5 places to escape the crowds in the Lake District
The best places to get away from it all, even when the main roads to Lakeland are clogged with cars and tourist coaches
The imposing Hardknott Fort, which once looked down from a remote outcrop in the western Furness Fell, was one of three forts built by the Romans on a 20-mile road from the coast at Ravenglass to Ambleside which was constructed in typical no-nonsense style across Hardknott and Wrynose Passes in the mid-first century.
The fort at Hardknott was home to around 500 auxiliary troops from the fringes of the Roman Empire until it was evacuated near the end of the second century and the site is now owned by English Heritage. Although it is now ruined, several rooms are still visible – two granary halls, where grain was stored in dry conditions, and the site of the commanding officer’s single-storied house.
While you can marvel at the feat of building this series of mountain strongholds, the surrounding natural beauty is even more impressive. The views along the Esk Valley would have been strategically important to the Romans but to modern-day visitors, they are simply stunning.
The west coast
The Lake District is famous for its lakes, but there’s water of a different kind too. The west coast has some lovely beaches but St Bees is particularly pleasant. If you tire of the beach, take a walk on the cliffs and watch the birds which gather here in their thousands. If you really do want to get away from people, the Coast to Coast walk starts in St Bees too, but if near total solitude isn’t your cup of tea, the coast is dotted with towns which remain largely unexplored by the majority of visitors to the region.
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Maryport and Whitehaven are both interesting towns with remarkable seafaring histories – Maryport once had the largest docks in the area and was home to Bounty mutiny leader Fletcher Christian, while Whitehaven was the site of the last attempted invasion of Britain.
Forther north, the Solway Coast to the west of Carlisle features pretty villages, historic sites, and nature reserves which only the hardiest and most determined tourist will get to see. Take advantage of the quiet to explore the western end of Hadrian’s wall and to enjoy the views across the Solway Firth to Scotland.
The Wasdale Valley contains England’s highest mountain and its deepest lake, as well as some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. The tiny St Olaf’s church, whose roof beams are thought to have come from Viking longships, has changed little since the late 1800s, although the south window now includes a tribute to the members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who died in the First World War. Outside, the graveyard contains the graves of many climbers who perished on the surrounding hills.
And it is those hills which make this such an awe-inspiring spot. Red Pike, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, all loom over the three mile long lake. And along its south-eastern shore, the Screes – millions of fragments of broken rock – rise from the floor of the lake to a height of around 2,000 feet.
The half mile wide lake, which is 260 feet down at its deepest point, was carved by glaciers retreating at the end of the last Ice Age and is now owned by the National Trust. A popular path runs along the eastern shore and the lake is the source of the River Irt which flows into the Irish Sea near Ravenglass.
There are eight walking and cycle routes suitable for all abilities snaking through the wooded hillsides near Hawkshead. And as you make your way round the forest there are scores of artworks to spot. Some are hidden on hillsides and tucked among the trees, others are huge and unmissable.
Grizedale, now one of the nation’s biggest and most unusual galleries, was at the forefront in the development of art in the environment in the 1970s and the forest is home to more than 60 sculptures by some of the leading sculpture artists of recent decades.
There is a café and visitor centre near the car park, or you could head a little way down the road to the Eagle’s Head at Satterthwaite which offers an impressive selection of beers and good meals too. There are also plenty of quiet picnic spots around the forest where you can much your sandwiches in silent contemplation.
The road out of Ambleside to the Kirkstone Pass is called The Struggle and it’s easy to see why, but if you’re after peace and quiet, it’s worth the effort. Rising to an altitude of almost 1,500 feet, this is the highest pass open to traffic and connects Ambleside to Patterdale in the Ullswater Valley.
There are places to leave the car while you drink in the views but if you are on foot it’s advisable to carry oxygen – the gradient is one in four in places. On a clear day those views can include Morecambe Bay, Snarker Pike and Brothers Water. On a cloudy day it may just be possible to see your own feet, but whatever the weather the Kirkstone Pass Inn is a welcome sight. The third highest pub in England serves real ale and home-cooked food in a cosy atmosphere which is popular with visitors. But if you want total solitude, you’ll find a quiet spot at Brothers Water on the descent to Patterdale.