Our best heritage journey by car: A591 road between Keswick and Lake Windermere.
This drive through the Lake District reveals a landscape so beautiful that you can easily understand how it stirred the hearts of poets and writers – but the route also takes in a feat of Victorian engineering and Cumbria’s prehistoric past. The 21-mile drive isn’t one to rush, so avoid the summer crowds and add in a few leisurely side-trips.
Keswick is your starting point and after just one mile, take a small road on the right signposted Castlerigg and Rakefoot (the road loops round, so it’s easy to rejoin the A591). Enjoy a panoramic view of Skiddaw and Blencathra and continue to the Neolithic stone circle of Castlerigg. It dates from around 3,000 BC and is one of Cumbria’s best preserved circles.
Back on the main road, admire the Doggs peaks to your left before approaching Thirlmere lake – actually a reservoir, created after an 1879 act of parliament to provide a water supply for Manchester. It was completed in 1894 amid vociferous opposition. Two hamlets were dismantled and flooded, and in severe droughts you can see the remains of the lost settlements. At the southern end of the lake, stop at Wythburn for grandstand views of the waters.
Onward lies Grasmere, home to St Oswald’s Church, with the graves of William Wordsworth and family members, and Dove Cottage, The Wordsworth Museum & Art Gallery. This is where Wordsworth lived from 1799 to 1808 and wrote his best poems before moving to nearby Rydal Mount. Carry on along the A591 for two miles and Rydal Mount is a turning on your left. This much-loved family home has terraced gardens landscaped by the poet and magnificent lakeland views.
Next, you meander into Ambleside. A path behind the Ambleside Salutation Hotel leads to a spectacular 70-foot waterfall, Stock Ghyll Force, surrounded by daffodils in spring. Back in town, the quirky 300-year-old Bridge House is built over the rushing waters of Stock Ghyll. Originally a summer house for the local gentry, it is now owned by the National Trust.
Leaving Ambleside, a signposted road to the right leads to the little-known Roman Galava Fort, once a major distribution centre that aided the conquest of northern Britain. Lying on a wide spit jutting out into Lake Windermere, it enjoys a stunning setting.
Leaving Ambleside, admirers of Beatrix Potter may wish take a six-mile side trip to Sawrey (via the B5286 and B5285) to visit Hill Top. Beatrix Potter’s house is a charming time-capsule of her life, with a pretty cottage garden that Mr McGregor would be proud of.
Back on the A591, Lake Windermere is on your right and your final destination is close. If you can linger a little longer, continue to the Arts and Crafts house of Blackwell (one and a half miles south of Bowness-on-Windermere, just off the A5074) with works by William Morris, Voysey and Ruskin. Here, you can take tea on the terrace overlooking Windermere – a fitting end to an inspiring and varied road trip.
Distance: 21 miles
Duration: 40 mins-1 hour with no stops; a day trip, with one or two side-trips