At last I have the opportunity to write one of my most requested posts – a local’s guide for when the weather is iffy in the Lake District. People often get in touch to say that they love the Lakes but hesitate to come because of the rain… or that they love the scenery but feel there isn’t much to do for non-walkers. So, when an interesting brief popped into my Inbox I knew this was my chance to share a few of my favourites with you. It all came about when Ford contacted me to say they’d like to lend me a car so that I could do something I loved for a day. They didn’t want a review, I just had to use it to do something fun.
With it being half term, I told the boys that although I had to work for most of the week, we’d have a lovely family day out at the end of it. And of course they nodded… until Sunday morning came. We woke them early and they came downstairs with stoic looks on their faces – the kind of expressions they wear when we’re going to the dentist. It was another of those occasions when I realise with a short, sharp shock that life is changing. Whereas once they would have been happy to tag along, bounding around and making mischief wherever we took them, it just doesn’t really work like that any more. When the middle son said politely that he’d really rather stay at home and get on with some coursework it was proof that the prospect of a day with mum and dad really must be low down on the list.
So, we let them off the hook and Mr MC and I headed off for a day on our own. Of course being in a different car made it feel like a special occasion. The EcoSport is smaller than our family car and so it felt more sporty. It led us to wonder whether when we change both of our cars this year we should look at an SUV. We’ll see – at the moment Mr MC has a mad idea that we’ll both buy sports cars. I keep reminding him that we still have a few years of transporting students and all of their clobber to university and back. His riposte – it would be a good way to force them to edit their belongings!
Neither of us particularly enjoys looking at cars so it’s going to be a trying project and we really need to start thinking about it. Being on our own in the EcoSport meant we had the novelty of being in control of the tech and playing our own music for once. So it was good that the Apple CarPlay interface was easy to use and the touchscreen is bigger than in our existing car so much less of a hassle to navigate.
5 things to do in The Lake District when the weather’s bad
Anyway, back to a rainy Lake District day. Clearly I can’t cover the whole area in one post so we decided to take the most travelled path – the central Lakes. More people come to this region than anywhere else because it includes Windermere, Bowness and Ambleside, along with Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth territory. Because of this, it is often overcrowded so it isn’t my favourite area but there are some gems. Here are my top 5 things to do in The Lake District when the weather’s bad.
1. The Mortal Man
It may seem odd to start with a pub but there is a strategic reason behind my route. One of the worst things about coming to this part of The Lakes in summer or for a Bank Holiday weekend is that you’re probably going to get stuck in a long tailback of traffic as soon as you approach Windermere on the A591. Everyone I know around here is going to hate me for telling you this but you’re far better off taking the local’s route by turning right off the A591 towards Troutbeck (just after the speed camera, signposted High Borrans / More Howe Lane).
Troutbeck itself is a pretty stone village and it’s well worth stopping here, it takes about half an hour to explore on foot. Alternatively, if it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and you want to go into Ambleside or Windermere without sitting in a traffic jam, you can park in Troutbeck and walk in. It takes about two hours each way but it’s a beautiful walk.
However, going with the theme of this post, if the weather’s bad, you can hunker down at The Mortal Man for an untouristy Lake District pub experience. You’ll be following in the footsteps of the great by spending time here – Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, de Quincey, Ibbetson and Hogarth all used to meet at The Mortal Man and stay there too. Very little has changed about the pub since those days.
The views are glorious, even if it’s too wet to sit in the garden, this is the vista that you have from the windows. In fact there’s something more dramatic about The Mortal Man on the days when the clouds are down over the fells.
If you’re staying, there are some very quaint hand-drawn maps on the website of walks you can do. In the evening you may find poetry being recited or local tales told along with folk music too but all performed in a very unpretentious way.
The Mortal Man is known for its cider – it has won cider pub of the year for the last few years…
and its food is northern and hearty.
I haven’t seen the rooms but by Lake District standards, the prices are reasonable and it is dog-friendly too.
So, whether you’re spending a few days here or just breaking your journey, The Mortal Man is an authentic starting point for a taste of real Cumbria.
2. Kirkstone Pass
Drive on for ten minutes from Troutbeck and you begin the ascent to Kirkstone Pass. This is for anyone who wants a mountain top experience without the climb because it is the highest Lake District Pass that can be accessed by road. It’s steep so you need to be in a decent car – something I know from experience.
