Autumn has arrived finally, and I’m dreaming of booking a cosy getaway to the English Lake District to lift my spirits.
The Lakes are the perfect place for an autumn or winter break. The summer crowds have long gone and there’s a more relaxed feel to one of England’s busiest tourist destinations.
Add to this a glut of indoor and outdoor attractions that work whatever the weather, and you’re ready to enjoy a late holiday break.
Here are a few of my favourite things to do in autumn and winter in the Lake District.
1. Stroll around the Lakes
There’s hardly a better place in Britain to enjoy walking in the fells or striding across the hill tops than the Lake District.
But you don’t have to be a mountaineer or seasoned walker to enjoy the scenery or ‘walk the walk’.
I’ve always struggled walking up hills so the Lakes is perfect with its choice of easier walks for lightweights like me.
Some of my favourite hikes are low-level walks around the lakes including the circular path around Buttermere and the popular, scenic trail around Derwent Water.
There are stacks of moderately difficult walks too including another favourite – the walk up to Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell with its quiet path alongside the river which boasts lovely views down to Ullswater and to the surrounding hills.
2. Get back to nature
The Lake District is a popular destination for nature lovers but be sure to pick your wildlife watching location carefully to avoid the crowds.
Top spots for wildlife watching are Bassenthwaite, Whinlatter Forest and Dodd Wood, Haweswater RSPB Reserve and Derwent Water.
Ennerdale is home to a re-wilding project so there’s every chance you’ll see healthy numbers of both red and roe deer as well as red squirrels.
I also found a great quiet spot at St John in the Vale near Keswick where red squirrels were active throughout the day. This cute chap guzzled down dozens of nuts whilst I was watching him.
Alternatively, simply enjoy the scenery by heading to the top of one of the Lake District’s many hills with spectacular panoramic views.
3. Mess around on boats
There is nothing better than messing about in boats in the Lake District whether it’s at the busier lakes like Windermere and Ambleside or at a quieter spot like Coniston Water or Ullswater.
If sailing isn’t your thing, there’s always the option of taking a short cruise on a steamer or yacht to see the scenery from a very different perspective.
The Glenridding Sailing Centre is located near Glenridding village, and lies on one of the loveliest of the northern Lakes, Ullswater.
This is a great place to learn to sail, whatever your age, and you’ll get great tuition – it’s a safe place where you can learn how to keep afloat on the water.
The centre runs classes and courses for all abilities and age groups. You can also hire a boat, canoe, kayak or small dinghy to enjoy a trip around Ullswater.
For those who don’t want the challenges of sailing their own boat, why not try a trip on the leisurely Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding.
There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Glenridding from large hotels like the Best Western and the Inn on the Lake to smaller B & Bs and camp sites.
4. Walk a Wainwright
For serious walkers, there’s nothing better than ‘doing a Wainwright’, and it’s amazing how quickly you get away from the crowds by just walking away from the car park for a while.
The Wainwrights are 214 of the Lake District’s hills, as described by A.W.Wainwright in his iconic guidebooks to the fells, all illustrated by his own pen and ink drawings and with each walk meticulously described.
Even though they were written half a century or more ago, the area hasn’t changed that much, and they are still a useful guide today.
Tony’s top tip (he’s in the middle of trying to walk up them all)… try one of the lesser known hills around the edge of the National Park.
It’ll be a much quieter day out, you’ll get great views of the bigger hills, and you won’t get that disappointing feeling of getting to the top of somewhere like Helvellyn to find a crowd of 50 other walkers all eating their picnics on the summit.
5. Feast on food
The Lake District’s culinary reputation is based on its great local produce and a brilliant selection of restaurants with an international reputation.
Cartmel in the southern Lakes is a good base to explore both – it’s home to the Sticky Toffee Pudding Shop and the Michelin starred L’Enclume restaurant.
Cartmel is the birthplace of the sticky toffee pudding or STP, the delightful dessert that makes the taste buds salivate like they’ve been awoken from a long trip in the culinary wilderness.
The Cartmel Village Shop has different variations on the classic STP from the Sticky Banana Pudding to the Sticky Ginger and Sticky Chocolate – a treat for any lover of puddings.
Food lovers with a large wallet can enjoy a trip to L’Enclume (The Anvil), which is run by Simon Rogan, the renowned, award winning chef.
This posh eaterie recently won Best Restaurant in the UK, beating Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Bray. The two Michelin-starred restaurant also featured in The Trip, the BBC comedy starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as cynical food critics.
I’ve eaten in some expensive restaurants but L’Enclume takes the biscuit. This exclusive restaurant will set you back in the region of £45 for lunch and over £120 for dinner. Wine and drinks are extra.
Other foodie hot spots are Ambleside (The Old Stamp House), Windermere (Holdback Ghyll) and Ullswater (The Sharrow Bay Hotel), to name a few.
6. Take a train journey in miniature
There’s nothing better than the sight, smell and sound of classic steam trains in the English countryside – and the Lake District has its own miniature version – the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway.
Jump on board the train at Dalegarth in the heart of Eskdale and the train will take you over the fells to Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast.
A great adventure is in store as you steam along through some of the Lake District’s most spectacular scenery.
In the mid 1930s the Ravenglass-Eskdale line was the smallest passenger railway in the whole world. Today, the railway is a hugely popular tourist attraction, run by a preservation society, where you can step back in time, relax and be taken for a 40 minute ride through the Lake District National Park.
