My love affair with the Lake District began back in the long, hot summer of 1976. I had just started work as a cub reporter and money was tight, but I managed to escape for a long weekend at Waterhead, on the northern tip of Lake Windermere.
The area’s legendary lushness had been crisped to a cinder by months of blazing sunshine and the total lack of rain, but even so, I was bewitched by its beauty and the liberating feeling of being far removed from the cares of everyday life.
Over the years, I’ve been back more times than I can remember, and I still feel a frisson of excitement every time I leave the M6 to refresh the relationship. When my husband and I head there for a long weekend away, there’s only one quibble that mars our enjoyment – the traffic congestion that clogs the Lake District’s towns and main roads, even in low season.
So hush; don’t tell anyone, but I think I may have found the answer if you only have a few precious days to spare and don’t want to waste them crawling around the area in your ‘van.
Just a stone’s throw from Junction 36 (or 37, if you’re heading south) of the motorway is The Camping and Caravanning Club’s Windermere site, off the A591 and not far from the bustling village of Staveley.
The surrounding countryside may not have the grandeur and cachet of its close cousins Bowness, Windermere and Ambleside, but its quiet charms can be equally attractive, especially if you enjoy walking and quality food and drink. And if you’re still irresistibly drawn to the tourist hotspots, it’s close enough for you to appreciate the best of both.
Exploring on foot
As keen walkers, we were delighted to discover there was plenty of opportunity to explore the local area from the site. Just a short stroll from the 80-mile Dales Way, linking Bowness with Ilkley, it’s also close to lots of routes through ancient woodlands, past tumbling waterfalls and across open fields, and we couldn’t wait to lace up our boots and get started.
Our first choice was a 5.25-mile (8.5km) route setting off from Mill Yard car park in the centre of Staveley, conveniently placed next to the twin attractions of Hawkshead Brewery and Wilf’s Café for post-ramble refreshments.
We visited in early September, but were told that spring is also a good time to stay, when the vivid green of young beech leaves and emerging fern fronds makes the perfect foil for swathes of bluebells dappling the woodland floor.
Our route took us over the River Kent, through the engagingly named Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood and along a short stretch of quiet road to the Woodland Trust’s Beckmickle Ing, which boasts deciduous woodland and wildflower-rich meadows, then back to the Kent. Ascending to Side House, we came across a small waterfall and headed up to Frost Hole, which, despite its name, was bathed in early autumn sunshine.
Just past a pretty whitewashed cottage with a charming garden, brimming with plants and birds, we continued uphill over open farmland before reaching Craggy Wood, with its towering beeches, and wending our way back to Staveley.
Hearty food for hikers
Wilf’s Cafe is an ideal stop for lunch, with varied fare ranging from hearty all-day breakfasts and breakfast butties to soup, salads and home-made cakes. Like its neighbour, Hawkshead Brewery, it has indoor and outdoor areas where you can relax whatever the weather (and of course, depending on the current pandemic rules).
Hawkshead Brewery uses mineral-rich Lake District water to produce around 7000 barrels a year, and its range encompasses everything from classic British brews, stouts and porter to pale ales and lagers.
Unsurprisingly, its extensive beer hall is very popular, and also offers guest beers from all over the UK. If you’re a real-ale aficionado, you can book one of its regular brewery tours.
For those with a sweet tooth, a call to see Stuart Hand, owner of the nearby Blind Chocolatier, is a must. Stuart, who acquired his love of cooking at his grandparents’ pub, The Watermill Inn at Ing, learned his trade at Kendal College.
He then spent 15 years working as a pastry chef in Windermere, but when illness resulted in him being registered blind, he decided to fulfil his dream and open a shop, becoming his own boss in 2019. Now his customers feast on imaginative flavour combinations – white chocolate with rhubarb, or dark chocolate and cherry, anyone?
Next day, we returned to Staveley for a second walk, courtesy of the Woodland Trust, whose informative leaflet Walk Cumbria’s Woods helps visitors discover some of the Lake District’s quieter walking trails.
