SANDY KITCHING visits the central Lakes, an area famous for its cool, clear, lakes and tarns and gushing waterfalls, set amidst backdrops of forests, mountains, fells and a dramatic coastline.

The Lake District mountains are even older than the Himalayas or the Alps. Dramatic periods of glaciation, ending over 15,000 years ago, have created a canvas of natural beauty where mountains are reflected in the tranquil deep blue waters.

Historically split between Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, the Lake District is now entirely in Cumbria. All the land in England higher than three thousand feet (914.4 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest lakes in England, Wastwater and Windermere.

You can explore the area by foot, boat, steam train or on horseback. There are numerous off-road routes for mountain bikers of all ages and abilities. Or, you can hire one of the new electric bicycles, with charging points spotted around the county.

The Adrenalin seekers will not be disappointed by all of the climbing, ghyll scrambling, watersports and airborne activities on offer in the 'Adventure Capital of Britain'.

Families can have fun at the different animal attractions and history lovers will delight at the wealth of historic houses, museums and ancient monuments.

If you simply want to retreat, relax and soak up the atmosphere there are plenty of romantic country pubs and luxurious spas.


With access to the lakes and fells, Bowness-on-Windermere is an excellent base for people interested in water sports and boat hire. Take in the stunning views on one of the Windermere Lake Cruises or enjoy the sights on an open-top bus.

Bowness is home to the Old Laundry Theatre and World of Beatrix Potter attractions - all under one roof. All of Miss Potter’s timeless 'Tales' are brought to life and there’s a unique Virtual Walks display, short film presentation and innovative exhibits, which recently underwent a major re-display (

"It washes the arts through the Lakes as well as any waterfall. A great pool of culture!" said Melvyn Bragg about the Old Laundry Theatre which boasts a lively annual season of music, plays, comedy and film running from September to the end of December (

Wandering around Bowness you will find interesting gift outlets, high fashion boutiques and walking outfitters. The many newly refurbished bistros, restaurants and pubs offer cuisine from different cultures, including plenty of traditional Cumbrian delicacies.

You can watch the swans, geese and rare water fowl that congregate near the jetty before embarking on one of the Windermere Lake Cruises. The ferry services dates back to Victorian days and more than 1.35 million visitors hop aboard every year (

A fleet of boats and launches regularly take passengers to Ambleside and Lakeside, where you can visit the Lakes Aquarium ( or travel along the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway on a vintage train powered by steam (


Until the nineteenth century the town we know as Windermere today was a small fishing hamlet called Braithwaite. In 1847 the arrival of the railway opened up the area for thousands of tourists, dramatically changing Windermere's status for ever.

Windermere is a perfect destination all year round. With the shores of the lake so close there are several viewpoints offering panoramic views of the mountains and fells. If you want to leave the car behind, you can hire mountain bikes from beside Windermere railway station.

With some impressive Victorian and Edwardian architecture and a host of shops, there’s everything you need for a pleasurable stay. Windermere has some of the grandest country retreats including Storrs Hall, Gilpin Lodge and Holbeck Ghyll, to name but a few. It's also the home of the flagship store, Lakeland, full of innovative kitchen cookware appliances and utensils (

Head north to visit Brockhole Visitor's Centre which has an adventure playground and watersports facilities where you can receive tuition in canoeing and sailing. Children can let off steam exploring the landscaped gardens that extend down to the lake shore or have fun on the Treetop Treks (

Nestling in the picturesque Troutbeck Valley, Townend is well worth a visit having remained virtually untouched for 400 years. As you approach this traditional Lake District stone and slate farmhouse, you'll understand why Beatrix Potter described Troutbeck Valley as her favourite. The farmhouse kitchen has a real fire burning most afternoons and a quirky collection of domestic tools. Exploring further, you can marvel at the intricately carved furniture and discover why the collection of books belonging to this farming family is of international importance (

Transport enthusiasts will find the Lakeland Motor Museum by the river Leven at Backbarrow fascinating. 30,000 exhibits, including historic vehicles and associated motoring memorobelia, are all displayed in a new state-of-the-art building (

A car ferry service takes visitors across to the west of the lake to Far Sawrey and Beatrix Potter's 17th century farmhouse, Hill Top. Now owned by the National Trust, Hill Top appears as if Beatrix Potter had just stepped out for a walk. Every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'tale'. Bought in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, she used Hill Top itself and the surrounding countryside as inspiration for many of her subsequent books. The lovely cottage garden is a haphazard mix of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Hill Top is a small house can get very busy so a timed-ticket system is in operation to avoid overcrowding and to protect the interior (

For great views of the longest stretch of inland water in England, stretching ten and a half miles, you can climb up to a number of beauty spots and soak up the views of Windermere from Gummers Howe, Orrest Head and Biskey Howe. Families enjoy picnicking in the National Trust grounds at Fell Foot, situated at the southern end of the lake.

Blackwell is one of Britain’s finest houses from the turn of the last century, which survives in a truly remarkable state of preservation retaining many original decorative features. The period rooms are carefully furnished with the blend of Arts and Crafts furniture and early country-made pieces including furniture by Morris & Co and ceramics by Ruskin Pottery and William de Morgan. With regular changing exhibitions of historical art and contemporary applied arts and crafts, there is always something new to discover at Blackwell, which also has a great cafe and shop selling quality crafts and books (


Ambleside is situated at the north end of Windermere Lake and at the foot of the popular scenic route over Kirkstone Pass. This town is the starting point for many serious walkers, being so close to the Fairfield Horseshoe.