7. Walk with the Romans
For something different, why not walk up the short but steep trail to Hardknott Roman Fort, a stunning archaeological site in the Lakes.
Hardknott Fort was once one of the furthest-flung outposts of the Roman empire, founded under the Emperor Hadrian’s rule in the 2nd Century.
The Romans called it Mediobogdum and at 800 feet it’s one of the highest Roman forts in Britain. The remote and dramatically sited fortifications overlook the Hardknott Pass which once formed part of the Roman road from Ravenglass to Ambleside and Brougham.
Hardknott boasts an undeniably spectacular hilltop location but it’s a thrilling experience to experience the ruins of the fort which are impressive in their own right.
This is one of the most spectacular Roman sites in Great Britain with an approach road over the Hardknott and Wrynose Passes which is amongst the best scenic drives in Britain.
8. Explore literary Lakeland
The Lakes has a huge heritage of writers who drew inspiration from it picturesque landscapes including the poet William Wordsworth, author Beatrix Potter and novelist, Arthur Ransome.
Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage is a good place to start if you’re a fan of the poet and his “golden daffodils”.
This is here in the heart of the remote Lake District that Wordsworth wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language and his sister Dorothy kept her famous ‘Grasmere Journal’, now on display in the Museum.
Another Wordsworth house, Rydal Mount, can be found nearby between Ambleside and Grasmere it commands beautiful views of Lake Windermere, Rydal Water and the fells.
This was Wordsworth’s family home for most of his life from 1813 to his death in 1850 at the age of 80. It was here that he wrote many of his poems and published his most famous poem ‘Daffodils’.
Children’s author Beatrix Potter is another literary legend to seek out if you’re in the Lakes – and the best place to get a sense of her world is Hill Top near Hawkshead.
This was where she lived for over 30 years and Potter drew much of her inspiration from her garden and the picturesque landscapes nearby. Another property associated with Beatrix Potter is Townsend Farm in the lovely Troutbeck Valley.
After her death in 1943, she left her 14 farms and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, on the proviso that her favourite home, Hill Top, was opened to the public and left unchanged… which is why out remains a special place today.
Lovers of Swallow and Amazons by Arthur Ransome will enjoy a trip to Coniston, one of my favourite lakes, which is said to have inspired the book.
9. Enjoy cool kids stuff
Looking for cool kids stuff? Kids can enjoy adventure high above the forest floor at Go Ape at Grizedale where there are zip-wires, ‘Tarzan swings’ and a variety of obstacles.
Or why not take to two wheels for the ultimate forest experience on a rugged all-terrain Segway?
The Segway experience lasts an hour, and includes a brief bit of safety and instruction before you head out. What a unique way to visit this beautiful forest.
Grizedale also boasts a great mountain bike trail and there are numerous walks which adults can tackle whilst the kids are enjoying their adventures at Go Ape.
10. Visit great country houses
The Lakes has some superb country houses which are great places to visit come rain or shine. For me, two of the best are Blackwell near Windermere and Brantwood overlooking Coniston.
Blackwell is a stunning house, set in a beautiful location overlooking Windermere with spectacular views over the Coniston Fells.
Designed as a Lakeland retreat for a rich industrialist at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Blackwell’s distinctive Arts and Crafts style is exquisitely beautiful and extremely cosy.
In its heyday visitors to Blackwell would have played croquet on its lawns, picnicked by the ‘ha ha’ and enjoyed a set of lawn tennis on the courts.
Today it’s a pleasure to walk around the grounds and enjoy the lakeside views, whatever the changing season.
Brantwood is the former home of artist, writer and social reformer, John Ruskin who spent the last 28 years of his life in the Lakes.
Stuffed with paintings, beautiful furniture and Ruskin’s personal treasures, the house retains the character of its famous resident.
But the biggest attraction are the stunning views of Coniston Water which are simply breathtaking.
11. Take an Art Trail
Culture lovers are in for a treat because the Lake District boasts two internationally important outdoor art projects – Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds and the Grizedale Forest Sculpture Trail.
Goldsworthy started his intriguing Sheepfolds project back in 1996 and it took years to complete because it covers so many different areas.
There are 48 art works covering a large geographical area stretching from Penrith in northern Cumbria to the southern Lake District.
Andy Goldsworthy worked with the derelict sheepfolds in various states of disrepair, transforming them into environmental sculptures, repairing some and adding sculptures inside others.
Many of the works are located in remote or isolated places so my trip to see them in Cumbria required some detective work.
Easier to visit for a half day trip is the Grizedale Forest Sculpture Trail which features 90 works by international artists throughout the woodland, reflecting the landscape in which they are placed.
The sculptures are always interesting and some are truly remarkable including works by David Nash and Andy Goldsworthy.
12. Discover the history of speed
Why not discover the history of the water speed kings, Donald and Malcolm Campbell, two of Britain’s most amazing heroes.
Donald Campbell began his speed record attempts in 1949, using his father’s old boat, Bluebird K4.
Coniston Water was where he tried to capture the World Water Speed Record with numerous attempts to break records. Coniston was fjord-like, deep and straight and provided a five miles long uninterrupted stretch of water… perfect for his speed attempts.
But on 4 January 1967 tragedy struck when Donald Campbell perished whilst breaking the 300mph barrier the lake. You can relive the moment at the lakeside memorial.