Stepping out of the car as a cascade of golden leaves fell down, I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck. The air was thick with the smell of wood smoke and a mist was quickly forming; the Lake District’s famous hills only just visible behind our holiday home. After a four hour journey north (with only Laura’s singing for company) – and our road trip to the Lake District now well underway – I was ready for a strong cup of tea. Grabbing my suitcase – darkness fast drawing in – I headed towards the warm glow of our new home: Summer Hill House.
As ‘microadventure’ aficionados and keen champions of the UK road trip, we’ve enjoyed many adventures around our own country. From Northumberland to Margate, Dartmoor to Durham, we’ve explored the UK at every opportunity. After a busy period of long haul travel – including a flying visit to LA – we were therefore thrilled when Europcar invited us to enjoy a road trip to a UK destination that we were yet to explore: the Lake District. Home of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, the Lakes is an area of untamed beauty that we’ve long hoped to visit. Surrounded by both towering mountains and vast lakes, this corner of England is a place to truly escape: somewhere to leave behind untamed inboxes and mounting piles of work. Responding instantly, we excitedly agreed – eager to reach this rural hideaway.
However, not only would we be heading to a new part of the UK, but we would also be experiencing a new mode of travel: an eco-friendly, hybrid petrol car. Keen to leave my ageing Fiat 500 (Michael) behind, and ready to experience a more environmentally cleaner way to travel, we were soon collecting the keys to our shiny Hyundai Ioniq. Suitcases thrown into the (enormous) boot, I got behind the steering wheel of our new wheels and pulled away; smiling reassuringly to the Europcar staff as we crept towards the exit.
Road Trip to the Lake District: Where To Stay
The Lake District is well-prepared for tourists, with an almost endless number of glittering hotels and lace-trimmed bed & breakfasts on offer. For our stay, we opted for the self-catered option and were fortunate enough to find the cosiest of apartments, nestled in the hills of Spark Bridge. Courtesy of Holiday Cottages, our apartment was an oasis of calm, golden morning light and gentle bird song, hidden within Summer Hill House; a former Georgian Manor. With large bay windows overlooking the distant hills, it was the perfect spot to relax with a steaming mug of tea (or a nice glass of red), after a long day of exploring.
Located just a short ten minute drive from both Coniston Water and Lake Windermere, Summer Hill House was an ideal base from which to explore the wider area; allowing us to truly make the most of our road trip to the Lake District. Complete with a detailed local’s guide, we were also well-equipped to seek out one of the area’s most popular features: its cosy, wood-gnarled village pubs.
Since writing this blog post, we have also had the pleasure of returning to the Lake District and staying at the wonderful Another Place Hotel in Ullswater.
Read more about our stay at this wonderful hotel here.
Road Trip Around The Lake District: What Car?
Despite our parents recently investing in an electric car, we knew little about the benefits of a hybrid petrol vehicle before embarking on our Europcar road trip. Confused that perhaps we’d have to keep stopping along the way to ‘charge up’, I discovered that a hybrid petrol car is actually incredibly easy to use – particularly for a road trip – and requires no plugs or leads.
With low fuel consumption, the car’s batteries are recharged with the energy generated from braking (the car automatically determining when to use electricity or when to start the petrol engine). It was all very clever and ultimately, extremely convenient for someone who – like myself – finds the inner workings of an engine to be a complete mystery.
In the end, our Hyundai Ioniq didn’t seem to require much attention at all; needing only a top-up of petrol on our journey home (an entire tank cost just £52). Bearing in mind, this was despite the fact we had undertaken a nearing 500 mile journey. This unsurprisingly made the Hyundai an incredibly cost-effective way to explore the UK, all whilst being that little bit more environmentally conscious.
For those looking to explore the UK in your own hybrid car, the Hyundai Ioniq is available from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Edinburgh airport. In order to ensure the model, use the handy Model Choice option when booking.
Road Trip Around The Lake District: Where to Visit
The Lake District is a treasure trove of chocolate box cottages, achingly beautiful landscapes and blustery hikes. Offering activities for all types of traveller – from those who enjoy a drink by a crackling fire, to those who want to try their hand at extreme sports – the Lake District is an incredibly versatile destination.