When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a big day in our family and my mum used to insist that the whole family got together to go egg rolling which is an old northern tradition. She would spend Easter Saturday boiling eggs with either onion skins or gorse flowers to colour the shells. On Easter Sunday we would then go to a hillside of her choice and roll them – you see the egg represents the stone rolling away from the tomb in the Easter story. The winner was the person whose egg went the furthest without cracking. It was also very important to stamp on the shells when you’d eaten your egg so that a Lancashire witch couldn’t make her home in it! (In fact we carry that through to all boiled eggs and my boys instinctively smash their shells to smithereens when they’ve eaten one which takes some explaining when we’re in a hotel for breakfast).
On one particular Easter Sunday, we were travelling through The Lakes in convoy. My parents were in front in my dad’s company car, next was my sister with her husband and children in their shiny new Allegro, then came my older brother in his sporty Scimitar followed by my younger brother in his rusty old student Daf. Which car did I choose to travel in? For some inexplicable reason I went for the Daf.
We reached Kirkstone Pass and the others zoomed ahead. The Daf managed the first stretches but then it started to struggle. Now you may remember me telling you that this particular brother was the one who loved to torture me – so as we reached the higher gradients and the clutch started to burn what did he do? He told me I was too heavy and every time we got to the bottom of a hill, he made me get out and walk up it! That memory made me smile as I whizzed up Kirkstone Pass in a shiny new Ford EcoSport this weekend.
As you probably know, you can go through every kind of weather in one day in The Lake District and you never know what you will find at the top of Kirkstone Pass. Sure enough, when we reached the peak it was in the cloud and there was snow.
Jacket (gSS18); Jumper; Jeans(gSS17); Boots
Luckily there is also another unspoilt Cumbrian pub – The Kirkstone Pass Inn. On summer days I love sitting outside here and cheering masochistic cyclists on as they reach the top of the road known as The Struggle.
This however was a day for being inside in the cosy bar.
It’s another place where you’ll find roaring fires and simple, wholesome meals. A lovely spot to spend an afternoon with the newspapers, congratulating yourself for making it to a high altitude (even if you have travelled by car… it’s still a journey)!
You have to behave yourself though… (Cumbria has a dialect all of its own)
So, assuming the weather isn’t letting up, head down The Struggle, enjoying the spectacular views until you reach Ambleside.
Now along with Bowness and Windermere, Ambleside is one of the key tourist honeypots and I have a love / hate relationship with it. There are shops but they cater mainly for walkers, climbers, campers and souvenir hunters. There a few nice places to eat… and there is Zeffirellis, our favourite independent arthouse cinema. You can see all of the main box office films here and they have a cafe, pizzeria and restaurant too (all vegetarian).
We always book the movie deal and it has saved us from countless afternoons on soggy campsites. There are two sites for films, the main two screens are attached to the restaurant in the town centre…
… and there are more screens in the building that used to be the junior school just a short walk down the road.
A word of warning though, it is probably the most comfortable cinema you have ever been to and if you find yourself watching a film that doesn’t grip you, you are very likely to nod off. Zeffirellis also has a Jazz bar which often has live music during the evenings.
4. Skelwith Bridge, Elterwater & Chesters By The River
Driving on about six miles from Ambleside will take you to another of our favourite destinations, Skelwith Bridge, a great option for days when the weather is changeable. Find a park near Chesters By The River which is an artisan cafe and interiors / gift shop. Get out of the car and check the weather (it’s always best to do this by looking up at the sky rather than checking your phone – Lake District weather never plays by the forecast). You see the options you have here are:
- a stop at Chesters for coffee, food or a browse round the shop
- a short walk with a lovely old pub at the halfway mark
- the return walk with Chesters at the end.
You need to plan your schedule according to the colour of the clouds.
The path from Chesters takes you along one of the simplest and loveliest of Lake District walks. It is completely flat and not too long (just under three miles) so it’s particularly good if you have toddlers, teenagers or ageing relatives with you… all pose a similar challenge where walking is concerned we find!
You’ll go past Skelwith Force (teens like this for selfies because they enjoy balancing on the rocks over the falls and watching their mothers turn greyer as they do it)…
…the beautiful Woodburn Bridge…
…along wooded paths…
…with signs of Spring along the way…
and along the meandering river with its beautiful surroundings.
Before you know it, you spot The Britannia Inn which is a great place to stop for refreshments before you turn round and retrace your steps back to the car. The whole circuit is no more than three miles so even if it does start to rain, you won’t be in it for long. From Easter onwards there is usually an ice cream van opposite The Britannia so you can pick up a local sweet treat for the walk back along the river.
