Following the seasons in the Lake District

Everyone knows that the Lake District is beautiful. Each season has its own character, so no two visits would ever be the same. Here are some of our seasonal favourites...

Spring

Magical walks through bluebell-carpeted woods, spotting wood sorrel as its flowers rotate to follow the sun throughout the day; golden celandines; wild garlic with its starry white flowers; jolly primroses and frothy dog's mercury. Try Wallabarrow Woods in the Duddon Valley, Dodd Wood near Keswick, Johnny's Wood in Borrowdale or the Brandlehow Wood at Derwentwater.

Head to Ullswater to catch Wordsworth's famous Daffodills: 'I wandered lonely as a Cloud/That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills/When all at once I saw a crowd/ A host of dancing Daffodills'. They were inspired by a walk taken by Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy, in April 1802.

While you're in the Ullswater area, take a frosty walk up Aira Force. When the waterfall still has it's post-winter volume, but before the tree canopy has closed overhead in spring, it's a really magical sight.

Words by the Water is a quality literary festival held at Keswick's Theatre by the Lake each March. Last year's crop of speakers included the popular novelist Penelope Lively; Man-Booker shortlisted local girl, Sarah Hall; historian Ian Mortimer and comic broadcaster Stuart Maconie. 2011's headliners include Joanna Trollope, Claire Tomalin, Gervase Phinn and Justine Picardie.

Cumbria's stately homes and castles re-open in the Spring. Try Muncaster Castle on the west coast; Mirehouse, at Bassenthwaite; Brantwood, overlooking Coniston Water; Hutton-in-the-Forest, north of Penrith and Holker Hall, at Cark-in-Cartmel. Muncaster Castle.

Spring is lambing season, from tiny white Rough Fell lambs in February to black-as-pitch Herdwicks in May. The first one is a sight to report, but within a month the fields are heaving with little bleaters.

There is always a good selection of Easter events including the Great Peter Rabbit Egg Hunt, a large-scale event covering the entire Lake Distrct. A hundred eggs, with vouchers for prizes, are hidden in tourist hot-spots. The event is over when all the eggs are found! www.hop-skip-jump.com

The Keswick Mountain Festival takes place in May, with a combination of guided activities, competitions and talks. It was particularly good last year, so we have high hopes for 2011. 

 

Summer

Summer is walking season. Anywhere. Everywhere. There are so many lovely places to walk, from mountains, to river valleys, to conifer forests , indigenous deciduous woods, the Cumbria Coastal Path and the coast to coast walk. Have a crack at the Woolpack Round, a sixteen-mile circular walk from the Woolpack Inn in Eskdale which includes Scafell Pike, the highest point in England. We love to amble along the Derwent in Borrowdale or the Esk in Eskdale.

Experienced climbers will head for Great Gable and Napes Needle the birth of British rock climbing at Wasdale, for a challenging climb unencumbered by hoards of visitors. Beginner? Take a few lessons with one of the many outdoor activity providers in the Lakes.

A bright Lake District day is perfect for a picnic. Pick a spot by Devoke Water or Blea Tarn; Derwentwater is always lovely, and easy to get to with pushchairs and wheelchairs; Ennerdale is blissfully quiet; by the medieval bridge over the Derwent at Grange, whilst the kids have a paddle, or there's my favourite: under the shadow of the Bowder Stone in Borrowdale.

With all these calm lakes about, why not try your hand at sailing, rowing, or canoeing? Hire craft and take lessons.

You can swim in the lakes, or, if you're at our lovely quiet west coast, a dip in the sea at the MCS-approved waters at Seascale and St. Bees Head. Whilst you're in the area, take a bracing cliff-top walk at St. Bees and spot thousands of rare black guillemots, and masses of kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars, linnets and rock pipits. 

Don't miss the ospreys in Dodd Wood, above Bassenthwaite. Every year, between April and August, there is a special viewing point where you can see the new chicks being fed, and the adult birds soaring over the lake, fish in beak. 

There are lots of festivals throughout the summer, including the Keswick Beer Festival  and Boot Beer Festival in Eskdale. I have it on good advice that there's excellent beer to go with the music at the annual Cockermouth Rock Festival, affectionately known as 'Cock Rock'. Last year's headline acts were Dodgy and 80's favourite, Sham 69.

