I’ve heard the stories of the crowds that descend on the Lake District. Tales of lines of cars inching their way along curving roads past beautiful lakes, of trouble securing accommodation, and of packed cafes and streets in the picturesque little towns.
I didn’t have any of that. But then, I did choose to visit in the opposite of peak season, during the wet winter month of January!
My working holiday visa in the UK was coming to an end and it was the Lake District in the cold winter month of January or not at all. I’m not one to shy away from winter travel, in fact, I actually quite like it. Don’t let the offseason months put you off travelling. I’ve been to some great places during the cold season, Gdansk in Poland, and a few other Eastern Europe destinations at Christmas. I had an amazing time, and it was far less busy. So I can imagine a weekend visit to the Lake District National Park in the summer is very different than what I experienced.
What to do in The Lake District in winter without a car
There’s a lot to see in the Lake District and it’s not too easy without a car unless you have a lot of time to walk! If you want to travel to the Lake District without a car I would actually recommend going on a tour, like a three day Lake District tour with Rabbie’s that I later did from Edinburgh. They also have an option to train to the Lake District from London and meet up with the tour there. It means you get three days of someone driving you around and telling you everything you need to know!
As far as Lake District tours in the area itself, only one company, Mountain Goat Tours, was operating around the Lake District in the winter month of January and a four-person minimum was required. The drawback of being a solo traveller, when you need a tour minimum in the off-season!
I let Mountain Goat Tours know when I was staying in town, but with no guarantee I’d get on a tour I looked into public transport options. The bus from Windermere to Keswick has hop on hop off options, but I opted to go all the way to Keswick, taking in the scenery on the way. Even this 50-minute trip was an awesome way to see The Lake District without a car, and I happily took advantage from the top of the double-decker bus.
Of course, if you love walking there are definitely trails all over the place and I’m sure you could happily walk around the Lake District if you had the time to spare. However, if you’re travelling to the Lake District in winter chances are the weather won’t be so great either, so that may not be a viable option on some days.
Since I didn’t want to venture too far from Keswick I browsed the small boutique style shops and did what I do best, found a great cafe to pass the time. Keswick is next to a beautiful lake and rolling hills, so I did take advantage of my chance to feel like I was getting out into the countryside a bit, and spent most of my time walking around some trails and sitting by the lake.
And it was at the lake by Keswick that something awesome happened.
A man was walking his dog down a hill directly in my path, as I walked up to take in the view. By this time I’d embraced my solitary Lake District experience and I wasn’t in the mood to be out meeting people, or even really have to say hello. As I walked slightly off to the side I glanced over to smile so as not to be rude, and the man smiled back. Then I stared. And kept staring as we passed each other.
It was Sir Ian McKellan walking his dog in The Lake District.
He must have caught my look of surprise because he smiled wider but didn’t say anything, and by the time I processed the situation the moment to say anything or stop had passed!
I’m a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and I wish I’d had the guts to say something, but I also don’t like to bother someone when they’re just going about their daily life so in a way I’m glad I didn’t. I think he realised I knew who he was by the look on my face and that was enough! I actually ended up following him for a while by accident, since there was only one way to get out of the lake area. Awkward.
After that excitement, I took the bus back to Windermere and spent a lovely evening in the hostel lounge eating discounted food from the supermarket and watching Eastenders. Hey, being a solo traveller means I do what I want!
Mountain Goat Tours in the Lake District in winter
Luckily for me, a family of four decided to brave the elements of the Lake District in January, so on my last day, we all embarked on a Mountain Goat Tour. Mountain Goat Tours are run in small vans so that you can easily access all the highlights of this beautiful area, with your driver acting as guide as well, and explaining everything over the speaker as you travel along. We made a lot of stops, each time with our guide asking us if we would like to get out. I was in and out of the car like a yo-yo, taking photos and looking at everything I could. I think by the end when the rain was really coming down, the family and the guide thought I was a little crazy…
Our guide was fantastic, however, with amazing knowledge of all the areas we went to, and telling us lots of things about the Lake District I didn’t know. His excellent driving skills showcased when we got stuck down a road blocked by a tree! I loved the town of Grasmere, it was so cute and picturesque. I visited the church and Wordsworth’s grave and bought some of the amazing gingerbread that Grasmere is famous for.
We visited so many lakes and villages, but Buttermere was my favourite even though we just passed through. If I went back to The Lake District in summer and had a car that’s where I would want to stay!
I’m a bit obsessed with stone circles, thanks to a certain book set in Scotland with a stone circle, so I was super excited to see my first in The Lake District at Castlerigg. I didn’t care that it was raining, I was not missing this amazing view! A few weeks later I visited my second stone circle on a Scotland roadtrip, and I think I will keep trying to visit as many as I can. I find it so fascinating that no one knows why they exist!
Backpacker accommodation in the Lake District
I was looking for cheap accommodation in the Lake District, and I found a great place. There are some amazing B&Bs and other places to stay, but since I was travelling alone I stuck with the budget accommodation of the Lake District Backpackers Hostel in Windermere. It ended up being perfect! The Lake District Backpackers Hostel is located close to the train and bus drop off, so no other transport is necessary, plus it’s within easy walking distance of the shops of Windermere.
The Lake District Backpackers Hostel doesn’t have a reception, which was a new experience for me. After booking, I was emailed a pin code to enter and the pin code for my room. Payment was made into a safety deposit box in the spacious lounge. The full sized kitchen and the dorms were roomy, with a sink and multiple shared bathrooms in the hallways.
Visiting the Lake District in the winter off-season meant I was lucky enough to end up with a four-bed dorm all to myself! I barely saw anyone else staying at the hostel since I was out all day so it wasn’t a very social experience but I can be a bit on the introverted side sometimes, so it didn’t bother me!
My time in the Lake District in the winter was fairly quiet, but I liked it that way. I was able to see a lot on my own without a car, but I was thankful I went on the Mountain Goat Tour to see even more. It was a great taster for the Lake District, and I was happy to travel back at a later date and take advantage of a longer tour with Rabbie’s Tours.
Once again, don’t let the wet or the cold put you off travelling somewhere. Sure visiting the Lake District in January is a different experience to what you might see on the postcards, but it’s still a beautiful adventure nonetheless!
Have you visited The Lake District or somewhere else popular in the offseason?
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