongholds of the cute but endangered red squirrel; and walks to some of Lakeland’s most spectacular waterfalls, including Scale Force and Stanley Ghyll Force. Or you can simply find a great picnic spot in the valley bottom and gaze up at those imposing, rocky peaks.  

The western Lake District also contains a 12-mile stretch of coastline, from Silecroft in the south to Ravenglass in the north. But you won’t find amusement arcades or rows of deckchairs here; it consists almost entirely of long, empty beaches and sand dunes. There are no towns, just a scattering of farms and hamlets connected by the Cumbria Coast railway line. The largest settlement is the quaint seaside village of Ravenglass, which falls within both of Cumbria’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman remains here include a bath house and, just up the road at the foot of Hardknott Pass, the dramatically positioned ruins of Hardknott Fort. Take a trip up serene Eskdale on the narrow-gauge steam railway, known locally as the La’al Ratty, or watch the bird of prey flying displays in the gorgeous grounds of Muncaster Castle.

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Ambleside

Ambleside lies at the northern end of Windermere, England’s longest natural lake, where the gently rolling, wooded scenery of Lakeland’s far south gives way to a more rugged landscape of high, craggy fells and glittering, secretive tarns hiding in the folds of the hills. Welcome to the mountains!

This small town is a walkers’ paradise. Once you’ve stocked up on gear from any one of its many outdoor equipment shops, you’ll be spoiled for choice. If you’re reasonably fit and know how to use a map and compass, the Fairfield Horseshoe is the ‘must-do’ hike. This 10.5-mile route takes in long ridges on either side of the valley of Rydal Beck and includes almost 3,500ft of ascent in total. It makes for a great day out, but it’s extremely popular so don’t expect to have the fells to yourself.

Other, less challenging walks include the steep, but relatively short pull to the top of Wansfell Pike for superb views of Windermere and the surrounding fells. Easier still, the top of little Loughrigg Fell is a great target for families to aim for, providing a sense of achievement for young hill-walkers in the making. Or, if the cloud’s low, you can stick to low-level paths and complete a wonderful circuit of the base of the fell.

The waterfalls of Stock Ghyll have been attracting visitors since Victorian times. In the nineteenth century, tourists would’ve passed through a turnstile near the top of Stockghyll Force, paying a penny for the privilege; today, you can see them for free. Just a 15-minute walk from the centre of town, the two main ribbons that make up the falls plunge between the moss-covered sides of a rocky, tree-lined gorge – they’re well worth a look, particularly after heavy rain. In springtime, a carpet of daffodils provides an added bonus.

Among the many attractions within Ambleside itself are the tiny and intriguing Bridge House, managed by the National Trust, and The Armitt museum, gallery and library. The southern part of the town, known as Waterhead, is home to the remains of a Roman fort, probably Galava. There is also a Windermere Lake Cruises pier at Waterhead, and from here it’s a half-hour boat journey down to Bowness

There’s no chance of going hungry in Ambleside; there are cafés and restaurants galore. And, when it rains or you just want a rest from sightseeing, there are a total of five cinema screens – at Zeffirelli’s on Compston Road and Fellini’s on Church Street.   

Thanks to its road connections with the rest of the Lake District, Ambleside makes a great base from which to explore the National Park. The A591, served by the 555 bus among others, provides an easy link with Windermere to the south, and Grasmere and Keswick to the north. If you want to head across the Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater, you’ll need to negotiate the steep, winding road known ominously as The Struggle. To the west, roads with regular buses serve Great Langdale and Coniston. Continuing beyond Little Langdale, experienced drivers can even reach the Western Lakes by braving the Wrynose and Hardknott passes, although these are unsuitable for caravans or wide vehicles and there are no buses across the passes.

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Borrowdale

Venturing south from Keswick, the traveller enters Borrowdale, and sets out on a journey encompassing lakeside beauty spots, traditional villages, ancient oak woodland, caves, crags and fells galore. This is one of the highlights of any trip to the Lake District, a must-see for just about anyone, whatever their interests. 

The mouth of this beautiful valley is occupied by Derwentwater, the ‘Queen of the Lakes’. On the western side of the lake, the tree-lined shore gives way to the slopes of Cat Bells while, to the east, Walla Crag and Falcon Crag stand proud above Great Wood, one of many areas of ancient woodland spread throughout Borrowdale.

Just beyond the southern end of the lake and the village of Grange, the valley suddenly constricts: you’ve entered the Jaws of Borrowdale. Here, the River Derwent surges through the narrow gap between the steep, tree-shrouded slopes of Castle Crag and Grange Fell. This is where visitors will find the Bowder Stone and, in a disused quarry, Millican Dalton’s cave.    

Beyond the Jaws, the valley broadens again, although the scree slopes and crags, reaching up to even higher altitudes, create a sense of enclosure; there’s a feeling here of being totally immersed in the mountains. The valley bottom, though, is a scene of bucolic serenity, with centuries-old farmhouses dotted about and Herdwick sheep grazing the verdant, dry-stone walled fields. The valley’s main settlements can be found in this area: Rosthwaite, Stonethwaite, Seathwaite and Seatoller

Dozens of superb outings on the high fells start from this part of Borrowdale, including hikes up to Glaramara, Great Gable, High Spy and Dale Head. If you want to escape the crowds, consider climbing Rosthwaite Fell from Stonethwaite, or, if you don’t mind sharing the fells, one of the classic routes on to Scafell Pike starts from Seathwaite.

