There’s never been a better year to visit The Lake District. There’s so much to see and do! Sue Parslow reports.
Beautiful mountainous landscapes, huge lakes, narrow winding roads, forests and pretty towns and villages - the Lake District is a perfect holiday destination. It is ideal for a touring holiday, a weekend of walking and outdoor activity such as photography, or an interest-packed day trip. Here you’ll find England’s highest mountain – Scafell Pike – and 12 of the country’s largest lakes.
This year, a big focus will be on Beatrix Potter’s 150th anniversary. The illustrator and writer fell in love with the lakes and moved there from London. Her influence on the Lakes has been long lasting.
Leave The Road Behind
The Lake District is easily accessible by coach and by rail. However, once you arrive, it’s good to leave the road behind and experience the beauty of the countryside, be it on foot, by boat or on a heritage railway. If you do plan to travel around, the Mountain Goat mini bus tour service takes groups on guided tours to all corners of the Lake District. Call 01539 445161, or for more information visit www.mountaingoat.com.
Book a boat trip to enjoy fantastic views of a lake and its surrounding countryside. A cruise on Windermere, England’s largest natural lake, is a relaxing way to spend some time. Journeys can vary from a 30-minute single journey to a three-hour round trip. There are discounts for groups, options for private charters and combined tickets to local attractions.
The Cross Lakes Experience is ideal for passengers who want to see Windermere by boat and explore the area around Hawkshead and Wray Castle - ‘Beatrix Potter country’. Many lakeside locations offer links to a network of walking trails. Windermere’s tranquil Western shore is renowned as one of the poet William Wordsworth’s favourite walking spots. He said: “None of the other lakes unfold so many fresh beauties.”
Windermere Lake Cruises pride themselves on being group-friendly. There is free coach parking at Bowness for pre-booked groups, plus a discount voucher for passengers at The Boatman’s Café and Gift Shop and special group rates when visitors combine a sail with another attraction. For more information visit www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk/groups.
Ullswater tends to be quieter than the central lakes and has rich cultural and heritage links. The iconic mountain views have inspired some of the world’s greatest artists and poets, including Turner and Wordsworth.
Located in the North of the Lake District National Park, Ullswater is easily accessible by coach from the M6 motorway. Cruises may be on-board one of five heritage vessels, and cruise times vary from 20 minutes to two hours. Private hire is also available.
There are four main piers to choose from and a variety of options for itineraries, including walking tours from Howtown and Aira Force Piers. A new cruise operates between Glenridding Pier (which has a coach park) and the spectacular National Trust Aira Force Waterfall. Alternatively, combine a cruise with a visit to Lowther Castle, take a Wordsworth tour or take a ride on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway.
Discounted group rates are available for 10 or more people booking in advance, with free travel for tour leaders. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01768 482229, or visit www.ullswater-steamers.co.uk.
Take to the rails on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway, a heritage steam narrow gauge railway located in the west of the Lake District National Park.
Built in 1859 to service the mines of Eskdale, it is now a popular tourist attraction with a rich cultural history dating back to Roman times. The seven-mile steam railway journey (40 minutes each way) will take you from a coastal village into the heart of England’s highest mountains. There are two main stations at Ravenglass (where there’s a coach park) and Dalegarth for Boot village.
Visit the free-to-enter museum and station cafés serving locally produced food, with traditional cream tea options to add to the experience. There’s free Wi-Fi at the main stations and a language commentary app will be available from spring 2016.
The nearby attraction Muncaster Castle and Gardens with its cultural links to Kings and Shakespeare and daily hawk and owl display, is not far from Ravenglass and could be an interesting addition to the day’s activities.
Ravenglass offers free travel for group leaders, free coach parking and a driver meal voucher. For booking information call 01229 717171, email email@example.com, or visit www.ravenglassrailway.co.uk.
Beatrix Potter’s Home
Best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter was also a keen farmer and left her 14 Lake District farms with 4,000-acres of land in her will to the National Trust. A visit to the Lake District wouldn’t be complete without seeing one of her properties or viewing an exhibition.
Hill Top Farm is a real gem. It comprises of her cosy former home, a traditional country garden, which a particular rabbit would have enjoyed, and a little gift shop selling a wide range of Beatrix Potter books and collectibles. Visits are timed to ensure that the little house doesn’t become overcrowded, and visitors can view her belongings in the home which has been preserved just as she left it.
You’ll find many natural history drawings along with personal collections, including the original items which she drew and included in some of her many books. Knowledgeable guides will share the stories behind these significant items.
The house is extremely popular, so planning ahead is essential. It is open from February 13 to October 30, 2016. Call 01539 436269 (option 5), or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find out more about groups at Hill Top online: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top/features/visiting-hill-top-as-a-group.
If you fancy a Beatrix Potter themed day, you could combine a trip to nearby Hawkshead and the Beatrix Potter Gallery to see a collection of her original artwork on display.
Levens Hall & Gardens
One of the finest stately homes in South Cumbria, Levens Hall is a family home with an original Elizabethan interior containing fine furniture, paintings, early English patchwork, clocks and miniatures. Leven’s unique topiary is in the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest in the world. A filming location for numerous films and TV programmes, the hall prides itself on a warm and welcoming atmosphere, but it also has ghost stories to intrigue.
