Getaway: Lake District
Al and Charlotte Smith enjoy spectacular landscapes and tranquil lakeside campsites in Cumbria’s National Park
Charlotte and Al Smith explore Cumbria’s National Park from tranquil lakeside campsites
TRAVELLING LIGHT WAS the name of the game when we prepared to visit the glorious landscapes of the Lake District in the summer. On our previous excursion, the car had been struggling to ascend steep hills while towing, so we had to lose some weight. The problem began because we had to take the guinea pig’s hutch, run and other paraphernalia on holiday – it was weighing us down. But his special care needs meant that he had to come caravanning with us again. So what else could we leave behind?
Off to Ravenglass
Do we really need fresh shirts every day? The toaster? Spare socks? The electric heater? Does the saucepan need a lid? Do we need so many books and magazines? Can’t the DVD cases stay at home? Have we got a sample bottle of shampoo? In the end, dozens of items were left behind. It was a horrendous eight-hour journey from Buckinghamshire to Cumbria, where we got stuck in ‘smart motorway’ roadworks on the M6 for two hours; these are scheduled to continue into 2019. A crash site and a tractor added to the fun. Our eventual arrival at Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club Site was a relief. Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is just across the road from the site, so in the morning, we caught the first train and watched the tranquil scenery pass by, before alighting at Dalegarth, the terminus. Then we walked through some beautiful countryside and woodland to see Dalegarth Falls, and on to Gill Force, a spectacular cascade on the River Esk. While trying to reach a viewpoint, I slipped and fell into a bog, got soaked, and had to dry out my clothes under the hand-dryer in the station washrooms. After lunch, we went by steam train to The Green, a station near a country pub. Our next stop, Irton Road, was in Eskdale Green village, where there are very pretty houses, a shop, a church, a woodland walk and some stripy cows (Belted Galloways). Having been advised not to disembark at Muncaster Mill, because the route to the castle was boggy, we returned
to Ravenglass, where we looked round the station museum, then explored the Roman Baths, the harbour and the village centre. If you plan to travel on this railway, it’s worth knowing that the trains don’t stop at all stations. One station is for pick-ups only, and another, we were told, was ‘too boggy’ for a request stop. So we ended up back at Ravenglass by 3pm. But if you don’t want to be back that early, consider spending a bit more time at Dalegarth, where you can visit the heritage mill and take a short walk to Boot village.
Ennerdale and Wasdale
The next day, we visited Ennerdale and explored the beautiful countryside, moors and heathland, with sheep on the road and threatening skies overhead. At Ennerdale Water, we followed a lakeside path through the valley, lapping up the views and the serene environment. Light showers and hazy sunshine punctuated the cloudy skies. We travelled on to glorious Wastwater, England’s deepest lake, where people were paddling inflatable craft. Further up the valley is Wasdale Head, which offers some lovely walks through the hills and valleys, passing St Olaf’s, the smallest parish church in England.
