My Lake District road trip with She Who Wanders went something like this… 517 miles, 57,000 steps, five towns, four lakes and two days.
During mid-May 2019, in anticipation of She Who Wanders’ return to Canada (henceforth referred to as Laura), we hopped in my trusted Audi A3 and took a weekend road trip to tick England‘s largest National Park off Laura’s bucket list.
Opting to stay in hostels, and with a full tank of fuel (around £50), the weekend was fairly inexpensive as we bought food along too.
Travelling up after hours on a Friday, and returning on a Sunday evening, here’s how we spent our Lake District road trip.
Towns in The North Lakes Area of the Lake District:
Towns in South Lakes Area of the Lake District:
Jump to Lakes:
Our Lake District Road Trip Itinerary
A Journey to the North
Due to the closeness of the Easter and May bank holidays I was unable to take the whole Friday off work, so I picked Laura up from Gloucester train station, and after an ASDA pit stop, we made our merry way North.
We were incredibly fortunate in that, despite leaving around 5.30pm on a Friday, bound for our home for the night at YHA Hawkshead, both the M5 and the M6 were completely clear and we didn’t encounter any setbacks.
The 214-mile drive from Gloucester to YHA Hawkshead took us around 3.5 hours with no stops, but with the usual M5 and M6 road works. (if you know, you know)
We finally arrived at YHA Hawkshead around 9pm.
Our Hawkshead Home
The cost of staying in an 8-bed female dorm came to £8.70 each, paid on arrival, with free parking. You also have the option to stay in cabins, bell tents, tipis, camping pods or your own tent.
Free WiFi is available via The Cloud, but it isn’t always available in every corner of the building – it did work in our dorm. Bring a towel and some flip flops for the showers.
While breakfast options are available for an additional fee, we opted to prepare our own breakfast using the self-catering kitchen and food we bought along with us. After a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea (I bought the tea for £1.95), it was off for the first walk of the day – destination Hilltop. The car remained in the hostel car park until lunchtime.
Our day began with a short walk to Esthwaite Water Car Park – mostly via road – where we picked up the Beatrix Potter walking trail.
Esthwaite Water Beatrix Potter Walking Trail
The 2.5km long Esthwaite Water is said to have been Beatrix Potter’s favourite lake, and the inspiration behind Jeremy Fisher. Starting at Esthwaite Water Car Park, a half a mile woodland trail will take you adjacent to the lake through reeds and wilderness to eventually reach Beatrix Potter’s home – Hilltop.
Along the trail are storyboards detailing the facts behind Beatrix Potter’s famous characters such as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Mrs. Tittlemouse, Mr. Tod and Mr. Jeremy Fisher to name a few. We were even treated to an up-close-and-personal view of some baby ducklings.
The woodland trail ends and you’ll just need to take the road upwards until you come to Hilltop.
Make the most out of your visit with Ordnance Survey’s OS Explorer Maps
Hilltop Gardens and Shop
Hilltop is the 17th-century cottage that served as the home of famed author Beatrix Potter. The cottage is available to visit from 10am, and tickets must be purchased from the ticket office at £13 an adult. Bear in mind that the cottage gardens, shop and surrounding areas are free to visit.
We opted not to visit the Cottage itself but instead visited the gardens and surrounding area. Do however go into the ticket office and ask for directions to the Garden and Shop – here they should provide you with a map that details some of the local landmarks that feature in the Beatrix Potter stories. Don’t miss the Peter Rabbit road sign!
Whilst in the garden, spot the small hedgehogs hidden amongst the plants and be sure to use the free toilets accessible in the garden.
Top tip: pick up a 50p Lake District postcard for a cheap, but illustrative, memoir of your visit to the Lake District.
Click here for more information on making the most of your visit
After a little nosey around the Beatrix Potter shop and a toilet pit stop, we walked the 2 miles to Hawkshead village. The route was a mixture of path and road.
The village isn’t huge so it won’t take you more than ten minutes to walk around, but do have a nosey around the shops. The Honeypot piqued our interest, and we came away with a Cumbrian pork pie and a Cartmel Sticky Toffee pudding for later.
There are a number of places to grab a bite to eat around the village, but we opted for a coffee pick-me-up at Ginny’s Teapot. A little shabby chic corner, Ginny’s teapot offer afternoon tea, pancakes and all manner of cakes and coffees. They do also provide free water refills, so if you’re running low on water be sure to ask for a refill.
