It’s summer 2023! The main holiday season is upon us once again. Always a popular time in the Lake District with visitors from all over the planet enjoying this beautiful area. The weather gave us a great start to the summer with hardly any rain for over 5 weeks from mid May to mid June. The area basked in sunshine with some worryingly low river and lake levels, plus the real threat of wildfires with such dry ground. However, since mid June it has returned to more normal Lake District weather, mixed sunshine and showers. But still some good days to get out there and enjoy it.
What better way to explore the area than with a Lake District drive?! It’s always good to see the main sights of central Lakeland, but I’m always tempted to try and avoid the crowds in summer by exploring surrounding areas where you will still find plenty of wonderful scenery and attractions. For example, the attractive Eden Valley, or the south Cumbria coastal peninsulas, or the west Cumbrian coast. The outer reaches of the Lake District, or just beyond, but still within the county of Cumbria. These are all explored by drives in my South Lakes & Cumbria Drives webpage, and the North Lakes & Cumbria Drives webpage. More remote and peaceful parts of the area where it’s easier to get around and park, but still with plenty of interest along the way.
Parking can be problematic in season. There are often more car parks than you might realise and most of them are listed in the National Park website. If you are doing a drive, it is also worth checking the online map for any roadworks and road closures that might affect your day out. Kirkstone Pass on the A592 between Ullswater and Windermere was closed for most of June and will be again for 3 weeks in September for the ongoing road repairs there.
One tour I would recommend this season is the Ullswater – Lowther – Haweswater drive which explores some beautiful parts of the north east Lake District around Ullswater and the lesser-known Haweswater lakes, plus the upper Eden valley just outside the national park. Starting in the popular village of Pooley Bridge at the northern end of Ullswater, where the Ullswater Steamers provide fabulous cruises up the lake. From there, you head along the dead-end road following the south east shore of Ullswater towards Howtown, a picturesque area with a popular pier where the Ullswater Steamers call. Beyond Howtown, a short sharp climb leads up a minor mountain pass to Martindale Hause where there are some wonderful lake, valley and mountain views to behold.
Returning to Pooley Bridge, continue to the adjacent Lowther valley and the attractive village of Askham with its huge village green, a couple of pubs and even an open air swimming pool! Crossing the River Lowther, enter Lowther Park which is a vast area of picturesque parkland with some good walks. Then on to the centrepiece of the Lowther Estate, Lowther Castle & Gardens. The castle is now a shell but with some impressive facades. The adjacent gardens are also impressive with some lovely walks and an awesome adventure playground. This area might be best avoided around the last weekend in July when the Kendal Calling music festival is held nearby!
The drive then moves out of the national park, eastwards over the M6 motorway to the pretty Leith & Lyvennet valleys with some attractive scenery and quaint villages. Morland and Maulds Meaburn villages are fine examples, the former with its historic buildings and pretty stream, the latter with its huge village green surrounding Lyvennet Beck. Worth a stop to stretch the legs and enjoy the surroundings. Away to the east is the wall of Pennine mountains, with the highest peak of Cross Fell visible on a good day at 893m altitude. On through Crosby Ravensworth village, the drive then heads back west with some good surrounding views on an elevated road, through land rich in ancient remains. Recrossing the M6, descend to the village of Shap on the A6 which used to be very busy with traffic before the M6 was built around 1970. Now much more peaceful and a good place to get refreshments. Nearby it is worth visiting the remote medieval sacred sites of Keld Chapel and Shap Abbey. The chapel remains in relatively good condition but the abbey is a ruin, although still quite dramatic with its ancient tower in a remote hidden valley.
Now travel back into the national park and the upper Lowther valley, through pleasant lanes lined with limestone walls, towards one of the Lake Districts lesser known lakes, Haweswater. This is actually a large man-made reservoir, supplying drinking water to many parts of north west England. You can see the massive concrete dam at the northern end, built in the 1930’s. The old village of Mardale was flooded in creating the reservoir, its spooky remains reappear when reservoir levels are low in very dry weather. It is a wonderful drive along the remote eastern shore of the lake, with the mountain scenery getting more spectacular as you reach the end of the reservoir and road at Mardale Head. It is also a wildlife haven for birds and animals such as the elusive red squirrel. Soak up the scenery before heading back down the valley, and then down the Lowther valley past more pretty villages to Askham again. Retrace your steps back to Pooley Bridge where you can recount the highlights of the day at one of the good pubs in the village.
Let’s hope for some good summer weather for the rest of the season so we can all make the most of this wonderful area.