Unlike many parts of Europe, where the best spots are often only accessed by car, Lake District is surprisingly well-connected by public transport. From the moment I got off my 8-hour coach ride from London (£48.40) at Windermere, a friendly Stagecoach staff handed me a booklet that contains a map of the area with all the bus routes, and the respective bus timetables. Day passes start at £8, which is real bargain considering most day tours range between £40-£50.
I had to put up at a rather inconvenient hostel for the first night though, as the better option only had vacancies from the day after. I’m glad the sun still sets rather late because YHA Windermere is a 15 minute walk through some quiet, winding roads up from the nearest bus stop. The 6-bed female dorm (£20.83/bed) I took up is clean and spacious, and had the largest ensuite bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hostel. Would’ve been happy to stay on if not for the lousy location.
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Got myself the Central Lakes day pass the following morning, which cost £8 and allows me to hop on any of the buses that go around Windermere lake and the smaller villages and lakes nearby. One of the public buses even has an open top. How tourist-friendly!
First stop, the pretty and quaint town of Ambleside. It was littered with bakeries, stores selling outdoor wear, and many cottage-like bed & breakfast stays that looked really cosy. I’m definitely booking myself into one of those if I ever return to Lake District.
So I was just wandering around the town when I stumbled upon a sign that pointed into the woods and indicated that it was the way to the Stock Ghyll Force waterfalls. Unsure about how difficult or far the walk would be, I simply had to ask the handful of cheery walkers emerging from the forest, who were more than happy to tell me that it’s a really easy route.
The waterfall was basic but the woodlands that lead up to it was welcoming, gentle and pretty.
After that, I hopped onto the same bus route and headed towards Grasmere, a small lake north of Windermere with its own little town.
The town was quiet and gloomy, all thanks to the drizzle. I took shelter in the cafe that’s attached to Heidi’s Grasmere Lodge, and had myself a traditional pastie “from Crantock”, the menu said, that had beef and potatoes in it, and a smoothie to wash it down. The meal cost £8.9.
Then hopped onto another bus to get me closer to the Grasmere lake. I was so grateful for the handy day pass at this point. Without the trusty buses I would’ve been so much more restricted to certain spots. The driver even gave me directions when I got off.
Into the woods again! This time it’s White Moss Woods. I just love the near silence and the sound of running water. There were moments where I found myself all alone in the forest, but never for long as walkers populate most of the trails around the area, and I often chance upon families with dogs along the way.
I headed down to another town south of the same lake called Bowness for diner. There, I took away fish and chips from Vinegar Jones (picked it simply because I saw a queue) and ate by the lake. There was only 1 size that cost £6, and it was massive! It was pretty good though. And made much more enjoyable with the beautiful view, of course.
Stayed at the Lake District Backpackers Lodge (£16.50/bed for a 6-bed dorm) for the rest of my time here. It’s the first hostel I’ve been to that doesn’t have anyone physically running it! Once I’ve made my booking, the owner sent me an email stating the door code numbers. And once I got there, there were instructions to put the exact cash payment in an envelope, and drop it into the safe. So amazed at this system. Clever businessman!
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It’s tour day with Mountain Goat. They are costly, but crucial for taking tourists without a car to places where buses can’t traverse. Just like the goat, the mini bus climbs frighteningly steep and windy roads up into the highlands, where the best views of Lake District are found. And for that reason, I thought I’d get the most out of their services by picking the High Adventure tour (£40), which follows mountain passes.
Malcolm is our driver and tour guide rolled into 1, and I was amazed at how he could tell engaging stories, drive, and tell jokes simultaneously. His decade-long experience as a guide clearly shows. He had so much knowledge about the area, and his narrative is always packed with facts and details.
Throughout the day, he told us how the Romans and Vikings made their marks on the landscape, and that the white, grey, and brown sheep that pepper the farms are in fact all the same Herdwick species whose wool colour changes as it ages. One of Malcolm’s many bite-sized history lessons was on how the landscapes became dominated by grasslands: back in the middle ages, monks started rearing sheep as wool was lucrative then, and they had to chop down trees to make way for pastures for them to graze on.
