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Visiting The Lake District Without A Car

by Chloe Gunning
Views of Ullswater on the Aira Force hike
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From trains and buses to bikes and boats, it turns out you really can visit the Lake District without a car!

I’ve just returned from an exciting car-free adventure in England’s beautiful Lake District. It was my second time in the region. Two years ago, I spent a few days embracing my inner adventure chick by day, and feasting on incredible local cuisine by night.

I totally fell in love with the landscapes. Those epic mountains, valleys, forests and lakes. The rich purple of the heather covering the hills, and the deep blues of the region’s many lakes. It really is a photographer’s dream!

Beautiful views of Ullswater in the Lake District

Beautiful views of Ullswater in the Lake District

I was invited to return this year by the GoLakes team at Cumbria Tourism, and replied with a big fat YES! Even better, they wanted me to explore the region car-free. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that while I do have a driving license, I’ve barely driven in eight years. The thought of getting behind the wheel terrifies me – no doubt the same feeling for anyone travelling in the passenger seat!

I’m always excited to discover beautiful places in England are accessible without a car. The Lake District is a place that many people might think you can ONLY reach if you drive, but it’s definitely not the case.

Exploring Pooley Bridge, Ullswater

Exploring Pooley Bridge, Ullswater

So along with explaining a little about the public transport in the Lake District, I wanted to share what we got up to on our three-day car-free adventure. 

But first, check out the video from our trip…

Travelling From London To The Lake District Without A Car

Do you need a car to visit the Lake District? No! I used public transport and found the journey very easy. I travelled from London to the Lake District by train, leaving from London Euston and arriving in Penrith three hours later. I love travelling by train – all that time staring out of the window as the landscapes change. Time to catch up on work. Pop some tunes in my ears and away we go!

Penrith lies just outside the Lake District National Park, but it’s the main hub for people visiting the eastern edge of the park. It’s close to Ullswater (the second biggest lake in the Lake District), which, if you want to follow in my footsteps, is where we spent most of our trip.

Visiting the Lake District by train

Visiting the Lake District by train

From Penrith Station you can catch the 508 bus which goes from Penrith to Windermere, and stops at several places around Ullswater. It’s worth noting that there are a few diversions in operation around Ullswater due to the rebuilding works taking place at Pooley Bridge.

Catching the bus in the Lake District

Catching the bus in the Lake District

You can find more info about getting around by public transport on the Lake District’s website, which includes all the bus routes in the region connecting popular spots such a Windermere,  Keswick and Grasmere.

Touring The Lake District Without A Car – A 3 Day Itinerary

 The Lake District is a large region, so my top tip if you’re visiting without a car is to base yourself in one or two areas, rather than trying to cover too much ground. We stayed around Ullswater, and enjoyed a number of activities, a few types of accommodation, and got stuck into some great cuisine too!

Activities In The Lake District

Aira Force Hike

I could hear Aira Force waterfall well before I could see it. The thundering power of the 65-foot drop down through the rocks to the pools below. It was a rewarding moment too, as I’d just completed a 4-mile hike from The Quiet Site (where we were staying) and my legs were excited for a good rest!

Aira Force Waterfall

Aira Force Waterfall

The hike itself is absolutely spectacular, and if I were to only recommend one activity from my trip, this would be it! BONUS – it’s free and proof you don’t need a car to see some of the most beautiful parts of The Lake District! The Quiet Site have produced a detailed map to reach the falls, and it works well as an 8-mile loop if you want to return there afterwards.

Aira Force hike

Aira Force hike

Views of Ullswater on the Aira Force hike

Views of Ullswater on the Aira Force hike

We passed along craggy rocks, through magical forests, climbed over stiles, opened and closed several kissing gates and emerged at several spectacular viewpoints. My favourite overlooked Ullswater from quite a height, and offered some of the best panoramic views I’ve seen in the Lake District.

