August 27-30, 2021
After our last-minute weekend getaway in Rye and my 24 hours in Edinburgh to pick up Lily, our first official adventure as ex-pats was a trip to the Lake District over the August bank holiday weekend. Famous for its associations with Beatrix Potter and ‘Lake Poets’ like William Wordsworth (and for the deep-cut Taylor Swift bonus track, obviously), the area is home to one of the largest and most popular national parks in the United Kingdom, which includes the largest lakes in England and all its land higher than 3,000 feet above sea level.
In addition to wanting to spend some time outside of a city, the other big draw to the area for us was that it is known for being extremely dog-friendly — even more so than the rest of the UK, which we have found to be way more dog-friendly than the US so far. It took us ~3 hours to get to the area by train (Lily seems to love the train and the Tube, for anyone who was wondering) and we had a pre-booked taxi take us from the Oxenholme Train Station to our hotel, which was ~4 miles outside the town of Keswick.
I truly don’t know if I have ever had a better hotel experience than the one we had during our three days at the Ravenstone Manor. The bed-and-breakfast-style hotel at the base of Skiddaw Mountain and near Bassenthwaite Lake is locally owned and operated, and the staff was so kind and welcoming. The hotel, its staff, and all of the other guests were so charming and quintessentially British that it honestly felt like something out of an old book or TV show — the manager even carried around sausages in her apron to give to well-behaved dogs. We got to know most of the other guests (and their dogs) over the weekend because the hotel is so lovely that we all ate most of our meals at the excellent restaurant and spent plenty of time in the bar area.
We spent the majority of our time outdoors hiking up Skiddaw, walking around Bassenthwaite Lake and the surrounding farms, and exploring the national forest of Dodd Wood. The area is beautiful, with lots of wild heathers, eyebrights, mosses, lichens, junipers, and willow trees — and flocks of sheep roaming and grazing freely. The view from the mountaintops was particularly stunning since we were just surrounded by lakes, forests, and green pastures as far as the eye could see. We also had very nice weather, although it was already quite a bit colder so far up north than it was in London.
Between our lovely and cozy hotel and wanting to prioritize spending time outside, we didn’t explore the rest of the area as much as I had anticipated. We took the bus into Keswick one day and were honestly disappointed by how crowded and touristy it felt. The town looked so cute and all of the travel guides I had read claimed that it was one of the more charming villages in the area, but it was lacking from our perspective. Given our experience in Keswick and the fact that everything was inevitably busier than normal given the bank holiday, we didn’t even try to go to any of the other towns or visit some of the literary sites in the area.
Despite Keswick being a letdown, we had an absolutely wonderful three-day weekend in Cumbria and hope to go back next summer to do some more hiking and see more of the area — and stay at the Ravenstone Manor again, of course.
If you’re planning a trip to the Lake District, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in the UK.
Food & Drink
- Ravenstone Manor: I almost always avoid eating at hotels when I travel, and I have certainly never specifically chosen to eat nearly all our meals at a hotel — until we stayed at the Ravenstone Manor. I really can’t say enough about how lovely every meal and drink was at the Ravenstone. We had a full breakfast every morning, and the dinners we had were equally wonderful. We also spent a lot of time at the charming (and extremely dog-friendly) bar with the friendly bartender, Joe. The Ravenstone Manor also offers sack lunches for hikers, and their patio is the perfect place to unwind after hiking Skiddaw.
- The Darkroom: The dining options in Keswick left much to be desired, but we did manage to find an excellent coffee shop to enjoy a few drinks and slices of a delectable zucchini-lime-coconut cake. The Darkroom is on the top floor of a high-end outdoors store called George Fisher and is owned and operated by Fellpack, a local coffee roaster. It was originally a 19th-century photography studio and the space is decorated to reflect the building’s history.
Activities & Attractions
- Skiddaw: Our hotel was located at the base of Skiddaw, which at 3,054 feet is one of the highest mountains in England (the tallest mountain, also in the Lake District, is just 155 feet higher). It was advertised to us as “medium” difficulty and very popular because of its panoramic views, so Andy and I weren’t expecting anything very challenging compared to some of the hikes we’ve done in Montana and Wyoming…we were wrong. The side of the mountain we were staying on happened to be the steepest part, with an incline of 900+ meters in just 3 kilometers (AKA a 30% gradient), which made for a very tough start to the 7.5-mile hike. Fortunately, it got a bit better after the initial incline, and we did indeed get some beautiful panoramic views from the top. Andy and I were exhausted after our 4-hour hike, but Lily literally ran in circles around us up and down the entire time and seemed so happy that she probably would have done it twice in a row.
- Bassenthwaite Lake: One of the largest lakes in England was right across the road from our hotel, and Lily had a blast swimming there (it was way too cold for me or Andy). A random/fun fact is that it’s the only body of water in the Lake District to actually use the word “lake” in its name — all the others are “waters”, “meres”, or “tarns”.
- Mirehouse & Gardens: We walked through the gardens of this pretty, 17th-century house on our walk from Bassenthwaite Lake and it was so lovely. There were a ton of family-related activities that looked nice, but we avoided areas with children and took a quiet walk around the beautifully maintained gardens and learned a bit about this historic property that has strong links to a number of poets, including Robert Southey and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
- St. Bega’s Church: This charming stone chapel dedicated to the Celtic Saint Bega and its crumbling cemetery are on the eastern shore of Bassenthwaite Lake, which was just a short walk from our hotel. The 10th-century church allegedly inspired Tennyson to write Morte D’Arthur during a stay at Mirehouse and it was surrounded by grazing sheep when we visited, which made for a very idyllic setting.