Located six miles south of Kendal, Levens Hall is open from April 17 to October 6, Sunday to Thursday only. Group rates apply for a minimum party of 20 people. Guided tours of the garden and the house are available to pre-book.
Free admission is available for tour leaders, blue badge guides and coach drivers. To book call 01539 560321, or for more information visit www.levenshall.co.uk.
Holker Hall, to the south of the Lake District near Grange-over-Sands, is the family home of Lord and Lady Cavendish. The Hall is nestled among 25-acres of beautiful gardens, meadows, woodlands and deer park. The season runs from March 20 to October 30, with a Garden Festival on June 3-5 (www.holkerfestival.co.uk).
Groups enjoy discounted rates and receive a personal welcome. Themed guided tours are available and groups can pre-order a good value meal to eat together in the Burlington Room. Call 01539 558328, email email@example.com, or visit www.holker.co.uk.
Lord and Lady Cavendish were responsible for creating a company producing luxury crystal in nearby Ulverston. This year is Cumbria Crystal’s 40th birthday and groups are invited to visit the factory and watch the processes involved in producing glassware used by Royalty, and seen in TV and films, including the dining table in Downton Abbey.
There is no fee to take a factory tour and watch the highly skilled workers craft beautiful pieces in a process that has changed little since Roman times. An added bonus is the opportunity to pick up a bargain in the factory shop, which sells top quality seconds.
There’s space for coaches directly outside and visitors will find toilet facilities and a café in the Booths supermarket opposite. It’s best to go on a weekday between 9am and 3pm, allowing around half an hour for your visit. Call ahead and book on 01229 584400, or for more information visit www.cumbriacrystal.com.
Visit Dove Cottage and The Wordsworth Museum at Grasmere and explore the historic home of Britain’s most famous poet, William Wordsworth. Groups can enjoy an entertaining guided tour of his cottage and learn about his life, family, friends and poetry. You’ll discover his tragic childhood, adventurous journeys and how he changed literature forever through displays of possessions, pictures and manuscripts. There’s a café and a shop to explore too. Check the website for special exhibitions and plan your visit, or call the bookings officer on 01539 435544 (email firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out about all of the different options available for group visitors. Discounted prices are available and there’s a free organiser place when groups of more than 10 are pre-booked.
For more information visit www.wordsworth.org.uk. (Tip: website users can choose a ‘visitor type’ - select ‘Group Organiser’ and you will see a lot of useful information that individual tourists won’t!)
Close to Wordsworth’s cottage in Grasmere village is a traditional Cumbrian delicacy that ought to be sampled. It’s Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread. Victorian cook Sarah Nelson invented Grasmere Gingerbread in 1854. A unique, spicy-sweet cross between a biscuit and cake, its reputation quickly spread and it is now enjoyed by food lovers all over the world. Today, the business is run by third generation owners Joanne and Andrew Hunter and visitors to the shop are greeted by the aroma of freshly baked Grasmere Gingerbread.
The shop is open seven days a week all year round. You’ll find a map and lots of interesting information on the website - www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk. There’s a coach park on the edge of the village.
While you’re in Grasmere, walk along to “The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” which is how it was described by poet William Wordsworth.
Opened to the public for the first time in March 2012, Allan Bank was once home to William Wordsworth and National Trust founder Canon Rawnsley. The house was rescued from the ravages of fire in 2011. Now partially restored and undecorated, the house offers visitors the opportunity to see and touch the many layers of this home's fascinating history. Visitors can explore the grounds and spot red squirrels or enjoy a walk on one of the trails.
Light lunches and snacks are available in Allan Banks’ kitchen. There is no access for large coaches to the property and no parking on-site, however visitors in coaches can be dropped off in Grasmere Village and walk to the house (about 400 yards). Mini-buses can drop off at the property and park elsewhere. Booking is essential. Call 01539 463803 or email email@example.com.
Theatre by the Lake offers an eclectic mix of high quality professional theatre to entertain, intrigue and excite. It has a beautiful setting close to Derwentwater. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more – why not also arrange to go on a backstage tour? Food and drinks can be pre-ordered especially for your group.
Museum and Art Gallery
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in Carlisle boasts a wide range of exhibitions, artefacts and events. It houses one of the largest purpose-built contemporary art galleries in the north of England and has a changing programme of exhibitions of regional, national and international importance.
Specialist curator talks can be organised for group visits and bookings can be made for lunch and afternoon tea in a large, award-winning garden restaurant and/or function room as part of a visit. Call 01228 618704, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.tulliehouse.co.uk.
At the gateway to Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site and visitor information centre, the tearoom and gift shop at Lanercost is open daily, making it a perfect stopover point. There’s a group menu and separate dining area available, both of which must be booked ahead. It’s just 15 minutes from the M6, next to the 12th century Lanercost Priory. There’s free coach parking and tea/coffee for the driver. Call 01697 741267, email email@example.com, or visit www.lanercostexperience.co.uk.
Check out the website - www.lakesculture.co.uk - for suggestions for cultural itineraries in the Lake District.