Like elsewhere in Borrowdale, ancient woods drape the banks of the River Derwent and creep part-way up the fellsides. These are rare remnants of an immense oakwood that once cloaked Europe’s entire Atlantic coast – from Portugal to Norway. Birch, ash, larch and yew are among the tree species that share the spaces dominated by sessile oaks, while a lush covering of mosses, lichens and liverworts also flourishes. Thanks to Borrowdale’s high annual rainfall – this is, after all, the wettest place in England – the woods are classed as temperate rainforest. If you’re hoping to spot wildlife, you’ve come to the right place: red squirrels, otters, red and roe deer, peregrine falcons, barn owls, great spotted woodpeckers and dippers are among the many species you might encounter in the woods. In spring time, listen for the Borrowdale cuckoo, which returns from Africa to lay its eggs in other birds’ nests. 

The National Trust owns almost 30,000 acres of land in the area, including about a dozen farms and roughly half of Derwentwater. The conservation charity’s car parks (free to members) form the gateway to key attractions in the valley, and are used by outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the area on foot or by bike. These are located at Great Wood, Kettlewell (beside Derwentwater), the Bowder Stone, Rosthwaite and Seatoller. Alternatively, the 78 bus runs the entire length of the valley, from Keswick to Seatoller, all year round.    

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Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere – not to be confused with Bowness-on-Solway in north Cumbria – and the adjoining village of Windermere make up one of the busiest resorts in the whole of the Lake District. Tourists flock to the lakeside locations to gaze on some of the most famous views in England and, almost inevitably, jump on a boat to savour more of this long, sinewy stretch of water. 

Bowness was once just a collection of humble cottages, first settled in the eleventh century by the Norsemen who dominated the Lake District at the time. The same was true of neighbouring Birthwaite. Both changed and grew when the railway arrived in 1847, Birthwaite even altering its name to take on the more tourist-enticing moniker of ‘Windermere’. Not only did the railway bring vast numbers of tourists, it also meant the Lake District was suddenly within weekly commuting distance of the north’s industrial powerhouses of Yorkshire and Lancashire – wealthy factory owners could build their lavish weekend homes here; villas and mansions within a pebble’s throw of England’s largest lake. And the railway’s still there, maintaining that ease of access.  

Today, the villages of Bowness and Windermere merge – Windermere in the north, just above the lake, with Bowness to the south, running right down to the water’s edge – forming a single resort that is full of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and attractions. This is the place to come to if you’re looking for upmarket accommodation, with several luxury hotels occupying exclusive lakeside locations. Many are known for their world-class restaurants. But that’s not to say there aren’t budget options too: there are smaller, simpler guesthouses as well as a backpackers’ hostel. And not all the eateries boast Michelin stars!

Among the many paid-for attractions in Bowness are Windermere Lake Cruises, the World of Beatrix Potter and Windermere Jetty. Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house, is about a mile south of the village. Family activities at Glebe Park, near the Windermere Lake Cruises piers, include a variety of different takes on the traditional game of golf – crazy golf, pitch and putt and foot golf. If you’re looking to burn off a bit more energy, maybe even get an adrenalin kick, a variety of activities are on offer. As you’d expect, watersports are particularly popular, and there are hire options as well as taster sessions and guided trips available at various locations. You can have a go at a huge range of land- and water-based activities at nearby Brockhole, including tree-top adventures and clay pigeon shooting.

If you’re just itching to lace up your boots and head for the hills, the regular 555 bus service puts the fells above Ambleside, Grasmere and even Keswick within easy reach. Or you can settle for one of the lower hills overlooking the eastern shore of Windermere: Brant Fell and School Knott are both within walking distance of Bowness, and provide breathtaking perspectives on the lake and the distant fells. Orrest Head, a half-hour walk from Windermere Railway Station, is where guidebook writer Wainwright began his lifelong love affair with the Lake District. Aged just 23 and enjoying his first walking holiday in the area, he stood at the 787ft summit transfixed by the scene before him, later describing it as a “fascinating paradise”.

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Brockhole

You could spend the whole day at Brockhole and only just touch the surface of the many activities on offer. This sprawling visitor centre on the shores of Windermere has something for all age groups – from boat hire and treetop adventures to exhibitions, gardens and cafés. 

For those wanting to take to the water, Brockhole hires out sit-on kayaks, Canadian canoes, rowing boats, motor boats and stand-up paddle boards. During school holidays, it’s also possible to book a half-day guided kayak tour in a 15ft sea kayak – an ideal opportunity for first-time kayakers to get a taste of paddling... and in truly breathtaking surroundings. 

Back on dry land, there’s archery, laser clay pigeon shooting, a nine-hole mini golf course and a free adventure playground. Take to the treetops, and there’s even more on offer. If you can hear screaming, it’s probably coming from the Treetop Trek, a high-level ropes and obstacle course that involves rope bridges and an 800ft zip wire. Three different courses are available: two are suitable for those aged five and over, while trekkers have to be at least seven for the third, more challenging option. For younger children (three years and upwards), there’s the Treetop Nets, a system of slides, tunnels and trampolines all made from bouncy netting hanging 30ft off the ground.  

Bikes, tag-alongs and trailers can be hired for a full day or just a few hours. The hire charge includes a ticket, in the summer, for the Brockhole to Bark Barn Bike Boat. This takes cyclists from Brockhole’s own Windermere Lake Cruises jetty across to the beautiful western shore of Windermere. After the lake’s busy eastern shore, the traffic-free trails on this side of Windermere will seem like another world, offering relaxed and safe cycling. Attractions include the National Trust’s Wray Castle and the restored Claife Viewing Station, with its unique outlook over the lake.  

Back at Brockhole and heading indoors now, young families will find a soft-play area and Brave the Cave, a simulated caving experience where adventurers get to don helmets and head-torches and wriggle their way through a network of dark, often narrow tunnels.  

A series of educational trails and two fixed orienteering courses are among the more traditional outdoor pursuits on offer in the grounds. Activity sheets, including trail maps, can be bought from the Brockhole shop, which also sells locally made gifts and doubles up as a tourist information centre.

