It’s just a couple of days until we head off to the lakes and mountains of Switzerland so what better way to get prepared than a weekend in the Lake District?
Whilst not exactly on our doorstep, a clear run up the M6 gets us to our base in Windermere in under three hours. Mr Fletche has chosen us this AirBnb in the centre of town, and it turns out to be a great choice. Any fears we had about struggling for parking are unfounded. Most importantly, we are less than 5 minutes walk from the pub. From a number of pubs in fact.
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We pick up essential breakfast, lunch and tea-making supplies, and pop in to The Crafty Baa for a quick drink. This quirky craft beer pub and its tiny sister venue Pie and a Pint soon becomes a firm favourite.
There’s plenty of daylight left so we make our plans for the late afternoon and evening. We take a meandering route down to our neighbouring town Bowness, via the shores of Lake Windermere. Tummies rumbling, we decide to grab an early dinner at the Old John Peel Inn before getting a taxi back to Windermere. We accidentally get into a cab that is not the one we booked, meaning Mr Fletche gets several texts about the red Citroen waiting for us in Bowness well after we’ve got home.
It’s time for the short trek up to Orrest Head for sunset. Which is when I discover that I’ve forgotten to pack my beloved Keen walking boots. You know, the bloody expensive ones I bought to support my dodgy arches? I assumed they lived in the boot of Mr Fletche’s car. Turns out that I assumed wrong. I do however have the cheapie Mountain Warehouse shoes that served me well on snowy trails in Canada so they’ll have to do.
The Orrest Head trail starts just a couple of minutes walk from our Airbnb. It’s a gentle ascent on a mostly paved path, with plenty of switchbacks taking the strain from the climb. The views from the top are pretty spectacular – certainly the best you’ll get for very little effort. The Lake District Fells, Lake Windermere, Morecambe Bay and the Pennines are all revealed in their full glory. We descend and reward ourselves with a quick beer at the Queens where a singer is murdering performing a bunch of “classics”. It’s fun but not a patch on the Crafty Baa.
We have breakfast in our Airbnb and Mr Fletche makes up our packed lunch before we head an hour north towards Keswick. To Catbells in fact. This hike had been on our radar since we started planning the trip, and the fact it’s marked as Easy is a bonus.
Parking is a something of a struggle as the main car park is shut off, leaving roadside parking only. Mr Fletche gets more and more frustrated as he drives past ideal spaces, only to turn round and find them filled. Eventually though we find a spot a five minute walk from the trailhead. We begin the ascent taking the anti-clockwise route which seems to be pretty popular. There are a few steep zigzags to get the legs pumping, but even from a small height the views behind us over Derwent Water are pretty spectacular. I shed a layer of clothing.
We continue upwards until the nice well-defined trail becomes a bunch of rocks. It’s time for a bit of scrambling. For those of us with short legs it’s always a bit of a challenge but it’s fun figuring out your next foothold. A bit of mental exertion takes the mind of the physical exertion. And once we’ve conquered this bit we have the opportunity to rest awhile and admire the views of the tiny sailing boats on the lake to the left of us, and the magnificent fells rolling away on our right.
The summit is still a way away though so I shed another layer of clothing and we continue upwards. There’s a bit more scrambling involved and finally we’re at the summit, 451m into the sky. I give the trig point a satisfying pat. It’s a popular hike and there’s almost a party atmosphere at the summit. The breeze hits my sweaty body as I throw myself down on the wide grassy hillside so I quickly reapply the clothing I’ve discarded at various stages. Mr Fletche hands out the ham and cheese cobs he lovingly prepared this morning. It tastes divine.
Rest time over it’s time to start making our descent. It’s a circular walk so thankfully I don’t have to make my way down those rocks. What we are faced with though is a long series of rocky uneven steps. I’m glad of my walking pole to provide an extra bit of stability. I’m also extremely glad we didn’t ascend this way – those steps would have been a killer. As it is I have jelly legs and trembling knees by the time the path flattens out on to Cat Bells Bridleway. It’s a pretty trail back to the car, with the blue of the lake peeping through the lush green woodland to our right.
We’ve climbed a mountain this morning. Albeit a small one. Buoyed by our success and imbued with enthusiasm we decide to take on another and head for Dodd. Via a quick stop in Keswick for the loo and a cheeky drink to congratulate ourselves. It’s a 25 minute drive to the trailhead for Dodd, and the webpage we’ve found suggests parking at Mirehouse & Gardens. We plumb “Mirehouse” into the GPS and off we go. Except we’ve driven for 45 minutes and the landscape is getting decidedly less lake-like. In fact, we can see the sea. The Irish Sea. Turns out there’s more than one “Mirehouse” in this area. This one in Whitehaven is most definitely NOT one of Cumbria’s more picturesque areas.
