Well it happened, I fell in love with the Lake District. Like so many who have visited before me, least of all Queen Victoria and Beatrix Potter, the scenery of green fields, mountains and water everywhere you look worked its way into my heart and then refused to budge.
England isn’t exactly known for its mountains, it leaves that job to Scotland. However, in the northwest corner of the country you can find the Lake District, home to the highest mountain and the deepest lake in England, and recently named (in July 2017) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a region that could very well be called “Scotland in miniature”, with rolling hills that turn mountainous and lakes instead of “lochs” full to the brim in-between. It’s the largest national park in England and I’m sure you could spend years coming here and still find new corners to be explored!
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have that luxury and instead have to make do with a Lake District short break or getaway, either on our own or on a Lake District tour. The thing is, many of these tours involve a coach trip to the Lake District, which by its very nature is full of small narrow roads and steep gradients. I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable driving around the Lake District myself, especially when I come face first with a big dumpster truck or huge bus, but neither would I want to spend 3 days in the Lake District on a coach because I don’t think it would give you the full experience that this beautiful part of England has to offer.
Instead, I went on a 3-day Lake District tour with Rabbie’s, departing from and returning to Edinburgh. Rabbie’s use small 16 seater mini-buses that mean you’ll have full access to all the narrow twists and turns the Lake District will throw at you, and you’ll be driven by a guide who knows his stuff about where you’re going (and more).
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Lake District Itinerary – 3 days
Like I said, it deserves much more than a short break, but when that’s all you have, or you just want to get an overview before a later trip on your own, then taking 3 days to see the main places to go in the Lake District is about right.
So what to do in the Lake District in 3 days
Aira Force Waterfall
Probably the most famous waterfall in the Lake District, Aira Force is a 20-metre tall waterfall that has been a highlight of the Lake District for centuries. It’s an easy walk through the ancient forest to the bridges below and above the waterfall.
Surprise View & Ashness Bridge
Aptly named Surprise View is a lookout area that takes in the whole of Derwent Water (which features in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and beyond to Bassenthwaite Lake, the only true lake in the Lake District. The other bodies of water apparently don’t qualify, and are called things like “meres”, “waters” or “tarns.”
I love that Surprise View feels like a secret place that no one knows about (it’s not!) because there’s no barrier or anything there.
Just before you get to Surprise View you have to cross the Ashness Bridge. It’s so narrow you wouldn’t think a car could cross, but even our Rabbie’s minibus did! The traditional stone bridge crosses a fast flowing creek. Or river. I don’t know the technical terms for these things, but it was pretty!
Castlerigg Stone Circle
Stonehenge may lay claim to being England’s most famous stone circle, but Castlerigg is found in much more dramatic landscape. It has panoramic views of the mountains all around, which may be why it’s situated where it is. Of course, like all other stone circles across Britain, we can only speculate about why it’s there and what it was for. You may not think it’s as impressive as some others, but it is one of the oldest with a date of around 3000BC and it’s free to enter and wander around.
This is by far one of my favourite spots in the Lake District, despite my ability to wear completely inappropriate clothing for the moment and be freezing. Honister Pass is one of the highest in Cumbria and very photogenic. At the summit, you’ll find the Honister Slate Mine, although the lose slate covering much of the hills should have given you a clue. I loved the changing colours of the landscape this high up, with yellow, purple and grey across the hills.
Kirkstone Pass is the highest in the Lake District, and the Kirkstone Pass Inn is the third highest public house in England. It’s named after an easily spotted stone near the roadside that resembles a church steeple, with Kirk meaning church in Old Norse.
This area of the Lake District is less visited than others, and I’m glad we got to venture there on our 3-day tour. It’s covered in much more forest than the other passes, and at the top, you can find the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre which has a cafe, forest walks and all sorts of activities year round. They also have a Go Ape course like the one I did in Peebles, Scotland.
Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s House
Beatrix Potter may have written her first few books in London, but she was always inspired by her visits to the Lake District, and so much so that she bought Hill Top House there in 1905. The house has been preserved as Beatrix Potter would have known it, and you can visit it, although lines may be long. At the very least you’re able to wander around the gardens and get close to the house, even if you don’t have time to go in.
Beatrix Potter was a conservationist as much as an author, and when she died she left all her lands to the National Trust, and they then became part of the Lake District National Park in 1951. She is also the reason why the Herdwick Sheep, known for their distinctive coat, are still around today when they were a threatened breed.
The second largest
lake, oh sorry, body of water, in the Lake District. If you stay near Keswick then you’ll pass this picturesque lake (I give up, I’m calling it that!) a lot. There are a lot of great walks near here and you can also take a steamboat on the lake!
A postcard-perfect lake and mountain combination. Don’t miss driving around Buttermere if you go to the Lake District, as it’s generally a little quieter and a really beautiful area.
There are plenty of B&Bs in the Lake District, but we stayed in Keswick for two nights as part of our 3-day Lake District Tour. Sometimes Rabbie’s will place people in another town dependent on the business of the season. Because you’re taking a tour your accommodation can also be arranged for you, and since they check accommodation and know all the owners, you know you’ll be in safe hands and placed in a good location.
The good thing is, for a small town, Keswick is set up for tourism and you can find plenty of shops and restaurants open late at night. We tried a couple of different pubs and a tapas place and enjoyed the breakfast at our B&B, so you won’t go hungry!
In my head Grasmere = Gingerbread. A small shop in this picturesque town claims to have the worlds best gingerbread. I’m not sure about that but it is really good! In 1854 Sarah Nelson invented the gingerbread that’s a cross between biscuit and cake, and it’s been enjoyed by villagers and visitors ever since.
Grasmere’s other claim to fame comes from the poet William Wordsworth. He lived there for 14 years, and described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. You can visit Dove Cottage where he lived with his sister and the Daffodil Garden next to the churchyard where he is buried.
Windermere & Bowness-on-Windermere
Windermere has the only rail link in the Lake District National Park, which makes it a popular entry point if you’re not coming on a tour or with a car. It has sort of merged with Bowness-on-Windermere over time, which is a much larger town, although they both have their own town centres. I found Bowness quite busy and wouldn’t recommend it as much as some of the cuter towns within the Lake District, unless you want to take a boat on Windermere Lake or visit the World of Beatrix Potter Exhibition.
Whew, this is really just an overview of all the things we saw in the Lake District. There’s so much to learn about the Lake District! I haven’t even covered walking around a small tarn in the mountains or any of the lakeside viewpoints we stopped at. Even just driving around was exciting, with stone walls or hedges lining many roads, and listening to the stories about the Lake District, some of its famous residents like Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, and enough history and facts to be interesting but not boring.
So where will you go with 3 days in the Lake District?
The thing about taking a Rabbie’s tour to the Lake District is that the driver has the opportunity to be a bit more flexible with the 3-day Lake District itinerary than in other places. You stay two nights in one place and the driver becomes somewhat of an expert in judging the changeable weather patterns so they can get you to the right places at the right time. How our guide Jeff managed to arrive in a place just when the weather was clearing or right before it closed in I have no idea!
In addition, spending 3 days in the Lake District rather than trying to cover a much larger area means the driver can try and take into account any particular wishes from people on tour. Someone on our group really wanted to visit Beatrix Potter’s House, so we made the journey over to do so even though it’s not necessarily included in the itinerary. We also stopped by The Lakes Distillery, where you can taste vodka, gin, and whisky!
You can check the whole 3-day Lake District Itinerary for the tour on the Rabbie’s website. It’s an overview of the best places to visit in the Lake District and where you might go, but basically just go with it knowing the driver is working with the weather and to take you to all the best things in the short time you have. And request anywhere specific if you really want to see it!
Why choose a Rabbies tour?
