Things to do nearby 1 Wreay Cottage
The vibrant, busy village of Shap is a great starting point for exploring the Eastern Lake District, as well as having some of the best walking that the Eden Valley has to offer. Access is easy with it being just a few miles from the M6. To the east are the Howgills, with rounded rather than craggy fells and some of the best (and quietest) walks for miles! In the centre of the village is the market hall, which boasts curious windows and rounded arches and dates from a few years after the village was granted its market charter in 1687.
There are some great places for eating out – including the award-winning Shap Chippy and the Shap Wells Hotel, which also has a lovely woodland walk with a chance to see red squirrels. Shap is also home to England’s highest open air heated swimming pool, open between May and September!
The historic area was extensively settled in Neolithic times, and there are several stone circles and other standing stones nearby. It’s an ideal location for walkers to explore. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk passes through Shap and you can also discover the remains of Shap Abbey, which was built in 1199 and the last abbey to be founded in England. It was destroyed in 1540, the last to be dissolved by Henry VIII. It boasts a stunning setting beside the River Lowther and there is nothing around it to interrupt the beauty of the lonely and unfrequented site. Shap Summit on the A6 is about 1,350 feet above sea level, and in a small layby is a memorial ‘to the drivers and crew of vehicles that made possible the social and commercial links between north and south on the old and the difficult route over Shap Fell’. It is the highest point on the West Coast Main Line from London to Glasgow, at 914ft above sea level.
A lovely walk is around the reservoir of Wet Sleddale. The famous Sleddale Hall nearby was seen in the cult film Withnail and I, starring Richard E Grant and Paul McGann. This British black comedy follows two unemployed actors living in near-squalor in London who decide that it’s time for a holiday and head on a journey to the Lake District to visit Withnail’s uncle.
Haweswater is about 20 minutes’ drive from Shap. This is a quiet and remote lake with a flooded village at Mardale Head – and in times of drought the remains of the lost village can be seen. From here, many of the great Lake District peaks can be accessed, including High Street and Kidsty Pike.
Penrith is the nearest town, about 10 miles away, and has a great range of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as supermarkets. The ruined castle is surrounded by a pleasant park and the churchyard of the mainly 18th century St Andrew’s Church contains ancient crosses and hogsback tombs. From Penrith station you can catch the train for a day out in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carlisle or Lancaster. Carlisle is only 20 minutes away and the station is right in the heart of the little city, allowing you to visit the cathedral and castle, both built in local red sandstone, wander beside the River Eden or browse the shops before stopping for something to eat in one of the many restaurants. Just outside Penrith is Rheged, with shops selling local produce, cafés, pottery painting and a 3D cinema.
Abbot Lodge is known locally as ‘The Ice Cream Farm’ and is just south of Penrith, off the A6. A wide range of flavours of Jersey ice cream are made on the farm for you to try – in fact, you’ll probably feel that one visit is not enough! A couple of miles further down the road is Larch Cottage nursery, a mecca for plant lovers with a range of rare and unusual perennials, shrubs, climbers, acers and conifers set amongst a lovely ‘secret’ garden of Romanesque walls and water features plus an Italian-inspired café overlooking the gardens for meals and snacks.
Lowther Castle, dating to medieval times, is a dramatic ruined Gothic castle standing on a limestone escarpment and set in 130 acres of historic gardens, which are lovely to explore. It has a café, shop, a magical tree castle and lots of activities for the young and young at heart. The Lowther Castle estate also houses the Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre, where displays take place daily and you can even try flying a bird yourself.
Pooley Bridge at the head of Ullswater – considered to be the most beautiful lake in England – is about 20 minutes by car. Lake ‘steamers’ operate between Pooley Bridge, Howtown and Glenridding, making it ideal for a linear walk or a leisurely sail across the magnificent lake. There are excellent facilities on board, including a bar! You can also hire boats from Pooley Bridge and Glenridding. It is an ideal area for watersports of all descriptions and there are plenty of coves and beaches for picnics or fishing.
A trip to Ullswater is not complete without a walk around Aira Force, a tumbling waterfall that drops more than 65ft and can be reached by an enchanting stroll through ancient woodland and landscaped glades. It’s the perfect place for a picnic!
Kendal, about 25 minutes way, is great for shopping, historical buildings, and entertainment. Alfred Wainwright wrote his Pictorial Guides while living there, and it is considered to be the southern gateway to the Lake District. The Brewery Arts Centre offers exhibitions, live music, comedy, cinema and theatre. You can also visit The Quaker Tapestry, an exhibition of 77 small tapestries telling stories of Quaker events throughout the years.
To the south east of Shap village are the Howgills, with rounded rather than craggy fells and some of the best (and quietest) walks for miles! Alternatively, head north to Hadrian’s Wall country, a wild and beautiful landscape less visited but still offering plenty of attractions with walks for all abilities, stunning views and plenty of history. Hadrian’s Wall itself offers a good guide to start exploring the area. You can pay to visit one of the museums or just soak up the atmosphere of the wall for free. Many sections of the national trail run right alongside the wall, so you will be walking in the very footsteps of the Roman soldiers.