Visitors can walk beside the dramatic waterfalls of Stock Ghyll Force and you'll hear the powerful thunder of the water before you lay eyes on its furious foam.

For those with an appetite for adventure, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking and sailing are all available at the Low Wood Watersports resort (

Ambleside's most famous landmark is the Bridge House that straddles Stock Beck. This folly was built by the wealthy Braithwaite family and is now owned by National Trust.

If you need to get kitted out before you set off you will find all the gear in one of the many walking and climbing shops. Explore the streets of Ambleside that perform eccentric darts and curves at every turn and potter round the boutiques, galleries, gift and high end contemporary craft and jewellery shops.

Visit the Armitt Museum and explore the life of Beatrix Potter, who was a member of the Armitt almost from its founding in 1912. She was a major benefactor and on her death in 1943 she bequeathed to us her exquisite botanical drawings and watercolours, together with her personal first edition copies of her ‘little’ books. The permanent exhibition: Image and Reality is Beatrix Potter’s remarkable story told through her own words and images and through the great wealth of archival material (

When the walking boots are off and the day is done, you can feast in one of the fine eateries, which includes the Mediterranean-influenced vegetarian restaurant at Zeffirellis Cinema. Enjoy contemporary jazz and world music performances in the upstairs in the Jazz Cafe Bar (


The Langdale Valley is prime walking country and Grasmere is the perfect place to take in the landscape that had such a profound effect on the famous poets and artists. You can follow in Wordsworth's footsteps and take an easy walk from the village to Easdale Tarn that sits in a hollow created by glaciation. Walking around Grasmere water you will hear scarcely a sound, save the careless dip of oar blades or water lapping against reeds along the shore.

No visit to the Lakes would be complete without a visit to Wordsworth's former home, Dove Cottage and Museum that is hailed as the Centre for British Romanticism. Step into Dove Cottage to get a sense of that time: stone floors, dark panelled rooms, glowing coal fires and the family’s own belongings.

In the adjacent Wordsworth Museum you will discover the greatest collection of the Wordsworths’ letters, journals and poems in the world. Seeing these handwritten words, you can picture Wordsworth at work in Dove Cottage. Admission to Dove Cottage is by timed guided tour and you can buy tickets online from The Wordsworth Trust (

Grasmere village is a busy place with numerous gift shops and eateries. It is famous for its gingerbread created by Sarah Nelson in 1854. The great mountain painter Alfred Heaton Cooper established The Heaton Cooper Studio in 1905, and family members continue the tradition of landscape painting today (

You can find out more about how Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount, which lies between Ambleside and Grasmere and commands glorious views of Lake Windermere, Rydal Water and the surrounding fells. It was here that he wrote many of his poems and published the final version of his most famous poem Daffodils (


Coniston means 'king's town', an apt name perhaps for a village that sits under the shadow of the noble Old Man of Coniston. This is a great area for walkers and climbers, and those wanting to investigate the Tilberthwaite slate quarries. On a hike up to the summit, passing exposed veins of blue slate, you will see evidence of copper mining that date back to Jacobean times.

The loveliest and most leisurely way to explore Coniston Water and the views is aboard the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola (

The Ruskin Museum acts both as a memorial to Ruskin and a celebration of the area's heritage. Alongside the Ruskin collection, you can peruse the different exhibits relating to the coppermines, slate, geology, lace, farming and Donald Campbell (

Stop for cakes and ice creams at the waterside Bluebird Café, named after the craft in which Donald Campbell made his ill-fated water speed record attempt in 1967. There are plenty of water activities and Coniston Boating Centre hires out ca range of craft including rowing boats and Canadian canoes (

Both the opulent Gondola and Coniston Launch vessels make regular stops at the jetty from where you can walk up to Brantwood, the home of the great Victorian thinker and artist, John Ruskin. This fascinating house contains many of Ruskin’s possessions and there are changing exhibitions of both historical art and works by contemporary artists and craftspeople. Peruse the book shop before taking tea or a light lunch at Jumping Jenny’s Restaurant (


Within the Vale of Esthwaite lies the picturesque village of Hawkshead with its grey slate roofs, whitewashed cottages, cobbled streets and courtyards, narrow passages, 15th century old courthouse and rickety overhanging spinning galleries.

At the heart of the village is the church of St Michael and you will discover the old grammar school. Wordsworth was a pupil there and one of the desks is inscribed 'W. Wordsworth'.

Visitors will receive a warm welcome in the many ancient coaching inns and cosy coffee shops of this former wool town, which is also home to specialist shops selling everything from outdoor clothing to books, and the award winning Hawkshead Relish Company and Cumbrian Legendary Ales.

Stretching from Coniston to Skelwith Bridge, the Monk Coniston Estate was owned by Beatrix Potter, who gave it to the National Trust on her death. It includes the famous beauty spot - Tarn Hows, which offers easy waterside strolls, fringed by rushes, through forest tracks and leafy woodland and onto undulating open farm land (

At Grizedale Forest you will discover sculptures made by internationally acclaimed artists in response to the landscape and woodland. Get on your mountain bike and explore the many cycle paths, with special areas set aside for experienced adrenalin junkies! In the heart of the forest you will also find a high level Go Ape adventure area, café, gift shops, cycle hire and picnic areas (