The agricultural show season kicks off, too at Cockermouth, Coniston, Penrith, Ambleside, Cartmel, Hawkshead and Grasmere.

 

Autumn

Autumn in the Lake District is often gorgeous. There are a lot of native deciduous trees here, which rust gently from September to November into lovely shades of gold, red, russet and brown. My favourite place to take in the show is a bench on the eastern shore of Derwentwater, with Brandelhow Wood on the opposite shore, reflected in the lake. Take a camera and a flask!

This is foraging season, too. Pick some blackberries (always called brambles hereabouts!) for a pie (always known as a 'plate cake' hereabouts!) from any wooded area or hedgerow. In October, look out for sloes - fat, purple berries – and add them to gin, to make a rich, purple sloe gin liqueur that will be ready for Christmas. Collect pine cones to use as fragrant firelighters when winter arrives. And don't forget conkers!

There's a very good chance of spotting our native red squirrel in Cumbria in autumn. They're smaller than the grey, with pointed faces, tufted ears and delicate 'hands'. You're most likely to spot them at Dodd Wood, near Keswick, at Whinlatter Forest Park and along the Keswick to Threlkeld railway path, but you may see them in any wooded area, especially if there are a lot of conifers.

A lot of agricultural shows take place in autumn; traditionally, these were the fun-and-games when the harvest had been safely gathered in. There are many of these, in every valley and many a village across the county. One of the most famous is the Egremont Crab Fair – 'crabs' are crab apples not seafood! – which also hosts the annual World Gurning Championship. In this competition, people compete to pull the strangest face in the world. Apparently, a lack of teeth helps! 

Egremont Crab Fair is one of many autumn agricultural shows to feature Cumberland & Westmorland Wresting. This is a traditional sport where the idea is to start standing up, and end up with your opponent on the ground. It used to be famous for the floral trunks worn by competitors, but these have gone by the wayside in recent years as it was judged that they were putting off youngsters. I, for one, miss them! 

Our vote for Britain's Wackiest Festival goes to the Biggest Liar Competition, which takes place each November at the Santon Bridge Inn at Wasdale Head. The competition is open to all comers except lawyers and politicians, who are judged to be too well-practiced in the art. Past winners include locals, staff and the comedienne, Sue Perkins. 

 

Winter

Roaring log fires with pine-cone firelighters; extra-thick woolly walking socks and toasted toes. This is a great time to try out some of our cosy vernacular pubs for a pint of real ale and some traditional Cumbrian cooking – we like the Black Cock at Broughton-in-Furness, the Dog and Gun in Keswick, the Sun Inn at Bassenthwaite, the Brook House Inn at Boot in Eskdale, and the Shepherd's Inn in Ennerdale Bridge.

Set out from your holiday cottage in many a Lake District valley, and yours might be the only footprints for miles. One of the loveliest sights in a Lakes winter is hoar frost on holly: lovely, glossy green leaves covered with diamond-like glittering ice crystals. You know all those Christmas cards with  robins on frosted holly, eating fat red berries? Well, they really do that.

One of my favourite things to do on a cold day in January is fish 'n' chips at the Old Keswickian in Keswick, followed by a tootle down to see the frozen lake (look but don't touch, please!)

Keswick's annual Film Festival is held in February. 2011 will focus on Film 4, Agnes Varda and 'Odd War Films'. 

Blow the cobwebs away at Whinlatter Forest Park with a walk through pine forests. There are waymarked trails suitable for all levels of experience, including children, plus there are mountain bike trails, and, weather-permitting, the Go Ape! high wire course. Open daily for most of the year, but just at weekends in January. 

Steam from the coastal village of Ravenglass to the village of Boot in Eskdale with the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. It operates a reduced schedule over winter but is usually running at weekends. It's a fabulous time of year to catch the views along seven miles of the Eskdale valley, with views to the Scafell range beyond. 

Several stately homes dress the house for a sumptuous, Victorian-style Christmas. Holker Hall, at Cark-in-Cartmel in the south-west Lakes, is a great place to visit in December, with magnificent decorations, hog roasts and seasonal entertainment for children.   Muncaster Hall is a wonderful place to visit on dark December days, as they have a sound-and-light show in the garden after dark, and wonderful traditional decorations. You can even take a candlelit tour. What a lovely way to the end the year! Muncaster Castle