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Paddling into the Sunset: A Short, Sweet Lake District Microadventure

Kayak waits to launch at Waterhead on Windermere, Lake District
Written by Stuart Wickes

Paddling into the Sunset
A Short, Sweet Lake District Microadventure Idea

We’re all so busy these days it can be hard to find the time for a meaningful adventure. But meaning doesn’t lie in duration, it lies in the intensity of experience. And sometimes less is more; more impromptu, more intense, more exciting. I think this might be one of our shortest, sweetest microadventures ever, squeezed in between 7pm Saturday and 11am Sunday, just half an hour from home. All dreamed up and organised in the hour before we set off….

Planning a paddling microadventure at Waterhead, Ambleside, Lake Windermere

Adventure on the hoof. Two hours after hatching a plan we arrive at Waterhead with canoes, tents and a map to consult

Sweet Lakeland Dawn

It’s 4.45am and I’m alone on the shores of Windermere. Mist patches hang over the lake, wispy ropes of cloud tethering them to the Lake District fells behind. Sunrise is coming.

Down at the lake, terns wait patiently on fence post and pier stump. Swans preen soft cygnets then nudge them towards the water. Geese gaggle in ahead, sending ripples across the lake. As they slide away they smudge the sun’s reflection as it burns its way over fell top forest. And so my day begins.

Pre sunrise nature action near Wray Castle Windermere

This is how my Sunday begins, at 4.30am near Wray Castle

An unexpected pleasure

It’s a totally unexpected pleasure. Last night at 5pm I was sat at home contemplating an evening in front of the goggle box. Twelve hours later I am wide awake on the shores of Windermere on an impromptu overnighter. A mission invented in a moment. Triggered by a map left lying on a table. A canoe spotted idling in the garden. An app suggesting conditions for a perfect sunset.

It’s funny how it happens. An object triggers a thought. A thought becomes an idea. Ideas form into a plan and a mission is hatched. It’s not often these days that my missions engage the kids straight off but there was something in this one that hooked them. I think it was the fish and chips. I’ve written before about the 5-9er’s, folks who pack microadventures into the time between leaving work one day and going back in the next. Well, this was going to be a relaxing 7-11er. A Saturday night sleepover with a cast iron promise; we’d be back early enough that they could have Sunday to themselves.

Flower petals on Windermere dawn near Wray Castle

Waiting for the sun to rise and the others to wake I have time to notice the beautiful little things on Windermere


It’s a long time in midsummer from sunrise to a civilised reveille. I pass the hours walking, watching the subtly shifting light and waiting for the snoring of campers to stop. We have camped at Low Wray, a National Trust campsite on the western shores of Windermere. It’s an easy 30 minute paddle across the lake from Waterhead yet we appear to have been the only guests to have arrived by canoe. In my mission plan imagination we were going to bivvy out under the stars right next to the lake. Reality is somewhat different. With only one pitch left we had to pitch by the toilets, bivvying under a night light. Spontaneity doesn’t always pay. Still, after the fish and chips and sunset paddling it didn’t seem to matter. And the rest of the family seem to be having no trouble sleeping in.

Camping at Low Wray Campsite next to Windermere

While the day begins most campers seem content to lie in and shatter the peace with their snoring

Odd ones out

By 7am I’m sorely tempted to wake them but can’t quite bring myself to shatter their dreams so take off on another circuit of the campsite. It’s full of cars and campervans, enormous tents and glampers with tepees, gypsy caravans, yurts and hammocks. We look odd laid out in bivvy bags with buoyancy aids for pillows, like we don’t belong. It amusing and bemusing; camping isn’t camping as I understand it any more. I’m much more at home in an empty field or on a fell top. It’s certainly better than a pitch by the toilets. But it’s a small price to pay for this impromptu outing.

Bivvy Bag Camping at Low Wray near Windermere

We are the odd ones out, camping in bivvy bags while everyone else seems to be glamping.

Sunrise, sunset

We are packed up and paddling on the lake by 8am and have it to ourselves. Just as we did last night as the sun set. I can’t quite believe no-one else was out paddling then either. The idea of heading off into the sunset may be a bit cliched, but it doesn’t diminish the experience of it. By 9pm, with all the steamers in bed and yachts moored up, it fell to us to raise our paddles to the sky, reach for the sun and push it down behind Lakeland fells. Cost: nothing. Experience: priceless.

Paddling into the sunset on Windermere

Paddling into the sunset is a special experience. Yet we seem to be the only ones out experiencing it.

Early mornings on the lake can be magic too. When the weather is calm, it’s an oasis of peace; a soft canvas of watercolour we glide gently across.  We head across the lake towards the Low Wood Hotel, a posh, 4 star we know does a good breakfast. The only question is whether they’ll let us in.

A great British Breakfast

We try not to drip on the carpets in Reception as we check on the dress code for breakfast but there is none. Having paddled for an hour we’ve worked up an appetite so what we saved on accommodation we spend on breakfast. We may look like paupers but we eat like kings, buoyancy aids tucked under the table to help us blend in with wedding guests and romantic weekenders.

Family Sit on Top Kayaking on Windermere

Windermere is a mirror early on Sunday morning as we head across the water for a posh breakfast

Wake up time

As we paddle away from Low Wood Bay a motor boat weaves past us pulling a water skier behind. The lake is awake now, morning calm giving way to Sunday sports action. The wake from the speedboat bobs us up and down as it washes past us and across the lake.

The 10 o’clock sun is high in the sky and we’re breaking a sweat by the time we reach Waterhead. But it’s easily cured. The kids dive off the kayaks, embrace the shocking cold of the lake and swim ashore. No-one seems to care that we have no towels. Our bellies are full. Our bodies awake. Our minds sharp. We’ve had what feels like a whole weekend of adventure and there’s still half a weekend ahead of us.

That’s the beauty and paradox of squeezing in a microadventure. The harder you squeeze, the more you pack in, the longer it seems to last. And the more you can pack into the rest of your day. So much more envigorating than a night of TV and a lie in. Don’t you think?

Paddling into the sunset on Windermere

Paddle and bivvy family microadventure on Windermere

Disclosure Note: Absolutely nothing to disclose here! We dreamed it up, used all our own gear, paid for everything ourselves except for the sunrise and sunset which are totally free.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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