More than lakes

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Seeking epic adventures and quirky food in England’s spectacular Lake District

You can’t miss the lakes in Great Britain’s Lake District. They’re everywhere—in just about every valley, seemingly behind every bend. Some, like Brothers Water, are shallow and tiny; glorified puddles, considering how frequently it rains. Others, like Windermere, are deep and long, veritable inland oceans, given the waves that can roll in during wicked storms. Most of them aren’t actually called “lakes” at all; instead, the H2O features have names such as tarns, meres and waters. Depending on whom you ask, there are more than 30 separate bodies worth mentioning.

But there’s also much, much more.

Such as the five tallest mountains in England. And six national nature reserves. The region, most of which technically comprises the Lake District National Park, is home to hundreds of tiny little towns, each one cozier than the next. It’s also oozing with literary history; Beatrix Potter wrote here, and the area inspired poets including William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I visited the region with my family during our four-month stint in London in the fall of 2013. Over the course of a week’s vacation, from a home-base between Penrith and Keswick, we explored as many nooks and crannies as we could.

Our home base, in the Lake District

No, we didn’t actually splash down in any of the lakes. We didn’t need to; we were too busy having other kinds of (family-friendly) fun.

Take the day we spent in Grasmere, a bustling little village toward the center of the District.

Here we celebrated the life and times of Wordsworth, who spent 51 years in the area and dubbed it, “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” After the hour-long drive from Penrith, we dragged the kids to tour his former home at Dove Cottage, the white, 17th-century home where he wrote some of his most famous poetry. Later that day, we paid respects at his gravesite, a modest stone in a crowded cemetery along a creek that runs behind the town church.

Another highlight of our time in Grasmere: Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread. This isn’t the stuff you’ll find in a house around Christmas; instead, it’s chewy, spicy, and (with a crumbly top) messy. According to folklore, the recipe for the stuff dates back to 1870 and has remained unchanged since then.

We also enjoyed our time in Ambleside and Bowness, the two best places in the region to channel Beatrix Potter.

In Ambleside, we visited Hill Top, a cottage that Potter bought with proceeds from her first book (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) and later used as inspiration for many of her stories. Our girls (ages 4 and 2 at the time) marveled at the rhubarb patch where Jemima Puddle-Duck laid her egg, and the garden where Tom Kitten and his sisters played. They also really liked all of the flowers sprouting haphazardly around the grounds.

From here, we sought out even more Beatrix in Bowness, at The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction. Compared to the modest (and almost ramshackle) Hill Top, this place was practically a theme park, complete with furry characters, puzzles, games, and interactive exhibits. Some of this attention to detail freaked me out; IMHO, the lifelike characters were downright creepy. The girls, however, preferred this second Potter museum, especially after formal afternoon tea (with scones, finger sandwiches, and little cakes) in the on-site tea room.

Viewfinder Tip: Explore on back roads throughout the Lake District; they take extra time, but, in almost every case, the views are worth the investment.

On our last day in the Lake District, we vowed to get out and explore the great outdoors.

Because it was raining, we opted for a hike that would be easy for the girls—the shoreline bike trails on the western shore of Lake Windermere. To cross the lake, we drove to Windermere and took the Windermere Ferry, a cable-based car ferry that makes the crossing in 10 minutes. The girls could barely comprehend how the journey mixed modes of transportation. A car! A boat! Together! How confusing!

Across the lake, how we got there didn’t matter at all. The Big Girl charged ahead with mouth agape, stopping at nothing to drink the rain. Her sister, on the other hand, moved more slowly, splashing in muddy puddles like a regular Peppa Pig. At one point about an hour in, my wife and I just looked at our soggy children and laughed—yes, we thought, the Lake District has lakes, but you don’t need to them at all to soak up the wonder.

How would you spend a day in England’s Lake District?

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Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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