The Lake District is located in Cumbria, on the northwest coast of Englandabout an hour from the border to Scotland. The Lake District is to northern England what Cornwall is to the south — a natural, rural paradise that embodies the best of England.
I can’t figure out which one I enjoyed more.
And I was thankful I got to experience both on one trip to England!
The lakes in the region are a result of the last ice age. Glaciers receded from here and cut the U-shaped valleys that are now filled with water. I was in the area visiting friends in Lancaster. We had met years prior at a hostel in Cambodia and I was excited to see them again. To have local guides in such a cool part of England? What more could you ask for?!
My friends and I drove up on a Sunday in an attempt to avoid the crowds and the highways were packed with people coming down south after a relaxing weekend at the lakes.
Upon seeing the region, I understood why the place was so popular during the summer.
We started the journey up north at Ullswater. It’s the second-largest lake in the region, stretching almost 15km across. It’s been a popular holiday destination since the 1890s, when the British aristocracy started to visit due to the excellent sailing and hunting offered by the region.
The surrounding hills and mountains give the lake something of a “z” shape, and it’s an incredibly photogenic area. It’s often compared to Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne — and I could see why.
From there, we made our way south to Windermere. It’s the largest natural lake in the country, home to 18 islands and stretching some 18km in length. It’s a long, narrow lake (it’s less than 2km wide) that started to grow in popularity as early as the 1850s, after new railway lines made it accessible.
I noticed that the lake was busier than Ullswater, and that trend continued as we kept exploring. The farther south we went, the busier it got. I enjoyed the northern lakes more because of this.
Ullswater is located in a rugged area and is surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, and sheep farms. It was very reminiscent of New Zealand and looked a lot like Milford Sound but without all the ice. And though Ullswater is the second-largest lake in the district, it’s one of the quietest.
Pooley Bridge Village, located at the northern end of the lake, is famous for the little stone bridge that gives the town its name. The bridge was nothing special, but the river is shallow enough to walk across and, despite its cold temperature, had many kids playing in it.
Driving south, we passed mountain after mountain and farm after farm. There are a lot of sheep in this area, which is another reason this place makes me think of New Zealand.
We drove through the Kirkstone Pass, which provides stunning views of the whole area, including a few of the lakes. There’s a quaint inn at the top of the pass which is home to one of the highest pubs in the country (the pass is 454m tall). Kirstone Pass gets it’s name from Old Norse, as “kirk” means church and the nearby stone was thought to look like a church’s steeple.
Little streams trickle downhill, and there are a number of swimming holes here. However, once you pass through, you reach the southern part of the district and the more heavily touristed area. Coming out of the pass, houses started to spring up all around, more cars were on the road, and people seemed to be everywhere.
Once we were in the southern region of the district, hit traffic and crowds and I longed for the serenity of the northern lakes. We didn’t even stop in Windermere because, after driving around for 20 minutes, we realized we just couldn’t find parking.
But I wasn’t too bothered. I like avoiding crowds. Interesting fact about Windermere, though: the home of Beatrix Potter, who wrote the Peter Rabbit books, is located here.
Not only is the Lake District amazing, but so are the surrounding areas. It’s a more populated version of the Lake District but still has all the charm. I woke up to this each morning:
Ancient stone walls sectioned off vast numbers of sheep, green hills rolled on forever in all directions, and tiny English stone cottages dotted the landscape. This whole area had an “English country” feel that I’ve yet to see elsewhere, and coming here took me back a few centuries. The whole area is so well-preserved and so perfect, you often wonder if the locals got together and decided to rebuild everything like it was in the 1700s for the tourists. People here have just maintained these ancient houses out of their own free will.
Out of all the time I’ve spent here in England, my weekend in Lancaster and the Lake District felt the most “English.” The cottages, the sheep, the hills, and the Sunday venison roast caught by a man wearing this:
How to Visit the Lake District: Logistics
The Lake District are located around 500km north of London. Buses are available via National Express from London and are the cheapest way to get to the area. The journey takes around 10 hours and will cost between 35-50 GBP each way.
The train is much faster, with journeys from London taking between 4-6 hours. However, tickets can be much more expensive. Expect to pay anywhere from 50-200 GBP for a one-way ticket.
If you’re coming from Edinburgh or Glasgow, the train ride is just over 2 hours and costs between 40-90 GBP per person for a one-way ticket.
The best way to explore the region is to rent a car. You’ll have much more freedom and flexibility, as it is quite a large region and public transportation is few and far between.