I’ll admit I’m spoilt. Having the Lake District National Park within an hour’s drive of my front door is a privilege – especially in a time when staycations are in vogue.
This week the National Park is celebrating its 70th anniversary – its platinum milestone comes as the area prepares for the kickstart of holidays and hospitality businesses and hotels work to lift the shutters after months in lockdown.
Over the decades the Lakes has not only cemented a place in my heart, but the heart of the nation and the wider world – over 19 million people visit annually. I’d argue it’s the diamond in Great Britain’s holiday crown.
But why is the National Park so popular with holidaymakers and daytrippers? It's simple – the Lake District has cracked the perfect staycation puzzle.
Yes, there’s traffic, yes there can be crowds, yes there can be hostility from locals, but all-in-all the draw of a holiday in the Lake District far outweighs these niggling inconveniences – let’s do the maths.
The ‘perfect’ weather
I’ll begin by addressing the most unreliable variable in the perfect holiday equation – the weather. Yes, the Lakeland weather is often unseasonably unpredictable. In fact, it’s possible to experience all four seasons in one sitting – my most recent trip to the Lakes involved a packed lunch in beautiful sunshine, before reaching the summit of Coniston Old Man in a haze of drizzle and gusty wind. This was swiftly followed by a showering of snow – yes, in May. The same evening I watched the sun set over a still, calm and crisply clear Lake Windermere, safe in the knowledge that no day in the Lake District is ever the same.
It’s this unpredictability that adds a sense of spontaneity to any staycation in the National Park – we’re creatures of habit and comfort, and without Mother Nature throwing some spice onto our holidays, life would be quite boring.
Coast and country combine
Booking data reveals that this year the British coast and the countryside are the favoured spots for a UK holiday. In the Lake District, luckily, there’s no need to choose between the two.
To the west there’s a coastline of brilliant beaches and coves, close to the seaside villages of Broughton-in-Furness and Whitehaven, that lie almost undisturbed even on the hottest of summer days. Inland, visitors find some of the most stunning countryside this nation has to offer – the National Park wasn’t awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2017 for nothing. Picture-perfect dry stone walls line winding country lanes, which lead to villages populated by slate-roofed cottages, traditional inns and valley-upon-valley of farmland.
Did I mention the mountains and lakes? No, well, you’ll be spoiled – from the summit of Scafell (if you have the courage to climb England’s highest peak) to the waves of Windermere, mines of Coniston and rolling hills of the Duddon Valley.
Staycations are often a chance for entire families to enjoy a break together – something more important than ever after a year of lockdowns – but it can be a daunting puzzle trying to find a destination that’s suitable for all ages. Having grown up on holidays in the Lake District, I’d be hard pressed to find such a has-it-all place overseas.
Over the years I’ve learned to love every varied corner of the National Park. As a youngster a trip to the Beatrice Potter museum was as thrilling as my first ascent of Hellvelyn was in my mid-twenties. As a child I learned to kayak, dinghy sail and swim in the lakes, 20 years later and I’m still learning, whether it be off-road driving, paddle-boarding or wild camping skills. My parents, who’ve visited the area their entire lives, are also still finding new thrills in the National Park, with their grandchildren now in tow and the spare time granted by retirement permitting ample opportunity to immerse themselves in the local community – whether it be in Ambleside’s cafés, art galleries in Grasmere or the boutique shops of Windermere.
The finer things in life
Without a slice of the finer things in life the holiday equation is left unbalanced. While the National Park is a rough-and-ready rural destination, beyond the craggy fells and farm buildings there’s plenty of opportunity to indulge. The area’s hospitality is full of surprises. Take the newly renovated Lakes Hotel & Spa, which is one of the only hotels in Britain to offer integrated outdoor hot tubs with every room, for example, or Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume restaurant, hidden on a hill above the village of Cartmel in an old blacksmiths and home to two Michelin stars, or the award-winning brewery housed in a former cattle market in Ulverston.
Luxury hotels with five-star spas and fine-dining restaurants are now almost as common as the native Herdwick sheeps – I speak from experience when I say there’s no better way to balance out the perfect holiday equation than spending an evening soaking in an outdoor hot tub or lounging by an infinity pool, overlooking Lake Windermere at the Low Bay Resort, after a day exploring the fells.
For those in search of a cosmopolitan vibe, rather than coastal walks or muddy adventures, while incomparable to the quirky corners of Manchester’s Northern Quarter or Soho, there’s a growing trend for shiny cocktails bars and Instagram-worthy brunches in the popular honeypots such as Bowness and Windermere and the Lakes’ portfolio of designer boutique hotels and b&bs is ever-growing.
A staycation is, in many ways, predictable when compared to foreign escapes. You can speak the language, the food is familiar and you drive on the ‘right’ side of the road – a break on British soil is, well, very British. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a few surprises – and the Lake District is full of them. Whether it’s the 40-foot-high Cathedral Cave, part a small network of inter-linked quarries above Little Langdale, the clear water and secluded footpaths of Ennerdale, the remote valley in the most westernly region of the National Park, or the Castlerigg Stone Circle, thought to have been erected in 3000 BC during the Neolithic period – away from the well-trodden paths there’s always somewhere new to explore no matter how many times you visit. Fancy walking an alpaca, or trekking with a llama – that’s a thing too.
Championing Great Britain
On May 9 1951, the Lake District was designated a National Park – the second in Britain following the Peak District a month earlier on April 17. The creation of these Parks was the Government’s recognition of the importance for the post-war society to be able to enjoy being outside in the countryside after years of fighting. After more than a year of lockdowns, the National Parks are once again coming to the rescue for those keen to escape to the fresh air – the longevity of their appeal is a testament to what is great about holidays in the area.
Even before its National Park status Cumbria was championed by legends of British literacy. Poet William Wordsworth wrote of “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” and children’s author Beatrice Potter was so besotted with the area that when she died in 1943, she left 4,000 acres of land and countryside in the area to the National Trust. The National Park is steeped in history at every turn and while visits to see the ruins of Rome or the ancient pyramids are bucket-list worthy, this spot in the North West of England has plenty of its own tales to tell to help you find a happy ending to your own staycation story.
Read our complete guide to the best hotels in the Lake District