For generations the beauty of the Lake District has inspired poets, authors, and artists. It is a land of tranquil lakes of all shapes and sizes, quiet wooded valleys, and awesome bleak mountains, a land where much of the natural beauty is protected by the National Trust who work hard to keep this a working community of sheep farmers and to keep man in harmony with nature. One of the most determined preservers of the Lake District was Beatrix Potter, who used much of her royalties from her famous children’s books to purchase vast tracts of land and donate them to the nation. It is a region to be explored not only during the summer when the roads are more heavily traveled and the towns crowded, but also in the early spring when the famous daffodils brighten the landscape and well into the autumn when the leaves turn to gold and dark storm clouds shadow the lakes.

Recommended Pacing: Base yourself at one of the properties we recommend in the Lake District. If you cover all of our sightseeing recommendations, you will need four nights, though three might just suffice.

From junction 36 on the M6 motorway take the A590 in the direction of Barrow then a few minutes’ drive along the A591 brings you into the grounds of Sizergh Castle (NT), not a mighty fortress but a lovely, mostly Tudor house, the home of the Strickland family for over 700 years. The house is fully furnished-just as though the family has gone out for the day and you are a visitor to their home. There is an excellent teashop in the old cellar and a portion of the grounds presents an impressive rock garden.

Return to the A590 and in just a minute you are at another fine Tudor manor house, Levens Hall. The property is most famous for its topiary gardens, which have remarkably remained unchanged since 1690, when they were landscaped by a Frenchman, Guillaume Beaumont.

Join the A5074 Windermere road and on the outskirts of the town follow signs to the ferry, which takes you across the broad expanse of Windermere for the short drive to the tiny villages of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey, discovered by Beatrix Potter on childhood holidays. She was so charmed by the villages that out of the royalties from Peter Rabbit she bought Hill Top Farm (NT) in Near Sawrey. It was here in a vine-covered stone cottage set among trees and a garden of flowers that she dreamed up childhood playmates such as Jemima Puddleduck, Mrs Tiggy Winkle, the Flopsy Bunnies, Cousin Ribby, and Benjamin Bunny. Because of its popularity the house is open on a very limited basis, but the National Trust shop by the roadside is open more often and you can walk through the garden to the front door.

In nearby Hawkshead, a pretty village with a pedestrian center, there is a delightful Beatrix Potter Gallery (NT) containing an exhibition of her original drawings and illustrations of her children’s books, together with a display of her life as author, farmer, and preserver of her beloved Lake District. (Tel: 015394-33883.) A short drive brings you to Coniston, a delightful village of gray-stone buildings at the head of Coniston Water. John Ruskin, the eloquent 19th-century scholar, lived on the east side of the lake at Brantwood. His home contains many mementos and pictures. You will find a small Ruskin Museum with drawings and manuscripts in the village.

Travel a short distance along the A593 Ambleside road and turn left to wind along a country lane up into a quiet, less touristy part of the Lake District. Stop for refreshment in Little Langdale at the Three Shires, a delightful walkers’ pub that also offers accommodation. Leaving the village, you enter a wild, bleak, and beautiful area. The lane brings you to Blea Tarn and just as you think you are in the absolute midst of nowhere and contemplate turning around, you come to a cattle grid and a fork in the road. Take the right-hand fork signposted Great Langdale and follow the narrow road through wild and lonely countryside, down a steep pass, and through a lush valley into Great Langdale, another off-the-beaten-path village popular with walkers. Leaving the village, the road winds you up onto the moor and drops you back onto the A593 where a left-hand turn quickly brings you into Ambleside.

Ambleside is a bustling, busy town at the head of Lake Windermere with lots of shops selling walking equipment and outdoor wear, and gray Victorian row houses huddling along its streets. Leave town in the direction of Keswick (A591), watching for a right-hand turn to Rydal Mount, the home of William Wordsworth, the poet, from 1813 to his death in l850. The house is furnished and contains many family portraits and possessions. A keen gardener, Wordsworth laid out the 4½ acres of informal gardens.

Wordsworth fans will also want to stop at Dove Cottage where Wordsworth lived from 1799 to 1808 and the adjacent Wordsworth Museum. Park by the tearoom on the main road and walk up to the museum to buy your ticket. Try to visit early in the day as they restrict a tour to the number of people who can comfortably fit into Wordsworth’s tiny living room. As you tour the few meager rooms, which housed six adults and three children, it is hard to believe that this was home to one of the leading poets of the era. Poet laureates write poems on royal events, but not Wordsworth: he was the only poet laureate to write not a word on such occasions-but he relished the royal stipend. Just off the busy main road, the adjacent village of Grasmere is full of charming shops and galleries.

The A591 is a delightful drive into Keswick through in turn wild, rugged, and pastoral scenery. Take small roads to the west of Thirlmere as the views from the west of the lake are much better than from the A591. The lively market town of Keswick, cozily placed at the northern end of Derwent Water, is full of bakeries, sweet shops (selling fudge and Kendal mint cake), pubs, restaurants, and outdoor equipment suppliers. There are plenty of car parks near the town center, though on a busy summer afternoon you may have to drive around for a while before you secure a spot. The Moot Hall(meeting hall) at the center of the square is now the National Park Information Centre-full of maps, books, and good advice.

Returning to your car, head towards Derwent Water, taking the B5289 to Borrowdale for a spectacular drive between Keswick and Cockermouth, a journey not to be undertaken in bad weather. Follow Derwent Water to Grange where inviting woodlands beckon you to tarry awhile and walk, but desist because the most spectacular walking country lies ahead. Passing through the village of Rosthwaite, the narrow road begins to climb, curving you upwards alongside a tumbling stream to the high, treeless fells before suddenly tipping you over the crest of the mountain and snaking you down into the valley to Buttermere and Crummock Water whose placid surfaces mirror the jagged peaks surrounding this wooded, green valley. The mountains here are over 500 million years old-among the oldest in the world. Walking paths beckon in every direction-though these are not paths to be trod without equipment and maps, for the fickle weather can turn from sun to storm in just a short while. Leaving this lovely spot, the narrow road quickly brings you into the center of bustling Cockermouth where Wordsworthians have the opportunity to visit Wordsworth House, his birthplace on Main Street.

From Cockermouth follow signs for the A66 and Keswick along a country road that parallels the A66 to the head of Bassenthwaite Lake. At the junction cross the busy A66 onto a quiet country road to visit The Pheasant, a superb example of the very best of traditional pubs. From here the A66 quickly speeds you alongside Bassenthwaite Lake, around Keswick, and to the M6 motorway. However, if you have time for one more idyllic lake, take the A5091 through Troutbeck to Ullswater where you turn left to trace the lake to Aira Force (NT), a landscaped Victorian park with dramatic waterfalls, arboretum, and rock gardens (there is also a café). After a walk along the shores of Ullswater Wordsworth wrote his poem Daffodils. The dramatic scenery is still very much as it was in his day. Leaving Ullswater, return to the A66 and join the M6 at junction 40, with convenient connections to all parts of Britain.


* (NT) means that the property listed is under the care of the National Trust.

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