For those spending the day at Brockhole, there are several food options – two basic outlets in the grounds, a large café with both indoor and terrace seating (dogs welcome) and The Gaddum restaurant, offering lunch and afternoon teas in the slightly plusher surroundings of the Victorian Brockhole house. 

Located roughly half-way between the towns of Ambleside and Windermere on the A591, Brockhole is run by the Lake District National Park Authority. All profits go into caring for the National Park. 

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Caldbeck

The pretty settlement of Caldbeck, with its village pond, colourful cottages and crystal-clear becks, sits at the foot of the Lake District’s Northern Fells. Local families come here at weekends to feed the ducks, to indulge in lunch out or simply to enjoy a walk in the surrounding countryside; tourists visit to experience the quieter side of the National Park and to enjoy the softer, more bucolic scenery on Lakeland’s northern edge. 

As you wander round the tranquil village today, it’s hard to believe it was once bustling with industrial activity. The waters of Cald Beck, rushing down off the nearby fells, powered more than a dozen mills. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these were grinding corn, creating bobbins for local textile mills, producing woollen goods, making paper... Twenty-first century visitors can still see the picturesque ruins of a bobbin mill on the western edge of Caldbeck. It’s located beside a waterfall in an impressive limestone gorge, just a ten-minute walk from the duck pond. Ask locally for directions to The Howk.   

Another mill, Priest’s Mill, built in 1702 to grind corn, has been restored and now houses a café, a wool co-operative and a gift shop. 

The twelfth-century St Kentigern’s Church contains the grave of Mary Robinson, the ‘Maid of Buttermere’ written about by the poet William Wordsworth and, in more recent times, local novelist Melvyn Bragg. St Kentigern’s is also the resting place of the nineteenth-century huntsman John Peel, immortalised in the song D’ye ken John Peel? St Mungo’s Well, a holy spring where early Christians were baptised, lies on the riverbank behind the church.

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Coniston

Coniston squats at the foot of high, rugged fells, its terraced miners’ and quarrymen’s cottages overshadowed by peaks that have been exploited for their minerals for many, many centuries. From the south-east edge of the village, the slender Coniston Water, one of the National Park’s largest lakes, stretches five miles into the distance.

The fells and the lake are the chief attractions here, with outdoor enthusiasts flocking to the village in all seasons. The highest peaks are Dow Crag (2,552ft/778m), which is particularly popular with climbers and scramblers, Wetherlam (2,503ft/763m), Swirl How (2,631ft/802m) and the big daddy of the bunch, Coniston Old Man (2634ft/803m). Enjoying far-reaching views in all directions – as far as Snowdonia in north Wales on a clear day – these exposed summits are linked together by long, windswept ridges that make for great walking.  

As on most of the other major lakes, boat trips operate along the length of Coniston Water. Choose from the Coniston Launch or the more refined Gondola, a Victorian steam yacht that has been restored by the National Trust. The Coniston Boating Centre, located just half-a-mile from the village centre, hires out kayaks, canoes, rowing boats, motor boats and dinghies. Fans of Swallows and Amazons can even follow in the wake of their heroes and sail out to Peel Island, which became Wild Cat Island in Arthur Ransome’s children’s adventure story.  

Brantwood, the former home of the Victorian art critic and social thinker John Ruskin, has its own pier and is just a short ride from Coniston. The house, filled with paintings, objets d’art and exquisite period furniture, is open to the public, as are the extensive gardens rising above the wooded eastern shores of Coniston Water. In the village itself, the Ruskin Museum charts the area’s history, from prehistoric times to the escapades of twentieth-century speed aces Malcolm and Donald Campbell. Both father and son achieved water speed records on the lake between 1939 and 1959. Son Donald lost his life here in January 1967 while attempting to break the 300mph barrier. His boat, the Bluebird K7, lifted out of the water, did a backward somersault and then nose-dived into the lake. The wreck was only recovered in 2001, followed soon after by Campbell’s remains. He has since been buried in the village cemetery.  

Many of Coniston’s buildings date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when output from local mines and slate quarries was at its peak. Some say the Romans were the first to work the rich seams of the Coniston fells, although it wasn’t until Elizabethan times that copper was mined on an industrial scale. The Coppermines Valley, a 20-minute walk from the village centre, is dotted with the remains of the mines – a fascinating excursion for anyone interested in industrial archaeology. 

Coniston’s located some way to the west of the A591 and A592, the main roads through the Lake District, so it takes a bit more effort to reach it. If you’re coming by public transport, it’s best to get the train to Windermere and then the 505 bus via Ambleside, a road journey of about an hour.

Accommodation options range from YHA hostels and self-catering cottages to hotels, inns and B&Bs. There are also a few campsites just south of the village, along the western shores of the lake.

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Eden Valley

North of Kirkby Stephen, the River Eden runs through a landscape of wooded gorges, rolling farmland and idyllic red sandstone villages, all towered over by the biggest and bleakest hills of the Pennines. Some of Cumbria’s most imposing Norman castles can be seen here, including Brough, Brougham and Appleby. You’ll also discover evidence of even earlier inhabitants in the form of Neolithic henges and a stone circle known as Long Meg and Her Daughters. One of the most enigmatic sites in Cumbria, it’s said to be the remains of a coven of witches turned to stone by a Scottish wizard for profanities on the Sabbath. Visit if you dare!

Appleby-in-Westmorland is one of the largest towns. As well as a castle, it is home to Boroughgate, a broad street lined by Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian buildings that runs all the way from the castle to the cloistered arcade of the town’s twelfth-century church. For one week every June, this otherwise sedate town is transformed when it plays host, as it has done for more than 300 years, to a colourful and vibrant spectacle – the Appleby Horse Fair, Europe’s largest annual gathering of Romany people and travellers.

