And that’s a cause for celebration, not dismay. Long gone are the days when the Lake District emptied over the winter. Instead, with the national park quieter and more itself again after the hustle and bustle of summer, it’s a great time to come. First, autumn, the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (John Keats) when local food and drink tastes just so much better after working up an appetite with a bracing walk. Then winter itself, with hikes on the snowy fells or lowland walks alongside frosty lakes, followed by pub lunches by open fires when you’re ready to warm up. Whether you’re here for the day or a longer break (see the Stagecoach Bus website for great offers on one-day passes, three-day and one-week passes), there’s plenty to enjoy in the Lake District and Cumbria in the coming months.
Walk into winter
Autumn and winter are perfect for gazing out on morning mists and early sunsets from the upper deck of a double decker bus and discovering your inner poet. You love literature? Then ride the 555 or 599 to the quaint village of Grasmere, and walk the coffin trail to Rydal with breathtaking views over Grasmere and Rydal Water. You’ll be following in the footsteps not only of the dead – carried along the trail from Ambleside to the Parish Church at Grasmere in days gone by – but of the doyen of the Lake’s society of dead poets, William Wordsworth himself, whose former homes in Dove Cottage at Grasmere and Rydal Mount in Rydal mark the start and end of your walk.
Those seeking a challenging walk may prefer to start at Allan Bank – home at different times to William Wordsworth, and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust – and head from here for the solitude of Easedale Tarn. After summiting Sergeant Man (736m) and skirting the wonderful Harrison Stickle, enjoy the long steep descent into the Langdale valley alongside the darkly and aptly named Dungeon Ghyll, before boarding the 516 to Ambleside. In Ambleside as at Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale, there are numerous traditional country pubs waiting to greet you with heavenly log fires to warm up after an autumnal or winter walk. With no need to worry about getting back to the car or the drive home, you’ve time for a saucy glass of prosecco or a pint of local ale after a hot, hearty meal. What could be better? What could be more wonderfully winter?
Mix things up by bus and boat
Head for Hawkshead, Keswick, Coniston or Glenridding for charming towns and villages and winter walks as well as boat rides if you want to mix things up a little. Catch a boat from Bowness-on-Windermere to Ferry House on Windermere’s western shore as part of the Cross Lakes Experience (services run until 31 October), continuing on to the 525 Mountain Goat bus service from Ferry House to Hill Top in Sawrey, after taking in a panoramic view of Windermere from Claife Viewing Station. Hill Top was Beatrix Potter’s first Lakeland home and the place where she wrote most of her delightful “little picture books”, and it’s just a stone’s throw or bunny jump by the 525 bus from there to the town of Hawkshead, with its ancient churches, galleries, giftshops and teashops. The greats have left their stamp in Hawkshead: you’ll find enchanting originals of Beatrix Potter’s paintings in the Beatrix Potter Gallery housed in the former office building of her solicitor husband here, as well as William Wordsworth’s initials on a desk at Hawkshead Grammar School – the school he attended for eight years as a boy from 1779 to 1787.
Delving deeper into Lakeland, choose Keswick (Stagecoach Bus 555) for a Unesco heritage site walk through woods to Friar’s Crag for a stunning view of Derwentwater celebrated by John Ruskin as one of Lakeland’s finest, before boarding the hop on/hop off boat at Keswick jetty to one of the many boat stations at Derwentwater – each providing opportunities for lakeshore walks or ascents to the northern fells. From Glenridding at the southern end of Ullswater (Stagecoach Bus 508 service runs until 31 October), you may choose instead to board a boat to Aira Force – force from the old Norse fors, for waterfall – to seek red squirrels besides waterfalls in the woodland, or head instead for Howtown for the start of a wonderful lowland walk boasting views of Ullswater across to the Helvellyn range of mountains beyond (see Ullswater Steamer website for timetable, routes and fares). Or from Coniston village (505), how about a boat ride to Brantwood, former home of John Ruskin – a poet, artist, critic, social revolutionary and conservationist – by cruise-boat or the majestic National Trust-owned Victorian steam yacht Gondola (services run until 31 October)? Back in Coniston village under the watchful eye of Coniston Old Man, there’ll be time for a leisurely look around the wonderful Ruskin Museum. Here you can learn not only about Ruskin but about Coniston’s copper-mining past and Douglas Campbell, the only person to set both world land and water speed records in the same year (1964). The Lake District has always been a magnet for adventurers and miners as well as nature lovers, poets, writers and dreamers. Why not enjoy the Lakes by boat as well as bus, to better experience what brought them here?
Festivals and getting festive
Recently accorded status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the home of agricultural traditions spanning centuries as well as outstanding nature, the Lake District has a lot to celebrate. Kendal, the Gateway to the Lakes (Stagecoach Bus services 555, 505, 599 and X6), hosts several of the biggest and most vibrant modern festivals, among them the Torchlight Festival and Lakes Alive in September, the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival in October and Kendal Mountain Festival in November. Kendal also gives us the Westmorland County Show in September and Wool Gathering Festival in October – the town’s contribution to a plethora of events celebrating community and the Lakes’ agricultural present as well as past across Cumbria in autumn. Later, Ulverston (Stagecoach Buses X6, 6) launches the Christmas season with a delightful Dickensian Christmas Market at the end of November, followed in December by magical Christmas markets in Hawkshead (Stagecoach Bus 505), Keswick (Stagecoach Bus 555) and Windermere (Stagecoach Bus services 555 599 and 505). Yes, there’s a definite festive feel on cold days when the magic of winter is in the air!