Tuesday 10 May 2016

A trip to the Lake District

A beautiful clear April morning found us on our way to the Lake District for a family weekend away. It was a perfect morning with a brilliant blue sky and even though it was cold the sun was warm. As we left the motorway the mountains came into view, looking majestic, their snow capped peaks bright against the azure sky. 

We parked at the Brockholes visitor centre on the banks of Lake Windermere and were a little early for the first boat of the day so explored a very small part of the beautiful gardens whilst we were waiting. The 30 acres Arts and Crafts style gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson and the formal and informal gardens run down to the shores of the lake. There can’t be many gardens that have such amazing views and being such a clear day we had a breath-taking view over Lake Windermere towards the snow capped Langdale Pikes. 

The visitor centre offers a wide range of activities for young and old; a cafe is available in the Thomas Mawson designed Arts and Craft main house, boat and cycle hire is available, archery, mini golf and also pony rides for everyone aged from 2 to 70! Luke had a quick play on the adventure playground which was quiet, although we were quite early, I can imagine that in the height of the season it would be much busier. For the more adventurous there is the treetops trek high ropes course starting  at £15 for children and £18 for adults depending on which course you choose. There are 35 exciting treetop challenges including aerial obstacles like rope bridges and wobbly logs and it finishes with an amazing 250 metre triple zip from the 14 metre high Treetop tower to the shoreline. There is also a treetop nets activity with more than 1,500 metres of giant trampolines, walkways, slides and tunnels made out of netting. They are all safely suspended between trees up to 9 metres off the ground and depending on your age, prices range from £12 to £17 per person. 

For those wanting a cheaper day out there are plenty of walks to do and you can print detailed instructions from their website. There are also 2 orienteering courses to choose from and a map can be purchased from the shop for £2.25. A  Beatrix Potter trail and Discovery trails are also available for £1.50 and these trails help you explore the grounds and find out more about Brockhole's history, wildlife and landscape 

With all the different activities on offer we could have quite easily filled a day and William and Luke are quite keen to return and give the treetops trek and nets a go. 

At 10.20 we caught our first boat of the day, a Windermere Lake Cruises steamer, and headed up the lake to Ambleside where we had a quick transfer to another, larger steamer for a ride down to Bowness. Knowing we were travelling on boats on Lake Windermere we had dressed for cold weather as we have sailed on the lake before and it can be quite chilly, even on a sunny day! We sat at the front of the boat so we could enjoy the sunshine and although cold it was the perfect spot to enjoy the views. For those not quite as brave or for when the weather isn’t quite as nice there is plenty of indoor seating available in the heated lounge areas. Refreshments, a bar and toilet facilities are also available inside the boat. During the trip there was a small amount of commentary pointing out local landmarks and features which was quite informative.

Once at Bowness we made our way to The World of Beatrix Potter attraction, located just a short walk from the lake shore. It is only a small museum but has lots to see and do. We were given a quiz sheet when we entered and Luke was in charge of finding the answers. 

The attraction begins with a short film introducing visitors to Beatrix Potter and her stories and illustrations and then you enter the main exhibition in which the sights and sounds of Beatrix Potter's celebrated characters are magically brought to life. I especially liked the Peter Rabbit garden which was full of plants and was just as I imagined his garden would be. The quiz was fun to do and we all enjoyed looking for the answers as we moved through the attraction. One thing we noted was how well presented everything was, all the exhibits were fresh looking and care had been taken to ensure the whole attraction was family friendly with everything designed with children in mind. As you would expect from this type of attraction there was a shop full of Beatrix Potter themed goods and also a tea room which looked quite busy and had a good choice of food. Reasonably priced picnic lunches were available for children.

As it was such a lovely day we bought ice creams which we ate whilst we waited for the steamer that would take us down the lake to Lakeside where our next adventure awaited us. 


On arrival at Lakeside there was just enough time to get tickets for the waiting steam train on the Haverthwaite Railway. The trains are timetabled to coincide with the arrival of the steamers which helpfully means that you have enough time to transfer to the waiting carriages. The 1950’s steam engine took us on a short journey down the line, travelling along the banks of the River Leven and through beautiful countryside. No steam train journey is complete without a tunnel and we weren’t disappointed. Originally the branch line was used mainly for hauling freight, including coal for the fleet of steamers however these days the short length of line between Lakeside and Haverthwaite now only operates a passenger service for the many tourists who visit the area. 

We arrived at the well kept station at Haverthwaite which had a small adventure playground, station restaurant, picnic area and shop. For visitors travelling by car the station is located on the A590 and has plenty of car parking. Whenever we go away we always seem to find ourselves on a steam railway as our sons have always enjoyed travelling by train and we all enjoyed the journey. 

After a short visit we caught the return train back to Lakeside, next on our agenda was the Lakes Aquarium which is conveniently located next to the station in a modern building split over two levels. Visitors move through the aquarium visiting different zones including mountains, Asia, the seashore and Lake Windermere. The boys enjoyed watching the playful otters and handling a giant millipede, but my favourites were watching the diving ducks from the underwater tunnel and also the display covering the wildlife in the lake including the local delicacy charr. Tickets are valid all day so you can come and go as you please which is good for those with younger children.

By now it was time to head back up the lake to pick up our car from Brockholes. We had a little time before the steamer arrived so popped into the cafe for a coffee and cake. The cafe has large windows with views of the lake so we were able to watch our boat pull into the dock. 

This was another of the large steamers which took us to Bowness where we changed onto a smaller launch for the final leg of our journey. The captain gave a very interesting commentary as we passed along the shore and I learnt a few new facts about the area.

We had decided to spend the night with friends in Ambleside and the next day had time for one more visit before our drive home. We travelled back down to the southern end of the lake for a trip to the Lakeland Motor Museum. Located on the A590, between Newby Bridge and Haverthwaite, the museum has a large car park although visitors travelling by lake steamer can catch a shuttle bus running from Lakeside.
With over 30,000 exhibits including over 100 cars, motorcycles,  bicycles and a special exhibition area given over to the Campbell’s quest to break world speed records both on land and water there is certainly plenty to see! 

The cars are arranged in date order and tell the story of motoring from the earliest motorised tricycles to the most modern sports cars. As well as the vehicles the museum has recreated shop fronts of the era. You can see inside a 1920’s garage, a cobblers shop and also see land girls working with a Fordson tractor. 

We enjoyed seeing cars that we remembered from our childhood whilst the boys enjoyed looking at the more unusual vehicles such as the Peel P50 and the Amphicar. The museum also has extensive displays detailing local industries including local gunpowder production, woodland industries and the previous use of the museum for the manufacture of ultramarine dye which earned it the nickname of the “Dolly Blue works.” 

There is a gift shop selling motor related gifts as well as a huge selection of cards, books and models. Adjoining the museum is the Café Ambio offering stunning views across the River Leven with both indoor and outdoor terrace seating. The café is passionate about locally sourced home-made food, freshly baked scones and cakes, Lake District cheeses, Cumbrian meats, sticky toffee pudding and many other local specialties and is open all day.
We normally drive around the Lake District however for this trip we took advantage of a family Freedom of the Lake ticket which allowed us to catch any of the boats all day. The different routes are colour coded and the timetables are planned so that there are no long waits to catch a connection. We were surprised at how easy it was to get around on the boat and how much we fitted into the day. Combined tickets are available which include travel on the steamers with entry to the attractions we visited. We did pack a lot into our day and it was almost 6pm before we returned to the car. We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to return.

Disclaimer: We received free tickets for all the attractions featured in this review but all words, images and opinions are our own.

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