16 May Travel Guide: 48 Hours in the Lake District, England
Few places are as cliché bucolic as the Lake District in northwest England. This was my first trip to the UK and while most travelers would choose to explore the big city on a first visit, I’ve always loved the countryside, so I was excited to explore the parts of the country known for their stunning natural good looks. The Lake District attracts some 15 million people each year. They come to marvel at this lush green meets blue region’s lakes, hills and fells, or drive quiet country roads to quaint lost-in-time villages perfect for sipping a cup of afternoon tea. Beyond the outdoors, this region is also rich in literary history with connections to William Wordsworth, John Ruskin and Beatrix Potter, who were among the wordsmiths to be inspired by this magical region. After a few days exploring I was quick to see why! Here’s how I spent my 48 Hours in the Lake District.
After touching down in Manchester, I rent a car and drive about two hours to Gillam’s Tea Room in the quaint little town of Ulverston. The tearoom, which has been operating since 1892 by the Gilliam family, is known for having more than 50 types of loose-leaf teas sourced from organic and biodynamic estates. As a tea lover, I was excited to try one of the unique blends made in house. I am not disappointed. I also ordered High Tea, which features a tiered platform of traditional sandwiches, croissants and cakes. I could have lingered in the cozy environs for hours, but my schedule includes quite a few more stops for the day, so after two cups, I head out the door.
Next up is the Sir John Barrow Monument, which is also located in town. Constructed in 1850 as a memorial for Sir John Barrow (1764-1848), who is Ulverston’s most beloved son and served as the Second Secretary to the Admiralty that ran the British Navy at the time. Today the monument also stands as a symbol of the town and stands on the 450-foot summit of Hoad Hill overlooking town and Morecambe Bay beyond. The structure is 100-fet tall and is modeled after a lighthouse, but although it has a 112-step internal spiral staircase leading to a lantern chamber, there has never been a functional light inside. Regardless, it offers great views of the beautiful landscape surrounding me, and I take a few minutes to savor just how beautiful – more than I imagined really – this part of England is.
From Ulverston it is a 30-minute drive to my next stop, Lake Windermere, where I’m booked for a boat-cruise on the largest lake in England. Boat trips depart from Bowens Bay and there are a variety of choices. I pick the Islands Cruise, which is a 45-minute excursion that gives a good feeling for the mountain scenery, secluded bays and picturesque shoreline.
After being on the water I’m starving, so I had to the Flying Pig for dinner. It has a modern airy feel about it and the wine and ale lists are chalked up on big boards. I like the “library area,” which has a cozy ambiance and includes a wall of books, wood floors, leather chairs and a fireplace for chilly country nights. The lamb shank shepherd pie or Cumbrian chicken dishes are what to order.
Post dinner I’m exhausted and am excited to check in to my night’s lodging at the nearby Linthwaite House. The hotel is located inside a country house that was built in 1902 and sits on 14-acres of secluded grounds that is far enough from the bustle of Lake Windermere to feel truly relaxing. Although I don’t know it at the time, this will end up being a sleeping highlight of my trip as everything about this property is stunning. First there are the views across the entire Lake District: it’s an endless panoramic vista of blue lakes and green hills. And then there is the property itself, which has a stately British country manor house vibe that is aristocratic without being stuffy and has some lovely inviting public lounge spaces inside, as well as 30 uniquely designed rooms with high end amenities and a bed so comfy I quickly fall asleep.
After a great night’s sleep, on my second day, I head out early to see the Rydal Mount House and Gardens, which is located about 10-minutes drive from the hotel. This was the famed British poet Wordsworth’s family home for the great part of his life (between 1815 and 1850) and where he wrote many of his early works. It is also where he published the final version of his poem Daffodils. Today the home is owned by his descendents and visitors can see family portraits, furniture and personal possessions. The place remains much the way Wordsworth kept it when he lived there and includes a beautiful 4-acre garden and fantastic views of Lake Windermere. Fans of Wordsworth will also want to visit The Wordsworth Museum at Dove Cottage in the nearby town of Grasmere. It is home to about 32,000 items relating to the poet’s works.
After getting my fill of the dead poet’s society, I head on to the town of Carlisle, which is located about 90-minutes away. It is a beautiful drive through the countryside and I enjoy the down time to soak in the scenery. In Carlisle it is all about the Carlisle Castle. Built on the site of a Roman fort, it served as a military base for some 900-years and was the last castle to be besieged in England. Today the castle’s turbulent past can be explored in a family-friendly exhibit on the grounds, where you can also check out medieval castle rooms and 19th century military buildings.
It is another beautiful 40-minute drive from Carlisle to Roman Vindolanda, which is in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country. Here you’ll find one of northern England’s most famous tourist attractions. Romans occupied the ancient site for more than 300-years, and excavations of these ruins, which date back to the first Roman settlement found here between AD 74 and AD 85, have been excavated for more than 45-years now. I enjoy touring the on-site museum, which shows first hand what has been discovered so far. This includes well-preserved timber structures, inside of which boots, shoes, textiles and letters and documents were discovered. In fact, more than 6,000 leather shoes have been found since excavations began, and some are on display in the museum.
After a history packed morning, I’m ready for lunch, and am happy it is just a quick 2-minute drive from Vindolanada to Battlesteads Hotel & Restaurant in the village of Wark-on-Tyne in Northumberland. Once an 18th century farmstead, it is now a country pub hotel with 22 rooms, restaurant, gardens and conservatory for stargazing at night. The restaurant focuses on locally sourced products, which are grown either on site or near the hotel. I love the ultra local vibe to this place, where they also serve free-range eggs, local fish and meats that are smoked just down the street at the town’s smokery. At the bar there is a great selection of five cask ales on hand pump from local breweries, which I love tasting, as well as a wine list featuring 25 varieties that all have eco-credentials. When I finish with my tasty lunch, I retire to my room upstairs. This is the greenest hotel in Northumberland and the first to install a 100 percent carbon neutral heating system. I go to bed early this evening, knowing tomorrow I will head on to my next Northern English destination of York.