It’s always a bit sad to see the end of the summer in the Lake District but every season has its own attractions and autumn is no exception. It is a great time to visit and enjoy the colourful spectacle as the trees turn all sorts of magical colours against a backdrop of clear blue lakes and sky. Assuming the sun is shining for you!
You can see why the landscape has inspired so many writers and artists over the centuries. Arguably the most famous local writer and artist was Beatrix Potter, who of course wrote 23 enchanting children’s tales, introducing characters such as Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, who are still much loved all over the world. Beatrix was also instrumental in preserving vast amounts of local land from unwanted development, a legacy which she bequeathed to the National Trust upon her death in 1943, ensuring it is there for all future generations to enjoy.
One Lake District drive where you can fully appreciate the autumn colours and learn all about Beatrix Potter along the way is the Windermere – Coniston – Langdale drive. A drive of many contrasts and interests, which travels through magnificent scenery in the central Lake District and visits several attractions associated with the famous author.
Starting in the popular tourist town of Bowness-on-Windermere, situated on the attractive shores of Englands largest lake, Windermere, where you can stroll along the promenade and take one of the many lake cruises. Or visit the ‘World of Beatrix Potter’ attraction to see her characters in fabulous 3D recreations. From Bowness the drive travels across Windermere lake on the car ferry, only a few minutes trip but a good way to see the lake and its surroundings. The ferry can be stopped by mechanical issues or poor weather so it’s always worth checking it’s running using the local webcam.
Once across the lake, you can park at Harrowslack car park which gives access to a lovely and relatively peaceful open grassy shoreline, perfect for a picnic and paddle. Nearby is Claife viewing station, an historic viewing platform overlooking the lake. Heading away from Windermere, through attractive countryside, you soon reach the village of Near Sawrey and Hill Top, the quaint and popular farmhouse that Beatrix Potter purchased in 1905, where she wrote many of her books and learned more about sheep farming which became her passion. Just beyond is the unspoilt Esthwaite Water where you can hire a boat to spot local wildlife and enjoy the surrounds. At the far end of the lake is the charming and historic village of Hawkshead, where the famous local poet William Wordsworth attended the Grammar school from 1778. The old Grammar school is now open to the public where you can find out all about its fascinating past. It is an enjoyable stroll through the timeless village with various shops, eateries and historic buildings on offer. It was also a favourite haunt for Beatrix Potter and you can see some of her original artwork at the Beatrix Potter gallery, although it is currently closed for refurbishment.
Beyond Hawkshead and up Hawkshead Hill is the fabulous beauty spot of Tarn Hows, a sight to behold at any time of year but enhanced by autumn colours. This estate was once owned by Beatrix Potter in her endeavours to protect this beautiful landscape from any unwanted development. A further scenic drive soon takes you to charming Coniston village on the shores of Coniston Water where you can visit the Ruskin museum and learn all about local history, including the infamous demise of speed boat racer Donald Campbell on the lake in 1967. There are various cruises available on the lake, including a trip to nearby Brantwood, the former home of Victorian visionary, artist, art critic and writer John Ruskin.
Now driving northwards through Yewdale valley you pass the picture postcard Yew Tree Farm, once owned by Beatrix Potter and used as the double for Hill Top in the 2006 film ‘Miss Potter’. Close by is the small and attractive Yew Tree Tarn before heading up and over a small summit and taking a left turn to Little Langdale. The following section of road is a bit narrow and challenging at times but the surrounding mountain views through Little Langdale are fabulous. Eventually you end up at the equally fabulous Blea Tarn which sits on a high plateau between Little and Great Langdales, surrounded by mountains. There is an easy footpath leading a short distance to the tarn from the car park. Just beyond, there is a sharp steep descent into Great Langdale, it is worth stopping at the top to appreciate the awesome valley and its spectacular skyline. A hillwalkers paradise with some magnificent mountains, including Langdale Pikes, Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags. In the valley bottom is Old Dungeon Ghyll and Stickle Ghyll car parks where you can get refreshments and explore.
A drive down the attractive Langdale valley takes you to Elterwater, a typical Lakeland village with slate houses, a fast-flowing crystal-clear river, and a great pub! As you leave Elterwater Common via a cattle grid, it is worth pulling in to appreciate the wonderful views behind you, with the Langdale Pikes mountains very prominent, guarding over the Langdale valley. More scenery follows on the way to Waterhead at the northern end of Windermere lake. There is a pleasant promenade and park for a stroll, a ruined Roman fort, several eateries, and boats frequently coming and going from the adjacent piers.
Next is a final road loop, incorporating the picturesque Troutbeck village and valley where you will find the historic National Trust farmhouse at Townend. You can learn all about the lifestyle of the family who lived there for more than 300 years. On the opposite side of the valley are the beautiful Holehird Gardens, run by enthusiastic volunteers with superb floral displays and views over Windermere and beyond. As you head back to Bowness you soon reach Rayrigg Meadow on the shores of Windermere, which has some good play areas, shingle beaches and the small but perfectly placed Queen Adelaide’s hill, with scenic views northwards up the lake. Nearby on the outskirts of Bowness is the Windermere Jetty Museum where you can see a wonderful display of historic boats and learn all about the last 200 years of Windermere’s boating history.
After all that you might be ready for some well earned refreshments in Bowness and perhaps the Hole in t’Wall pub, located in the old part of town and dating from 1612. Apparently, the name comes from when there was a blacksmiths next door and a hole was made in the internal dividing wall so he could easily be served whilst doing his thirsty work. Nowadays it is the oldest and probably quaintest pub in Bowness. Cheers!