Views of Ullswater on the Aira Force hike

Views of Ullswater on the Aira Force hike

Ullswater Steamers

The Ullswater Steamers offer a great way of reaching different parts of the lake, all while enjoying spectacular views. The boat service, which is now in its 160th year, connects Pooley Bridge, Howtown, Glenridding and Aira Force. After our waterfall hike we hopped on board at Aira Force, and headed to Glenridding. Later we caught the last boat of the day down to Pooley Bridge.

If you’re visiting on a blustery day, don’t worry – you can stay cosy inside the cabin, enjoying a cuppa, a hot chocolate or something stronger from the on-board bar. You’ll find the Ullswater Steamers timetable online, where you can also book tickets before your visit.

Ullswater Steamers

Ullswater Steamers

E-Biking Around Ullswater

Looking for other ways of getting around the Lake District without a car? How about renting an e-bike? While even the fittest of cyclists might struggle with the region’s hills, these days e-bikes are opening up cycling in this region to all.

E-biking in the Lake District

E-biking in the Lake District

Arragons Cycles offer cycle hire at Lowther Castle, Hillcroft Park and at their store in Penrith. Just book your ride in advance and you can enjoy exploring the region on two wheels. 

In the Ullswater area, there’s a great network of trails through the Lowther Estate, which shows off some of the region’s prettiest scenery, including ancient woodlands, pretty countryside and the River Lowther.

E-biking in the Lake District

E-biking in the Lake District

Water Sports At Glenridding Sailing Centre 

So if going on the Ullswater Steamers isn’t quite the ‘water activity’ you’re looking for, I’d recommend spending some time at Glenridding Sailing Centre. We hired a canoe for a couple of hours and went out for a relaxed paddle on Ullswater, but you could also hire kayaks and sailing boats. I also spotted some fab experience days, which would be perfect if you’re visiting in bigger group.

Canoeing on Ullswater

Canoeing on Ullswater

There’s something so liberating about paddling out on a vast expanse of water like Ullswater. We explored the little bays, waved as sailors breezed past, visited the tiny islands in the middle of the water, and enjoyed uninterrupted lake views.

Sailing in Glenridding, Ullswater

Sailing in Glenridding, Ullswater

Sailing in Glenridding, Ullswater

Sailing in Glenridding, Ullswater

Shopping And Eating In Pooley Bridge

The quintessential English village of Pooley Bridge has had a tough few years. After the old bridge (from which the village gets its name) was severely damaged by Storm Desmond in 2015, the village was a little cut off for a while. Thankfully the situation has improved, with the side where the Ullswater Steamers dock being connected to the village by a temporary footbridge. Work on the new road bridge is ongoing (due to complete Spring/Summer 2020).

From the pier, it’s just a few minutes walk to the centre of the village, and all you could need for a lovely afternoon by the lake. There’s gastropub The Crown Inn, country pub Pooley Bridge Inn and gourmet restaurant 1863 (more on two of those below), Granny Dowbekins Tearooms, Chestnut House (great for gifts, local foods, and its huge range of gin) and The Barn (selling handmade fudge).

You can walk the main street in about five minutes, but it’ll take you a lot longer if you pop in and look at each shop. As the rain started to fall, I loved looking at all the knick-knacks and gifts for sale. We left with a bag of mint chocolate fudge, a jar of local chilli chutney, and a slightly tipsy head after sipping several samples of local gin!

Pooley Bridge Inn

Pooley Bridge Inn

Gin paradise at Chestnut House, Pooley Bridge

Gin paradise at Chestnut House, Pooley Bridge

Where To Stay: Lake District Hotels & Quirky Accommodation

On my first visit to the region, I was really impressed with the quality and variety of places to stay in the Lake District. This time I split my time between two very different styles of accommodation. No doubt one of them will appeal to you…

Casual and quirky: The Quiet Site  

The Quiet Site’s reputation preceded it! Yes, this was somewhere I’d been excited to visit for a while after seeing it on social media. The campsite is famed for its quirky Hobbit Hole accommodation. There are 15 Hobbit Holes, plus static caravans, areas to pitch tents, and wooden camping pods.

