This fabulous all-around 4 day Lake District itinerary in Hawkshead, Borrowdale and Grasmere will give you idyllic nature, fun glamping, British culture and daring outdoor adventures.
With 3 full days and 2 half days, we managed to pack in some miles and would be a top road trip for any first-timer to the Lake District. Are you ready to explore?
DAY 1 IN WINDERMERE & HAWKSHEAD // 4 DAY LAKE DISTRICT TRIP
Stroll around Windermere
The Lake District is a truly unique British landscape which has evolved over 500 million years with volcanic activity and glacial formations. The undulating hills, rocky crags and beautiful bodies of water will take your breath away.
Windermere lake is the largest natural lake in both the Lake District and in England. It is 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and is understandably a hub for sailing, paddle-boarding and windsurfing. There’s also a steamboat and car ferry that can take you to various spots around the lake.
Windermere is one of the more touristy places in the Lake District making it super busy in peak periods so if you are looking to immese yourself in nature away from crowds, this is not for you.
Day 1 on our 4 day Lake District road trip was a short one but we still wanted to stretch our legs, fill our lungs with the fresh air and find somewhere to stave off the hunger pangs.
Jump out at Windermere Lake Viewpoint car park to walk along the shore past the Watersports Centre then take a left up towards Windermere.
Stay at YHA Hawkshead
Head to YHA Hawkshead located next to the privately-owned Esthwaite water and a few minutes drive from the village of Hawkshead. We booked into the bell tents, a comfortable futon glamping experience with a BBQ firepit and waking up to nature was the perfect start to our Lake District itinerary – 4 days of pure bliss!
DAY 2 IN HAWKSHEAD & BORROWDALE // 4 DAY LAKE DISTRICT TRIP
Walk to Claife Viewing Station & Windermere West Shore
Claife Viewing Station is the perfect place to take in a panoramic view of Windermere. Designed by John Carr, it was originally built in the 1790s, with featured windows tinted with coloured glass to recreate the landscape in different seasons no matter when they visited. Light green glass allowed them to see how the scenery looked in spring, for example, with dark blue being reminiscent of moonlight and light blue giving the illusion of winter.
Directions to Windermere West Shore: Park up at National Trust Ash Landing Car Park (free for NT Members, remember to take your card to scan) and follow the signs to Claife Viewing Station. Go up the steep steps to find the ruined building.
Once you have experienced the beautiful vista, walk through the arch of Claife Station and walk up the steep path wandering through the ferns. Once you reach the top, head down through the coppice towards High Blind How and take a right towards the Windermere West Shore.
Take a wild swim on Windermere West Shore
The Lake District is a wonderful place to go wild swimming and there an abundance of secret bodies of water to take a dip. Windermere’s West Shore is a busier spot though and popular with families and daytrippers with their picnics and paddleboards.
A wild swim is best way to end a walk and get invigorated for the afternoon walk. To warm up, stop off at Joey’s Cafe in Claife Viewing Station for a coffee and amazing selection of cakes with vegan and gluten-free options that will make your mouth water!
Directions: From Windermere West Shore, walk to the tarmac road and walk right towards Claife Station then onto Ash Landing Car Park.
Walk to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farmhouse
Beatrix Potter grew up in London where her middle-class Victorian upbringing left her in solitude creating art and observing nature. They spent many family holidays away in Scotland and the Lakes, and in 1896, when Beatrix was 30, the Potters stayed in Near Sawrey. She fell in love, writing that ‘It is as nearly perfect a little place as I have ever lived in.’
From the royalties of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in 1905, Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top, a working farm, with its farmhouse, farm buildings and orchard.
In 1913, Beatrix married William Heelis, a local solicitor and lived in neearby Castle Cottage but kept Hill Top as her place where she felt comfortable. Everything in the hopuse meant something to her. She has painting, books, and pictures of her as the chair at the Herdwick Breeders’ Association.
It’s lovely to see scenes that appear in Beatrix’s books from her garden, her house and the landscape around her. Beatrix Potter was so passionate about the Lake District, the land that inspired her works, that she often used the profits to buy more farms and land under threat of development.
When Beatrix died in December 1943 she left 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, including 15 farms, cottages, flocks of Herdwick sheep and some areas of outstanding beauty. She left a truly importance legacy in the Lake District National Park.
How to reach Hill Top: Head along the B5285 for 1.4km, past the Cuckoo Brow Inn towards Near Sawrey. We walked and left our car in Ash Landing Car Park, there were some paths that ran alongside the road. If travelling by car, there is another National Trust car park by Hill Top.
