I actually knew nothing of Lake District National Park (also known as Lakeland) prior to Jenn suggesting we spend a few nights there. She’s usually pretty reliable for making good choices about how we spend our time, though (see also: this entire freakin’ trip), so I dug up a great looking farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and booked us several nights. Farmhouses have inevitably been our some of our favorite accommodations on this trip, and I’m always a little excited when the directions include steps like, “…turn off the main road onto the dirt track, and continue for…”
The house, ‘Swallow’s Nest,’ lived up to all of our expectations; a cozy stone cottage with a fireplace and heated floors, neighboring sheep pastures, and views looking out over the rolling hills. Situated in the tiny town of Broughton-in-Furness (population 529), our host told us we could, if we chose, head down to eat at “the pub.” Called the Blacksmith’s Arms, it appeared to be the only actual public business in a village otherwise filled with small farms and cottages.
Looking to be anointed with some particularly nice weather (for this time of year) while we were there, we took advantage by planning a couple shorter hikes. The Lake District is well-known for its hiking, and there was no shortage of trails to choose from.
For our first hike, we thought we’d try and tackle the highest peak in England. This is a relative measure, of course, with Scafell Pike measuring a mere 3,209’, but we take what we can get. Our farmhouse hosts suggested that we’d probably be fine to hike with no crampons, despite the distant snow cover that was visible on the surrounding mountains. So, with our warmest gear on, we wound our way along a gorgeous narrow road beside the shores of Wast Water, watching the rising sun set the hills ablaze as it attempted to crest the white-capped peaks. The base of the trail was still in shadow when we set off, and after a bit of hiking, it became clear that our lack of equipment might be a problem. While much of the early trail was clear, as soon as the path transitioned to snow, it became a treacherous skating rink, and we soon met up with a fellow hiker who had turned around after deciding the slick trails were a little too hazardous for his liking. We pushed on a bit further, only to discover that, in between the icy, hard packed areas, were softer drifts where we’d sink through to knee-high or deeper, resulting in sodden, freezing boots. Though always up for an adventure, we finally acknowledged that the possible consequence of careening off the mountain on the ice was probably not worth the potential view, so we admired the lake view from the ridge just above Hollow Stones Junction for a few minutes before heading back to the car.
Total distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation gain: 1,913 feet
Though we did not finish the hike, the drive there and back was wonderfully scenic, with the snowfalls on all the peaks making them seem quite grand. The fall sun never rose much more than halfway above the horizon, ensuring that the rich amber light and long shadows persisted throughout the day.
The next day we tried again for a different hike, this time up the Old Man of Coniston. This trek was a little lower (2,634’) and we hoped that the slightly lower elevation might ensure a more stable hiking surface. The Old Man was previously mined substantially for its copper and renowned hard, green slate, with mines believed to date as far back as the 13th century. Evidence of this was everywhere during our hike – old mining equipment and living quarters lay in disrepair, and shafts appeared in the side of the hill with rails for extracting the mining carts. Though there was a little less snow than the previous day, it’s difficult to say that the trail was less slippery – shards of hard, slate scree were coated with a thin layer of frost, and made for a slick walking track that rivaled any ice I’ve ever stepped on. This, combined with boots whose treads have hundreds of miles of wear on them, made for fairly slow going. We persevered, though, and found an expansive view of the surrounding lakes and hills waiting for us at the summit.
Total distance: 6.0 miles
Elevation gain: 2,644 feet
Eager to explore some other areas of the Lake District, we spent a day poking around by car, stopping at every pretty viewpoint to snap some photos. As we crested Kirkstone Pass, the highest pass in the district at 1,489’, we parked to take a walk up the surrounding hillsides and get a better view. The bottom of the hill was practically a swamp, but after slogging through the muck we crested the hill in several inches of snow – enough even for some impromptu sledding, leaving us with damp butts and big smiles for the remainder of the walk. The panoramas from the top gave us a nice view of the surrounding lakes and peaks before we skidded and slid our way back down to the car. After jumping back into the car to warm up, we continued on our way around Ullswater, the second largest lake in the park. The mirror-like surface and golden light enticed us to pause and spend a little while wandering the shore, snapping photos of the perfect reflections revealed in the water.
Later that afternoon, we headed to the Castlerigg Stone Circle, a Neolithic arrangement of 38 (originally 42) boulders thought to have been built around 3,000 B.C. As with most of these monuments, its function is not really known, and Castlerigg in particular has had virtually no excavation to uncover what clues may be buried underground. One thing is for certain, the location of this stone circle is impressive – the Thirlmere Valley drops away behind it, and looming in the distance are the snow-capped peaks of a few of the highest mountains in England. After snapping some photos, we chatted with a local who suggested a short drive up to Ashness Bridge, and a point further on called Surprise View. By the look of the tripod and camera setup he was carrying, we figured he might know a thing or two about pretty overlooks… and we were not disappointed with his recommendations. From Surprise View, the rich, evening sun had set every tree and hillside ablaze, and the peaks of Skiddaw, Knott and Blencathra reflected dramatically in the smooth surface of Derwentwater. We could not have timed it better; as we finished taking photos, the sun dropped behind the hills and cast the valley into shadow, so we headed back to our farmhouse.
One of the advantages of staying in the middle of nowhere is the beautifully clear night skies. We had been anxiously eyeing the solar activity, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, so when we saw a few spikes in activity, I got the camera set up to take photos. While no aurora showed itself, I did pass the time by taking a few night photos, including experimenting with some 20 and 30 minute exposures to show the star trails left by the planet’s rotation. Further attempts were thwarted, unfortunately, as the chilly evening caused my camera lens to become suddenly covered in dew.
Overall, the Lake District offers rolling green hills, huge, crystalline lakes, and snow-covered mountains laden with hiking tracks of all lengths – what’s not to love? For some reason, white-tipped mountains and huge glacial lakes wasn’t a part of my image of England, so the scenery made for an unexpected and enjoyable part of our journey.