After our refuel, we walked the twenty minutes back to the hostel via the road. Although the road looks a little dodgy, I wouldn’t recommend taking the scenic path as it only adds on time and you don’t come out much further up the road – and you have to join the road anyway! Don’t miss the chocolate factory, the cakes in the window of Sun Cottage Cafe and the free library on your way back.
Top tip: the Cartmel Sticky Toffee pudding has been made in the Lake District town of Cartmel for over twenty years and is said (by my Dad, and I agree) to be the best in the UK – pick one up to eat warm in the hostel later on.
Click here for more about the village
Phone reception was a little sparse so returning to the hostel worked well for a toilet stop, and to make one final use of the WiFi to set up the Sat Nav (I use Waze). It took us approximately 26 minutes to reach the Stock Lane Car Park (LA22 9SJ) in Grasmere which would serve as our afternoon adventure. We arrived in Grasmere around 2pm.
This is a Pay and Display car park from 9am to 6pm daily, we paid £4.20 for up to 3 hours via card. All of the car parks we encountered in the Lake District offered the ability to pay by card and/or contactless. There are toilets located in the car park for a fee of 30p.
Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread
As well as being in the heart of the Lake District, and the inspiration for many romantics poets and artists, Grasemere is home to (allegedly) the best gingerbread in the world. Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread is made using a 150-year-old recipe, that’s described as being a cross between a biscuit and a cake.
Sadly we didn’t hook up with any gingerbread men, but we did pick up a small parcel containing 6 pieces for £3.50. This is the only place in the world you can buy and try the 19th century Grasmere Gingerbread, the shop is open all year round except Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
We decided to take a stroll down to the lake but after realising it was going to be a little extra effort than we were willing to give, we settled for a lake-front view at Faeryland Cafe.
Probably the closest you’ll get to the lake without walking a mile or so, Faeryland is home to a Gypsy caravan and rowing boats with a lakeside view. They do ask that you make a purchase before taking photographs, and after a mad scramble for change since they only take cash, we bought a peppermint tea (between us, we scraped the barrel!).
Other than a selection of loose leaf teas, you’ll find their famous Hot Pink Mulled Apple Juice, Cioccolato Eccellente, and more on the menu.
Rowing boats can be hired for £15 (for two people) with a deposit of £20 per boat. (Cash only)
Knowing we had a short drive North of the lakes to YHA Borrowdale, we hopped back in the car for the forty-minute drive. The sign for this hostel is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of scenario – it’s a good thing we paid attention to the Sat Nav.
We arrived at the hostel around 5.30pm and opted for a little stroll, we followed the path from the hostel and ended up in Seatoller – the next village along. We took the road back and saw a sign for a pub a mile up the opposite road.
We ended up at The Langstrath Country Inn, which was incredibly busy and we couldn’t fit in for food, so we settled for a drink outside before retreating to the hostel for a pot noodle and that Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding warmed up in the microwave.
We learned that day that a cycling marathon was taking place at 9am the next day, so to avoid potential road closures we opted to leave bright and early before the race began. We left the next morning at 7am on no sleep thanks to a very LOUDLY snoring roomie.
We paid £28.80 each (with Laura’s YHA Member discount) for a bed in a 6-bed female dorm. WiFi only worked in the reception, lounge and dining areas. Unless you’re doing the Coast to Coast walk (or Scaffel Pike) there’s not much to do in Borrowdale, so stay at the YHA Keswick instead.
Top tip: you can hike Scaffel Pike – England’s Highest Peak – from Borrowdale, it’s approximately 10 miles.
In hindsight, we would have been better off at the YHA Keswick, as with more time (and budget) a visit to Keswick town, Castlerigg Stone Circle and Alpacaly ever after would have been on the itinerary.
Ashness Bridge and Surprise View
On route to Ambleside, we knew we couldn’t resist a panoramic view of the Derwentwater lake and made a special stop at Surprise View. The Sat Nav (Waze App) wouldn’t pick up the postcode for the Surprise View Car Park (be careful it doesn’t pick up the one in the Peak District!), so instead we used the address for Ashness Bridge Car Park (CA12 5UN) which you have to cross to reach Surprise View anyway.