We were running out of time and light so we ended up driving round to The Britannia to take a photograph. We’ve never done that before and we were surprised how much further it was than simply walking there. As you can see, I was refusing to be parted from the EcoSport’s heated seats and steering wheel which were such a treat after being outside on a particularly cold February day.
5. Grasmere Village
Grasmere is one of my favourite Lakes villages. It is touristy but most of the shops and cafes are independently owned and of good calibre. This means it’s a good spot for iffy days because you can pop in and out of coffee shops if the clouds open. Of course Grasmere was where Wordsworth chose to live and he described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” If you’re a Wordsworth fan, you can spend a happy few hours visiting the houses he lived in including Dove Cottage, Allan Bank and Rydal Mount (still owned by the Wordsworth family) as well as The Wordsworth Museum which tells you all about his life and what it was like.
Another ‘must do’ in Grasmere is a visit to The Gingerbread Shop. As the sign below says, you can’t buy Grasmere gingerbread anywhere else in the world and people make pilgrimages just to try it. It is the same recipe that was made in Wordsworth’s day when Dorothy wrote that William craved it.
It can be quite entertaining just to sit outside the shop for a while and see people’s reactions as they unwrap it and try a piece for the first time because it really isn’t like any other gingerbread you’ve tried. I can’t describe it – you’ll just have to go there and taste it for yourself.
The shop sells other locally produced goodies too including Penrith toffee and fudge which my family all have a small obsession with. It’s a bit of a local secret because it is handmade in small batches and so it’s hard to find. We have been known to make huge detours to the sweet shops that stock it and I sometimes have to send emergency parcels down to my brother in London. You can see slabs of the fudge to the right in the picture above…
Storytelling is still a big part of rural culture in the north. I suppose it dates back to the long winter nights before TV and radio were invented. Both of my grandmothers and my mum were known to be good storytellers and it’s lovely that the tradition still continues with people able to make a living from it these days. In summer you can sit in the Storyteller’s garden in Grasmere and listen to local tales from professional storyteller Taffy Thomas
Back on the Wordsworth trail, in the churchyard you can visit the Wordsworth family plot where William is buried along with the rest of his family.
Walk through Dora’s field which William and his wife bought so that they could build a house for their daughter Dora. Sadly she died young and so, in her memory, they planted it with hundreds of daffodils. They’re coming through now and will be spectacular in a month’s time…
or you can stroll along the river…
…and browse around the shops where I was caught red-handed breaking into the fudge which was supposed to be for the boys. Well, it was their choice not to come with us! Fudge and a bookshop… serendipity.
And that brings us to the end of the day. Exhausted, Gary was relieved to jump back into the car whilst we went off to find something to eat. I must just point out how great I found the boot of the EcoSport. As you know, I’ve been told that I have to have surgery on my shoulder but I keep on delaying it. Raising my arm to pull the boot down is one of the things I find hardest so the fact that this opened like a door was a joy.
Interestingly Gary didn’t whine and grumble in the back of the EcoSport like he usually does, probably because the space is so neatly enclosed that we didn’t need to use a cage.
As you’ve seen, I did my usual outfit adapting during the day, purely because conditions in the Lakes change so much. For a meal before we went home I smartened up a bit by slipping my heeled boots and black coat back on.
M&S Coat SS17; Autograph sock boots AW16
I’m so pleased to have been able to take you on a tour of my ‘backyard’ at last. Of course this is only a small part of it, we still have the North Lakes and the western peninsula to cover… it would be nice to branch into the Howgills too which was my family’s base from the 1500s until my parents moved away in the 1960s… and then of course there’s Westmorland proper, the Lune Valley and the historic city of Lancaster. I could go on about the beauty of my part of the world forever.
In the meantime I would like to say thank you to Ford for prompting me to spend the time writing this. I very much enjoyed driving the EcoSport for a few days. It went back last night and I am already mourning those heated seats.
(Note: the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I look a little different in these shots thanks to dental surgery for an abscess which has left my face rather swollen. Back to normal soon)!
Disclosure: ‘5 things to do in The Lake District when the weather’s bad’ was brought to you in association with Ford who lent me an EcoSport for a few days. I was under no pressure to write a review of the car. Although I am local I have absolutely no relationship with any of the Lake District venues and destinations that I recommend.
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