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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

Exploring the Lake District: Around Windermere with Kids

Updated: Nov 10, 2021


Happy with herself for being nearly at the top of the Old Man of Coniston


The English Lake District is rightly famous worldwide for its jaw-dropping beauty, best appreciated from the summit of a mountain. Sixteen million annual visitors is testament to its enduring appeal. However, with its high peaks and tendency to rain, it hasn’t traditionally jumped to the top of a list of places to take kids unless your family are seasoned hikers. After all, how many of us really want to drag a bedraggled child up a mountain in our precious leisure time?


For us, the Lakes has always had a special pull. We both have strong familial connections to the area: mine through my maternal grandfather, Ross Harrison, and for Tom through his paternal grandfather, George Hall. Two grandfathers whose namesakes thankfully also love the Lakes. But, having an emotional link to somewhere doesn’t automatically mean that you will have a fantastic trip. You still need the usual combination of somewhere nice to stay, things to do that you will all enjoy and weather that works for the kind of trip you want to have. Luckily in August 2021, we were blessed with all three elements for our five days in the Lakes and while we can’t fix the weather for you we can share some of the things we did which worked.


A lakeside lodge

OK, it wasn’t really a lodge but rather a cottage. What made it special was the fact that it had its own private beach on Lake Windermere. This meant we could swim morning, noon and night - and we did. Tower Wood Cottage is also one of those Airbnb gems where the host goes out of their way to make you feel welcome. On arrival, milk, coffee, and Caramel Wafers (oh yes!) were a pretty good start, but then fairies started leaving little chocolates and Beatrix Potter books around the garden and the hot tub bubbled into action. Pure heaven for small people, and we didn’t mind it either. Well Tom put up with the hot tub and even went in it on his own. Once.


Walks, scrambles & swims

Based on the principle that we try to get the children up a mountain every time we go to the Lakes, we had already planned to summit the Old Man of Coniston. And then we stumbled across the out-of-print South Lakeland Walks with Children in our cottage, which gave us step-by-step instructions for a lovely walk up Latterbarrow. It was a gentle ascent to views over Windermere in one direction, Hawkshead village in another and, because the weather was so fine, all the way to a wonderful view of the Central Fells including in the far distance. It was a good warm-up for the Old Man and, crucially, allowed us to sneak in a not-so-little ice cream from the Little Ice Cream Shop in Hawkshead.

Really, a not-so-little ice cream but we weren't complaining


In the height of the British summer and with the best week of weather for a long time, it wasn’t surprising that many other families had also decided to take on the Old Man. From our perspective, it’s a good walk with kids as it doesn’t take too long, the path is obvious and easy to follow, and because it’s a well-known Lake District peak at 803m, the kids get an enormous sense of achievement and associated bragging rights. We actually took a Wainwright route up, which avoided most of the crowds (and in some cases, we seemed to avoid the paths too) and then came down the primary ‘tourist track’ via Low Water with the rest of the world. We also managed to seriously embarrass the children by stripping down to our underwear to go for a idyllic tarn swim, and we weren’t the only people doing so.

This called 'How to embarrass your children'


Forest fun in Grizedale

Apparently I went cycling in Grizedale as a kid, so it’s clearly been a magnet for families for a fair few years. Still, Forestry England has upped the game since the 1980s with additions such as Go Ape, play areas and sculptures throughout the forest. We hired mountain bikes and took on the popular Hawkshead Moor Trail, which was 10.5 miles of continuously undulating track. The boys flew up and down the hills, their little sister - on a bike that was possibly a little bit too big for her and without much mountain biking experience under her belt - took a bit more convincing and a fair bit of her dad’s strength up the hills, but she got there in the end. The views were breathtaking, especially when we could see the peak of the Old Man and celebrate that we had got to its summit the day before. The Grizedale complex is a welcoming place to hang out with a multi-generational group, too, with a decent cafe and a mix of walking trails as well as the sculptures hidden in the trees and an art gallery. Next time Go Ape is on the agenda as the course looked to be making the most of its forest location.


Bikes, boys and a beautiful view


Brantwood

According to my (not very good - see note about Grizedale above) memory, the Pencil Museum in Keswick was my family’s main indoor attraction whenever shelter was needed in the Lakes. But I do have clear memories of visiting the home of John Ruskin, too. Set on the hill overlooking Coniston and with lakeside access, the home of the famous writer, philosopher and artist has plenty to interest young and old. From some of his incredible paintings to insights into his life and how he worked, via engaging displays focussing on his philosophical approach, there are plenty of conversation starters. So much so that Ruskin still pops up in family discussions now we are back in London. There is also an activity pack for exploring the gardens, which for us ended with a quick walk to the beach where families were frolicking in Coniston Water, jumping off piers and dodging the regular ferry. Yes, it was rather idyllic.

Lastly, a couple of tips:

  • There is no denying that the Lake District in the summer is a busy place. But as with many busy places, people tend to stick to the big attractions and the main paths, and tend to be out more in the afternoon. Starting early, talking to those with local expertise and having the confidence to explore tends to reward the effort. Bowness-on-Windermere seemed to be busier earlier in the week.

  • There is a reason why the saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’ gets repeated again and again. It’s true! Be prepared for rain and for it to be colder than you might like, and there’s no reason the weather should hold you back. Our go-to shop for outdoors wear is Mountain Warehouse as they have good sturdy ranges of everything AND always offer a discount.

  • All that said, it’s always a good idea to have a wet weather plan. If you fancy a drive, every child should experience the Pencil Museum once in their lives. Closer to Windermere, chugging along on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway is a delightful way to get a different perspective on the Lakes.


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