Walking vacations in the Lake District

If, like yours truly, many of your childhood vacations were spent walking in the Lake District, then perhaps you also have fond memories of feeding Kendal mint cake to random sheep, or your mum shouting at you constantly not to get too close to the edge of the lake. Walking here is a formative experience for many, the changeable weather shaping a strong constitution, the soggy sandwiches at picnics helping to manage expectations of life. You’ll see families with multiple generations on their vacations here, the Lake District being the type of place where you bring your kids, then they bring their own, and you then find yourself geeing your grandkids up the next hill with the promise of an ice cream in the afternoon.

The Lake District National Park is one of the best places in England for walking. Skip the shorter routes around popular locations such as Windermere, Kendal and Keswick, however – the places that get ludicrously busy especially in summer – in favour of longer, more challenging walks, and you’ll pass through lesser-seen but just as beautiful Lakeland scenery. Your views, and the serene atmosphere, will be pleasingly uninterrupted. You probably won’t be wandering lonely as a cloud, not least because most Lake District walking vacations involve small groups, but neither will you be queuing up at viewpoints or short of a spot to eat your lunchtime sandwiches.

Beyond the pleasure of escaping the crowds, simply walking amid beautiful countryside and fresh air does wonders for your mental health. Bella Somerset, owner of our specialist operator Bella’s Magic Mountains, is a qualified mountain leader and her group tours aim to restore this balance: “I find that being out in nature grounds me. Walking in natural landscapes is a temporary but very effective way to gain clarity, to reset and discover what makes you feel at peace, and help mental struggles to evaporate. When you’re walking I think the social mask is stripped, conversation and friendships form naturally. I hope that encourages people to find the human connections, which I think are so important and the absence of which can lead to depression.” The Lake District, full of wide open spaces, is the perfect place to reconnect with nature in this fashion.

Another aspect of responsible walking vacations that deserves trumpeting loud and clear is that they will often raise funds for conservation organisations. These help maintain paths, stiles and bridges, while other richly deserving organisations such as Fix the Fells and Lake District Mountain Rescue also put such money to excellent use. From lakeshore to fells peak, valley floor to high pass, and farmland to moorland, this region is sheer joy to explore on foot. Here we present a handful of classic Lake District routes to consider, and what you need to know before you go.

Cumbria Way

This linear route begins in Ulverston, in southern Cumbria, and finishes 120km further north in Carlisle, taking you through the heart of Lakeland along the way, as well as many of its most attractive and historic landscapes. You pass popular Lake District destinations including Keswick and Coniston, but spend the majority of your time in woodland and valleys, or on old packhorse paths, lakeshores, open commons and rolling pastures. Diana Staaf took a tailor made and self guided vacation on the Cumbria Way, and found it “an exciting exploration of the history and geology of this part of England. We have a deeper appreciation of our English heritage and met some wonderful people along the way; locals and other walkers.”

The walk can be done either point-to-point, self guided (it’s usually well marked, but at times you may appreciate having a map and compass), or as a center-based and guided small group tour based in a country house. If you’re on a tailor made point-to-point trip, then you’ll be accommodated in a series of locally owned and operated hotels or B&Bs, which wherever possible use local produce in their full English.

A typical Cumbria Way vacation lasts six days, and you’ll be on the trail for about six hours every day. You can expect to cover up to 20km in a day, and some ascents and descents can be as much as 750km, so although it should be perfectly manageable for experienced walkers, it is not a route to be underestimated. It’s possible to walk the Cumbria Way all year-round however, and so some people do choose to break it into stages.

Cumberland Way

Walk the Cumberland Way in June or September, just outside the peak season in the Lake District and when you can still expect reasonably good weather (this is the rainiest part of the country though, so don’t count on it). It’s a 100km or so walk that may finish at the official endpoint of Appleby, or earlier at the historic Brougham Hall on the edge of the national park.

The route takes you northeast from the coastal village of Ravenglass, via Black Sail Pass and superb views of Great Gable, Haystacks and Scafell Pike. Castlerigg stone circle, Keswick and Ullswater are also highlights of an itinerary that can be accomplished in six days covering 15-20km each day. However, you will be center-based, comfortably accommodated in a spacious lakeside country house in a remote part of the Lake District, with daily transfers to and from the trailhead.

Ullswater Way

In 1955 Donald Campbell set the world water speed record on Ullswater, but walking around it you should definitely take your time. Beginning and ending in the popular village of Pooley Bridge, this circular walk is around 32km and is typically completed in four days, or a long weekend. It was only christened as recently as 2016 but is rapidly becoming known as one of the Lake District’s most scenic walks. In fact, one section was described by Alfred Wainwright as “the most beautiful and rewarding walk in Lakeland”, and if anyone knew what he was talking about on this subject, it was Wainwright.

As well as fells, crags and dales, you’ll walk through a series of traditional Lakeland villages such as Glenridding, which is often used as a start point to climb Hellvelyn, England’s third highest mountain. You’ll also pass the Cockpit stone circle, Maiden Castle and the picturesque Aira Force waterfall, which is likely to be flowing well in April or October, which are the best months to walk the Ullswater Way.

Centre-based walking trips, during which you’ll be guided as part of a small group, are based in a country house from where you can watch red squirrels and Herdwick sheep from the windows. You’ll be transferred to the trailhead each morning and will be walking for a very manageable six hours each day before you’re picked up.

Our top Lake District Vacation

Lake District hike on the Cumbria Way, England

Lake District hike on the Cumbria Way, England

Hiking vacation in England's Lake District

From £810 to £1116 10 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Lake District or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Short walking breaks in the Lake District

This being such a renowned walking destination, there are many day walks around the Lake District that can make up a short vacation. You might be on trails around Buttermere that were brought to public notice by Alfred Wainwright, exploring sites associated with the Lakes Poet William Wordsworth around Grasmere, or Beatrix Potter above Windermere. They might incorporate visits to Muncaster Castle, the Honister Slate Mine, or a jaunt on La’al Ratty, the Ravenglass to Eskdale railway. “My guided Lakes walks are about shared adventure,” says Bella Somerset, “by the end you’re quite physically exhausted but mentally clear. About half of my clients come with mental wellbeing in mind, half just want a good walk. But it’s amazing how quickly and deeply bonds form between strangers just from being on the trail together.”

You might also walk around well-known destinations such as Keswick, Buttermere and Rosthwaite. Trips run in May, June or September and are ideal for those wanting to revive themselves for a while amid brisk fresh air and gorgeous Lakeland scenery – city mice after a taste of life as country mice. Bella Somerset finds the Lake District very convenient for weekend getaways: “What’s great about the Lake District for me is the ease of getting there from London, just three hours and I’m there. I also love how a poor man’s hike and a rich man’s hike are just the same – there’s nothing elitist about these walks and views.”

Practicalities

A typical walking vacation in the Lake District will be a guided small group tour, with a maximum of 21 on the trip. Depending on the walk, you might be center-based or staying at a series of different accommodations along the way, with luggage transfers between them. Wet weather gear is essential no matter the time of year, this is the Lake District after all, and even if you’re walking with a guide it can still pay to read up a little on the local area; as Diana Staaf points out: “Sturdy boots and good rain gear, including a pack cover, are necessary, as are sunglasses and sunscreen. The weather is variable. You'll see more if you have done some reading about the history and the area. We were thankful to have our maps and Cumbria Way guide book, all essential.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Arend] [Intro: James Cook] [Cumbria Way: Arend] [Ullswater Way: Diliff] [Short walking breaks in the Lake District: simonsimages]
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