What? No Car? A Lake District Family Walking Tour
Is it possible to explore the English Lake District without a car? Go Lakes Travel says it is, and it’s encouraging visitors to ‘drive less, see more’ by bus, bike, boat and boot. But the land that inspired world famous poets, artists and climbers is a rather substantial backyard, by anyone’s standards. Could we do it with three kids, in the middle of winter? With the help of a local bus service and a walking route outlined on a pamphlet, we set off by by foot on a series of winter walks that would take us across the heart of the Central Lakes…
“Shall we walk across Cumbria this week?” asks Stuart.
“Erm….” says Hannah.
“Why?” says Matthew.
A walk through winter
Why not? What is it about winter that we are all so scared of? Why do we prefer to mooch about at home and fall out over who gets the last chocolate in the tin rather than getting out and enjoying the countryside and the elements? A British winter is a seductive blend of icy pink dawns, glassy sky, smoke wafting from limestone chimney, and the crunch of boot on frosty field. Right?
Wrong. Rewind through that romantic footage and substitute anything solid for boggy creek and gloopy mud. And add more rain. Now you’re getting the picture of The English Lake District at the moment. I’d swear Wordsworth would be looking up words for 50 shades of grey (grey as in dull not Grey as in Christian) in his mental thesaurus were he alive today. Yet I’m still up for it. And surprisingly, given their initial reaction, the kids are too; once they’ve been reassured they can take their headphones with them.
No daffodils today
As we begin our walk, I’m certain we’re more likely to be hit with a tsunami from Windermere than encounter the soft yellow glow of a daffodil; even in the famous St Oswald’s Daffodil Garden in Grasmere. Yet even in this winter gloom there is a beauty that you don’t find anywhere else in England, or maybe anywhere else in the world. The rain provides a constant drumbeat to the equally steady squelching of feet as we begin our week long amble over rolling fell and through classic Lakeland towns and villages.
The start of our Stagepath Family Way to Walk journey takes us directly to the spot where the Lakeland writer Alfred Wainwright first fell in love with The Lakes. Orrest Head, on the eastern shores of Windermere, inspired Wainwright to declare his life would never be the same again.
“Our first sight of mountains in tumultuous array across glittering waters, our awakening to beauty.”
Those waters aren’t glittering today but they do have a magnetic charm as they curl and lap like liquid graphite at the far head of the lake. On a brighter day we’d have seen the heady peaks that bowled the writer over. Today we mostly see the puff and fluff of cloud.
Islands in the mud
We pelt down the fell as the rain pelts down onto our heads. After following part of the original Roman Way from Kendal to Ambleside, our Stagepath ‘Family Way to Walk’ leaflet directs us to ‘traverse the damp pasture to a wall stile.’
Er, damp? It’s a paddling pool. There’s no way of crossing it without getting soaked up to our calves. We try to slide along the wall, clinging to the dry stone structure while balancing on clumps of grass. But aside from Cameron who scales the wall like a monkey, none of us are thin or agile enough to get across a whole field in this way.
Stuart announces he saw a plank of corrugated steel in the copse we just walked through and he drags it over. It’s the size of a shed door. Maybe it is someone’s shed door? And once we’ve all walked to the end of it, with Cameron directing from the wall, there’s nowhere to go.
So Stuart fetches a second shed door and we turn them into little islands and we hop from one to the other, shoving the wavy steel planks from one patch to another. You can see how we got on in this video clip (opens in new window).
As we reach the end of the field we become aware that another couple is following us. They are doing their walk without the aid of corrugated shed doors; they simply splash through the mud; making us look like idiots. While we are heaving our doors they walk around us and make their way into the next field. It’s then that we realise we have been going the wrong way. We wave to them as we cross back and traverse another damp pasture to a wall stile. We wave to them as we hop over into a slightly drier field. And we wave to them as they realise their mistake and turn back, half a kilometre later. Oh well, at least they can make their way back on our shed door mini islands!
Where did you get that hat?
Later we find ourselves on a real island as two foot bridges lead us over Trout Beck. As we wander down to Middlerigg Tarn, Hannah and I squeeze the rain out of our sodden hair and wish we’d brought hats. The ever resourceful Cameron has a solution for cold heads. He grabs a clump of moss from the wall and arranges it on the top of my hair.
“Are you making Mum into a Princess?” asks Hannah. “Can I be one too?”
“More like the frog,” mutters Matthew. But even our body conscious twelve year old is soon seduced into trying on a mossy wig. And then we all style Stuart who looks a little like a petulant Prince Charles in his. We look around for the hapless couple to see if they would like to be made into royalty but there’s no sign of them.
Leading a reindeer around Brockhole
No winter’s walk would be complete without a reindeer would it? We arrive at Brockhole National Park Centre and suddenly we find ourselves marching around the grounds of Predator Park with Vixen and Rudolph. It’s a little surreal and Vixen is particularly excitable; straining at her red glittery lead. At only six months old, the reindeer have been adopted by Brockhole on a long term basis. It’s hoped next year they can pull the kids round on a sleigh. But their handler admits that if Santa had to rely on these two, most people would get their presents in June.
“They are a bit ploddy aren’t they?” he admits.
But as the rain beats down in almost solid sheets, and we shiver in our soaking wet boots, a gentle walk with a reindeer seems a fitting end to the first leg of our winter walk.
Tomorrow we return to Brockhole on the 555 to start the next section to Ambleside. Who knows what season we will encounter. And who knows who or what we will lead astray?
Our thanks to Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, Brockhole National Park Visitor Centre and the staff of Predator Park for their help in bringing you this story.