Enjoyed best by car – allowing you to take your time and explore the many hidden valleys of the area – the Lake District is a true road trip destination. Just ensure that you’ve had a little experience of driving along smaller country lanes; the scene from The Holiday springing to mind as we squeezed ourselves down stone-scattered tracks filled with runaway sheep.
First Stop: Grasmere
Setting off early on our first day in the Lake District, we dressed with purpose. Piling into the car just before 8am, we added our directions into the SatNav and set off on a true – Cumbrian – foodie pilgrimage. Our destination? The infamous Gingerbread shop in Grasmere. For years, we had heard tales of Grasmere’s delicious gingerbread; a recipe created by Victorian cook Sarah Nelson in 1854. A unique recipe, Grasmere Gingerbread is a mysterious blend of both sweet and spicy; biscuit and cake. Unlike any other gingerbread you’ll try, Sarah began selling her delicious treats on a tree stump outside her modest cottage – the same cottage where the gingerbread is still sold today.
Following our noses – the scent of brown sugar and cinnamon making our stomachs rumble – we discovered Grasmere Gingerbread shop tucked behind the village church; its chimney already releasing plumes of sugary smoke. With a small queue forming outside the tiny store, we stood excitedly in line; the slightly tortuous aroma surrounding us. (Note: in the summer months, you may find you have to queue for quite some time before entering the shop).
Gingerbread successfully secured from inside the tiny store – a place where the assistants still dressed in traditional Victorian uniforms – we continued to wander the sunny, quiet streets of Grasmere, paying a visit to Wordsworth’s grave, located in the graveyard next door.
Indeed, Wordsworth lived in Grasmere from 1799 – 1808, and his home – Dove Cottage – is now a museum. A must for any literature fans or for those on a road trip to the Lake District, visitors can explore his beautiful home before moving on to the specially built museum, where his original manuscripts are housed.
Second Stop: Ambleside
As one of the most popular towns in the Lake District, no trip to the area would be complete without a visit to pretty little Ambleside. Located on the north-eastern shore of Lake Windermere, Ambleside was a 35 minute journey from our home in Spark Bridge (it’s important to note that whilst only a matter of miles away, the small winding roads can make journeys far longer). As well as providing a central spot for shopping and hotels, Ambleside is home to some key tourist attractions, including the wonderfully quirky Bridge House. Now owned by the National Trust, Bridge House is a 17th century conundrum. Formed of only two small rooms (one below and one on top), this tiny house, set over Stock Ghyll beck, is said to have once housed a family of seven.
Free to enter, we took a deep breath in as we squeezed into the lower ground room of Bridge House. No more than two meters wide and with a roaring stove in the corner, it was impossible to imagine family life here. Built over the river to avoid land tax, the building was originally used as an apple store – a rather more appropriate use than as a house for a family of seven. Perhaps one of the smallest attractions that we’ve visited, this tiny but perfectly formed house was a highlight of our road trip to the Lake District; our imaginations whirring as we considered life in this little home.
Third Stop: Rydal Hall
Just outside of Ambleside lies Rydal Hall and its mesmerising grotto. A 16th century home, the gardens to Rydal Hall are free to enter and lead to a hidden spot, so perfect that it made my eyes water. The small grotto (or summer house) was built by the Hall’s original owner – Sir Daniel Le Fleming – as a spot from which to enjoy the estate’s waterfall. Picking our way down the small path that led to the cascading water – yellow and orange leaves fluttering overhead – the autumn sun warmed our backs as we headed downwards. Settling on a bench adjacent to the river, we opened a flask of tea and sat in contented silence, the scene in front of us like a watercolour painting.
Fourth Stop: Hill Top (Beatrix Potter’s House)
There is one particular memory from my childhood that has always stuck in my mind: wrapped up in my dressing gown after my Sunday night bath, I’m holding a hot water bottle as my Mum reads to me my favourite book, The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle. A washerwoman hedgehog, Beatrix Potter’s story follows the life of this prickly character, as she lives out her life in a small cottage in the depths of the Lake District. I’m not quite sure why I remember this moment so clearly, but it’s perhaps a testament to Ms Potter’s unique skill to capture the imaginations of children (and adults) so thoroughly.
