The region of Ambleside and the south east Lake District offers a gentle balance of mountain scenery and rural idyll. Windermere and Ambleside are bustling tourist towns, the twin capitals of south Lakeland with plenty to see and do, whilst smaller villages blend into the landscape providing tranquil havens.
Ambleside and South East Lake District
As the central Lakeland hub for walkers, Ambleside is the starting point for some epic mountain walks including the massive Fairfield horseshoe. Ambleside is at the foot of the Struggle, a formidable former packhorse route now an equally tricky road to the top of the Kirkstone Pass. The town features some lovely independent shops from clothing to crafts and some great places to eat. There are several expert outdoor shops including the Epicentre and the Climbers Shop. Our essential recommendation for Ambleside is the brilliant Bilbo’s Café for unpretentious grub and super service. The town also boasts a limestone effect climbing wall with grades from 4 to 8a, and popular independent cinema, Zefferellis, with attached vegetarian restaurant, Fellinis.
Grasmere is the quintessential chocolate box Lakeland village. Set around the church of St Oswalds, a small cluster of slate grey houses line a handful of roads, converging on the sports field where the famous Grasmere Sports Day is held. Arguable the most famous Lake District sports day, Grasmere Sports features traditional Cumbrian Wrestling and fell races of epic proportions.
A must visit is the legendary Sarah Nelson Gingerbread Shop, not just for the gingerbread, but to marvel at the teeny tiny shop too!
The twin lakes of Grasmere and Rydal are small and pretty with plentiful spots for a summer’s day picnic, or for children to paddle in the shallow water. The Coffin Route between Rydal and Grasmere is a popular walk, following in the footsteps of the famous Lakeland poets, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Coleridge. Grasmere is home to Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s family home and where he wrote his most famous poetry.
Famous for the narrow ribbon lake and towering mountain the Old Man, Coniston often feels a world away from the rest of the Lake District. The craggy fells above the village have an industrial feel to them, retaining scars of Coniston’s mining heritage.
Coniston Water is well known for the record breaking attempt on the water speed record that claimed the life of Donald Campbell. His craft, the Bluebird, is now immortalised as an award winning ale brewed by the local Coniston Brewing Company.
The Ruskin Museum charts the pastoral life of the area, recalling the historic industries of copper mining and lace making and other aspects of valley life.
Windermere and Bowness
Windermere and Bowness on Windermere draw visitors from all over the world as the first and arguably most famous stopping off point on a Lake District tour. Windermere became popular with the advent of the railway in 1847. It is the quintessential Lakeland location, with grand terraces of slate built guesthouses and a beautiful backdrop of gentle fells.
The lakeside piers of Bowness on Windermere are the launch point for the magnificent steamer boat rides along the lake. Windermere snakes for 11 miles, the longest lake in the Lake District and was the inaugural host for the Great North Swim.
Orrest Head is a short walk from the town centre. It is the viewpoint from where Alfred Wainwright first viewed the Lake District panorama and was inspired to begin his epic series The Pictorial Guides.
Broughton is a small rural town at the mouth of the Duddon Valley. Dating from around the 11th Century, Broughton was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The original settlement grew to become the local market town for both fishing and agriculture.
Broughton boasts three pubs two of which are recognised CAMRA pubs. The village retains a strong community feel thanks to the well supported local shops which include a butcher, greengrocer, bakery and Post Office.
Duddon Bridge is the site of the most complete surviving example of a charcoal-fired iron blast furnace, situated by the picturesque River Duddon.
Kendal & Kirkby Lonsdale
As a winner of the Walkers are Welcome award, it is easy to see why Kirkby Stephen is a popular destination. Located perfectly for enjoying the Lake District, Howgills, Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines, Kirkby Stephen is an excellent choice to appreciate all that the region has to offer.
Kirkby Lonsdale features several ‘destination’ pubs. Cobbled streets add to the charm. The scenic river Lune flows through the town and the famous Ruskin’s View can be experienced from St Mary’s Churchyard.
Kendal is often called the gateway to the Lakes but is a great location on its own merits. The award winning Brewery Arts Centre hosts regular speakers, comedy and music. Kendal is a thriving shopping destination, it’s old yards and ginnels have been given a new lease of life by artisan producers and independent traders.
Wander back through time as you explore the cobbled squares and alleys of Hawkshead. The village centre is made up of pretty whitewashed houses and closed to traffic, creating a wonderful atmosphere as people browse the shops and quaint tea rooms.
Several historic properties and churches nearby have strong links to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Hill Top at Near Sawrey was the home of Beatrix Potter for many years and is open to the public as a living museum.
Grizedale Forest occupies a great swathe of land south of Hawkshead. It is great for burning off excess energy with miles and miles of paths, cycle tracks for the family and the famous Go Ape high ropes course.
The Southern Peninsulas are a patchwork of farmland and gentle hills covering a wide area from the coastal sands of Morcambe Bay to the southern tip of Windermere. The area has its own unique charm, with several stately homes with formal gardens, and National trust properties to enjoy.
Cark and Cartmel are real foodie destinations, home to arguably the most well known sticky toffee pudding producers, and the first Michelin starred restaurant in Cumbria, L’Enclume.
Grange-over-Sands is a relaxed Edwardian town on the coast blessed with a wide promenade and wonderful golden sunsets. RSPB reserves and wetlands are just across the estuary linked by the Cumbria Coastal railway, crossing a fine aqueduct across the sands.