Malcolm and his trusty mountain goat bus.
Vast landscapes, little people.
Stopped at Boot for lunch. Time surely stands still here, as there are only a small cluster of houses and pubs. Even the waitress at the pub said, “Nothing happens around here… there was a car that crashed yesterday, and everyone was like, have you heard about it???” But I still managed to lose track of time here wandering around, and had little time to enjoy my cumberland sausage and onion gravy baguette. It was delicious, and I wish I had more than just 40 mins at this lunch stop to savour rather than shove it down my throat.
The tour included a short ride on the cute little steam train on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Just look at how short it is compared to me!
Definitely the highlight of this trip, the Wasterwater lake drew loud WOWs from everyone in the bus when it came into view. Pictures never do places like these justice, but to get a sense of scale, check out the 2 people who appear as white specks on the right side of the photo. Wish we had time to lay out a picnic and spend the afternoon here… but as with all tours, all you get is enough time to snap photos.
The next stop was Muncaster castle, which looked rather unremarkable from the outside, so I only ended up with photos of animals.
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As I wanted to venture further north into the town of Keswick, I had to get the £10.8 day pass for the public buses. It took me just over an hour to get there from Windermere. At least the bus ride was amazingly scenic.
Just like the other towns I visited on my first day, Keswick is made up of the usual souvenir and outdoor gear shops, and restaurants. There’s nothing charming about this place, so I just looked up TripAdvisor for the best scones around, and it pointed me to Laura in the Lakes, which is just a short walk away from the main bus stop. The scone (£3.25) was fresh, hot, and fluffy, and with jam and clotted cream slathered all over it, I soon reached nirvana.
I didn’t have any solid plans for the day, so I just looked at the map with the bus route, and picked 77 as it goes around a few lakes. It was also the route that’ll pass Catbells, one of the scenic places which I remember reading about.
And I simply couldn’t believe the places that this public bus took us. It was a standard bus, but it went through lanes so tight that the cars coming in the opposite direction sometimes have to back up to let the bus pass through. Some lanes were so narrow the bus had to scrape against hedges to avoid cars that were parked on the side. It was at times too much excitement for the pensioners on board to take. I could feel them stressing out and hear the occasional tsk tsk-ing.
Bus 77 passed the gorgeous Buttermere lake and wide valleys of Gatesgarth, which looked almost like Mars. I was stressing out a little on the bus as I had to make split-second decisions about whether to get off at each stop. It’s not as easy as this route only comes once every 2 hours. I’m glad I held out till it got to Catbells though, as I wouldn’t have had time to reach its summit if I had made another stop. I thought Catbells would be so popular that hoards of people would get off at the stop and I’d just follow. But I nearly missed the stop because there was no visible sign indicating that it’s Catbells, and only 1 other couple got off.
There weren’t many people around, so with no one to ask, I just headed up not knowing how long I’d take or how difficult it’ll be. But the path looked pretty all right at first.
Then as the views got better, the path got rockier and steeper.
There were a few false summits, but they serve as a good pit stop. The views from midway up already made the hike so far worth it.
Mountains have a funny way of making things look scarier than they are. I sat at the false summit for some time, debating whether I should attempt the summit, which from where I was standing looked really steep and dangerous. Then I did some market survey, and this mother with 3 young boys said that it was absolutely safe and easy, with some minor scrambling on the way down.
So I decided to scale it.
Reached my first ever summit! Funny how I’ve always wanted to hike up a mountain, and I managed to do this without even planning. But on my way up, I kept thinking that it’s going to be way more challenging to descend. It was indeed tougher, and made trickier as it started to drizzle. Fell on my bum just once, so it wasn’t too bad at all for a first experience.
I really hope to return to Lake District someday to scale more peaks!