Famous for its lakes, forests and mountains, associations with Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, the Lake District is a pretty well known area of the UK. You’d expect it to be packed then, especially during the weekend of Beatrix Potter’s 150th anniversary. Fortunately, there are plenty of places you can head to to escape the crowds, hike to your hearts content, go wild swimming in the lakes, and go camping in the Lake District under the stars as I did this past weekend.
It’s a bit of an unwritten rule that we celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday by going away somewhere. We’ve celebrated it in Spain twice and in the Galapagos Islands during our South America trip a couple of years ago. This year we stayed closer to home as we’re meant to be saving for our upcoming trips to Australia and China later this year.
We didn’t plan anything for our weekend of camping in the Lake District and it couldn’t have worked out better.
Getting to the Lake District from London
If you’re from London and don’t have access to a car the easiest way to get up to the Lake District is to hop on the train.
We headed to Windermere from Euston with changes at Preston and Oxenholme. You can also get the train direct to Oxenholme as we did on the way home. On the way out it worked out quicker for us to change at Preston.
Windermere feels a little like the capital of the Lake District as it’s inside the National Park itself and chances are it’s the town that most people will have heard of.
If you’re not camping and want to be in the centre of things then basing yourself in Windermere is a good option. It’s busier than other towns but there’s also plenty of shopping besides walking if that’s more your thing.
Where to camp in the Lake District
Keep your weekend in the Lake District on a budget by camping. With so many great tents out there now you won’t even feel like you’re slumming it: it’s adventurous!
Whilst there are many places you can camp in the Lake District I’d highly recommend staying at Tarn Foot Lodge. Yes, it’s the only place I’ve actually tried but I doubt you can get better views, in a better location for such good value.
A night’s camping at Tarn Foot Lodge costs £3 per person, with an £2 extra should you have a car. You get as much space as you want to pitch up on this family-friendly, dog-friendly campsite and it’s first come first served.
If you’re planning to walk over from Windermere it may be worthwhile ringing the owner just to check he’s not rammed, but you should be fine.
The one downside is that there are no showers which wouldn’t be ideal if you were staying much longer than a weekend.
However, I didn’t find the lack of shower a problem given that there’s the beautiful Loughrigg Tarn just 2 minutes walk from your tent. The cooling waters are the perfect way to refresh after a day’s hike!
You’re also in the ideal spot for exploring nearby Ambleside, Grasmere and Elterwater by staying in Tarn Foot Farm campsite all of which have spectacular, but achievable climbs around them.
Where to walk in one weekend
We didn’t use public transport to get around during our weekend camping in the Lake District and opted for walking.
We wanted to get away from the noise and people of Windermere as quickly as possible and so headed for Tarn Foot campsite just outside Ambleside. It also happens to overlook Loughrigg Tarn which is a fantastic wild swimming spot!
Day one: Windermere – Tarn Foot Campsite
The walk from Windermere isn’t the prettiest, much of it is along a busy road but, once you reach Ambleside, you can head up into the hills a bit more freely.
We took the path up over Sheepfold, passing grazing sheep a plenty but not one other person. You get fantastic views of Lake Windermere from up here as well as a glimpse of Wray Castle from afar.
From there it was downhill straight into Tarn Foot Farm campsite and a welcome chance to put our feet up.
Distance: About 12km
Day two: Tarn Foot to Tarn Foot via Elterwater, Grasmere and Rydal
On day two we headed over to Grasmere stopping off in Elterwater for a quick breakfast. The walk from Tarn Foot Farm to Elterwater is a nice and flat walk along Elter Water lake past Skelwith Fold waterfall.
From here we headed up into Chapel Stile taking the ever-so steep route up Thrang Crag and up to Cairn.This route is a steep one and you might need to scramble up some of the hills on all fours but it’s great fun and the views of Grasmere and Heron Island lakes are totally worth it! Whilst we saw just a handful of people, the people we did see varied in ages wildly; from a baby in arms to a Grandad and Grandson. Just take it at your own pace!
High on life having climbed the 395m to the top it was all downhill to find some lunch in Grasmere. The route down is easy to follow but steep in parts!
From Grasmere head back the way you came and walk around to Grasmere Lake, following it along until you reach Heron Island. You can continue from here into Rydal; the home of William Wordsworth, or skip Rydal and carry straight on up Loughrigg Fell.
We walked towards Rydal and headed back along the opposite side of Heron Island before taking on the monster climb up to Loughrigg Fell.
Whilst lower down than the morning climb, this climb seems to go on for longer and involves a number of steps.
Again, the views are totally worth it. This time you’ll get views over Grasmere and Heron Island lakes as well as Windermere. From the top you can take one of the paths straight down to Tarn Foot Farm campsite for a well deserved rest.
Distance: About 25km
Day three: Tarn Foot Farm to Windermere
On our last day we headed back towards Windermere along the opposite side of the lake to which we’d come.
Heading down to Skelwith and over to Wray castle includes some forest walking with a few hills, but nothing like day two! From Wray castle it’s pretty much flat as you get to hike through the forest along the banks of the lake whilst following the signs to “Ferry to Bowness” which are everywhere.
When we did the hike there were plenty of wakeboarders out of the lake playing music as they whizzed past. It’s a great spot to eat your lunch if you’ve packed one!
The ferry to Bowness on Windermere costs just 50p for pedestrians (I can’t remember the last time I paid just 50p for something!) and runs regularly throughout the summer. If you’re in a car then expect to queue for a while (usually 20 minutes) during busy periods.
Arriving in Bowness is a little bit of a shock. Having seen few people on our walks all weekend, Bowness seemed like London!
Simply follow the road out of Bowness up to Windermere and that’s your three day walk done!
Distance: About 15km
Where to eat in the Lake District
The Maple Tree Cafe
The Maple Tree cafe in Elterwater serves up exactly what a hungry walker and camping in the Lake District needs: fry ups and bacon or sausage butties.
Chesters by the River
This little cafe in Skelwith Bridge is ideal for a slightly fancier breakfast. The all vegetarian menu featuring smoky homemade beans, poached eggs, potato cakes and more is slightly more expensive than you might expect, but the setting is gorgeous.
There’s also a lovely shop attached to the cafe and some very delicious looking cakes that’ll keep you going during your hike!
The Lighthouse, Windermere
In need of some dinner before getting the train back home we ate at The Lighthouse in Windermere.
I ate a delicious pizza for under £10 and there are burgers, pasta, tapas and more on the menu. The restaurant serves most dishes all day long which is perfect for hikers who aren’t sure when they’ll make it into the nearest town!
Tweedies Bar, Grasmere
If you’re looking for a good, hearty pub lunch, you can’t go wrong with Tweedies Bar. The sandwiches come on huge slices of lovely bread and are packed with filling. Make sure you order some chunky chips on the side. They’re too good to miss!