If you like exploring the outdoors, you will love Cumbria. A beautiful county with huge, still lakes, vast, carved mountains, and sprawling national parks; it is both awe inspiring and incredibly photogenic.
If you are visiting Cumbria, be sure to charge up your devices beforehand because you will want to take a lot of photos. And with a landscape this picturesque, even novice photographers can leave with a slew of photos that look like the ridiculously perfect desktop backgrounds that come pre-loaded on new computers.
The south-east of the county crosses over the Yorkshire Dales, whilst the east of the county stretches into the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You may want to pack a waterproof jacket as the climate around the mountains can be rainy. But you’ll soon forgive the rain when you look out on the stunning natural landscape that it keeps healthy and watered.
Lake District National Park
The Lake District National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to England’s highest mountains and largest lakes, it is the perfect place to go exploring. Pack a camera, a flask, and a picnic, and set out on an adventure.
If you prefer to enjoy the great outdoors in a tamer setting, the Ornamental Gardens in Grange-over-Sands are ideal for a more relaxed day out, especially if the sun is shining.
The Victorian inspired gardens are furnished with serene ponds inhabited by ducks and geese, and the fountain provides a calming soundtrack as you decide on a peaceful spot to enjoy a picnic.
History fans will have plenty of interesting places to visit in Cumbria. There are numerous historically significant sites, landmarks, and attractions that are open to the public.
Hadrian’s Wall is a 73-mile long wall, built by the Roman army. After invading Britain, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall to provide a line of defence against further invasions.
There are a number of walking routes based around Hadrian’s Wall, some of which are more of an expedition than a walk, often lasting several days. If you’re not feeling that energetic, we recommend a shorter walk at a more leisurely pace, combined with a break at Lanercost Tea Room. Lanercost is dog-friendly, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for somewhere to walk the dog.
Muncaster Castle has been in the Pennington family for generations, but according to legend, the family are not the only residents. Some claim that the castle is haunted, with visitors reportedly seeing strange things and hearing unexplained noises such as a child crying or a woman singing to comfort a sick child in the Tapestry Room.
If you fancy yourself as a ghost hunter (and you’re feeling brave enough), you can attend an overnight Tapestry Room Sit at the Castle. The experience begins late evening with a ghost tour of the castle, followed by an all-night watch in the Tapestry Room. And don’t worry, they provide you with plenty of coffee to keep you awake so you don’t miss a thing.
There are 50 different stone circles in the Lake District & Cumbria, so no matter where you are staying, you won’t be too far from one. Here are some of the circles that we find the most interesting.
Castlerigg Stone Circle
One of the earliest stone circles in Britain is Castlerigg in Keswick.
Built around 3000 BC, it is made up of 38 stones. Inside the circle is a small rectangle made of 10 further stones.
Castlerigg is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria, and it is likely that you will leave with more questions than when you arrived. Shrouded in mystery and speculation, it is not known why it was built, other than that it was probably used for some sort of ceremonial or religious purposes.
Long Meg & Her Daughters Stone Circle
Long Meg & Her Daughters is a large stone circle in Little Salkeld. The tallest stone, standing at 12 feet tall, is called Long Meg.
According to legend, Long Meg was a witch. She and her daughters were turned to stone because they danced wildly and irreverently on the moor on the Sabbath.
The circle is supposed to be magic, making it impossible to count the same number of stones twice – but if do you ever manage it then the magic will be broken.
Cumbria has a lot of literary connections, so if you’re a keen reader you will have an array of interesting places to visit and things to do.
For Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit fans, a tour of some of the Beatrix Potter attractions makes a fantastic day out. Three of the Beatrix Potter sites are relatively close to one another so it may be worth combining them into a themed tour.
Here is what we would recommend.
National Trust Hill Top
Begin your day at Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s 17th century cottage.
Bought with the royalties from her first few books, this setting provided a great deal of inspiration for her work. She spent her time at Hill Top sketching the house, the garden, and the surrounding countryside. Many of her characters were created here, including Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddleduck.
Hill Top gets very busy in the summer months, and entry is managed via designated time slots on the day. We would recommend getting there before it opens so you’re not waiting around for hours because you are stuck with a much later time slot.
If you do find yourself looking to kill a couple of hours before your time slot, you can always go on to the next attraction and come back to Hill Top afterwards. The Beatrix Potter Gallery is only a 10 minute drive away.
Beatrix Potter Gallery & Hawkshead
The Beatrix Potter Gallery is set in the building that was once the office of Beatrix Potter’s husband, William Heelis.
The gallery displays Potter’s original illustrations and watercolours. If you have time after looking around the gallery, it is well worth having a wander through the village of Hawkshead, as her artwork and books contain many references to the village.
From the Beatrix Potter Gallery, the World of Beatrix Potter attraction is about a 35 minute drive away, and takes around an hour to explore.
