Tina Walsh takes an idyllic tour through the Lake District’s loveliest spots, and the landscapes that so enamoured William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter
With its mountains, lakes, and undulating emerald-green hills, the Lake District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and England’s biggest national park, in the northwest county of Cumbria, has been enchanting visitors, including the likes of William Wordsworth for centuries.
Here are some of the quaintest, most picturesque villages in the Lake District that you can visit
The village of Grasmere, set in a pretty vale just north of its namesake lake, is crowned by magnificent fells and mountains and surrounded by scattered hamlets and farmsteads. The area was once a major draw for artists, writers, and painters.
Poet William Wordsworth described the vale of Grasmere and Rydal as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”, and both John Constable and JMW Turner, two of Britain’s most famous painters, captured the area’s unique light in the 18th and 19th centuries.
If you’ve a sweet tooth, don’t miss the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. Created by cook Sarah Nelson in 1854, the spicy sweet biscuit-cake combination has a worldwide following and is still baked fresh every day on the premises to Sarah’s original secret recipe. The owners have recently opened a second shop in Hawkshead, too.
In 1799, Wordsworth arrived in Grasmere aged 29, largely unknown and writing poetry in a new style. He wrote many of his best-loved poems at Dove Cottage, now the Wordsworth Grasmere museum, where you can discover the story of his time spent here.
Ambleside, a pretty Victorian market town at the head of Windermere, is known as the “jewel in the Lake District’s crown”. Cocooned by the rolling Lakeland Fells, it’s often used as a base for walkers. At 9.2 square miles, Windermere is easily the biggest lake in the Lake District and offers cruises and waterskiing from Waterhead Pier, a short walk south of the town.
Nearby are the remains of a Roman fort, built in the second century AD. Beatrix Potter fans will love the Armitt Museum, where you can see the author’s fungi watercolours and learn about her scientific ambitions.
Situated at the southern edge of the Lake District, Cartmel is one of its prettiest villages, with a delightful old-world feel and a selection of pubs, artisan shops, and cute cottages. There’s a beautiful 12th-century priory and a racecourse from the same period, still in use today.
Cartmel has two Michelin-starred restaurants: Rogan & Co and the three-star L’Enclume, both run by Simon Rogan.
Stock up on the village’s famous sticky toffee pudding at Cartmel Village Shop, where they’ve been making the sticky treat for decades. During the day, Cartmel Square bed and breakfast serves teas, coffees, and handmade cakes from its café overlooking the main square.
Just north of Esthwaite Water, one of the smaller, lesser-known lakes in the Lake District, Hawkshead is a photogenic jumble of cobbled streets, public squares, and whitewashed cottages.
It captivated both William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter – the latter lived at Hill Top (pictured left (credit National Trust Images/James Dobson) and now a National Trust museum) a five-minute drive away in the village of Near Sawrey.
History buffs should check out the Hawkshead Grammar School Museum, which retraces the school’s story since its founding in 1585. Wordsworth, its most famous pupil, attended between the ages of nine and 17.
Downstairs, the schoolroom has barely changed since his day. Upstairs, there are exhibitions throughout the year.
In the picturesque Eden Valley, Pooley Bridge straddles the River Eamont at the head of Ullswater. The village largely consists of two wide main streets that feature attractive greystone houses and little teashops, many of which overlook the lake, which at seven-and-a-half miles long is the second largest in England.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can hike the length of the Ullswater Way, a 20-mile route that takes you round the whole lake. For a more leisurely amble, combine one of the smaller sections with a boat or bus ride, stopping off at a village along the way.
A popular itinerary is to take a boat from Pooley Bridge, disembark at Howtown and then walk to Glenridding to catch the boat back. It was one of Wordsworth’s favourite walks and offers unrivalled views of the lake and Helvellyn mountain.
This is an extract, read the full feature in our December 2023/January 2024 issue of Discover Britain, available to buy from 3 November here.