The Top 5 Drives in the Lake District

The Top 5 Drives in the Lake District


The top five drives in the Lake District

1. The thrill-seeker

This one’s for the adrenaline-junkie and is the quickest route to hilltop heaven from our front gate. In fact, a recent visitor who came in a Caterham sports car, wrote that: “I knew it was going to be fun. In actual fact it was so much fun that I drove back up again to have another go.”

It’s the Kirkstone Pass of course, and you can do a mini round trip from Windermere and back via Ambleside by taking this route. From Cook’s roundabout on the A591, turn right and head up through Troutbeck village till you emerge onto a high-level road through bleak fell country. At the summit of the pass, you’ll find the Kirkstone Pass Inn, at 1500ft the highest inhabited building in Cumbria and the third highest Inn in England.

Stop off for a coffee if your pulse isn’t racing fast enough yet. Then take the left turn down hill, a winding road with awesome view of Windermere down below, in places with a gradient of 1 in 3. The steepest sections and tightest corners are near the bottom; you’ll see now why it’s known as The Struggle.

Down in Ambleside, take a left back onto the A591 and a sedate journey back to the Cedar Manor.

Approx 14 miles.

Playlist: Key to the highway


2. The one to take your granny on a Sunday afternoon

No hairpins, no sudden gear changes, but a delightful circular tour of Windermere with terrific lake views, and plenty of interesting places to stop along the way. From the hotel, turn left onto the main road, then left again at the roundabout and head down Rayrigg Road to Bowness.

This is the sweetest of all the Lake District honeypots, tourists buzzing like bees around the jetties and moorings. But don’t stop here; follow the road south into quieter, wooded countryside, where millionaires’ homes are hidden behind tall gates and tall hedges. There are tantalising glimpses of the water as you get near to Fell Foot park, and this is a good place to stop on a sunny day, take a gentle stroll down to the lake shore, and watch the sailors, rowers and open water swimmers in action.

At Newby Bridge turn right at the roundabout, then immediately right again and come back north up the winding road which brings you eventually to Hawkshead, another great place to park for an hour, wander round the gift shops, maybe see the school where William Wordsworth learned to write.

Then for extra entertainment, head back south along the far shore of Esthwaite Water to the lakeshore just beyond Sawrey (home of Beatrix Potter) and take the car ferry back to Bowness.

Approx. 30 miles.

Playlist: Baby you can drive my car


3. The one that Storm Desmond washed away

Seems hard to imagine now, but for five long months in 2016, the main road north to Keswick was closed beyond Grasmere after torrential rain brought tons of rock down the mountainside, and washed away some of the road’s surface. The drive now gives a microscopic view of the miracles of modern engineering, and some of the best views in the whole of England, according to several surveys. We won’t argue with that, and we often advise guests to go there and back again, maybe to the Theatre by the Lake on the shore of Derwentwater, or to Keswick’s lively street market (Thursday and Saturday). But actually, the best thrill isn’t in a car. It’s sitting on the front seat upstairs on the bus for the return journey; folk pay a premium for adventure rides like this at theme parks.

Approx 42 miles

Playlist: Cars hiss by my window


4. The full monty

You want to see the whole of the Lakes, in a day? We advise setting off early on this one, so that you can get over the passes before the roads get too busy.

What passes? Wrynose and Hardknott, of course, and we’re going to throw in the Blea Tarn Road for good measure. So head north, take the road around the head of the lake at Waterhead, and follow the signs for Langdale.

Once past the Old Dungeon Ghyll, you’d be forgiven for imagining this was road’s end. But at Stool End the road turns right and takes you on a delightful drive past one of several Blea Tarns, to a very rural looking junction. Here’s where the faint-hearted turn left and come home through Little Langdale (and it IS very lovely) but you’ve got adventure in your soul and an urge in your wheels, so turn right and start climbing over Wrynose.

It’s a single track road climbing to 1,281 feet, and just before the summit you’ll see the Three Shires Stone, marking the old boundary between the three counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire. The descent to Wrynose Bottom is bleak and uncompromising; the fun has yet to start.

Instead of taking the left turn to the Duddon Valley (also very lovely) you’ll go ahead over Hardknott Pass,  at 1,289 ft only a tad higher than Wrynose, but with the tightest bends, steepest corners and adverse camber of any road in England. Much of it is 1 in 3, and even once you’re over the top and heading down into Eskdale, there’s no chance to relax, though your passengers might enjoy the view of the Roman fort on the right.

Take the rest of the day at your own pace, through Eskdale to the coast, north on the A 595 through St Bees and Whitehaven, and then pick up the A66 and head back here via Keswick. We’ll have a cocktail waiting for you; you’ll have earned it.

Approx 90 miles

Playlist: Drive all night

5. A tribute to the speed king

Here’s a circular tour of Coniston Water where you drive at a safe and sedate pace while playing tribute to Donald Campbell, the British speed record breaker who broke eight absolute world speed records on water and on land in the 1950s and 1960s. He remains the only person to set both world land and water speed records in the same year (1964).

It was in 1967 during an attempt on the water speed record that Campbell’s boat, Bluebird, somersaulted and sank after reaching a peak speed of 328 mph. Campbell’s body wasn’t recovered till 2001.

The lake today is a peaceful and calm place, and we’ll suggest you take the road first to Hawkshead, turning right just before the village to head over past Tarn Hows, to a left turn that will take you along the eastern shore of the lake. You’ll pass Bank Ground Farm, where Arthur Ransome set his Swallows and Amazons stories, and Brantwood, the home of artist, writer and visionary John Ruskin.

After Nibthwaite at the southern end, turn right and head back north via Torver till you reach the village of Coniston. A detour (right, before the petrol station ) will take you to the boat landings and the Bluebird Café, named after Campbell’s craft. The return will bring you back to Ambleside via Yew Tree Tarn and Skelwith Bridge.

Approx 40 miles.

Playlist: Cars and guitars

And finally, a little quiz. The next person booking a 2 night mid-week break with us who can name the artists who recorded all five songs in our playlist will have a bottle of Prosecco waiting for them on arrival. Click here to book online.

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