The World of Beatrix Potter
The World of Beatrix Potter attraction is an exhibition and themed garden in Bowness-on-Windermere.
Begin with a self-guided tour of the exhibition and garden to see the famous characters in their homes, just as they were described in the books. Then head to the gift shop to browse all sorts of ornaments, collectables, and soft toys. If you have time, relax in the Tea Room for a while with an afternoon tea.
For true fans and those wanting to celebrate a special occasion in a unique way, you can hold a party at the World of Beatrix Potter. Parties are available for adults as well as kids, and include high tea, helium balloons, and Peter Rabbit bunny ears for every guest.
Wordsworth House & Garden
Another famous literary connection to Cumbria is the romantic poet, William Wordsworth, who grew up in the county.
Wordsworth House is a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse in Cockermouth. Built in the 1770s, it was the birthplace and childhood home of William Wordsworth.
Tour the house and soak up the atmosphere in the garden where Wordsworth spent his childhood. There are also guides dressed in costume on hand to explain more about the rooms and exhibitions. Finish your visit with a trip to the gift shop next door.
Dove Cottage & The Wordsworth Museum
Wordsworth fell in love with Dove Cottage in 1799 when he was on a walking tour of the Lake District. He quickly arranged to move there with his sister, Dorothy.
Take a guided tour of the cottage to see where Wordsworth wrote some of his most famous poems. Then visit the Wordsworth Museum to see some of his original letters, artwork, manuscripts, and journals.
Houses & Gardens
Levens Hall & Gardens
Levens Hall is an Elizabethan mansion in Kendal, and it has been under the continuous ownership of the Bagot family for over 400 years. The interior features some beautiful aspects of Jacobean design, including furniture, paintings, and early English patchwork.
There are several gardens at Levens Hall which each explore a different theme, including the Rose Garden, the Fountain Garden, the Willow Labyrinth, the Wildflower Meadows, and the Vegetable and Herb Gardens.
The gardens are all beautiful, but the Topiary Gardens are by far our favourite. With abstract topiary providing an artful balance between the conservative, manicured gardens of other stately homes from this era and the more playful design approach of using abstract shapes. It has even been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest topiary garden in the world.
Hutton-in-the-Forest is an impressive country house in Penrith. Built over six periods beginning in the mid-14th century, the interior decoration includes four early William Morris wallpapers and some tapestries that are over 500 years old.
The house is surrounded by a series of gardens including a wild flower garden, a formal rhododendron garden, and several terraces featuring topiary. After you have toured the house and garden, stop for some lunch at the Cloisters Tea Room.
And if you are looking to try something new or visit somewhere a little different, we have options for that too.
The Puzzling Place
If you’ve ever been mesmerised by the optical illusions in a Magic Eye book, you will love The Puzzling Place in Keswick.
Each room has been carefully designed to bring to life an optical illusion or trick your brain. What makes it truly unique is the fact that you physically help to create the illusions simply by entering the rooms.
Walking across the Forced Perspective Room will create the illusion that you are growing or shrinking. Entering the Anti-Gravity room is like stepping inside one of M.C Escher’s drawings, and trying to touch one of the 3D images in the Hologram Gallery will feel like you have met a ghost, with your hand passing straight through it.
Have you ever been Ghyll Scrambling? No? Then allow us to explain.
‘Ghyll’ is a term used to describe a mountain stream. Ghyll Scrambling is an incredibly fun, exhilarating, and energetic activity. A combination of Gorge Walking and Canyoning, Ghyll Scrambling involves climbing up and abseiling waterfalls, and jumping and sliding into pools of water.
It requires a helmet, safety gear, and a wetsuit, and according to Crags Adventures, rainy weather just makes it better. Their tagline is ‘Conquer the Great Outdoors’, and we would very much recommend booking your Ghyll Scrambling adventure with them, because this is a slightly terrifying activity that really isn’t the sort of thing you should try at home.
Lakeland Climbing Centre
The Kendall Wall at Lakeland Climbing Centre is the tallest indoor climbing wall in the country. The centre welcomes novice as well as seasoned climbers, so if you’ve never tried rock climbing before, this is a great place to give it a go.
For the adventurous, how about tackling an aerial obstacle course? The Skyline Indoor Aerial Adventure is just that, with ladders, swings, and tunnels to navigate. If you’re truly fearless, you can take on the SkyJump Extreme: A 20 metre descent with 6 metres of free fall.
Upfront Puppet Theatre
Upfront is one of only four puppet theatres in England. Located in Unthank, it is dedicated to the art form of puppetry, hosting puppet making workshops and events as well as delivering theatre productions using traditional puppets.
Fellini’s in Ambleside is part ‘Vegeterranean’ restaurant, part arthouse cinema. All parts are equally sophisticated and upmarket.
Serving modern Mediterranean dishes that also happen to be vegetarian, after your meal you can venture upstairs to the state of the art digital cinema to watch a niche arthouse film. How refined.