Some of the best walks in the North Pennines can be easily accessed from a base in Appleby. Cross Fell, the highest point on this long chain of hills, can be climbed from nearby Blencarn. And even if you’re not a regular hill-walker, you won’t want to miss out on High Cup, a line of exposed volcanic rock that forms a spectacular rim around a steep-sided valley. Follow the Pennine Way south from Dufton to see this amazing geological spectacle, part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Eden Valley is most easily accessed via Penrith, close to the M6 motorway and also on the West Coast Mainline railway. The pretty villages of Little Salkeld, Lazonby, Langwathby, Kirkoswald and Armathwaite are all nearby. Penrith also marks the start of the A686, an amazing road that climbs in a series of switchbacks to Hartside Pass, one of the UK’s highest road passes. Drive to the top simply to enjoy the far-reaching views back across the Eden Valley to the Lake District, or carry on into the heart of the North Pennines... Here, up on the windswept moors, lie the cobbled streets of Alston, one of England’s two highest market towns and, higher still, the village of Nenthead.

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Glenridding

A humble little village in an incredible setting, Glenridding squats at the foot of the rugged Helvellyn range, on the southern shore of sparkling Ullswater. This is where rock and water come together to form one of the most visually appealing combinations in the natural world – and Glenridding is at the heart of it. Little more than a collections of small shops, hotels, guesthouses, campsites and cafés, this former mining village is now a great base for outdoor enthusiasts. They come here year-round to walk, climb, kayak, scramble, go mountain biking, wild swim, even ski. 

The village developed after the discovery of lead at nearby Greenside in the middle of seventeenth century. By 1849, there were several hundred workers at Greenside, and during the 1940s it was the largest producer of lead ore in the UK. It ceased operations in 1962. Since then, some of its buildings have been converted to outdoor education centres, while the area around the mine has been stabilised. 

Greenside is located in the middle reaches of Glenridding Beck, on one of the many paths used to reach Helvellyn, at 3116ft/950m, England’s third highest mountain. The most famous route, though, is via Striding Edge, one of the two knife-edge arêtes that cradle Red Tarn. On good days, you’ll often see a line of walkers strung out along its exposed, rocky apex, slowly making their way on to the summit plateau. The other arête is Swirral Edge, less scary than its neighbour on the other side of the glacial corrie, but still a serious undertaking – and, with the ground dropping away steeply on either side of the ridge, best avoided if you don’t have a head for heights. In full winter conditions, these ridges are the domain only of experienced and properly equipped mountaineers, while the corrie’s headwall attracts ice climbers. Skiers too are drawn to the Helvellyn range, the Lake District Ski Club operating a single tow and a heated members’ hut on nearby Raise.   

If Helvellyn’s a bit much for you, both Red Tarn and Sheffield Pike make for superb half-day walks, and there are easier strolls up Grisedale or along the lakeshore to Aira Force.

For activities based on the lake itself, the Glenridding Sailing Centre offers sailing courses and taster sessions. Its hire fleet includes kayaks, Canadian canoes and dinghies. Various vessels, including motor boats and rowing boats, can also be hired from St Patrick’s Boat Landing on the road to Patterdale.

For a more relaxed experience on the water, the Ullswater ‘Steamers’ have their main pier in Glenridding. Two nineteenth-century ‘steamers’ still operate on the lake – the Raven and the Lady of The Lake – although both were converted to diesel in the 1930s. A further three boats have since been added to the fleet. Services run to Pooley Bridge, Howtown and Aira Force all year round, weather permitting. One of the most popular outings is to catch the boat from Glenridding to Howtown and then walk the seven glorious miles back along the waymarked Ullswater Way.

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Grange

Travel south from Keswick on the B5289 Borrowdale Road and, just beyond the bottom end of Derwentwater, you’ll see a lovely old, double-arched stone bridge leading west across the River Derwent – and into Grange. Sometimes known as Grange-in-Borrowdale to differentiate it from Grange-over-Sands in south Cumbria, this quaint little village is built almost entirely of slate. It started life as a monastic ‘grange’, or farm, in medieval times and is today home to two cafés, a small hotel, several B&Bs, a tiny Anglican church and a Wesleyan chapel. The latter hosts a permanent exhibition, open daily, on the history and culture of the valley – called the Borrowdale Story.

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Grasmere

Grasmere’s enduring charm comes from its location in the heart of the Lake District. The village and its eponymous lake lie almost in the very centre of the National Park, completely surrounded by gorgeous fell scenery. As you wander its lanes, visiting various attractions and dropping in on any one of a plethora of good-quality cafés and pubs, your gaze will inevitably be drawn, time and time again, to those hills. The fantastically shaped summit rocks of Helm Crag loom to the north; to the west, wooded slopes lead up to Silver Crag and Blea Rigg; while, to the east, the high, windswept summits of Fairfield and Helvellyn are within easy reach. Needless to say, it’s a very popular place with walkers.   

The village is closely associated with William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet who penned probably the most famous opening line in English poetry: “I wandered lonely as a cloud...” The quaint, white-washed Dove Cottage, on the edge of the village, close to the A591, was the Wordsworth family home from 1799 until 1808. When William’s wife Mary was expecting her fourth child, they moved to the larger Allan Bank which, like Dove Cottage, is now open to the public. In 1811, another move took them to the rectory opposite St Oswald’s Church in the village centre before they finally settled, in 1813, at Rydal Mount. This elegant house, a little over two miles from Grasmere, remained the great poet’s home until his death. Today, visitors can wander round much of the house, including three of the family bedrooms and William’s attic study.

Wordsworth, who died on April 23, 1850, and his wife Mary share a simple headstone in the graveyard of St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. Other members of the family are buried in neighbouring graves.

Next to St Oswald’s is Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop. This tiny shop, built in 1660, used to be the village school, and the children’s coat pegs are still there, as is the cupboard that housed the slates on which they wrote. The building began a new lease of life in the mid-1850s when Sarah Nelson moved in and began selling her spicy cake-cum-biscuit to tourists. It became so popular, she was forced to lock the secret recipe away in a bank vault – the same recipe that is used to this day.