It’s 4pm now so we decide conquering Dodd will have to wait for another time. We seek out a lower level walk to finish off the afternoon. We head back inland towards Buttermere.
We park up at the small pay and display at Gatesgarth Farm on the southern tip of the lake. We traverse a field of Herdwick sheep and their newborn lambs, pass through a gate and then meander along the path that runs parallel to the lakeshore. Sourmilk Gill cascades down the hillside to our left. As we come to the end of this path we come across our first diversion. The bridge at Buttermere Dubs is no longer a bridge. We don’t fancy wading across the stream so we follow the path beyond the north western tip of the lake until we find a second bridge. It’s signposted, but not always that clear. We come across a junction with Buttermere village to the left and Buttermere lake to the right. This is a lakeside walk so we obviously head right.
We finally emerge back at the lakeshore. We stop for a protein bar to replenish our depleted energy supplies for the return leg. The sun fleetingly makes a reappearance, lighting up the fells on the far side of the lake. It’s a simple lakeside path all the way back to…. hold on a sec. Turns out the path at the northern end of the lake is closed off from 1st April to 30th June because of nesting sandpipers. Diversion #2. We retrace our steps, back to the junction and this time head through Buttermere village. By the time we find ourselves back lakeside we’ve added an extra 2km on what was originally a 7km walk.
We’re on the final stretch. We amuse ourselves by making ghostly noises through the rock tunnel. We’re tantalisingly close to the car park when another sign informs us that the lakeside path ahead is closed. You couldn’t make this up. We head up to continue the final stretch along the thankfully quiet main road. We see no reason for the path closure. Finally we reach the car, just as a few spots of rain begin to fall.
We’re on a deadline on the drive back. It’s 7:55pm. It’s an hour drive back to Windermere. And The Little Chippy in Windermere closes at 9pm. We’re cutting it fine. Ironically we get held up by a mobile fish and chip van. Mr Fletche throws the car into the first available parking spot we find and we make a run for it. We emerge victorious, clutching a portion of fish and chips each.
Fellow Lake District enthusiast Helen recommended this hike from Ambleside so we decide to tackle this after a leisurely breakfast at our flat. It’s a short 15-minute drive from Windermere to Ambleside, and we park up in the pay-and-display near the Recreation Ground. Mr Fletche gets additional steps in as we realise once we’ve walked into town that the walking poles are still in the boot of the car.
We begin our walk into Vicarage Road and through Rothay Park before heading across a footbridge. This is a nice amble from Ambleside until WOAHHH THIS PATH IS STEEP! I have flashbacks of that horrible first path up to Snowdon from Llanberis. Soon though we are up on the fell, with just wide open space around us. There are a number of different paths we could take, zig-zagging up and down hills. The terrain is a bit bumpy at times but it’s all reasonably accessible for walkers of all levels of fitness. We decide not to make any unnecessary upwards climbs after yesterday’s exertions and stay on the path recommended in our guidebook.
We eat today’s packed lunch balanced on a tree trunk overlooking Loughrigg Tarn. There’s a bit of a walk along the road before we head back into woodland and eventually emerge high on Loughrigg Terrace above the banks of Grasmere. The last of the bluebells are carpeting the hillside both above and below us; these must have been spectacular a couple of weeks earlier when in full vivid colour. We descend to the shores of Rydal Water where it’s time for a ten-minute rest. The walk from Rydal back to Ambleside is a simple one, mainly on paved tracks and bridleway before meeting up with the start point at the bottom of that hill. After 8 miles of walking it’s only fair that Mr Fletche treats me to a refreshing cold drink and scone at Esquires. (Actually it’s a scioche, not a scone. A crazy hybrid of scone and brioche.)
Actually that’s not strictly true. We’re meeting our friends Katie and Jack in Bowness for dinner and drinks and decide to walk the mile and half from our Windermere base. Thankfully it’s mostly downhill. We have mammoth portions sized meals at Hole in t’Wall – the oldest pub in Bowness (although it’s still 244 years younger than Brum’s Old Crown) – before heading for gin (or two) with a view at the alfresco Lake View Garden Bar. It’s the perfect end to a perfect weekend of outdoorsy adventures.
We loved the Lake District so much we’re planning a return trip in autumn! Please let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for simple hikes for non-hikers like myself 🙂
Updated: Want to know more about our return trip, with hikes up Haystacks and Hallin Fell? Just click here!