Car-free adventures aroundPenrithCumbria
Richard III, before he was king, once lived in the town’s red sandstone castle, now a picturesque ruin right opposite the railway station. In the shadow of this 14th century fort, Penrith, just north of the beautiful Lake District is a hub for car-free visitors to the area and a great place for a staycation. This pretty market town makes an excellent base: catch buses to Pooley Bridge and beyond or to Keswick and boats from there. Scroll down for more details on buses, boats, bikes and places to stay.
1. Arrive by train
- Avanti’s high speed trains get from Euston to Penrith in three hours, half the time it would take to drive. Book in advance for much cheaper tickets.
- Arriving by train is far more fun than driving as well as often being quicker: instead of having to concentrate on the traffic, you can read a book, have a cup of coffee or enjoy the scenery. From a warm railway carriage, patches of fog or pouring rain just add drama.
- And there are some some great views from the window: look right as you leave Lancaster to see the River Lune backed by the city skyline and, soon after, hills and rugged valleys with foaming water flowing along beside the train.
Just twenty minutes’ bus ride south of Penrith, the village of Pooley Bridge stands at one end of beautiful Ullswater, the Lake District’s second largest lake. Here, you can enjoy a waterside pint, stroll through the woods where Wordsworth saw his dancing daffs, and catch a boat across the mesmerising water, where the weather can turn from placid to tempestuous in minutes.
- Pick up a picnic from J & J Grahams’, the venerable grocer, deli and bakery on the market square in Penrith and hop on the 508 bus from the bus station nearby. Look out for the prehistoric earthworks known as King Arthur’s Round Table on the left as you leave town.
- You can also buy a boat/bus combo for £16 that entitles you to any cruise on the lake. Ullswater Steamers leave from Pooley Bridge, several times a day even in winter (unless its too windy – phone 017684 82229 to check). They sail across the hill-ringed lake, dotted with Swallows and Amazons’ style islands.
- Hop off at tranquil Howtown on the less visited western shore for a stroll around or spectacular climb up Hallin Fell, a beginners’ hill by Lake District standards (Alfred Wainright said it offers the “best views for the least effort” and that “its grassy slopes can be climbed barefoot”). It’s still a challenging climb and there’s plenty to see simply strolling round the bracken-wreathed lower slopes, past the rocky streams and grazing grey-wooled Herdwicks.
- Look out for the Poetry Stones in mossy Hallinhag Wood, where Cumbrian stone carver Pip Hall has carved lines by Kathleen Raine onto the rocks.
- Have a well-earned pint at the creeper-covered, time-warped Howtown Hotel and take the next boat over the lake to Aira Force.
3. Aira Force
On the other side of the lake, the Aira Force waterfall drops 70 feet from an arched stone bridge. The half mile walk to reach it is a delightful short hike through a landscaped Victorian arboretum, planted with various conifers: spuce, fir, pine and monkey puzzle…
- Arrive by boat and stroll from the pier five minutes to the National Trust visitor centre, where you can find maps, loos and a cafe. Try the locally-baked veg pasties with Damson ketchup from Hawkshead. You can also arrive on the 508 bus, which stops right next to the cafe.
- In nearby Glencoyne Wood, Wordsworth saw his lakeside daffodils. If you’re up for a little more walking, follow the clear and easy paths of the daffodil-waymarked Ullswater Way, three miles through the waterside woods to the village Glenridding and catch the bus or steamboat back along the lake. Bus 508 runs along the eastern lakeside parallel with this walk so it’s fairly easy to shorten if you want.