The village is home to several galleries selling both paintings and prints. The most famous is the Heaton Cooper Studio, displaying the work of several generations of the renowned Heaton Cooper family of artists. Located opposite the village green, the studio also sells fine art supplies and has a café.  

Grasmere could never be accused of lacking in tourist facilities. There are cafés, restaurants and pubs every few steps; and the broad range of accommodation covers everything from luxury hotels and guesthouses to camping pods and hostels, although you’ll struggle to find a place to pitch a tent other than in the grounds of the YHA hostel. For those arriving by public transport, the regular, year-round 555 bus provides a link with the railway station in Windermere, 35 minutes down the A591.

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Hawkshead

Hawkshead is only a tiny village, and yet it’s easy to get lost as you wander its complex maze of narrow lanes and cobbled alleyways. The centre of this historic settlement is free of cars – there’s a large pay-and-display car park on the edge of the village – which means visitors get to enjoy it in peace and quiet, and without having to dodge the traffic. It’s easy to spend several hours here and, when you’re tired of sightseeing, relax in one of its many tea shops and pubs.  

The village has close links with two of Lakeland’s most famous literary figures: William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. The young Wordsworth attended the grammar school here, which was established in the late sixteenth century. Now open to the public from April to October, the Old Grammar School contains artefacts relating to its long history and the desk into which the budding poet once carved his initials. 

Beatrix Potter lived down the road in Near Sawrey, but was a regular visitor to Hawkshead, not least because her solicitor and the man she would eventually marry, William Heelis, was based here. Today, the unusual seventeenth-century building in which he had his offices houses the Beatrix Pottery Gallery. Here you’ll find some of the original illustrations for her famous children’s books, including The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, and the first privately printed edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Having explored the village, walk up to the top of Latterbarrow, a little hill even by Lakeland standards, but one with big views. Various routes are possible but a round walk, taking in nearby forest as well, would be about four miles. 

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Hesket Newmarket

Little more than a mile from Caldbeck is the smaller but equally enchanting village of Hesket Newmarket. Every spring, this snug little gathering of traditional cottages is surrounded by hundreds of daffodils, while, come Christmas, the village green hosts a Nativity scene.

In 2003, the village’s Old Crown became Britain’s first community-owned pub. It had been put up for sale by its owner, so 125 people, including the mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington who lives locally, clubbed together to stop it from falling into the hands of a major brewery and potentially losing its cosy, traditional character. It serves beers produced at the Hesket Newmarket Brewery, situated next door and also owned by a local co-operative.

Located close to the foot of the Northern Fells, Hesket Newmarket is a great jumping-off point for lots of excellent walks. The grassy dome of High Pike can be climbed directly from the village car park. From the 2158ft/658m summit, the Pennines, the Cheviot and the Galloway hills are all clearly visible on a good day, as is much of the Lake District. Nearby, the top of Carrock Fell (2168ft/661m) is crowned by the remains of an Iron Age hill settlement, occupied by a Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, in pre-Roman times.  

For something a bit gentler, head downstream beside the River Caldew to Watersmeet, where a confluence of streams creates a parcel of land almost completely surrounded by water. This walk is highly recommended in the spring when bluebells and wild garlic bring colour and fragrance to the woods.

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Howtown

Howtown is the name of both a sheltered bay and a quiet hamlet tucked in at the base of the fells, about four miles south-west of Pooley Bridge. It is best reached by catching one of the Ullswater ‘Steamers’. (Although there is a narrow, winding road leading to Howtown, the hamlet doesn’t have a car park.) There’s a small hotel and café here, as well as one of Outward Bound’s three Lake District educational centres.

One of the most popular walks in the area is to the cairn-crowned top of Hallin Fell (1273ft/388m), a little fell with a big view. For something more secluded, head up into Fusedale or along the Steel Knotts ridge.   

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Kendal

Kendal, lying just beyond the south-eastern boundaries of the Lake District National Park, may be only the third largest town in Cumbria but it is, in effect, its cultural capital, playing host to numerous museums, galleries, arts venues and festivals. Sometimes referred to as the southern gateway to the Lakes, it is so much more than that – a destination in its own right.

Among the many organised attractions are the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, the Quaker Tapestry and Kendal Museum, but just a simple stroll around the town’s fascinating nooks and crannies will unveil much of its history. The town centre is characterised by ginnels and yards between the buildings of the main thoroughfares – hidden spaces where merchants and craftsmen once plied their trades. Some of the most interesting buildings include the seventeenth-century Sandes Hospital, built as almshouses for widows and a school, and the fourteenth-century Castle Dairy, Kendal’s oldest inhabited building. At this time, Kendal was the centre of the area’s woollen trade, with workers from as far afield as Cartmel and Grasmere preparing cloth for its bustling markets. The River Kent, around which the town was built, is one of the fastest flowing rivers in England, making it ideal for powering mills. The last watermill along the Kent – a snuff mill on the outskirts of Kendal – closed as recently as 1991.

Overlooking the town on a small, grassy hill are the ruins of its twelfth-century castle, once owned by the family of Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. (Only earthworks remain of the first castle, a Norman motte and bailey construction on the other side of the river.) The castle is open to the public at all times, and modern visitors can still see some of its walls, one tower and parts of the manor hall. The steep walk up to the atmospheric site may leave you breathless, but those who make the effort are rewarded with superb views of both the town and the surrounding fells.

Two miles south of Kendal is Sizergh Castle, an impressive medieval house surrounded by beautiful gardens and a massive estate criss-crossed by a network of paths. Now in the care of the National Trust, the building and its grounds are open to the public.

