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Situated in the northwest part of England, just south of the Scottish border, the English Lake District is a world apart. While most visitors think of England as being gentle, rolling countryside, this is only typical of the South and Midlands – the Lake District is wild country, interspersed with picturesque villages that hark back to the region’s past.
Getting to the Lake District is relatively straightforward. You can take the train, but getting around between villages is a challenge. If you simply rent a car cheap online, fly into Liverpool or Manchester, and pick the car up at the airport, you will feel much more freedom to explore. The Lake District is a couple of hours’ drive north from either of these cities and as you approach the region, you will see the relatively flat landscape give way to the first hints of foothills, and then to impressive peaks that look down on you from above.
For your first introduction to the Lake District, take a trip to Grasmere, which is located in the center of the Lake District National Park. This village is a picture postcard. Its neat stone houses with colorful accents line the streets, along with local attractions such as the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop – which dates back to 1854, and Dove Cottage, home to the famous Lakeland poet William Wordsworth from 1799 to 1808.
This is also a good place to get a taste of hiking in the Lake District. There are a number of excellent walks and gentle climbs near to the village. Perhaps one of the best is Helm Crag, about a two hour walk that leads to the Lion and the Lamb, a set of rocks that overlook Grasmere and resemble the two creatures sitting side-by-side.
There are a number of excellent hotels in the Lake District, including the Lodore Falls Hotel, located up the Borrowdale Valley. If the currency exchange rate is a concern, you can stay in a youth hostel – which are not just for ‘youth’ anymore. These give you an opportunity to meet with other travelers, and to learn more about the area as would couchsurfing, which would give you the added benefit of living with a local during your stay.
You could literally spend years walking in the Lake District. There are so many mountains and valleys and countless well-marked and well cared-for paths to choose from whatever your level of fitness – and more often than not there is a village pub to reward you with hearty fare and a local brew at the end of the day.
Plan on spending several days on the water here as well, as this isn’t called the Lake District for nothing! There are stunning lakes such as Ullswater, Buttermere and Lake Windemere is the largest natural lake in all of England. Inside Lake Windemere are 18 tiny islands. Surrounding the lake there is only one village – Bowess-on-Windemere, while Windemere town itself is a 20 minute walk. But getting around the lake itself is no problem, as there are steam railways passing through points around it, and a ferry inside it along with other boat services and cruises.
To find the best rambling, walking and hiking routes in and around the Lake District, pick up a copy of Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. This is a seven-volume guide that Wainwright produced between 1955 and 1966 as he walked all of the 214 mountains in the Lake District. Not only is it an invaluable source of information, it is also a work of art. The entire set of books is hand-lettered by Wainwright, and also has many of his original sketches of the Lakeland landscapes. This guide is considered to be a classic, and has sold over 2 million copies since it was first published.