When I travel to a new destination I always like to ‘get my bearings’ by taking some form of bus trip before heading out on foot to explore areas which piqued my interest. Having relocated from Devon to Cumbria for work a few weeks ago, a bearing finding trip was definitely needed. Normally I opt for an open top bus tour around a location but, in this instance, I chose a Half Day Best of the Lake District tour with The Mountain Goat Tour Company in their luxury minibus.
With tour pick-ups available from most accommodations in Windermere, Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside, I chose to be picked up from Windermere Park B&B which added another layer of convenience to the already well planned out day. From start to finish, this company has thought of everything and the communications pre-trip were excellent and also very reassuring given the current COVID situation.
This half day tour gives you a fantastic overview of the Lake District in a short amount of time. The tour started in Windermere and we immediately went off-piste by driving up the Kirkstone Pass which wasn’t on the original itinerary but, with panoramic views from the Kirkstone Pass Inn at the top, it probably should be. Jean, our driver and guide, wanted us to experience her favourite drive and viewing point and I am so glad she made the decision to deviate from the itinerary and ’go rouge’! At 1500ft, the Inn is the highest inhabited building in Cumbria and the third highest Inn in England and has a beer garden with some of the most breath-taking views imaginable. Winding between the Cumbrian fells the 1489ft (459m) Kirkstone Pass links Windermere and Patterdale.
Reluctantly leaving the stunning views outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn, we took the road down to Ambleside, known as ‘the ‘Struggle’, as it rises steeply from the valley floor and joins the Kirkstone Pass close to the Inn. Climbing at a gradient of 1 in 4 in places, the road up must present quite a challenge for any car let alone more ‘vintage’ models, and I didn’t envy the local runners and cyclists winding their way slowly towards the summit!
I have visited the Lake District many times prior to relocating here but this trip took me along road and past fells I didn’t know existed which was the exact purpose of the booking. Driver-guide Jean restructuring the tour to take advantage of the beautiful weather and her preferred driving routes ensured an excellent day out seeing and experiencing the absolute best of the Lake District and the company got a resounding thumbs up from me.
My previous experiences of Lake Windermere left me a little underwhelmed having jostled with hundreds of tourists along the shoreline, but this trip took us around and along the Lake, seeing the tranquil parts most tourists miss whilst honey potting lakeside at Windermere or Bowness. It was a delight to see rowing boats and lone fishermen along the banks and the occasional walker treading the paths.
The tour took us to Wray Castle, the National Trust owned property with spectacular views of parkland, fells and Lake Windermere. Being given time to explore the grounds and walk down to the lake was welcomed by everyone on board especially as we were blessed with the clearest of days and bright sunshine affording us views which stretched for miles.
Back on the bus, Jean kept up a lively and humorous commentary as she navigated the minibus along narrow winding lanes to the village of Hawkshead where we were given an hour to explore the beautiful medieval village.
It’s a really charming village, full of narrow alleys and characterful squares, which on the day of visiting was alive with tourists sitting outside the numerous pubs and cafes soaking up the autumn sun. It is also home to The Beatrix Potter Gallery, a 17th Century building which was once the office of the local solicitor William Heelis who married Beatrix Potter in 1913. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Covid situation, this has remained closed, but it just gives me another reason to revisit this beautiful village in the future. Cars are banned from the village, which made pottering around the winding streets a more pleasant and relaxing experience and people were out in force with their dogs and children in tow enjoying the clean, car-free environment.
From Hawskhead we moved on to Coniston Water made famous by Donald Campbell CBE, who broke the world water speed record of 276mph in 1955 and was tragically killed attempting to regain it again in 1967.
Above the western shore, the Old Man of Coniston fell loomed above the lake and the village once again giving us spectacular views and great photo opportunities.
As we drove out of Coniston we stopped outside Yew Tree Farm which was once owned by Beatrix Potter and left to the National Trust when she died. Whilst we didn’t enter, we stopped roadside to take photos and again, this is going on my ‘to visit at a later date’ list.
As the tour neared completion, we took a scenic drive back to Windermere along the other shoreline of the lake before being dropped back at our respective hotels and B&Bs.
This was a wonderful, relaxing trip. No parking stresses, no need for U-turns after following a sat-nav which doesn’t understand local roads, and the luxury of being chauffeur driven around an area whose beauty words can’t do justice to. Throw in a friendly and knowledgeable guide-driver and this really is an excellent day out. Pick-ups and drops off can be arranged from a number of hotels and B&Bs including Windermere Park B&B, Newby Bridge Hotel and Damson Dene Hotel.