Reaching Kendal couldn’t be easier. Junction 37 on the M6 motorway is less than 10 minutes away, and the suburb of Oxenholme is on the West Coast Mainline railway from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. From Oxenholme, a branch line runs through Kendal proper, up the Kent valley to the villages of Burneside and Staveley, and then on to Windermere. There’s also a coach service to London.

Accommodation choices are many and varied, ranging from the simplicity of the independent hostel next door to the Brewery Arts Centre on historic Highgate to the more luxurious Castle Green Hotel surrounded by landscaped gardens on the edge of town. If you’re bringing a tent, motorhome or caravan, the nearest campsite is on the Shap Road, just over a mile north of the town centre.

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Lake District - Central

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.  

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Lake District - East

Derwentwater may be the Queen of the Lakes, Windermere the longest and Wastwater the deepest, but no lake provides as many ‘wow!’ moments as Ullswater. There’s something very special about the way this serpentine body of water draws you in, from the easy-going slopes and farmland around Pooley Bridge to the village of Glenridding, where the mountains suddenly crowd in, their crags tumbling right down to the water’s edge at times.

The best way to experience the lake? Some might say, take a boat ride on the Ullswater ‘Steamers’, which shuttle backwards and forwards between Pooley Bridge, Howtown, Glenridding and Aira Force all year round. Others might suggest you slow the pace by walking the fully signposted Ullswater Way, which completes a 20-mile circuit of the lake. Highlights along the way include the waterfall and arboretum at Aira, and the Cockpit Stone Circle, located on moorland that’s dotted with prehistoric remains.

Some of the area’s most challenging fell walks start from the villages of Glenridding and Patterdale, most notably the hike up Helvellyn. The knife-edge arêtes of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge provide the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) ascents, the domain solely of experienced mountaineers come the snow, but there are less rocky routes to the popular summit.

Further east are the quieter valleys of Martindale, Swindale, Mardale, Wet Sleddale, Longsleddale and the ‘other’ Borrowdale (not the famous one near Keswick). These might be missing the drama of the Lake District’s central valleys, but what they lack in spectacle, they more than make up for in solitude and serenity. It’s not that long ago that England’s last remaining golden eagle could be spotted here, high above Haweswater, the county’s largest reservoir. Sadly, he disappeared in 2016. But large herds of native red deer still roam these remote fells, their haunting calls filling the air come the autumn rut.  

There are several interesting sights along this eastern edge of the Lake District. The shell of the nineteenth-century Lowther Castle forms the centrepiece of one of the most popular visitor attractions, and includes extensive gardens and an adventure playground built to mirror the castle but in miniature. Stepping further back in time, the ruins of the 12th-century Shap Abbey are hidden away in a secluded hollow beside the River Lowther.

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Lake District - South

With Windermere, England’s longest natural lake, as its glittering centrepiece, the South Lakes provides a gently rolling introduction to the Lake District National Park. Apart from the Coniston area, the hills here are generally lower than further north, the scenery altogether more sedate.

Kendal forms the southern gateway to the National Park, probably the most vibrant town in the whole of Cumbria. Many people rush through it on their way to the Lakeland honeypots, but it’s worth lingering a while here, enjoying the café-bar culture and visiting the museums, galleries and thriving arts centre. If you’re lucky, your visit might coincide with one of the many festivals hosted by the town every year, including the Kendal Mountain Festival in November and the Kendal Calling music festival, held every summer at the nearby Lowther Deer Park.

Windermere is the big draw in the South Lakes, with the lakeside part of Bowness jam-packed with sightseers during the peak holiday season. And who can blame them? Take a stroll down by the Windermere Lake Cruises’ piers and you’ll be treated to a glorious view along the lake to the high Lakeland fells – a magnificent backdrop! Better still, hop on a boat or hire a stand-up paddle board and enjoy it all from the calm serenity of the water. Other popular attractions include Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House; the Windermere Jetty boat museum; and, for younger visitors, the interactive displays in The World of Beatrix Potter.

Across the lake, there are the appealing villages of Hawkshead and the Sawreys, another place of pilgrimage for fans of the children’s author, farmer and conservationist Beatrix Potter. Her former home, Hill Top, looks pretty much as it did when she left it to the National Trust in 1943. This is also where you’ll find Grizedale, Lakeland’s single largest forest – a sprawling area of conifer plantations and mixed woodland that’s popular with serious, adrenaline-fuelled mountain bikers as well as families looking for an off-road cycling adventure.

Further west again, you come to another sparkling expanse of blue – Coniston Water. As on Windermere, cruises are available or you can hire a sailing dinghy from Coniston village and follow in the wake of Swallows and Amazons, the children’s adventure story set on and around the lake. The mountains that loom imperiously over its shores are a walkers’ paradise and include the popular Old Man of Coniston, easily reached in just a few hours from the village at its foot.

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Mungrisdale

Mungrisdale is tucked in right at the eastern base of the Northern Fells. People come here either for the pub, the Mill Inn, or to lace up their boots and head for the hills. Bowscale Fell (2303ft/702m), haunted Souther Fell (1712ft/522m) and even mighty Blencathra (2847ft/868m) can all be climbed directly from the small car park opposite the village hall. Another popular excursion is the walk up to Bowscale Tarn, an almost perfect example of a corrie tarn, created by the action of ice during the last glacial period.

The unfenced road that passes through the tiny village is a good place for spotting fell ponies, descended from native breeds that have inhabited Cumberland and Westmorland for hundreds if not thousands of years.

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North Cumbria

Beyond the Lake District lies the border country – England’s border with Scotland and, nearly 2,000 years ago, the north-western boundary of the Roman Empire. This area is dripping with history; a place where archaeologists, and even the occasional metal detectorist, stumble across fascinating discoveries on a fairly regular basis.

