Last month, we finally crossed the border for the first time in eighteen months – over to the beautiful Lake District.
I hadn’t been to the Lake District since I was eight years old, so my memory of it is patchy at best. I remember staying with my aunt & uncle and being allergic to something (we think it was the cat), and I remember going to the Beatrix Potter exhibition, which I’m pleased to say is still there. It was also, just to completely date the trip for you, when Princess Diana died.
This visit was another family visit – we did actually spend an evening with my aunt & uncle, because it would be rude to go all that way and not see them, but our main reason for going was to see Ash’s parents and brother who were on holiday there, and who we hadn’t seen for almost two years (thanks pandemic).
I arrived armed with some itinerary ideas, but as this was their trip, we didn’t want to impose with all my mad ideas (Pencil Museum, anyone?) and spent our one full day driving some insane, winding mountain passes instead. It was like we hadn’t even left Scotland!
…in fact, after apparently two weeks of glorious weather in the Lake District, we arrived just in time for two solid days of rain and clouds. So it really was like we hadn’t left Scotland.
Ash & I were booked into a hotel in Ambleside for two nights, but after checking in, we ended up staying with his parents on our first night, as they’d had a surprise upgrade to a cottage and it meant we could spend some extra time with them.
As we were staying right on Windermere, we headed down to the shore both in the evening and the following morning.
I keep wanting to call it Lake Windermere, but actually, despite being called the Lake District, there is only one actual lake there. The rest are “meres”, “waters” or “tarns”. Then again, I think they’re just trying to be clever, because apparently meres and tarns are both types of lakes, so you can consider me just as confused as before.
Fun fact: a “mere” is a body of water that is shallow for its size, whereas a “tarn” is a glacial lake found higher up in the mountains. (If I’d known this before, I would have been less surprised about our journey towards Blea Tarn!) A “water” is anybody’s guess, so from what I gather, it’s really just a lake without the name. I wonder if “Water District” would have had quite the same ring to it.
Anyway, Windermere is far from my favourite “body of water” in the Lake District, but it is the most touristy thanks to its regular boat trips, as well as multiple towns around it. It certainly provides a decent base for the area, too!
We also spotted this beautiful mandarin duck down by the shore!
However, ducks soon became a theme of the trip, and I’m going to share the less savoury story of how this came about. You see, we were innocently taking photos of the mandarin duck, when there was a huge kerfuffle.
A single lady duck was being chased round and round by THREE male mallards. This went on for… quite some time.
And in the morning, the scene was EXACTLY THE SAME. That poor duck!
We were egging her on (HA! Egging!) as much as we could from the sidelines but I suspect she’s still frantically running away from them now. We talked about that duck for the rest of the trip.
In the morning, after the duck shenanigans, we headed out towards Blea Tarn and Hardknott Pass – Ash’s brother wanted to see the Roman fort on the other side of the two mountain passes, and we’d make a loop back around to see my aunt & uncle for dinner later on. My aunt had mentioned that it’ll be a really nice drive coming over Wrynose Pass (I thought she said Rhino’s Pass, to be honest) so I was quite looking forward to it, though she warned me about the single track roads and that some of them can be a bit hairy. Don’t worry, I said, we’re quite used to single track roads by now.
Let me tell you now – we ALL underestimated these mountain passes.
First of all, we made the mistake of going in one car. We had figured with single track roads, it would be easier for one car to get out of the way than having to manoeuvre two, plus there wasn’t much point in taking two cars to go to the same places. Turns out, five people in one car was a serious error of judgement.
Then we met an idiot.
He came sailing over the ridge with a clear view of the several cars in front of him, and decided that he didn’t really need to stop in the upcoming passing place. So he kept going. And we had to stop. On a very steep hill. With three cars taking up our two previous passing places so we could no longer back into them.
A full-blown argument ensued, while he yelled that he couldn’t POSSIBLY risk damaging his car by reversing back up the hill the short way to the passing place he’d roared by, and we insisted that we physically COULD NOT get out of his way. At this point, the people in the other cars had walked up the hill to join our side of the battle, while more cars had taken up residence in other passing places down the pass, until eventually the guy reversed back mere metres to his passing place to let everyone by.
Unfortunately, we all got back in the car, and the car now having to do a serious hill start, could not cope with the five of us inside. So while this guy was waiting for us to finally pass, we all had to get out and let Ash’s dad drive past him alone while they screamed obscenities at each other.
A fun, wholesome moment for all!
AND we now had the rest of the hill to climb!
The problem is, then it happened again, because we had another mountain pass to climb, and this was even steeper. The car barely made it to the first corner before we all had to pile out again.
Thankfully, other than having to traverse the entire thing, the Hardknott Pass gave us a lot less drama. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t worn jeans, though – I’d almost put my leggings on that morning, but had decided not to as we wouldn’t be doing much walking. HAH. How wrong was I?
The good thing about mountain passes is the views are pretty astonishing.
This was no less apparent at the Hardknott Roman Fort, which Ash’s brother (archaeology graduate) was really keen to see. It was fun visiting with him too, as he was enthusiastically telling me what each area would have been used for.
We did witness more drama when a car back up on the pass had completely broken down, on a corner of the single track switchbacks, causing all hell to break loose with the traffic. If our car was anything to go by, their clutch may have burned out, which apparently happens quite a lot.
You can barely tell how steep that road is from the photo!
Thankfully we weren’t going back up that way and took the relieved car the rest of the way down the hill, not to climb any more mountains that day.