Stay at YHA Borrowdale
Head off to YHA Borrowdale located at Rosthwaite along the River Derwent. We booked into an iconic Airstream trailer which was super cool and a touch of luxury nestled into the forest. It’s a perfect location for exploring the southern fells of the Lake District. I loved the vibe in this hostel, and, that’s not just because I was in an Airstream!
DAY 3 IN BORROWDALE & GRASMERE // 4 DAY LAKE DISTRICT TRIP
Walk with alpacas at Linghom Estate
Who needs Peru when you have alpacas and llamas in the Lake District? Alpacaly Ever After is a social enterprise that rehomes and cares for these super cute creatures affectionately known as ‘The Woolly Army’. You can book to meet and walk with alpacas or trekking with llamas which all goes to caring for the animals in the sanctuary.
The guide for the day tells you all about the individual characters as well as alpacas in general. My mischievous and adorable alpaca was called Charlie, and apparently, his regular chorus of humming sounds signified he was a happy chappy!
Lingholm Estate on the shores of Derwentwater is stunning, you can even stay there. As the sun was shining it seemed rude not to enjoy a tasty cappuccino with jam & cream scones at the Lingholm Kitchens.
Directions to Linghom Estate: From YHA Borrowdale, it takes about 25 minutes along the B5289 via Brandelhow. If you are coming through Keswick, drive to Portinscale and turn left into the estate.
Walk up Castle Crag via Millican’s Cave
Castle Crag is a steep-sided, pine-clustered hill in the North Western fells of the Lake District and rewards with incredible views over Derwentwater.
The noble Castle Crag is the only Wainwright below 1,000 feet (300 m) which he describes as “so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches.”
Castle Crag was given to the National Trust as a memorial after the First World War by the family of 2nd Lieutenant John Hamer. The memorial is dedicated to the memory of Hamer and ‘the men of Borrowdale’ who lost their lives in the war, and whose names are listed on the stone tablet.
We started the walk from Rosthwaite, though the farmland. Expcect a steep incline with a final scramble up the slate summit. Our loop took us back via the River Derwent and Milliican Dalton Cave. This route takes approx 2-2.5 hours. Alternative starting points are Grange and Seatoller.
Parking at Rosthwaite for Castle Crag walk: We were heading up from the village of Rosthwaite. The Pay & Display car park was full but you can pay Scafell Hotel to use their parking for the day.
=>> For a more walk with jaw-dropping views of Derwentwater, try the Wainwright fells of Cat Bells and High Spy.
Stay at YHA Grasmere Butharlyp Howe
Head off to YHA Grasmere Butharlyp Howe located in the heart of Grasmere near all the tasty eateries, quality shops and a gallery of local art. So whether you want to amble around the shops or use as a base for outdoor adventures, it’s a fab place.
We booked into the landpods for 2 nights. They are like elevated camping with solar lighting and you can peel back the roof to stare at the stars. Oh, and did I mention, they have a scurry of red squirrels in their grounds?
DAY 4 IN GRASMERE // 4 DAY LAKE DISTRICT TRIP
Meander around the village of Grasmere
Grasmere is one of the prettiest villages in the Lake District. It is famous for the much-loved poet, William Wordsworth, a Cumbrian who was born in Cockermouth and moved back to the Lake District to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in 1799 after university and proclaimed that it is ‘the loveliest spot that man hath found’.
With such notoriety, Grasmere is a popular destination for tourists and has flourished with lovely shops, inspiring galleries, places to eat and stay.
Visit Wordworth’s Grave at St Oswalds Church
St. Oswalds Church, on the banks of River Rothay, is a medieval church, named after a 7th century Christian King of Northumberland. It is still an active Anglican parish church and is most famous for being the place of rest for the great poet William Wordsworth and his family including his sister Dorothy Wordsworth.
Behind St. Oswalds Church is Wordsworth Daffodil Garden which was opened in 2003. The public has participated in the garden by way of the sponsorship of benches, inscribed paving stones, shrubs and daffodils, and the funds are donated to local charities. It’s a wonderful idea as Wordsworth was so inspired by the sight of daffodils that he wrote about sucvh happiness in one of his most famous poems, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”.
Devour Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread
Victorian cook Sarah Nelson invented Grasmere Gingerbread in 1854 who baked her spicy-sweet chewy biscuity-gingerbread inside her compact Church Cottage home. You will be served lots of ginger-themed food stuffs by the team in Victorian-inspired dress making for a more authentic experience.
Do you need directions? Absolutely not, there are two signs to look out for! If you have been looking at Wordworth graves and Daffodil garden, you will notice a huge queue through the St Oswald’s Churchyard. If you wondered why, just inhale deeply and your mouth will start watering with smell of gingerbread. Join that queue whatever you do, it’s delicious.
