The days are getting longer and warmer, the lambs are leaping, the daffodils and bluebells are blooming, it must be spring 2023! It’s great to start a new holiday season without the immediate threat of Covid for once, many services and attractions are open as normal, although staff shortages can still affect some. Outdoors is looking great in the spring sunshine and it’s always a wonderful time of year for exploring.
As the new tourist season gets going of course there is more strain on car parks, especially the more popular ones, but there are a surprising number of car parks that you might not know about or are less popular and it is worth checking relevant websites for details of these. I think all Lake District car parks are included in the National Park car park page. National Trust car parks are also included in their website. There are also council operated car parks across Lake District and Cumbria, although online information is currently complicated by the formation of two new councils, replacing the old ones from 1st April. Westmorland & Furness covers south and east Cumbria, Cumberland covers north and west Cumbria. Many car parks also offer the ‘pay by phone’ option which is normally quite simple once set up and means you can avoid the dreaded machines and also add to your time remotely.
The new councils are also responsible for highway maintenance and its worth checking the online map for any current roadworks if you’re heading out. As mentioned previously, the A592 at Kirkstone Pass will be closed for most of June, affecting the Ambleside-Keswick-Ullswater and Ultimate drives. Judging by the number of potholes on the roads at the moment, the new councils certainly have their work cut out to repair it all.
A drive I would recommend this season is the Coniston – Duddon Valley – Eskdale drive which takes you around the south west Lake District and includes some of the most exhilarating driving in the area as it crosses various mountain passes. Starting at the attractive village of Coniston, you can visit nearby Coniston Water which is a pretty picture of peace and tranquillity nowadays but was scene to many world water speed record attempts in the mid 20th century, including Donald Campbells infamous and ill-fated attempt in 1967. You can learn more about this and other local history and stories in the Ruskin Museum in the village. The drive heads south, passing through Torver village and down a long lovely valley to another attractive village at Broughton-in-Furness. Off the beaten track, this is a more peaceful area of the Lake District. Nearby is the historic 18th century Duddon Iron Furnace, long since closed but still in relatively good condition and a fine example of historic industry in the area. From here, head up the beautiful Duddon Valley and take a break for a picnic and paddle at the access area by the river to better appreciate the surrounding scenery and the crystal clear River Duddon. Cross the river at Ulpha and take the Birker Fell road which ascends very steeply, a bit of a shock after the gentle valley road. Once the road levels out, the surrounding views of Lake District mountains are fabulous.
Descend to the Eskdale valley and another potential picnic and paddling place at Forge Bridge. The road then heads up the picturesque Eskdale valley, following the miniature Ravenglass & Eskdale railway. If you are lucky, you might see one of the tiny steam trains rattling along. Next on route is Trough House Bridge where the River Esk passes through a mesmerisingly deep and narrow gorge, popular for bathing in good weather. Beyond that is the spectacular Stanley Force waterfall, a short walk from the car but the views of the falls and beyond from high above on the new viewing platform hanging over the gorge are awesome, but also terrifying if you don’t like heights! Nearby is Dalegarth station, the terminus for the Ravenglass & Eskdale railway, and the quaint village of Boot with its historic watermill.
Continuing up the beautiful Eskdale valley, you soon come to the most exhilarating part of the journey, driving over Hardknott and Wrynose Passes. A notorious section of road which might not be for the faint hearted with its steep and narrow, twists and turns but providing your vehicle is in good working order and the weather isn’t too wet or wintry, it can certainly be an enjoyable and exciting experience. On your way up Hardknott Pass are the remains of Hardknott Roman Fort and there are great views from the top of the Pass looking back down Eskdale and ahead towards Wrynose. The descent of Hardknott Pass can also be tricky in places, before a trip along Wrynose Bottom surrounded by high mountains.
Wrynose Pass follows, probably not quite as demanding as Hardknott but still a good challenge. Beyond that you descend to picturesque Little Langdale valley before reaching the main A593, Ambleside to Coniston road, where driving is a bit more relaxing and you might be glad of a white line separating you from oncoming vehicles. Pass the picture book Yew Tree Tarn and Yew Tree Farm before taking a turn to Tilberthwaite. This attractive access area at Yewdale Beck contains plenty of evidence of the historic slate mines which once thrived here, but it’s much more peaceful now and good for a picnic and paddle by the beck. Return to the Coniston road for a short trip down Yewdale valley and back to Coniston village. A well earned drink at the local pub might be in order after such an exhilarating trip!