As such, there was no doubt that when on our road trip to the Lake District, we’d pay a visit to the author’s former home – Hill Top – now owned by the National Trust.
Located six miles from Ambleside, this 17th century farmhouse is a lovely place to explore; the house preserved as a museum to Beatrix and her furry friends. Bought by Beatrix in 1905 using the money earned from her first book – The Tale of Peter Rabbit – (an independent woman if ever there was one), the cottage and its surrounding landscape was a source of continued inspiration for the author. In the end, 13 of her 23 books were written here – Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs Tabitha Twitchit and Tom Kitten emerging from the lush green landscape that surrounded her.
Take your time exploring the cottage – including its flagstone floors and peaceful library (where you can see Beatrix’s original ink drawings) – before heading outside to walk Hill Top’s half acre garden. Here you’ll find a neatly organised vegetable patch and rhubarb garden; the very place that Jemima Puddle-Duck is said to have once hidden her precious eggs. For non-National Trust members, entrance to Hill Top costs £10.90 (or £12.00 with Gift Aid).
Fifth Stop: Slater Bridge
Located in the remote village of Little Langdale sits Slater Bridge. One of the Lake District’s most ancient pedestrian bridges, visiting Slater Bridge is a little like stepping into Middle Earth. Now one of the most picturesque bridges in the area, we set off to Slater Bridge on the final morning of our road trip to the Lake District, keen to catch a glimpse of this postcard-worthy scene. Pushed for time, we drove to Little Langdale where a walking route guided us from Elterwater to Slater Bridge (taking just ten minutes).
Stepping out of the car – the river bubbling noisily past – our first encounter with Slater Bridge came courtesy of a lost sheep. Shyly peeping at us, this curious fluffy creature turned slowly and trotted off; heading down a winding country lane. Apparently Cumbria’s cutest tour guide, we followed the sheep as he picked his way over a lush green hill – Slater Bridge appearing in the small valley below. It was a little surreal, but a wonderful way to be introduced to one of the Lake District’s most famous scenes.
Sixth Stop: Coniston Water
The closest lake to our apartment, Coniston Water was just a short ten minute drive away. Conducting a little research the evening before, I stumbled across Coniston’s famed jetty and immediately set my alarm for dawn; ready to catch its blushing pink skies. Blearily stumbling out of bed at 6.30am, I momentarily questioned this decision, shivering as I glanced at the thick layer of frost now decorating the bedroom window.
Pulling my feet into my walking boots, we headed outdoors; the morning mist still hovering over the fields. The drive to Coniston was a surreal one – taking us along winding roads shrouded in a frosty fog. Arriving just a short while later, we pulled into an empty lay-by next to the water, watching as two regal swans landed silently next to us.
The autumn sun beginning to rise, we walked to the end of the jetty and sat at its end – the two swans gliding curiously past. Fortunate enough to have seen many beautiful sunrises over the last few years, this one felt particularly special. Entirely alone, we watched as the world slowly woke; the morning light changing from pink to golden across the water.
A Road Trip Around The Lake District: Final Thoughts
Taking one last sip of tea from my window seat in Summer Hill House, I watched as a squirrel busily prepared for winter. Absorbed in his task of hiding his loot, I felt a pang of jealousy for this small critter’s life (briefly entertaining the thought that he might be the real life Squirrel Nutkin).
Moving towards the door with a sigh, I grabbed our Europcar keys from the counter. Our road trip to the Lake District – filled with delicious food and chilled by autumn air – had been good for my soul, and I only wished that I could stay a little longer. Starting the engine (reluctantly), we left the leaf-scattered driveway of Summer Hill House behind, waving goodbye to yet another beautiful corner of our country.
Hoping to visit more of the UK? Why not take a look at our guide to a UK Road Trip, or our itineraries for UK Microadventures.