LAKE DISTRICT NATIONAL PARK
Quite possibly the loveliest place in England, the Lake District owes its beauty to a thorough glacier-gouging during the last ice age. Jagged peaks and windswept fells stand in desolate splendor as hillside rivers pool in serene mountain lakes. Use Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere, and Keswick as bases from which to ascend into the hills the farther west you go from the A591, which connects these towns, the more countryside you’ll have to yourself.
The National Park Visitor Centre is in Brockhole, halfway between Windermere and Ambleside. ( (01539) 446 601. Open Apr.-Oct. daily 10am-5pm.) National Park Information Centres book accommodations and dispense free information and town maps. Although B&Bs line every street in every town and there’s a hostel around every bend, lodgings do fill up in summer; book ahead.
TRANSPORTATION. Trains (a(08457) 484 950) run to Oxenholme, the primary gateway to the lakes, from: Birmingham (2V4hr. 1 every 2hr. £42); Edinburgh (2Vair. 6 per day, £39); London Euston (4hr. 11-16 per day, £63); and Manchester Piccadilly (I’ahr. 9-10 per day, £13). A short line covers the 16km between Windermere and Oxenholme (20min. every hr. £3.20). There is also direct service to Windermere from Manchester Piccadilly (2hr. 1-6 per day, £13). National Express buses ( (08705) 808 080) arrive in Windermere from Birmingham (414hr. daily, £25) and London (7’2hr. daily, £26), and continue north through Ambleside and Grasmere to Keswick. Stagecoach in Cumbria (a (0870) 608 2608) is the primary operator of bus service in the region; a complete timetable, The Lakeland Explorer, is available at tourist offices. An Explorer ticket offers unlimited travel on all area Stagecoach buses (1-day £7.50, children £5.30; 4-day £1713). The Ambleside YHA Youth Hostel offers a convenient minibus service (s (01539) 432 304) between hostels (2 per day, £2.50) as well as free service from the Windermere train station to the Windermere and Ambleside hostels.
WINDERMERE AND B0WNESS. Windermere and its sidekick Bowness-on-Wind-ermere fill to the gills with vacationers in summer, when sailboats and waterskiers swarm the lake. At Windermere Lake Cruises ( (01539) 443 360), at the north end of Bowness Pier, boats sail north to Waterhead Pier in Ambleside (30min. round-trip £6.40) and south to Lakeside (40min. round-trip £6.60). Lakeland Experience buses to Bowness (#599; 3 per hr. £1) leave from the train station. The tourist office is next door. ( (01539) 446 499. Open July-Aug. daily 9am-7:30pm; Easter-June and Sept.-Oct. 9am-6pm; Nov.-Easter 9am-5pm.) The local National Park Information Centre, on Glebe Rd. is beside Bowness Pier. ( (01539) 442 895. Open July-Aug. daily 9:30am-6pm; Apr.-June and Sept.-Oct. daily 9am-5:30pm; Nov.-Mar. P-Su 10am-4pm.) Brendan Chase 0, 1-3 College Rd. is family friendly, with large and attractive rooms. ( (01539) 445 638. Singles £13-25, doubles £26-50.) To get to the spacious YHA Windermere , Bridge Ln. 1.5km north of Windermere off A591, catch the YHA shuttle from the train station. This hostel offers panoramic views of the lake, and rents bikes. ( (01539) 443 543. Open Feb.-Nov. daily; early Dec. F-Sa only. Dorms £12, under-18 £8.30.) Camp at Park Cliffe , Birks Rd. 7km south of Bowness. Take bus #618 from Windermere. ( (01529) 531 344. £11-12 per tent.)
