We just returned home from a long weekend in Northern England's Lake District. If you've never heard of it, just imagine a flowering paradise with stone houses, beautiful serene lakes, sheep upon sheep, mountains, winding roads, and the nicest people on earth and there you are. I can't believe that such a place exists, really. And that people get to live there all the time, it seems entirely unfair to the rest of us sucking in smog and paying high rents in the city. I digress. We took the train north and rented a car so we could explore the small villages and lakes, and I'm so glad we did, despite the weird UK car rental quirks*.
I wasn't sure of the best village/lake for us to stay. I read that Lake Windermere was the most popular and gets quite crowded during summer, but I figured we were early enough in the season that we wouldn't be dealing with too many crowds and we could have this place as our base with lots to see/do/eat. We stayed at the Lakeside hotel at the southwestern tip of Lake Windermere, in Lakeside. It ended up being the perfect place for our current needs. We wanted somewhere family friendly with comfortable beds and great food, close to attractions for Henry, but away from crowds. Oh and also, we wanted a pool. So, we found the gem that is Lakeside Hotel, and though it was more than we wanted to spend, we felt it was completely worth it. The staff were amazing, the food was incredible, the pool was fun and had a view of the lake, and the beds were oh-so-soft and cushy. We probably won't stay there again, only because I want to stay on a different lake next time with bigger mountains nearby for hiking, but if anyone asks, I'd completely recommend it.
Breakfast was included in our room cost, and we made sure to fill up for the days excursions every morning. Freshly baked breads, pastries, fresh fruits, locally made yogurts, cereal, freshly squeezed OJ - as much as you want. You also got a choice of about 8 options from the menu for hot breakfast, and we mostly went with some version of eggs, cumberland sausage, and toast. Mark really took to the black pudding and even admitted to liking it by the end of the trip. One more check on his turning-into-a-Brit list.
Ok, enough about the hotel. Onto the important parts: the lakes!
The first full day of our trip: Henry's Day!
We did the Rail and Sail day - took the roundtrip Lakeside & Haverthwaite steam train (about 20 minute ride each way), and then took the boat cruise to Bowness, a tourist village across the lake. Henry was so excited and happy the whole day and we were happy to stuff him full of ice cream and french fries and make it the best day of his life. In Bowness, we ate lunch at a little cafe then walked over to The World of Beatrix Potter attraction, which was basically a dark cave full of Beatrix Potter's little storybook characters - some animatronic animals and interactive screens for kids to play with. Henry ate it up. It was a good way to learn more about her life and stories and on the way out we picked up a little Peter Rabbit for Henry, which is his new favorite little friend now. We went back to the hotel that night, took a quick swim, then ate dinner in the hotel Brasserie. Perfect day, but I was excited for the next day where we would actually get out for some walks and see other lakes.
Day two: Climbing mountains, exploring villages, and eating our way through the Lakes
We drove north to Ambleside, stopped at the Apple Pie cafe to pick up lunch for post-hike food (they have AMAZING sandwiches, buns, jam donuts, etc. We liked it so much we went back the next day.), then continued north to Keswick. We stopped quickly at Castlerigg Stone Circle, then drove to the west side of Derwent water to hike Catbells, a scenic walk/scramble up the mountain with amazing views of surrounding lakes and villages. We drove from Catbells through small villages - including Borrowdale, maybe the most adorable place I've ever seen - and ended up driving the terrifyingly steep Honister Pass to Buttermere, the skies opened and it rained so hard the entire time we were in Buttermere, so we stopped for ice cream at Skye Farm (they make their own ice cream from their cows), and hopped back in the car to drive back to Lakeside. Drove back home through Grasmere, stopping to grab a quick dinner and just missed the famous Grasmere gingerbread (they sold out as I was standing in line).
Day three: Ullswater, Aira Force, and driving home
Our last day, we ate our big breakfast at Lakeside, then packed up the car and headed north - this time to Ullswater lake to see the Aira Force waterfall. We drove through Ambleside, stopped again at Apple Pie for our amazing roasted chicken sandwiches, then drove the Kirkstone Pass - up the mountain, passing the innumerable stone sheepfolds and stopping to admire the views every so often. That drive was my second favorite drive (right after driving through the area around quaint Borrowdale), it was so scenic and majestic. We passed the cute villages of Patterdale and Glenridding and then onto the short hike to the Aira Force waterfall. A perfect ending to our weekend in the lakes. We were charmed by the surroundings and the beauty. I think our next trip to the lakes, we'll probably set up our base on Ullswater lake. It felt quieter and less touristy than Lake Windermere, and still had ferries on the lake for our little boat lover.
*Our last day, we were supposed to catch the 4pm train back home, but we ended up driving back to London instead. The Kendal Enterprise-Rent-a-Car was closed on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but I thought we could just leave the car and drop our keys in a drop box, as you can in the US. Not so. There is no drop-box system (at least in Kendal), so the only other options were to extend our trip (not possible) or just drive the car back to London and drop it off there Tuesday for a nominal fee. We chose to drive back to London, and I was SO nervous all weekend to make that drive. I'm getting better at driving on the left side, but in my experience driving in London, I've only had bad experiences - with traffic, getting lost at roundabouts, near accidents and clipping parked cars - so I was really dreading the long drive. Luckily apart from some rain, we got home before sunset and didn't hit any traffic! I was shocked. And I think the Lake District driving through incredibly narrow roads next to stone walls for 3 days trained me on left side driving.