Camping at Keswick
After three days at Ravenglass, we moved on to Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club Site, which is in a stunning location on the banks of Derwentwater. We spent our first afternoon exploring this busy town. It’s full of outdoor gear shops, fascinating crafts, and one emporium with amazing novelty items, including Harry Potter memorabilia, tucked away in a courtyard off the High Street. A 10-mile walk around Derwentwater took us past the Theatre by the Lake, the John Ruskin Memorial and the National Trust Centenary Stone. The map from the tourist board guided us to a bridge that was washed away by floods in 2015 – at which point, we should have returned to the road, but instead, we tried to go on to the bridge at Lodore Falls. Half an hour later, rather frustrated and unable to find the bridge, we turned back. It turns out that much of the lakeside is privately owned beyond that point, with footpaths diverted from the waterside. So if you want to do the best bits and leave the rest, catch the ferry back to Keswick just after you pass Lodore Falls Hotel. We were weary by the time we got back to camp, but mustered up enough energy to drive to Castlerigg Stone Circle before tea. English Heritage suggest you imagine Druids, sacrifices and rituals taking place inside the circle – it helps to bring the monument to life. The setting, among glorious hills and valleys, is beautiful. We returned to the site and picked up our caravan battery from reception. The staff had charged it for us while we were out, as it was almost dead. The automatic recharging mechanism on our caravan doesn’t work and we didn’t bring the charger because we thought the battery would last 10 days (and we really were trying not to overload the caravan). It didn’t even last five days, though. The Camping and Caravanning Club came to the rescue and by 5pm, we had a fully powered battery, which lasted for the rest of the holiday. Our heroes! The next morning, we decided to visit The Puzzling Place in Keswick, which describes itself as ‘a world of optical illusions’. The distorted rooms here create rather odd illusions that make you look large or small, or give you the appearance of being able to levitate or walk on a vertical wall. Balls appear to roll up-hill. It’s all a bit strange, although the visual illusions are amusing and fascinating. The puzzles include a bottomless chest, mirror illusions and a spinning wheel that makes you see oddities happening to your own hand. There’s also a gallery of holograms.
We went to Buttermere in the afternoon, through Honister Pass, a glorious landscape with a pretty stream in popular walking country. There’s also a slate mine here, offering guided tours. As we followed the Buttermere lakeside walk, we passed waterfalls, streams and wildlife, all set in a backdrop of stunning scenery and beautiful reflections. You can do this circular walk in about two hours; it’s four-and-a-half miles long. There’s a tunnel beside the lake, a charming feature, dug out in the 19th century by the landowner, who wanted to walk around the lake without climbing the rocks. Back at camp in the evening, children were rowing rubber dinghies on the water beside the campsite, the playground was busy, people were cycling, barbecues were alight, and our guinea pig had acquired a fan club. It was very lively, with everyone out and about enjoying the sunshine.
Tales of Beatrix Potter
The next day, we visited the Lingholm Kitchen and Walled Garden, on the Lingholm Estate, where Beatrix Potter spent many holidays in her youth, usually accompanied by her pets. She was inspired by the beauty of Derwentwater and included elements of her experiences here in her stories. Set in beautiful gardens and with a small display of local artwork, the café is a great place to stop for tea and cake. Entry to the walled garden is free – you can even take an alpaca for a walk if you wish. We travelled on to Windermere Camping and Caravanning Club Site and spent the afternoon exploring Bowness and Lake Windermere. A visit to Fell Foot, a country park on the banks of the lake, concluded a tranquil afternoon amid glorious scenery,
dozens of boats, children playing in the water and wildfowl begging for food. In the evening, the whole campsite came alive with rabbits, and as darkness fell, hedgehogs ventured out, too. Windermere CCC Site is a wildlife haven, but look out for the rabbit holes. The toilet block looked good, and morning confirmed that the showers were hot and toasty, but don’t leave your shoes on the floor behind the curtain – mine got wet.
Creatures great and small
We spent the next day at South Lakes Safari Zoo; just £5 per adult (kids go free). The highlight of our visit was the lively giant otter feeding session, where they leapt onto the grassy bank and tore into their food. My favourite, though, was the condor. This amazing bird of prey from North America has a wing span of up to 3.4m. Watching them fly across the huge aviary was quite a spectacle. Nearby Furness Abbey is a fabulous ruin dating from the 1120s. You can read about the life of the monks and the Preston family, who converted the dilapidated buildings into a dwelling and lived there until the end of the 17th century. On our final day, we visited Sizergh Castle, a medieval house with a stunning rock garden, the Stumpery – showcasing its fine collections of ferns – parkland trails, a kitchen garden and an orchard. The castle interiors are ornate, with carved chimneypieces, wood panelling, gorgeous drapes and four-poster beds. An afternoon at Coniston Water was charming, and as our holiday came to an end, we took a different route home – only to discover the M1 had roadworks, too.
You can take a close look at all kinds of animals at South Lakes Safari Zoo, including the giant otters