The Lake District – A Motorhome Tour

This is a diary of a short motorhome trip to the Lake District a few years ago.

After leaving the M6 near Kendal, we headed along the A684 and then the B5284 towards Lake Windermere and Windermere itself. The lake is scenic to drive around, although both lake and local roads can be heavily congested with leisure traffic in summer. Windermere isn’t my favourite town – it is very touristy and, in season, very busy indeed.

Waiting for the Lake Winderemere car ferry
Lake Windermere is long and narrow - it's often more convenient to use the car ferry to cross it than to drive around it. Here, we're waiting for the ferry, which is just approaching.

We decided to press on that night and followed the B roads that run up the western side of Lake Windermere until we reached Ambleside, where we managed to find a parking space for the night (albeit by a road). We ate at a nearby Chinese restaurant and, after a stroll around the town, called it a day. Ambleside is quite pleasant and makes a good base for a visit to the area.

Our first destination the next day was the Hardknott Pass. This is a very minor road that takes in some great scenery and fairly steep hills; the road is 1-in-3 in some places. To reach the pass from Ambleside, take the A593 out of town then turn off quite soon for Little Langdale. Keep following the road through Cockley Beck.

Hardknott Pass, Lake District
Hardknott Pass - going down ...
Hardknott Pass, Cumbria
... and up again (beyond he parked cars)

The pass itself is home to the ruins of a Roman Fort – say what you like about the Romans, but they certainly knew how to build roads and forts and didn’t shy away from the huge effort that must have been required to build them in such inhospitable (but strategically important) locations.

Needless to say, the Hardknott Pass is not a route you would attempt in snow or icy conditions, nor in larger vehicles – it’s steep, narrow and has tight hairpin bends in places. Panel vans up to 3.5 tonnes should be fine, larger coachbuilts might find it stressful and anything over 3.5 tonnes would almost certainly be a bad idea, not least because of the difficulty of passing oncoming vehicles. There might be a 3.5t weight/6’6″ width restriction on the road anyway – I can’t remember.

Next stop was Ravensglass where we had a look at some of the narrow gauge steam trains in use on the Ravensglass and Eskdale Railway. We didn’t have time to ride the train on its 7 mile journey to Dalegarth, but it encompasses some of the most dramatic scenery in the Lake District, including some of England’s highest mountains – so well recommended, in good weather, at least. It also gives you a taste of the scenery that’s visible from Hardknott Pass, if you don’t fancy driving the road yourself.

Ravensglass and Eskdale Railway - narrow gauge
The Ravensglass & Eskdale Railway - one of several narrow gauge steam engines in use on the line
Ravensglass & Eskdale Railway - The Green (halt)
One of the halts on the Ravensglass & Eskdale Railway - The Green

After leaving this area, we made our way down the A595 to Broughton-in-Furness and then onto the A593 to Hawkshead, our stopping place for the night. The A593 runs alongside Coniston Water for much of this stretch, making it a very attractive drive with some possible stopping places.

Hawkshead itself is a pleasant place to stay a night or to base yourself for a holiday in the Lake District. We stayed at the Hawkshead Croft campsite, which I’d recommend. Not only is it a good campsite, but it’s located right in the centre of Hawkshead, enabling you to walk to pubs, shops, etc – unlike so many campsites. As a result, we had a very pleasant evening in a local pub…

The next morning, we headed back towards Windermere and treated ourselves to a cruise on the lake, followed by lunch in a local pub (it was our wedding anniversary!). We then headed down to the southern end of the lake to the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway. It’s actually possible to link in a trip on this railway with a cruise on one of the lake’s steamers – the Lakeside terminus for the railway is right by the lake, from where it departs to Haverthwaite, which is a few miles to the south on the A590, near Newby Bridge.

Lake Windermere cruise boat
Lake cruises are operated on an almost industrial scale on Lake Windermere. This is one of the smaller boats.
Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, Lake Windermere
One of the steam engines in service on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway

We finished off the day by driving up the east side of Lake Windermere and on to Ullswater, where we spent our final night in an unrestricted private car park by the lake. (All council facilities have overnight parking bans, this private car park, for a lake steamer service, didn’t. Naturally, we did buy a parking ticket for the remaining chargeable hours that day.)

The location of this wondrous parking spot (which we shared with another motorhome) was Glenridding – the Glenridding Ullswater Ferry Landing. However, this was several years ago – I wouldn’t be surprised if overnight parking restrictions had been put into place by now…

Lake Ullswater, Lake District
Ullswater at twilight

I had never visited Ullswater before and it was one of the most breathakingly peaceful and tranquil places I’d ever seen (although surpassed last year by the Konigsee in southern Germany). This effect is helped by the fact that most of the land around Ullswater appears to be privately owned – resulting in limited access to the lake and very limited development around it. It’s a marked contrast to Windermere. The next morning, we took a small, self-drive hired motorboat out onto the lake to enjoy it a little more, just managing to avoid a torrential autumnal downpour, towards the end of the morning.

Ullswater lake cruise steamer
Cruising on Ullswater is a rather more elegant and small-scale affair than on Windermere
Self-drive boat hire on Ullswater
Ullswater isn't very busy - this is the view from our self-drive hire boat

That marked the end of our trip and we made our way home (in the rain), via an antique fair in Penrith.

There is a Lonely Planet Lake District guide book which covers the whole area. As with all Lonely Planet guide books this is very comprehensive:

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