Penny stayed in the Lake District, in Fox Barn, Staveley, courtesy of Sykes Cottages over half term, the perfect cosy retreat from which to attempt some seriously inspirational days out. Eat, Adventure, Sleep, Repeat was the family mantra. Today she shares her favourite Lake District family adventures…
Sometimes you need a break that stimulates you, that pushes your family to new limits of physical and creative possibility and inspires a sense of wonder in your offspring. The Lake District is the perfect place to nuture children’s interests and bring the family closer; whether they are adrenalin junkies or little monkeys, budding artists or poets, mountain climbers or nature lovers, there is something to inspire awe in the whole family.
Treetop Nets, Brockhole Visitor Centre
You can’t match the utterly liberating and awe inspiring feeling of bouncing in the treetops as a family. We went from tentative, height sensitive humans to a wild little monkey family in under 15 minutes. You have two hours to make the most of these nets – which given the energy invoked is more than enough – the course is filled with slides, tunnels, tubes, giant bouncy balls and vast expanses of trampoline. I haven’t smiled and laughed so much in ages, a huge hit with all four of us. Afterwards there is tea and cake, in the beautiful gardens of Brockhole, right on the edge of Lake Windermere. If you still need an adrenalin fix or have energy to burn, at Brockhole you can also tackle watersports, pony riding, archery, boat trips, bike hire, wildlife trails and mini golf. Plus Treetop Nets are the perfect prep for the Treetop Trek high wire course through the trees.
Need to know – 3 plus. Worth booking.
Climb a Fell
Wainwright listed 214 of them in his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, so you are never too young to start ‘bagging peaks’, or, for the uninitiated, ticking spectacular hill climbs off your list. The views are amazing, kids have a real sense of purpose and achievement. There are so many fells to choose from and they vary immensely in challenge, but you really don’t have to climb high to get a spectacular view, in fact in bad weather you are better lower! Plenty of lakeside walks are pushchair friendly too.
Need to Know – We climbed Loughrigg, which was the perfect level of challenge for our new-to-fell-climbing 6 and 8 year old. It’s worth doing some research and get proper equipment – waterproofs, OS map and plentiful snacks and water. Hunger, thirst or bad weather can quickly take the fun out of an adventure with kids.
Windermere Lake Cruises
From a short cruise to reach an attractions on the other edges of the lake, like Beatrix Potter’s House Hill Top, or the Aquarium, to a Freedom of the Lakes pass which allows you to take on the whole lake, Windermere Lake Cruises allow you to truly appreciate lakeside life. Leaving Bowness on Windermere at 11am, we enjoyed our scenic cruise on a larger boat than you see pictured, complete with refreshments, to Ambleside.
From Ambleside we boarded the smaller boat above, the Princess of the Lake, to Wray Castle. As you approach the small pier, you wouldn’t believe there is a whole castle hiding between the trees, except for tiny glimpses from the lake. It was truly magical for all of us, sneaking through the trees to the is hidden shore. The minute you set foot on land, you feel like you are stepping into a children’s story book.
Need to know – Well behaved dogs are free. We used a Family Walkers Ticket, which for £28 allows you to combine a 4 mile walk along the peaceful western shore with a cruise across Windermere. This convenient ticket allows walkers to create a circular walking loop and can start/finish at Bowness, Brockhole or Ambleside.
Owned by the National Trust and sporting the most spectacular views, this made a perfect picnic spot, a place for a toilet stop, tea, table tennis of all things, and of course you can also pay to explore the castle. Wray Castle is surrounded with small coves and rocks to climb, and larger bays where you can paddle. We spent a magical afternoon walking, playing and picnicking the four miles along the lake to Ferry House, through gorgeous woodland, where we took the last boat back to Bowness at 5pm.
Need to know – We nearly lost track of time as we dawdled a lot, its such a fun walk, so allow much more than the two hours it takes to walk 4 miles, especially if you are heading for the last boat – although there is always the car ferry to fall back on, but you will have to pay again! The path is gravelled and suitable for bikes, walkers and for pushchairs. Much of the walk is shaded by trees.
Gem Pit at the Rock Shop, Ambleside
Being allowed to get in a giant gemstone pit with a small bag to choose around 20 gemstones was child nirvana. I suspect this is one of the little things too, that they will never forget. The Rock Shop is educational and creative and has an offer whereby you can do two of it’s activities for the price of three, so we also made bracelets and did the Dinosaur trail. This was also my kids’ favourite place in terms of spending their pocket money.
Need to know – For younger kids there is a lovely wooden style toy shop in Ambleside. We ate at the Giggling Goose Cafe, in the Watermill to the right and across the road as you leave the Gem Pit. The cake was great and the staff were totally brilliant with kids and dogs.
World of Beatrix Potter
World of Beatrix Potter is small but jam packed with little windows into the homes of the animals in Potter’s books. They are unbelievably sweet, exactly like Potter’s illustrations. My favourite part was Mr McGregor’s garden, which occupies a small roof terrace over the street, but oh it is exquisitely formed.
With it’s video introduction and hands on exhibits that let you learn about Potter herself, this exhibition is also a lovely way to foreground a trip to Hill Top, Beatrix’s home, which is on the other side of Lake Windermere. We didn’t get as far as visiting Hill Top, but maybe next time, although you can also see many of the buildings from Potter’s illustrations in Near Sawrey.
Need to know – Be prepared for the gorgeous gift shop, my 6yo eventually let go of his dream of the £50 plush Peter Rabbit for a smaller model, but I had to have a Potter print. There is a tea shop too.
Derwent manufacture famous Fine Art Pencils, as used by many artists capturing the unique colours of the Lakes. Great for the artists in the family, the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick explores the history and artistic possibilities of the pencil.
Need to know – Check out their website for workshops for kids and adults as well as free demonstrations as well as special exhibitions. There is a cafe and an art shop.
Dove Cottage, The Wordsworths House, Grasmere.
One for older children, especially those with an interest in diary keeping, creative expression, poetry or writing. The Dove Cottage site has a small museum where you can listen to poems and look at artefacts. Then you can take a 20 minute timed tour of the Wordsworth’s house and see where William wrote his poems and his sister Dorothy her diaries. The garden has some snippets of Dorothy’s diaries. It really is quite moving to visit any kind of artist’s home, but here you can sense the deep connection they felt with the incredible landscapes in the Lakes and explore how they expressed that creatively.
Need to know – There is a shop and a cafe nearby. It is a short walk to Grasmere which has lots more gift shops too.
Staveley makes a really peaceful, un-touristy base for your Lake District family adventures, yet is only 15 minutes from Windermere where most of our activities took place. Fox Barn is a two bed ground floor cottage. It is a very comfortable, well equipped and dog-friendly cottage, located on a lovely lane by the river, just a quarter of a mile from some great eateries in Staveley village, with a lovely walk along the river. The open plan layout worked really well for us as a family and the owners were brilliant in terms of making us welcome and the maps, guidebooks and local information they provided.