Karen Bowerman - Why I love the Lake District
PUBLISHED: 15:15 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:15 21 February 2014
Karen Bowerman finds plenty to do on a short trip to the Lakes
The sign at bus stop opposite Low Wood Bay Hotel near Windermere, could seem rather smug. It reads, “The most scenic stop in Britain.”
But then there’s a question mark, as if it’s asking you to decide.
Glance over the hedge, and you’ll spot a small, neat lawn, a jetty, complete with canon, the misty Cumbrian Mountains, and at their feet, a vast stretch of water. It’s the eastern side of Lake Windermere: the largest, and some say most scenic, lake in England.
My favourite view is at dusk, in Autumn. Hike into the hills (there’s a path directly behind the hotel), glance back from the stile that leads to the coppice, and as the last steam cruiser ferries walkers homewards, the mountains, lined with woodland, shine coppery-gold in the sun.
Moments later, everything’s grey. The slate roofs of the whitewashed houses disappear first, followed by a network of meandering stone walls. Then the mountains turn black and Windermere a slither of silvery stillness. Sitting on the stile to the coppice, the rumble of the road is lost in the babble of a nearby stream.
It’s not surprising the area inspired William Wordsworth, one of England’s greatest 18th century poets.
In 1799, while on a walking holiday, he visited Grasmere, a small village a few miles north of Windermere. He fell in love with an empty inn with low ceilings and flagstone floors, bought it, and moved in that Christmas, inviting his sister, Dorothy, to live with him.
Dove Cottage became their much-loved home. Here, Wordsworth wrote two of his most well-known works, Daffodils and The Prelude. Today, jasmine twirls around the windows and a fire smoulders in the parlour.
The cottage has many of the couple’s possessions. On the well-worn stairs there’s a cuckoo clock whose hands the poet used to spin round to 12, to entertain his friends with the antics of its bird. The party piece eventually rendered any time keeping useless.
Then there’s the small poster bed where the poet slept sitting up, for fear of contracting tuberculosis, along with his round spectacles and the ice skates he used when Windermere froze during winter.
Apparently, he could carve his initials in the ice with such skill that he held the title best skater in the village – even when he was 60!
My sister and I regularly visit the Lakes, but rarely in Autumn, for fear of the weather. But this time we made an exception, and the seasonal colours, reflected in the lakes, were magical.
We stayed at Low Wood Bay resort just outside Windermere, in a spacious twin room with lakeside views and its own Jacuzzi bath.
The hotel also had a leisure centre with a steaming outdoor hot tub – perfect for warming up after a bracing day outside.
A rainy morning saw us on a blustery boat ride from Bowness to the Lakes Aquarium at Lakeside. It housed an assorted collection, given its name, and although we searched in vain for the marmoset and harvest mouse, we enjoyed the piranha, adored the otters and loved the “Scuttle, Slide and Slither” table.
My sister said it was really for kids, but when there was a large West African land snail, a Madagascan hissing cockroach and the chance to hold Charlie, son of Cinder, the boa constrictor we’d met earlier, who could refuse joining in?
The next day we headed to Honister slate mine near Keswick to tackle England’s first via ferrata. The “iron paths” - metal rungs hammered into sheer cliff faces - were used in the Dolomites to facilitate troop movements in the First World War. Victorian miners used the idea at Honister to help them get up and down the mountain quickly.
We spent a couple of hours clambering across gullies and rocks, wondering how on earth this could have been a quicker commute to work! Cliff ladders, scramble nets and a wire “trapeze”, suspended 2000 feet over Honister Pass, added to the adrenalin rush.
The climb ended at the summit of Fleetwith Pike, where the clouds cleared to reveal a view of Gatesgarthdale Valley, Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. Behind us, Scafell Pike, which at just over 3000 feet is the highest peak in England, soared into the sky.
That afternoon, we explored some of the mine’s underground caverns. Honister’s green-grey slate lasts for around 600 years and can be found on the roofs of St Paul’s cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
We spent the night at Hallsthwaite, a small village near Broughton-in-Furness in the western Lakes where we stayed in one of the most charming B&Bs I’ve come across. Our room, in a converted barn, looked as if it had come straight out of an interior design magazine, yet it still had a wonderful cosiness.
Karen, the owner, emerged from the farmhouse to wave us in with a torch and welcomed us as if we were friends. The next morning, for breakfast, she served home made walnut bread, Cumbrian sausages and farmyard eggs, all cooked on the Aga.
Had it been a touch warmer, we could even have had morning coffee outside, since our room came with a patio table and chairs, set on a patch of green overlooking the valley.
From Bank House Farm it was just a couple of minutes’ drive to the Cumbrian Heavy Horses Centre where we’d signed up for a ride.
We got acquainted with our steeds in an immaculately clean yard, as Spooky the black cat snored in the sun.
Then, sitting astride our horses’ massive flanks, we cut through woodland, skirted fields and paddled through streams, all in brilliant sunshine.
Had the stables been on a bus route, there may have reason to challenge Low Wood Bay for the most scenic stop in Britain, but as it was, there was only a country lane frequented by tractors.
As for that “smug” sign, I’d suggest Stagecoach painted over the question mark and waited to see if anyone complained. I doubt they would; a glimpse of England’s most famous lake from the top of a passing double decker, can’t be anything short of stunning.