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.