Said to be the most photographed bridge in the Lake District appearing on biscuit tins and tea towels, Ashness Bridge is not for the faint-hearted as driving over the small bridge, you lose sight of the walls! Both car parks are Pay and Display, but arriving around 8am in the morning and staying no longer than 10-15 minutes we didn’t bother with tickets. Plus, you can see the car from both view points.
I’d recommend driving up to surprise view first (unless you fancy a hike) and then back down to Ashness bridge after.
Top tip: when approaching the bridge from the car park, head to the right side of the bridge as this is the famous shot with the mountains in the background.
From our little detour on the way, it took us 40 minutes to reach Rydal Road Car Park in Ambleside for which the postcode was useless – just type it in instead. Again, this is another Pay and Display, we parked for four hours from 9am to 1pm.
The Apple Pie Cafe
Having spotted this little gem when driving through Grasmere to Borrowdale the day before, I couldn’t wait for a slice of apple pie. As luck would have it, the Apple Pie Cafe opened at 9am (we visited on a Sunday) and we decided to sit in for breakfast. Open since 1975, the cafe is open for both takeaways, breakfast and lunch with most meals under £10.
One of the best things about Ambleside is that, after a short woodland incline, you can reach the 70ft waterfall Stock Ghyll Force in under 20 minutes.
Passing the Salutation Hotel on your left, take the next left turn that goes up behind the hotel. From here you’ll spot the ‘To The Waterfalls’ signs and it’s just a case of walking up guided by the red arrows. Someone had lovingly left out an honesty box of homemade flapjacks – how lovely!
It’ll take you no more than twenty minutes to reach the top – and people of all ages included elderly visitors with walking sticks managed the climb and back down again. Be sure to check out the view points on the way up for some good snaps.
Once you reach the top, you won’t be able to see much of the waterfall due to the foliage, so cross the bridge and you’ll see a small unofficial trail that will enable you to climb down next to the water by some rocks. To get down, just carry on down the side your own and eventually you’ll cross a bridge and come back to where you started.
Find out the lay of the land, buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
After our mini-hike to work off our breakfast, we decided to head over to the pier. It took about twenty minutes to walk to the pier from the town centre, but it’s highly recommended as it’s a lovely little area to catch wind of Windermere. Here you can rent boats, grab a drink or a bite to eat or just enjoy the dock area.
Top tip: pick up an eclair, apple pie or other goodies from the Apple Pie Cafe on your back to the car
Heading for our final stop of the road trip, we set up the Sat Nav for Windermere’s long stay car park – Braithwaite Fold Car Park (LA23 3HE). The journey was around twenty minutes, arriving around 1.15pm – and we travelled though Bowness-on-Windermere right down by the pier. This is another Pay and Display Car Park that does accept both card and online payments.
Since the car park would only let me pay until 4pm, we took the details of the mobile payments and topped it up on foot.
Out first port of call was the Windermere Lake Cruises Islands Cruise. At just £9 for a forty-five minute cruise from Pier 2 it was a really lovely start to our visit. We bought our tickets on the day and the cruise left the harbour around 13:50pm.
Hole in t’Wall
Ready for a late lunch, we headed to the oldest pub in Bowness that was frequented by Charles Dickens – the Hole in t’Wall. Open since 1612, we opted for a Lamb Henry (lamb, mint sauce, chips and veg) and a half pint of Robinsons’ award-winning ale. Don’t worry, if ale isn’t your thing then their range of over 20 gins might tickle your fancy.
The prices at the Hole in t’Wall are fairly reasonable around £12 for a main meal and it’s easily accessible from the pier. The interior is very warm and cosy, or if the sun is shining like it was for us, then the garden is a great place for a meal and/or a drink.
We decided to take a final stroll around the town centre, and despite being incredibly full, settled for a Windermere Ice Cream before heading back to the car.
Top tip: you could stay in Windermere and catch the ferry to Ambleside for a morning or the day
We took our leave of the Lake District around 5.30pm, and arrived back in Bristol by around 10pm as we stopped twice at the services.
There is still so much to see and do around the Lake District, that I’d recommend sticking to the South Lakes if you’re pushed for time like we were. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing so much of the Lake District – and I’ll be back to climb Scaffel Pike!