Carlisle, with a population of about 70,000, is Cumbria’s largest settlement and its only city. The Romans established Luguvalium here in about 72AD, and later, when Hadrian’s Wall was built, it crossed the River Eden at Carlisle. Little evidence of the Roman occupation now remains, but the city’s often bloody history is brought to fascinating life in Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. This award-winning attraction is located opposite the twelfth-century castle and just around the corner from the small but perfectly formed cathedral, built from red sandstone in 1122.

Several long-distance walking and cycle routes either pass through or end at Carlisle. These include the Reivers Cycle Route, Hadrian’s Cycleway, the Cumbria Way and the popular Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail. The latter visits several of north Cumbria’s most important Roman sites, including the remains of a bridge over the River Irthing at Willowford and a fort at Birdoswald, next to the longest continuous stretch of Hadrian’s Wall still standing. Other important Roman remains, including Vindolanda, Housesteads Fort and the eye-catching, roller-coaster section of wall along Steel Rigg ridge are just a few miles further east in the county of Northumberland.

Other nearby attractions that are well worth a visit include Lanercost Priory, which effectively became the temporary capital of England when King Edward I was fighting his border wars at the beginning of the fourteenth century; and Geltsdale, one of the RSPB’s largest nature reserves and a place that’s home to various upland waders, hen harriers and black grouse – some of England’s most endangered bird species. 

To the west of Carlisle, you’ll find the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, much loved by bird-watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts who come for its seemingly endless beaches with views of the Scottish hills, the raised bogs of the South Solway Mosses and the wide, open spaces of its estuarine salt marshes. Visit during the autumn to witness the amazing sight and sound of tens of thousands of geese and swans descending on the marshes from the Arctic for the winter.  

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Patterdale

Patterdale lies just beyond the southern tip of Ullswater. Smaller and quieter than neighbouring Glenridding, it has a shop, hotel, pub, youth hostel, several guesthouses and a campsite. It’s an excellent place for walkers to base themselves, with lots of superb fell routes starting from the village. Helvellyn (3116ft/950m) can be climbed from here, either via Grisedale or the exciting Striding Edge, as can the easier Place Fell (2155ft/657m) on the opposite side of the valley. For a challenging round on the high fells, there’s the 10-mile Deepdale Horseshoe, taking in St Sunday Crag and Fairfield (2863ft/873m), among others.

Further up the valley is Hartsop, a cluster of unspoilt stone cottages, some still with their external spinning galleries from the days when this area was renowned for wool-spinning.

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Pooley Bridge

Pooley Bridge sits at the northern end of Ullswater, on the banks of the River Eamont as it issues from the lake. Swans and ducks waddle around the car parks and grace the usually sedate waters that started life on some of England’s highest hills. 

The village itself is a modest affair, consisting of a few cottages, three pubs, a couple of cafés, a handful of shops and a fine dining restaurant. There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Pooley Bridge, including several lakeside campsites and a few luxury hotels within a short drive. It can be easily accessed from Penrith and junction 40 of the M6, either via the B5320 through the village of Tirril or along the A592 from the Rheged Centre. (At the time of writing though, access to the main part of Pooley Bridge from the A592 and the car parks on its western side was limited to pedestrians only.) 

If you want to get out on the water, rowing boats, motor boats and canoes can be hired from Lakeland Boat Hire, a three-minute walk from the village centre. Further down the lake’s eastern shore, near Sharrow Bay, the Ullswater Yacht Club hires out paddle boards and a variety of sailing boats.

The Ullswater ‘Steamers’ have a pier on the western edge of Pooley Bridge. It’s just over an hour on the boat from here to Glenridding at the other end of the lake. Alternatively, combine a trip on the ‘steamer’ with a walk by following the Ullswater Way up on to the low moorland of Askham Fell. Here you can visit The Cockpit stone circle before walking the bridleway along the base of the fells to Howtown, where you catch the ‘steamer’ back to Pooley Bridge. With spectacular views throughout, there can’t be many walks in the Lake District that provide so much reward for so little effort.    

Visitors can also saddle up and enjoy the scenery on horseback. The Park Foot pony trekking centre, less than a mile from Pooley Bridge, has direct access to the fells so riders don’t have to venture on to the roads. The centre offers guided treks of between 30 minutes and two hours, providing customers with riding hats and, if necessary, waterproofs. 

Among the nearby attractions are Lowther Castle and Gardens, about five miles to the east, and Dalemain, an attractive mansion with medieval, Tudor and early Georgian features. Visit in May to see the dazzling display of Himalayan blue poppies, or in June and July to appreciate the Rose Walk. Dalemain is just a short drive up the A592, but it can also be reached on foot by following the five-mile Dalemain Loop. This waymarked walking route is a relatively new extension to the existing 20-mile Ullswater Way. The ‘loop’ also passes along the base of Dunmallard Hill, the site of a small Iron Age hill-top settlement.

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Ravenglass

The tranquil coastal settlement of Ravenglass enjoys a unique status in Europe – it’s the only village that falls within two World Heritage sites. It lies on the western edge of the Lake District site, designated by UNESCO in 2017, and is part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire site which also takes in Hadrian’s Wall. In Roman times, Ravenglass, then known as Glannoventa, was a major port, but all that remains today of this ancient settlement is its old bath-house, now called Walls Castle. The ruins stand more than 11ft high, making them among the tallest of Roman constructions in northern England. Entry is free and the site is unfenced.

The rows of neat little fishermen’s cottages that line the main street of Ravenglass look out on to an estuary where three rivers meet – the Esk, the Irt and the Mite. Two nature reserves, Eskmeals and Drigg, are situated in the estuary, their salt marshes and extensive dune systems home to hundreds of plant species, ground-nesting birds and rare natterjack toads. 

Ravenglass is a quiet spot; the main A595 bypasses the village, so there is no through traffic. The Cumbrian Coast railway line, from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness, stops here and links up with the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Known affectionately as the La’al Ratty – la’al being local dialect for ‘little’ – this narrow-gauge line runs up into Eskdale, as far as Dalegarth (Boot).

