This magnificent, much-loved national park is one of the best places in Britain for a stroll: small wonder that many a wandering poet and writer has fallen for its blustery, formidable charm over the years.
Skiddaw is one of Cumbria’s highest mountains. The eight-mile round trip, which starts and ends in the town of Keswick, leads to its peak – it can be a tough old slog, but the views of Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwentwater should justify the effort. A pint of Thirst Rescue at the Dog & Gun on your return will certainly make it all worthwhile (01768 773463; 2 Lake Rd).
Wedged between Coniston and Esthwaite Water, Grizedale Forest is criss-crossed by hiking trails and biking routes. Deer can be seen here – somewhat easier to spot are its 60 or so sculptures, such as an untitled, Tolkien-esque ‘man of the forest’ (near Hawkshead; admission free). North of the forest, the Drunken Duck is one of the Lakes’ finest pubs, doing a cracking line in modern bistro grub and micro-brewed ales (near Barngates).
Fairfield Horeshoe, a 11-mile day-hike across several fells north of the town of Ambleside, takes in a bumper crop of Wainwrights, the 214 hills written about in his Pictorial Guides. Fairfield’s peak is one of the most dramatic lookouts of the eastern Lakes, with Helvellyn to the northwest and the brooding Scafells and Langdales to the west (near Ambleside, Windermere). Back in Ambleside, kick off your boots at the Unicorn, a local haunt with bags of charm (01539 433216; North Rd).
The most popular peak in the park after Scafell Pike, Helvellyn’s 950-metre summit is best reached by the eight-mile ridge route along Striding Edge. It’s a challenge, with dizzying drops and a few scrambles on all fours required, but is suitable for reasonably fit individuals. The views here are mind-boggling, especially east to Ullswater (near Glenridding and Patterdale).
A 600-metre fell on Cumbria’s western coastline, Black Combe is often overlooked, but deserves wider recognition. From the top of its isolated peak, the view spans from the Solway Firth bordering Scotland down to Duddon Sands and Morecambe Bay; clear days have been known to reveal the peaks of Snowdonia, 90 miles or so to the southwest. From the village of Whicham to the south, the five-mile walk should take a couple of hours (near Millom).
‘For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure,’ wrote fellwalker Alfred Wainwright in his Pictorial Guides to the Lakes. He chose his words well. Although relatively diminutive at 597m high, at its peak you can see Innominate and Blackbeck Tarns, as well as low hills blanketed in greens, crimsons and yellows – as perfect a Lakeside view as they come (near Gatesgarth Farm, Buttermere Valley).
Loweswater, a little lake in the supremely pretty, jade-green Vale of Lorton, is unspoiled by traffic, crowds or the razzmatazz of other larger Cumbrian lakes, and is a supremely peaceful place to meander around. The vale is scattered with farmhouses, beech copses and rickety old barns, and the lake itself is just a mile in length and easy to circumnavigate (Vale of Lorton).
Not unlike the nearby Lyth Valley, Winster feels wonderfully remote, despite being only a few miles from Windermere. It’s known for its abundance of Westmorland damsons, a plum-like fruit that ripens in September. On your way, look out for roadside stalls selling damson-based goodies – a bottle of damson gin makes for a more original souvenir than Kendal mint cake (near Crosthwaite).
Seasoned Lakelanders often cite Ennerdale, a valley an hour’s walk northeast of Wasdale Head, as the most scenic corner of the park. The blue-green arc of Ennerdale Water is hidden from the view of passers-by dense plantations of conifers. There is less road access than at other lakes in the park, and you can appreciate its dramatic majesty without having to shin up a mountain (near Ennerdale Bridge).
Where to stay
Keswick’s Howe Keld is akin to a boutique b&b, and is certainly a cut above most guesthouses in town. Its 14 revamped rooms now feature goose-down duvets and slate-floored bathrooms ( 5–7 The Heads; from £90).
Winder Hall is a charming family hotel with parts dating back to Tudor and Jacobean times. It’s surrounded by delightful grounds, and the restaurant is a winner for Sunday lunch (Low Lorton; from £135).
Wild In Style can claim some of the best yurts in the region. Their classy 16-foot homes-fromhome come with wooden floors, gas hob kitchens and electric lighting (Low Wray National Trust Campsite, near Ambleside; from £250).
The north–south M6 runs near Kendal and Penrith. Windermere station has direct train services from Manchester (from £16 return). Visitors from the south of England or Scotland should change at Oxenholme or Lancaster for the Windermere line (London– Windermere from £85). Buses in main towns are regular, but less so in rural areas. Driving may be convenient, however roads are often narrow, windy and hilly – and traffic jams in and between towns are not uncommon in the summer. Car hire is available in Kendal (from £35 per day).
The article 'Mini guide to the Lake District’s walks' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.