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

The Hobbit Holes are built into the side of the hill, and are super cute, with round windows, deck chairs and a table outside. They’re deceptively roomy inside too, with a large cushioned area sleeping 2 adults and 2 children, plus a kettle, microwave, fridge and a separate toilet and sink. For showers you’ll need to head to the shower block by the entrance.

I really enjoyed the bar at The Quiet Site – a cosy place open in the evenings, with a pool table, board games, roaring log fire and reasonable drinks. There’s also a brand new zero-waste store selling everything you could need for glamping or camping, including bread, soup, fresh milk and snacks. Plus, if you don’t fancy cooking, The Saucy Sausage (on site food truck) serves up tasty sausage-based dinners and breakfasts!

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

As for accessibility when visiting without a car, The Quiet Site is a little out of the way, BUT don’t let that put you off. The staff offer complimentary pickups from places close by. We caught the 508 bus from Penrith to the Brackenrigg Inn (5 mins away by car) and were collected from there.

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

Hobbit Hole at The Quiet Site

Smart and comfortable: 1863

I was aware of the Lake District’s love of ‘restaurants with rooms’ from my previous visit, so was excited to check in to 1863 in Pooley Bridge. What does this mean? Basically there are plenty of great places to stay where the emphasis is on gastronomy, but the accommodation is great too.

Our room at 1863 Ullswater

Our room at 1863 Ullswater

There are seven bedrooms at 1863, each with unique and elegant décor. I adored our room (Room 6) which is built into the eaves of the building, and features vibrant floral wallpaper, decadent soft furnishings and a chic bathtub.

If you get a chance, take a seat by the fireplace in the lounge area and look through 1863’s ‘first year’ book. I was amazed by owners’ Mark and Anne’s incredible vision as they transformed the building into what you see today.

The main event though? The food – just wait until you read about our meal at 1863’s restaurant.

Where To Eat In The Lake District

Gourmet Cuisine At 1863, Pooley Bridge

1863’s restaurant deservedly holds two AA rosettes. We enjoyed over two hours of entertainment as we worked our way through the 6-course tasting menu with wine pairings.

Highlights included an earthy beetroot dish with creamy goats’ cheese and light beetroot crisps, a decadent duck dish with celeriac puree and a crisp duck pastilla, and a sweet and tangy damson dessert served with raspberry and a meringue that was almost too pretty to eat!

Beetroot starter at 1863 Restaurant

Beetroot starter at 1863 Restaurant

Duck main course at 1863 Restaurant

Duck main course at 1863 Restaurant

Dessert at 1863, Lake District

Dessert at 1863, Lake District

Chefs create beautifully-presented, balanced dishes, with flavours that combine effortlessly together. The wine pairing worked well, and surprisingly started with a red, before moving to white. If you’re looking for a special meal in the Lake District, this is THE place to visit.

Enjoying dinner at 1863 Restaurant

Enjoying dinner at 1863 Restaurant

Hearty Pub Grub At The Crown Inn

Overlooking the new bridge construction is The Crown Inn, a 17th Century coaching inn serving up hearty pub classics. When the sun is shining, the terrace is a great spot to enjoy the view, or if it’s chilly, warm up inside by a cosy log fire.

On the menu you’ll find gastropub staples, including sausage and mash (Cumberland of course!) burgers, fish and chips, pies and steaks. Quality is good and portions are big, so it’s a great place to rest up after an adventurous day in Ullswater.

We tucked into tempura fried king prawns, followed by rump steaks and shared a moreish sticky toffee pudding for dessert. After a long day of hiking, canoeing and more, it was just what we needed!

Dinner at The Crown Inn, Pooley Bridge

Dinner at The Crown Inn, Pooley Bridge

So can you enjoy a Lake District holiday without a car? I think from my post you can see you definitely can!

For details of accommodation, food, attractions and experiences in the Lake District, Cumbria, check out www.golakes.co.uk

A big thanks to the GoLakes team at Cumbria Tourism for inviting me to explore the Lake District without a car. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

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Visiting The Lake District Without A Car


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