A brief guide to the English Lake District

Windermere Lake District

I don’t know about you, but when I start planning my next trip, I like to get a good, broad overview of the area before I start getting down to the finer details of working out what to do and where to go.

So, this is my brief introduction to each of the main regions of the national park to kick start your planning for your own Lake District adventure!

Do let me know if there is anything you think that should be added – either in the comments below or drop me a DM on my Instagram 🙂

South Lake District

Windermere Lake District

Lake Windermere from Bowness

Rolling hills and England’s longest lake, Windermere is often the first stop on Lake District adventure. With easy access by car and public transport from Kendal, in high season, it can feel a little Disneyland esque in busyness with the camera snapping tourists.

If you can, try to explore offseason, crisp autumn and winter days can be just as beautiful by the lake, wrapped up warm and popping into a cafe to warm up with hot chocolate. Whichever season though, you still can’t beat a cruise on Windermere, jumping off at one of the stops such as Wray Castle for a lakeside walk.

Take a hike on Orrest Head or Wansfell near Ambleside to escape the main crowds or have a mooch around Grasmere, visit the newly refurbished Dove Cottage which celebrates the life and work of famous poet Williams Wordsworth and sample the legendary gingerbread. 

Highlights Grasmere, Windermere, Ambleside

Best for… Boat trips on Windermere, cosy cafes and gentle hikes/walks, Grasmere gingerbread, National Trust heritage properties (Allan Bank in Grasmere and Townend at Troutbeck), kids attractions such as Beatrix Potter World 

My top tip Take a leisurely stroll up to Stock Ghyll waterfall, a moderately easy uphill walk from Ambleside. Reward yourself with tea and a selection cake plate at the quirky little Rattle Ghyll cafe back in Ambleside

Covered on OS Map OL7

Western Lake District

Wastwater Lake District

Driving up to Wasdale Head along Wastwater

I love the wild feeling of the western Lakes – driving up alongside Wastwater reminded me of a remote Norwegian fjord, the head of the lake home to the towering Scarfell Pike, England’s highest mountain.

On summer weekend days, it can feel a little a procession of tourists like ants crawling up from Wasdale to the Scarfell summit – but there are plenty of impressive hikes including Great Gable or for a quieter alternative head up Whin Rigg and hike along the ridge to Illgill Head and back into Wasdale. At the slightly quieter southern end of Wastwater, there are plenty of rocky shores for a dip in England’s deepest lake.

Highlights Ennerdale, Eskdale, Wastwater

Best for… High peak hill walks, lake swimming or paddleboarding on Wastwater, the miniature railway from Eskdale to Ravenglass

My top tip For a wild adventure, hike up to YHA Black Sail, one of England’s remotest hostels. Climb one of the areas high fells and reward yourself with a glass of something strong and share your stories at the famous climber’s pub of Wasdale Head

Covered on OS Map OL6

North Lake District

Keswick and Derwentwater from Latrigg summit

Looking down on Keswick from the summit of Latrigg

I might be a little biased having lived in this region for almost a year, but to me to the north has a bit of something for everyone – hikes of all different heights, boat trips on Derwentwater and plenty of sweet cafes and bars in Keswick. Further afield, you can venture into the underrated Borrowdale valley and over the dramatic Honister Pass and descend into Buttermere for an easy lakeside stroll, before looping back round to Whinlatter Forest Park and back down to into Keswick for a nightcap.

Highlights Keswick,Derwentwater, Buttermere, Borrowdale, and the northern fells

Best for… Boat trips on Derwentwater, a broad range of hikes from Skiddaw (931m) to the accessible Latrigg (368m) or Cat Bells (451m), cosy cafes and dining in Keswick, the Pencil Museum for rainy days, lake walks around Buttermere, exploring the caves and Bowder Stone of the Borrowdale Valley, braving the Via Ferrata at Honister

My top tip Take a trip to England’s only ‘mountain’ forest at Whinlatter only 15mins drive from Keswick (or a bus in summer) where you can try mountain biking, segwaying, swing from the treetops at Go Ape or try one of the walking or running trails to take you deep in the forest

Read more: Easy walks in the Lake District: a circular walk of Buttermere Lake 

Covered on OS Map OL4

Central/Eastern Lake District

Ullswater Lake

Ullswater Lake from Pooley Bridge

Cruise the lake shores of Coniston or Ullswater on a steamer or take to the hills for hikes on Helvellyn, Martindale or down into the Langdale Valley. This was the area Beatrix Potter called home, you can visit her original house Hilltop House in Near Swarey and discover the inspiration behind her illustrations in the gallery in Hawkshead. To head off the beaten track, head to Grizedale Forest Park to explore the creative wooden carvings on the forest sculpture trails.

Highlights Langdale Valley, Coniston, Hawkshead and Ullswater

Best for… Beatrix Potters House and gallery near Hawkshead, Grizedale Forest Park, steamer rides on Coniston and Ullswater lakes, hiking in the Langdale pikes or the Old Man Coniston, Aira Force waterfall, Howtown for quieter hikes

My top tip Pack and picnic and hike up the Coniston Coopermines to explore how life used to be in the mining days – plus stunning views back down to the lake. Warm-up with a hot drink or homemade soup at the quirky Green Housekeeper Cafe back in Coniston.

Covered on OS Map OL5 & 6

Do you have a fave area of the Lake District which holds happy memories?

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A brief guide to the English Lake District

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