As far as Lake district coach tours go, I’d definitely recommend the Rabbie’s mini-buses for ease of getting around and accessibility. I couldn’t have manoeuvred a small car backward down a hill and around a corner when we were confronted with a rubbish truck and nowhere to go, let alone a mini-bus like Jeff did!
There’s also the benefit of travelling on a small group tour. There wasn’t so many of us that we felt herded about, or like we were constantly waiting on a big group of people to get through attractions or view things.
In the past, I’ve been apprehensive about taking a small group multiple day tours, but everyone was really lovely and you can keep as much to yourself or socialise if you like. We travelled as a couple and enjoyed the extra company while still being able to spend time on our own in the evenings. If you were travelling solo you’d be able to join some others for dinner, or go on your own if you’d prefer.
Having the stress of driving and booking accommodation taken away, especially on a short break to the Lake District is a great bonus. We didn’t have to worry if we’d chosen the right accommodation or where we were going to stay out of all the bed and breakfasts in the Lake District.
In addition, there’s a lot of ground to cover in any Lake District itinerary and I know we wouldn’t have seen as much on our own, or known what we were seeing without having to do a lot of research. We could sit back and relax as the scenery went by while Jeff told us stories and facts, played theme music, and answered all our questions like our own personal driver guide Google!
Lake District tours from Edinburgh
Although you might not come to Scotland thinking to visit England, getting from Edinburgh to the Lake District is actually not a long or complicated journey at around 2 and a half hours. We stopped at the border town of Moffat on the way, and Biggar on the way back, which meant we got to see a little of the Borders region too which many people miss when they come to Scotland and head to the highlands.
Lake District tours from London
It’s much further than Edinburgh, but a tour from London to the Lake District is still worth the journey. Luckily, Rabbie’s have brought in a way for you to do the same 3-day Lake District tour from London as from Edinburgh.
Basically, you go from London to the Lake District by train, meet the bus coming from Edinburgh in Penrith, take part in the tour, and then you’re dropped off to the take the train back again before everyone else continues back to Edinburgh. You don’t miss out on any aspects of the time in the Lake District, only the stuff between Edinburgh and the Lake District. If you’re staying in London but really want to make it to the Lake District then this is a really convenient way to do it.
When to go and what to expect
The weather in the Lake District
When I say what to expect, yes, I’m talking about the weather. It rained on and off during our time in the Lake District, which isn’t surprising for the shoulder season of September. Last time I ventured to the Lake District in January I didn’t fare much better. However, it’s not something to worry about, just be prepared for. Make sure you have waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat!
The good thing is, the weather changes often! But in all honesty, one of the best things about being on a tour in the Lake District was that our guide Jeff knew how to judge the weather and was constantly monitoring it. He knew where to go when it wasn’t so great so that we would still enjoy ourselves (Aira Force for example) and where to go when it was great (Surprise View right before the weather turned again).
When to visit
The Lake District is known for being busy, especially in the summertime. Combine that with narrow roads and you’ll find that a short break can turn slightly stressful if you’re driving yourself and you’re not entirely sure where you’re going.
Both times I’ve visited the Lake District in the offseason or shoulder season when it’s quieter and although it’s a little more prone to rain, it didn’t have a huge impact on my trip. The colours of the landscape can change dramatically with the seasons and in winter I actually think the scenery is much more interesting.
In short, visit the Lake District anytime, but strongly consider from September – April if you want to see less other people around!
As we came to a stop at a major intersection and turned out of one of many narrow roads we had traversed I was reminded this was it. We were leaving after 3 days in the Lake District, exploring towns straight out of fairytales and lush forests changing colour with the season. We had survived biting winds sweeping through mountain passes and watched sunsets over shimmering lakes, all to the soundtrack of more than enough stories and facts to remember for years to come.
I was more than a little sad to be heading home to Edinburgh from the Lake District, despite seeing about as much as could be seen on a 3-day Lake District tour.
England has managed to steal away a little of my heart again (the last time was in Yorkshire!) …So I guess I’ll just have to plan another trip right?!
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