How many times have I visited London? Honestly, I lost count long ago. Aside from the 11 months that I lived there, I am sure I’ve visited at least 20 times…likely more. It is a vibrant city and no matter how often I visit, it always reveals something new to me. A new neighborhood, a new shortcut on the Tube, a new favorite restaurant. And I blame my love for this city as the reason why I don’t know the rest of the country very well at all. I’ve done quick day trips to Oxford, Cambridge and Bath, but that’s still a pretty sad showing for someone who loves to explore and travel. So this last trip to England, I dragged myself away from London for an overnight trip to the Lake District. It is a place I’ve heard about so many times over the years as being very serene and peaceful – a true get away from busy city life. You can hop on a train at Euston Station in London and four hours (and one train transfer) later, you’re in another world where tall buildings and major thoroughfares are replaced by small inns and rolling hills.
My visit started with a car service picking me up at the station to take me to my room at Blenheim Lodge in the small town of Bowness-on-Windermere. In truth I barely made it to my room because I just wanted to sit in the front room of the inn which had a picture window that looked out onto the lake. Give me a cup of tea and a blanket and I would have stayed there for days. But even with that view, I knew I had to get out explore on two feet. A path just a few steps from the inn led up into the nearest pasture and walking trails. Lucky for me, I had a guide to show me around. My good friend’s brother lives in town and runs The Country Hut, a local cafe that is a must stop for healthy smoothies, light snacks and killer cocktails. No matter how large or small the city is, I’m always grateful to have a local contact to give me the inside scoop.
Justin kindly met me just after I arrived to give me a local’s view of Bowness. We strolled through the pastures (past cows and sheep and a few tourists with walking sticks and rain boots) for about 30 minutes so I could get the lay of the land and take in some amazing views. The air was clean, the clouds were threatening but politely held off rain and the temperature was cool but refreshing. A perfect day for a nature walk.
And it seems like that is what brings most people to this region. To wander about through the countless walking trails. Some that were more for exercise, others that were more about the scenery and others to get you from one town to the next. Nearly everyone I met seemed to be just starting or just finishing up a day hike. Even with the constant threat (and the occasional fulfillment) of rain, most tourists were out on foot, rain jacket in hand ready to take in the rolling green hills spotted with rocky limestone outcroppings. I swear every iconic photo of the English countryside may have been taken within a 15 mile radius of Bowness-on-Windermere.
I was lucky to have friends with access to a car who took me on a winding trip through country roads to the town of Glenridding, a beautiful place that sadly suffers from a lack of tourism due to heavy flooding that hit the town in December 2015. While you can see that they are still rebuilding the roads and some of the shops, this town is very much open for business and can use an increase in tourism to get things back on track. If you can, please visit the small shops and businesses of and stop at the beautiful Inn on the Lake Hotel for an afternoon tea or cocktail and take in the surroundings.
When not hiking, you can spend your time on the water either on private sailing boats or tourist ferries that take you around what is the longest lake in England. I chose to do one of the Windemere Lake Cruises which you can book at anytime down at the Bowness pier. I choose a ferry for that for about $15, takes passengers on an approximately 70 minute loop around the peaceful lake with the option to disembark in some of the local towns. (Note: Many people travel to the Lake District with their dogs in tow. As long as they are leashed on the trails to avoid them chasing the sheep and cows, they are welcome in most places including on the public ferry).
I was traveling with my friend’s mother that day and we decided to get off in the town of Ambleside. From the dock, follow the signs for about a 15 minute walk into the main part of town. Ambleside is just as you would imagine in a storybook. Winding paths, small pubs, restaurants and local shops, and flowers everywhere.
You will be one of many tourists wandering around the the compact town, but it is still very peaceful and scenic and luckily not a chain store or restaurant in sight. After a sufficient amount of wandering around we found our way to the Giggling Goose cafe that is perched on a small hill just off the main road and next to a stream. You can stop in for a full lunch, a tea service or just to drool over the delicious fresh cakes and pastries.
Sufficiently caffeinated, fed and with a box of cakes to go, we headed back to the dock to continue our lake journey back to Bowness to catch my evening train back to London. It was a quick, two-day trip, but I was so glad that I took this little getaway. If you have a bit more time than I did, I would definitely suggest making a 4 day journey to this region. From hiking, to water sports to shopping plus allowing a time to do absolutely nothing, you won’t have any trouble filling up your days in the Lake District.