One of the biggest attractions in the area is the historic house and gardens of Muncaster Castle, a couple of minutes’ drive east of Ravenglass. 

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Rosthwaite

Sitting astride the main valley road and just a pebble’s throw from the River Derwent, Rosthwaite is probably the best known of the Borrowdale villages. It has several small hotels and B&Bs as well as a café (closed in winter). The area is particularly popular with walkers who can access a wide range of both high- and low-level walks from the village: Dock Tarn, Watendlath, Glaramara, Grange Fell and Langstrath are among the many highlights. Another is Castle Crag, where adventurous hikers can seek out the split-level woodland cave where outdoor guide Millican Dalton used to live. The self-styled ‘Professor of Adventure’ made this his summer home from the early 1920s until the mid-1940s.

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Seatoller

About seven miles south of Keswick, Seatoller is the last village in Borrowdale before the valley road starts its steep and winding climb to Honister Pass. Surrounded by some of the valley’s most beautiful broad-leaved woodland as well as walled fields where Herdwick sheep graze, the settlement consists largely of a few old quarrymen’s cottages and a farmhouse. It’s undoubtedly a welcome sight for walkers who have just crossed the fells on day two of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast long-distance path. 

Seatoller is served all year round by the 78 bus service from Keswick and, in summer, by the 77/77A, a circular route that is surely one of the finest bus journeys in the whole of England.

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South Cumbria

The far south of Cumbria consists of a series of peninsulas that jut out into Morecambe Bay – popular with bird spotters and other wildlife enthusiasts, as well as holiday-makers looking for somewhere that’s a little off the beaten track.

The attractive towns and villages of Arnside, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston are well worth a visit – if only for their laid-back atmosphere, amazing outlooks and beautiful walks. Arnside Knott and Hampsfell both make for relatively easy rambles, blending coastal scenery with dreamy views of the distant hills. In summer, it’s even possible to walk/wade across the notorious Kent estuary, known for its quick sands and rapidly flowing tides – but only if led by the officially appointed and highly knowledgeable Queen’s Guide to the Sands. Just inland of Grange is tiny Cartmel, home to a twelfth-century priory church, a racecourse and one of the region’s top restaurants. 

If historic homes and gardens are your thing, there’s Holker Hall, Levens Hall and, nearer Kendal, Sizergh Castle. The picturesque ruins of Furness Abbey, on the edge of Barrow-in-Furness, provide an insight into a time when monks controlled much of the land and trade in these parts. Another blast from the (slightly more recent) past comes in the form of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, which operates steam trains near the southern end of Windermere. Fans of the combustion engine might also want to consider dropping in on the Lakeland Motor Museum.

Morecambe Bay itself, one of Britain’s largest bays, is part of the Irish Sea but visitors don’t always get to see the water. When the tide goes out here, it really goes out, leaving salt marshes, mudflats and shifting sands that stretch on into the distance for several miles. This astonishing tidal landscape provides the region with one of its best-known culinary treats – potted shrimps. It’s also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including several rare species. Those armed with binoculars are advised to head to Walney Island, connected to Barrow via a road bridge. This long, thin wedge of glacial till boasts two nature reserves where you’ll find rare natterjack toads, Cumbria’s only grey seal colony and countless species of bird. Other fascinating wildlife sites in the far south of the county include Foulshaw Moss, a nesting site for ospreys, and the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, renowned for the birds, butterflies and wildflowers of its limestone pavement.  

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The Sawreys

The Sawreys is the collective name give to the two hamlets, Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey, located roughly two miles south-east of Hawkshead. Near Sawrey, the closest to Hawkshead, was famously once the home of the children’s writer Beatrix Potter, and her first farm, Hill Top, is now one of the most popular attractions in this part of the Lake District. Far Sawrey is closer to the shores of Windermere, and a good place to start woodland and lakeside walks. The pretty Moss Eccles Tarn, where Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis spent many happy summer evenings, is no more than a half-hour walk from either of the hamlets.

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Threlkeld

On arrival in Threlkeld, there’s one thing you can’t fail to notice – and that’s the imposing mountain that rears up behind it. This former lead and zinc-mining village nestles up against the dramatic, southern slopes of Blencathra, and is a popular starting point for walkers intent on climbing to its 2847ft (868m) summit. 

But there’s more to Threlkeld than just Blencathra: it’s also home to two pubs, a community-run café, an outdoor activity centre and, on the other side of the A66, the Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum. The latter offers guided tours of a reconstructed mine, displays of mining and quarrying artefacts and short trips on a narrow-gauge railway.

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Townend

Townend is a seventeenth-century farmhouse located on the edge of beautiful Troutbeck village. It was built for a wealthy yeoman farmer called George Browne in 1626 and remained the family home until the National Trust took charge of it in 1943. Now open to the public, it contains intricately carved woodwork, books, papers and domestic implements collected by the Browne family over more than three centuries. 

A casual wander around Townend’s low-ceilinged rooms, furnished with dark-wood items made for the family, provides an insight into how some Lakeland farmers once lived. Better still, visit soon after opening and join one of the small tours where informative guides bring the site to life.

Among the most interesting features inside the lime-washed farmhouse are a Gothic revival chimneypiece, a nineteenth-century cast-iron range and a well-preserved Westmorland carved chair that dates from 1742. There’s also a substantial library that contains more than 1,500 books, including several that exist nowhere else in the world. 

The building itself has three circular chimneys, typical of vernacular architecture from the period, and oak-mullioned windows. Thanks to a proliferation of wildflowers, the Brownes’ pretty cottage garden bursts into brilliant colour come spring and summer. Benches with views out over the Troutbeck valley make it an excellent spot for a picnic. Although it’s not open to the public, the site also has a stone-built bank barn, one of the oldest examples left in the UK.