OK, so you’ve been for a sail on Lake Windermere, climbed a fell to look at the view, had a Cumberland Sausage sandwich in a cosy pub and sheltered from the rain in a shop selling all things Beatrix Potter. Now what?
Here are four of my favourite things to do around the Lake District, one of the most beautiful parts of Europe, whatever the weather or the time of year.
For the south lakes you could stay near Kendal, an old market town great for shopping and right on the edge of the Lake District National Park or over in Barrow-in-Furness which has access to the west coast and an intriguing maritime history. If you want to be nearer Ullswater and the north lakes, stay in Penrith, just off the M6 and also near the lovely Eden Valley.
Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway
Take the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway (aka La’al Ratty) from Ravenglass, once a Roman port, up the Eskdale Valley to the Dalegarth, close to England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike (3,209ft). This quaint narrow-gauge railway trundles past seven miles of impressive scenery and little ‘stations’ along the way in a 40-minute journey. Take time to explore the tiny town of Boot, with its 10-15 person population, before tootling back down to the sea.
On your return, visit Muncaster Castle, still home to the ghost of 16th century court jester, Tom Fool, and full of unusual artefacts. Time your visit for late afternoon to catch a glimpse of the herons which hover in the trees around this time, awaiting their daily feed.
Lakeland Motor Museum
Take time to visit the Lakeland Motor Museum, which has so much more to see than its excellent collection of cars. Housed in the old Backbarrow Blue Mill in Leven Valley near Lake Windermere, there are vintage, classic and modern cars, motorbikes, bicycles, kiddies’ pedal cars, a hot-air balloon, a hang glider and much more. Children love the old amusement arcade games, fashionistas can take a trip down memory lane with vintage clothes ‘shop windows,’ and engineering aficionados will love the Campbell Bird Exhibition, which chronicles the record-breaking achievements of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell. While you’re there, don’t miss a stop by Café Ambio for a meal overlooking the river.
The Pencil Museum
The attractive Lakeland town of Keswick has plenty of appeal, with its attractive old buildings and waterfront location on Derwentwater. But for sheer quirkiness, spend an hour at The Pencil Museum. Home to the world’s longest pencil, it tells the fascinating story of one of the commonest stationery items we use. Pencils may be universal now, but they have a strong tie to the Lake District. In fact, graphite was first discovered in nearby Borrowdale in the 1500s, and locally-made Derwent pencils are still popular today.
The Alpaca Centre
Set eyes on alpacas for free at The Alpaca Centre in Penrith. These woolly animals are close cousins to the llama and originate in the South American Andes so they are quite content in the cool conditions of North West England. With their soft, thick wool and big eyes, they are very appealing if a bit shy. The shop sells a wide range of clothing made from their soft wool, including jumpers, scarves, slippers and gloves.
Nearby Rheged, about a mile off the M6, is also a must-see Lake District attraction. With shops, restaurants, and entertainment, it features a great selection of local goods and produce as well as celebrity Chef Peter Sidwell’s restaurant, a theatre, a spa, pottery painting, a children’s area, and a history-themed playground.