48 Hours in South Lakes
It will never be enough time to experience everything this part of the Lakes has to offer so prepare for an action-packed weekend of eating and exploring with plenty of natural and culinary highlights.
This itinerary supposes you have children with you, although it should still appeal if you don’t. It also includes a moderate walk, which will be easy for some, long for others, so make sure you have an OS map (Explorer OL7) to follow and means you can extend the route or cut it short.
For some of the recommendations you will need to book ahead. I’m also assuming you have a car, a healthy appetite and a torch!
Imagining you’ve driven some way to get here, my recommendation for a cosy and peaceful stay with good food is The Punchbowl, at Crosthwaite (www.the-punchbowl.co.uk).
Alternative places for dinner are The Black Labrador in the next village, Underbarrow, or The Lyth Valley, which also has rooms; you will pass it if coming from the M6/A590 to reach Crosthwaite.
You’re likely to be on a B&B package but if not start your Saturday with a hearty breakfast to fuel you up for a good walk, at Homeground, in Windermere (www.homegroundcafe.co.uk).
Drive to Skelwith Bridge to start your walk which begins in the woods on the south side of the river and heads over the field on the Cumbria Way to Park House then Park Farm. Head through the farm and continue along the path, down through the woods and onto the road where you turn right and quickly take a path on the left, before reaching the bridge, through the woods towards Colwith Force. After the falls, follow the path through the woods and across a field to a farm then turn right along the road. At the collection of cottages and barns on a bend, take the track on the left heading up and follow it as it levels out, goes through a gate, then bears left up to a gate at the entrance to the woods. Take the first right off the woodland path (before the slate house) and head across the quarry to a flattened, narrow ‘finger’ of slate that you go along and steeply down towards the forest track. Turn right here then, after the cottage on the left and a right-hand bend, look out for a stile in the wall on the left to cross then climb up the bank, emerging on a flat area outside a tunnel entrance. With your torch to guide you, head along the main passageway to come out into the spectacular quarry with giant walls of slate rising above.
After walking to the far side to witness Cathedral Cave from above, turn around and scramble down the rocks to the bottom. Depart via the shorter tunnel, then take the path down to the left to a gate and stile, and join the forest track, left. Look for a stile on the right and head across the field to Slater Bridge, a lovely place to stop for a paddle if the weather’s good. Keep to the path going up the hill left of the wall and through a gate to join the entrance track to High Birk Howe, emerging at the road where you go straight across up the lane. This eventually becomes a rising rocky track, levelling off before heading steeply down to come out at the Eltermere Inn. Turn left and head into Elterwater, over the bridge then turn right to follow the path alongside the river all the way back to Skelwith Bridge.
Chesters by the River (www.chestersbytheriver.co.uk) is your lunch stop. After trying some of their interesting vegetarian food, pizza or a delicious cake, it’s off to Brockhole, the Lake District National Park visitors’ centre.
High up in the tree canopy is Tree Top Trek, 35 swinging, climbing and balancing challenges. There are two treks – mini and full depending on trekkers’ ages – but a 250m zip wire down to the lakeside is available on both (www.treetoptrek.co.uk). Your adventure in the high trees can continue at Tree Top Nets, giant trampolines, walkways, slides and tunnels 40ft off the ground. At busy times you’ll need to book in advance. Brockhole is also a lovely spot to walk around and enjoy some lakeside activities.
After all that it’s time for a little shopping at Bath House in Bowness and an aperitif before dinner across the road at the Fizzy Tarté, or if you didn’t get to Homeground this morning, head there for tea and cake.
Dinner tonight is at Gilpin Spice, a family-friendly restaurant full of exciting flavours overseen by Hrishikesh Desai (www.gilpinspice.co.uk). Alternatively, the Boathouse at Windermere Marina means you can dine informally while surveying the yachts (www.theboathouse-windermere.co.uk).
After breakfast, make the most of the peace and quiet with a quick walk around the village or local lanes before heading to Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House, a jewel of the South Lakes and a fabulous example of the movement (opens at 10.30am, www.blackwell.org.uk). Designed by Hugh Baillie Scott, the interior is stunning and there are great lake views from both the house and the terrace.
Next, drive down the hill to Windermere Marina and catch the ferry across the water to Near Sawrey and Beatrix Potter’s 17th century farmhouse, Hilltop. Charming and authentic, it’s possible to imagine the writer and artist being there, with examples of her work on display.
Hilltop is a National Trust property and closes over the winter months so check on reopening dates. You also need a timed ticket for entry which is only available from the ticket office on the day you want to visit (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
As an alternative to the house, walk up the lane across to road from the Tower Bank Arms, past Beatrix’s actual village home and up the track to Moss Eccles Tarn, one of the prettiest in the Lakes. With a map in hand, you can complete a pleasant circular route that takes you to Far Sawrey and along a roadside path to Hilltop.
It’s a short drive from Hilltop to Hawkshead, an unspoiled village with character squares and alleyways that provides a good spot for Sunday lunch at the Queen’s Head.
Extending the Beatrix Potter connection, visit the gallery which is housed in the former office of her solicitor husband William Heelis (again, open from April-October). After a stroll around the village shops, head along the B5285, a lesser used road than on the east side of the lake to join the A590 at Newby Bridge.
From here, head up to Cartmel to pick up some sticky toffee pudding, a selection from Cartmel Cheeses to take home and a bottle or two from Unsworth’s Yard Brewery.
Levens Hall en route to the M6 is worth a visit in the spring and summer for its extensive gardens, world class topiary and excellent children’s playground (www.levenshall.co.uk)
Alternatively, if your journey home takes you north through the Lakes and if the kids have any energy left, they can run off some steam at Fell Foot Park back at the south end of the lake and open all year round.
For a final indulgence, if there’s time, stop off at Waterhead Coffee Shop near Ambleside for a legendary blueberry cream scone at the edge of the lake.