This 4.25-mile (6.7km) circular route started at The Duke William pub and took us through Spring Hag Wood and back to Dorothy Farrer’s Wood and Beckmickle Ing, continuing beside the River Kent via Cowan Head to the village of Bowston, then back on the other side of the riverbank through open fields and along the Dales Way to Staveley.
If you’re lucky, you might spot dippers bobbling on the rocks and diving into the River Kent’s fast-flowing water, or in spring, the striking conical flowers of the cuckoo pint, also known as lords-and-ladies.
Fine views of Windermere
On our final day, the lure of Windermere proved too strong, but we chose a route on its quieter western bank, and drove there via Newby Bridge and Lakeside, parking at the National Trust’s pay and display car park near the ferry terminal just east of Far Sawrey.
This 5.25-mile route took us along the western lake shore via the National Trust’s Claife Estate, much of which is covered in ancient woodland and plantations. The path hugs the shoreline, offering lovely views of England’s largest lake and passing Belle Isle en route.
Walking past Slape Scar, we took a left turn at Belle Grange, onto a stone-flagged bridleway signposted to Hawkshead, and ascended to Claire Heights. The woods are also home to herds of red and roe deer and the endangered red squirrel, and although we weren’t lucky enough to see any, the panoramic vistas across to the eastern shore and Bowness more than compensated.
A haunting tale
One thing that we were quite relieved not to see was Windermere’s famous ghost, the Claife Crier. Legend has it that a local ferryman heard a cry for help one stormy night and rowed across the lake to help, but came back alone and terrified. He’s reputed to have died of fright, and his spirit is said to roam the area during spells of severe weather.
Luckily all was calm, and we completed our walk via The Heald, Low Blind How and Station Scar Woods, back to the ruins of Claife Station. Built in the 1790s as one of seven local viewing stations, where Georgian tourists could stop to contemplate the views across Windermere, the building originally boasted windows of different colours. The idea was to enhance their experience throughout the year, but I suspect clear glass would have been a preferable option!
Finally, we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at The Café in the Courtyard, by Claife Station, where the main speciality is the ferryman’s lunch – a ploughman’s with extra oomph, comprising pork pie or vegetarian quiche with local cheese, chutney, tomato, crisps and a bread roll.
Relaxing over tea and scones, we made plans to return next spring to see the famous Staveley bluebells – a delicious end to our autumn break.
Where we stayed
Windermere Camping & Caravanning Club Site
- Ashes Lane, Staveley, Cumbria, LA8 9JS
- Web campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk
- Tel 01539 821 119
- Open March to January
- Pitches 215
- Charges (pitch+2+hook-up) Vary, but we paid £22.95 in early September.
Just eight miles from the lake that shares its name, this 22-acre site is attractively landscaped on various levels and set among beautiful mature trees.
One of the site’s many plus points is its location – situated just off the main A591 between Kendal and Windermere, it is quickly and easily accessible from the M6.
The managers clearly take great price in maintaining its well-tended gardens, and you can invest in an informative booklet about local walks in return for a small donation to the garden fund.
An onsite pub, The Whistling Pig, is open for food and drink each evening, and there are also pubs and cafes offering lunch and dinner in nearby Staveley.
Shower blocks have dedicated facilities for people with disabilities, and there is a motorhome service point and designated dog walk, as well as a choice of walks from the site. You can cycle to Windermere and back on the Dales Way, and there are regular local buses that take you to Windermere and Kendal, with stops just a mile from the campsite, on the A591.
Find out more
- Lake District National Park
- Hawkshead Brewery
- Wilf’s Café
- The Blind Chocolatier
- The Woodland Trust
- The Café in the Courtyard
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We returned to Staveley for a second walk, courtesy of the Woodland Trust, whose informative leaflet Walk Cumbria's Woods helps visitors discover some of the Lake District's quieter walking trails