AMBLESIDE. About 2km north of Lake Windermere, Ambleside offers an attractive and convenient starting place for a day’s trip to just about anywhere in the park. Splendid views of higher fells can be had from the top of Loughrigg (a moderately difficult 11km round-trip hike); 1.5km from town is the lovely waterfall Stock-ghyll Force. The tourist office has guides to these and other walks. Lakeslink bus #555 ( (01539) 432 231) leaves from Kelsick Rd. for Grasmere, Keswick, and Windermere (every hr. £2-6.50). The tourist office is located in the Central Building on Market Cross. ( (01539) 432 582. Open daily 9am-5pm.) To reach the National Park Information Centre, on Waterhead, walk south on Lake Rd. or Borrans Rd. from town to the pier. ( (01539) 432 729. Open Easter-Oct. daily 9:30am-5:30pm.) Bus #555 conveniently stops in front of E3YHA Ambleside , 1.5km south of Ambleside and 5km north of Windermere, an extremely social spot with superbly refurbished rooms, great food, and swimming off their pier. ( (01539) 432 304. Bike rentals. Internet £2.50 per 30min. Dorms £14, under-18 £10.)
GRASMERE. The peace that Wordsworth ei\joyed in the village of Grasmere is still tangible on quiet mornings. The 17th-century Dove Cottage, lOmin. from the center of town, was Wordsworth’s home from 1799 to 1808 and remains almost exactly as he left it; next door is the outstanding Wordsworth Museum. (Both open mid-Feb. to mid-Jan. daily 9:30am-5pm. £5.50, students £4.70.) The Wordsworth Walk (9.5km) circumnavigates the two lakes of the Rothay River, passing the cottage, the poet’s grave in St. Oswald’s churchyard, and Rydal Mount, where Wordsworth lived until his death. (Rydal open Mar.-Oct. daily 9:30am-5pm; Nov.-Feb. W-M 10am-4pm. £4, students £3.25.) Bus #555 stops in Grasmere every hour on its way south to Ambleside or north to Keswick. The combined tourist office and National Park Information Centre is on Redbank Rd. ( (01539) 435 245. Open Easter-Oct. daily 9:30am-5:30pm; Nov.-Easter F-Su 10am-4pm.) YHA Butterlip How , 140m up Easedale Rd. is situated in a large Victorian house, and has Internet access. (Open Mar.-Oct. Su and Tu-Sa; Nov.-Feb. call for availability. £13, under-18 £9.) Sarah Nelson’s famed Grasmere Gingerbread Shop , a staple since 1854, is a bargain at 30p in Church Cottage, outside St. Oswald’s Church. (Open Easter-Nov. M-Sa 9:15am-5:30pm, Su 12:30-5:30pm; closes earlier in winter.)
KESWICK. Between towering Skiddaw peak and the northern edge of Lake Der-wentwater, Keswick (KEZ-ick) rivals Windermere as the Lake District’s tourist capital. A standout 6km day-hike from Keswick culminates with the eerily striking Castlerigg Stone Circle, a 5000-year-old neolithic henge. Another short walk hits the beautiful Friar’s Crag, on the shore of Derwentwater, and Castlehead, a viewpoint encompassing the town, the lakes, and the peaks beyond. Both of these walks are fairly easy, although they do have their more strenuous moments. Maps and information on these and a wide selection of other walks are available at the National Park Information Centre, in Moot Hall, Market Sq. (a (01768) 772 645. Open Apr.-Oct. daily 9:30am-5:30pm; Nov.-Mar. 9:30am-4:30pm.) YHA Derwentwater 0, in Barrow House, Borrowdale, is in a 200-year-old house with its own waterfall. Take bus #79 (every hr.) 3km south out of Keswick. ( (01768) 777 246. Open Feb. to early Oct. daily; Dec.-Jan. F-Sa only. Dorms £11.50, under-18 £8.)
Wales may border England, but if many of the 2.9 million Welsh people had their way, it would be floating oceans away. Ever since England solidified its control over the country with the murder of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, relations between the two have been marked by a powerful unease. Wales clings steadfastly to its Celtic heritage, as the Welsh language endures in conversation, commerce, and literature. As coal, steel, and slate mines fell victim to Britain’s faltering economy in the mid-20th century, Wales turned its economic eye from heavy industry to tourism. Travelers come for the sandy beaches, grassy cliffs, brooding castles, and dramatic mountains that typify the rich landscape of this comer of Britain.