Over the last few weeks, we’ve brought you some great ideas for summer holidays close to home in the UK; after all, with the best July weather we have had since 2006, why deal with the hassle of airports, check-ins and changing your money? This week Beth Pipe whisks us off to the Lake District. With its undulating hills, breathtaking views, rich history and great rustic food and drink, Cumbria is Britain’s answer to Tuscany – and at just 4 hours drive from London, it’s pretty close, too!
Cumbria has many connections to the Romans, so why not consider a couple of weeks exploring the Lake District instead of traipsing all the way to Italy? For instance, one of our highest fells, High Street, was so named because the Romans used it as a transportation route – and the connections don’t end there.
Many people seem to imagine Cumbria as hard to get to, but in fact the beauty of this county is within easy reach. The West Coast Mainline will zoom you up to Oxenholme (Kendal), Penrith or Carlisle in 3 -4 hours from central London, and there are connections from all of those stations to the heart of the Lake District. And if you prefer to travel by car, then just head north on the M6; I promise you it gets really quiet north of Manchester.
So, what have we got to rival Tuscany then?
Historic castles and islands
If history is your thing, then you’ll find plenty to love in the Lake District; it boasts close connections to Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, Donald Campbell and Arthur Ransome, just for starters. There are museums dedicated to each, and in some cases even their homes are open and available for you to explore.
Cumbria may lack the soaring spires and domes of Florence, but there is still a fascinating selection of castles for you to admire. Piel Castle sits on Piel Island in the far south-west of the county, and was built in the 14th century to protect the area from “pirates and Scots invaders”. Next to the ruins of the castle is the Ship Inn, where tradition dictates that the pub’s landlord is also crowned king of the island, and, as such, able to appoint his own band of merry knights.
On the banks of Windermere sits the glorious Wray Castle, a mock gothic mansion built as a show of wealth in the late 1800s and now open for us all to explore. It’s currently undergoing restoration and provides a fantastic opportunity to see just what work goes in to returning our historic buildings to their former glory.
Cumbria’s rolling hills
The Tuscan hills may have their charms but our stunning fells could take them on any day. You don’t need to be a hardened hiker to appreciate them; a drive out along the Langdale Valley will take you to the heart of the National Park where you can drink in the views while you enjoy a glass of something pleasant from one of the historic pubs along the way.
To the west of the county sits Wast Water and a scene voted as “Britain’s Favourite View”. It’s an easy walk from the car, and there are plenty of benches where you can sit and enjoy a picnic as you fill up the memory card on your camera.
Food & drink
Granted there aren’t many vineyards in Cumbria, though the Romans did give it a go, but we have a fantastic number of local food and drink producers who can guarantee you’ll never go hungry. Cartmel is home to the infamous Sticky Toffee Pudding and their shop is packed full of other delightfully sinful treats. If fine dining is more your thing, then L’Enclume is the place to be; Simon Roagn is the chef and the restaurant not only has 2 Michelin Stars, but was also the only other restaurant apart from Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck to get a perfect score of 10 in the 2013 Good Food Guide.
When it comes to drink, beer is our thing and there are a plethora of micro breweries busy brewing up beers and ales to suit every pallet. One of the most popular is the Hawkshead Brewery, which serves up a superb range of traditional beers with a modern twist – guaranteed to lure even the most hardened wine drinker into the world of real ales. And, as you enjoy a refreshing glass of Lakeland Gold with your locally sourced Cumberland sausage, you can relax in the knowledge that you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, flight delays or excess baggage on your journey home.
Beth Pipe is based in Cumbria and is a keen and adventurous hiker. Two years ago she & her husband left the rat race and returned to his roots in South Cumbria. Her entertaining “Life & Hiking in Cumbria” blog charts their progress and is hugely popular with tourists, hikers and those who dream of starting a new life. As a freelance writer she communicates her love for the county via a wide range of online and print publications about the great outdoors.
Find more tips and hints on the best holiday spots close to home follow our series on Summer in the UK where each week a different expert blogger takes us on a tour of their local area. So far we have seen the best places to enjoy the sun with Outdoor Eating in London, had a great guide to the Edinburgh Festival and basked on the Beaches of the Scilly Isles.