Amongst the kerfuffle of the passes, I haven’t even had the chance to talk about Blea Tarn, which actually came before Wrynose Pass, but was after another unexpected pass. This one, near the Langdale Pikes, isn’t even marked on the map as a mountain pass, so it was clearly a warm up for the big boys.
Interestingly, as well as only having one actual “lake”, the Lake District also doesn’t really have any “mountains”; they’re all Pikes or Wainwrights or Fells. A “fell”, I think, is more of a hill than a mountain, whereas a “pike” is a “peak” which I suppose makes sense. Wainwrights are a bit like Munros in Scotland – mountains named after people, and mostly over a certain height. In Scotland, there are 282 Munros (over 3,000ft) while in the Lake District, there are 214 Wainwrights (almost all over 1,000ft, but the only criteria is that they featured in Alfred Wainwright’s mountain guide rather than any height benchmarks). Both are popular for peak bagging. Either way, I’m just as confused by these as I am by the waters and tarns.
We almost didn’t even stop at Blea Tarn as it was cloudy and didn’t look quite as scenic as I’d seen in photos (isn’t that often the way?). In fact, I’d unknowingly taken a photo from afar without even realising that was it. I mean, it looks like a pond, right?
But luckily we did make the stop, and took a short walk down to the small lake where we got some lovely family photos as well as some very scenic ones after all.
Believe it or not, other than Windermere, that was the only lake we saw that day. I couldn’t believe we’d come all the way to the Lake District to only see one very tiny lake on our one full day!
But it turns out that the Lake District is about far more than just lakes (or meres, or tarns, or waters). It’s just so bloody beautiful with all the mountains and sweeping valleys that it’s easy to forgive it for not being quite so watery through the middle.
It was clear to me at that point that we’d need to come back, not least to climb Scafell Pike.
Ash’s Dad decided to drive all the way out to the sea (I mean, not into the sea) and we found ourselves in Ravenglass, which we all had to admit, wasn’t the most mesmerising place we’d ever been to and we swiftly left.
From there, it wasn’t too far to my aunt & uncle’s place, and we had booked in for a meal at the Newfield Inn, but we ended up swinging by their place early.
We were knackered by the end of the day – not least of all Ash’s dad who had traversed mountains on single track roads for most of it.
We did actually stay in our hotel on our second night, mostly because I wanted to explore Ambleside so it seemed wise to do this from a base in the morning than wind up having to fight for a parking space.
Ambleside is one of the most popular towns in the Lake District, but as well as tourists, it’s also packed to the brim with charm.
In the morning, I headed straight down to the bridge house to take photos… and of course it rained.
So what better place to hide from the rain than a bakery that specialises in apple pie? I present to you – the Apple Pie shop! My friend Emma over at Forever Lost In Travel alerted me to this place on one of her blog posts as she’s originally from the Lake District (in fact I got quite a few of my ideas from her for our visit!).
After much indecision, we caved and bought a whole apple pie to share with Ash’s parents later on in the day. So although we didn’t try it on the trip, I can confirm that it is DELICIOUS apple pie.
Unfortunately, doughnut here forgot to take a photo in the rain too. And no, I didn’t buy a doughnut.
One thing I really loved about Ambleside, and the Lake District in general, is the brickwork on all the buildings. There are SO MANY beautiful buildings in the area. Look at the restaurant behind the bridge house to the left, and the market hall in the first photo. They’re just lovely.
After our brief morning in Ambleside, we headed north and agreed to meet Ash’s parents somewhere along Ullswater. I have to admit I had done zero research here, and the general agreement was “if we find a car park with a few empty spaces, stop and let the other one know where we are”. Did not realise there was a whole town.
And that’s how we discovered Glenridding.
There is indeed a huge car park, and we decided to meander down towards the pier where the steamer tours go from. I’d been tempted by a tour, but we hadn’t known how much time we would have, and they’re pretty expensive. I was very content just sitting by the water with a cup of tea, watching the occasional steamboat go or return. I probably should have had a slice of apple pie at that point, but I’d left it in the car.
I kept taking a little wander along the shore to take more photos, and miraculously the rain held off despite the constant threat in the clouds as they passed over and caught themselves on the surrounding mountains.
I knew Ullswater was one of the larger and more popular lakes in the Lake District, so I wasn’t sure whether to expect something underwhelming like Windermere, but actually I REALLY liked Ullswater. It was peaceful, even with the occasional crowds waiting for the next boat, and a lot more scenic than I thought it would be.
And that was our very short and sweet trip to the Lake District!
From there, we all drove back to Edinburgh, where Ash’s parents stayed with us for a few days and we got to show them around the city and some of the surrounds.
The one thing that really surprised us about the trip is that the Lake District is only a couple of hours away from us! We left after work on the Wednesday and we were there by 8pm. It makes it such a doable weekend trip, which is perfect because it’s an area we definitely want to explore more of.
Naturally, I have a full “next time” route planned out to take in Buttermere, Keswick, and eventually I’ll climb Scafell Pike too. There’s also Brotherswater near Ullswater, which we passed but didn’t stop at as the conditions weren’t great, but it looks like one of the best lakes for reflection shots! Again, Emma’s Lake District post has given me a lot of inspiration for future trips.
We are feeling very lucky knowing that not only do we have so many amazing places on our doorstep in Scotland, but just a short hop, skip and jump over the border offers yet more scenery and adventure.