Visit Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage
William Wordsworth lived in the humble home of Dove Cottage on the edge of Grasmere from 1799-1808 and it is now open as a museum, orchard and garden which Wordsworth described as ‘the loveliest spot man hath ever found’
Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Mae Wordsworth wrote poignat journals of their time there allowing the curators to bring the space to life. You can just imagine him writing his romantic odes and lyrical ballads in the tranquil surroundings.
To visit Dove Cottage, book ahead to be guaranteed your time.
Get creative (and eat cake) in Heaton Cooper Studio
As an art-lover, I am always up for appreciating local artists. One of the galleries in Grasmere is Heaton Cooper Studio, where the work of the Heaton Cooper family is exhibited spanning over four generations. In 1938, landscape painter, William Heaton Cooper built his home and gallery in Grasmere but the artistic tradition started with his father, Alfred. Today, Heaton Cooper Studio is still a lovely space selling their paintings and prints.
There is a specialist art shop selling everything an artists, kids and adults, would need including a fabulous selection of books.
Mathilde’s cafe is named after Mathilde Marie Valentinsen, the Norweigan country girl who fell in love and married Alfred in September 1894. There is definitely a Scandinavian influence in this conmtemporary cafe along with the best cake selection I have seen in a long time. Get ready to drool!
Walk to Rydal Caves
Rydal Cave is a man-made cavern located between Grasmere and Ambleside on the slopes of Loughrigg Fell above Rydal Water. Initially called Loughrigg Quarry, the slate extraction began in the 19th century for roofing tiles and is now disused.
It takes about 30 minutes to reach Rydal Caves from White Moss Common, cross the bridge, wander through White Moss woodlands then walk up through the ferns to the caves. This is an easy walk but you are still treated to enchanting views along the way.
Rydal Caves are free for the public to enter and there are a number of stepping stones thrugh the shallow water to the back of the cavern. Once you leave the caves, head down to Rydal Water which is a perfect place for a wild swim if you bring your gear.
Parking for Rydal Water: We parked in White Moss car park on the A591. However, I would recommend NOT to use White Moss car park owned by Lowther Estates as it scans your number plate on entering. I paid £6 for 3 hours at the machine but did not buy my ticket for 10 minutes after my car was plate was scanned. I was landed with £60 fine amd there are many more horror stories online. Be very careful with this!
- An alternative car park is Pelter Bridge Car Park.
- There are signs on the route to walk to walk to Grasmere or Ambleside so try and build in the extra time to be able to leave your car elsewhere.
- Bus service 555 runs between Kendal and Grasmere stopping at Rydal Church
DAY 5 IN GRASMERE // 4 DAY LAKE DISTRICT TRIP
Hire a boat in Grasmere
Mornings on the water are a dreamy way to get started and Faeryland Grasmere is only a short walk from the village where you can drink specialist tea and hire boats for an hour. It’s a romantic way to start the day… or just lots of fun if you are single!
This cute spot is a sweet little haven with an original Romany Vardo on the shore, still in its original state. They blend some tantalising flavours of loose tea that are grown and produced under Ethical Tea Partnership which you can buy online too.
Walk around Loughrigg Tarn
Loughrigg Tarn is a small natural lake is located at the foot of Loughrigg Fell, south of Grasmere and is one of the great low level Lakeland walks. Alfred Wainwright wrote that Loughrigg Tarn is “one of the most secluded of tarns”, rarely being visible from the fells.
To walk around Loughrigg Tarn, there are a number of possible routes you can take. Either by starting at Ambleside, Skelwith Bridge, or Rydal Water.
As we were on a time schedule to catch a train, we cheated and did the 2.75km Loughrigg Tarn loop starting at Tarn Foot Farm. There are a few spaces for parking at the road junction, then walk up to the Tarn Foot houses. Bear right and at a fork stay left and go through a gate. Then simply follow the road around the tarn admiring astonishing backdrop of the Langdale Pikes.
Loughrigg Tarn was a favoured place of William Wordsworth, and described it as being similar to “Diana’s Looking-glass… round, clear and bright as heaven,” after Lake Nemi, the mirror of Diana, in Rome’s Alban hills.
We had planned to take a wild swim in Loughrigg Tarn, however, there was a National Trust notice advising that Blue Green Algae has been identified there and put us off a little. It can cause skin irritation for us humans but it can produce toxins that can kill pets. I saw a guy swimming in a wet suit but in the absence of the gear I had a paddle and had no reaction.
As we visited in September, there was a blanket of water lily leaves floating on Loughrigg Tarn. I’m sure this is a real picture when they are in bloom.
Parking for Loughrigg Tarn: Turn off the A593, along Ellers Brow to the parking area below Tarn Foot Farm.
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