Car-free adventures aroundPenrithCumbria

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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.

  • County: Cumbria
  • Great for: boat rides | castle | lakes | scenic bus and train | stone circle | walking | wildlife |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. Bus to Keswick

    Buses X4 and X5 set off regularly from Penrith (more in summer) for a scenic journey along the north edge of the Lake District to Keswick. Sit on the top floor of these comfy Stagecoach gold buses for the best views.

    • Just outside Penrith the bus stops at the turf-roofed Rheged Discovery Centre before going on through the misty fells. Tempting paths branch off at every corner through the fields of lambs and old stone barns.
    • Looking left out of the windows, there are classic, calendar-ready views of lakes below monumental slopes. The whitewashed farms nestling in perfect valleys give way to rougher ground near Tarn Moss nature reserve and then lovely landscapes round the village of Threlkeld. If you feel inspired to get off and go for a walk, look out for the community coffee shop in the village hall. It serves great tea and cakes.
    • The bus goes on into Keswick, with plenty of interesting sights and lots more great options for food and drink. But before that, you could choose to get off a few stops early and head up the hill to Castlerigg Stone Circle.
  1. 5. Castlerigg Stone Circle and more

    A numinous ring of forty boulders  stands on a hill just outside Keswick, less than a mile from a bus stop. No one quite knows why the Neolithic Cumbrians lugged these rocks up here to build one of Britain’s oldest, most impressive prehistoric monuments, but it’s an atmospheric place, surrounded by ancient mountains.

    • Get off the X4 or X5 bus from Keswick at the stop called Brentfield and head immediately away from the main road up the lane between houses. Turn left up Eleventrees Road and keep going up the hill. Someone has kindly provided a bench to rest on half way up. Arrive around sunrise and sunset for enhanced mysteriousness and fewer crowds.
    • Walking back into Keswick, go back down the hill and turn left at the junction. Soon afterwards, turn left again along the railpath, a disused railway providing a traffic-free route for walkers and cyclists. Cross the River Greta and, at the swimming pool, turn left once more past the interesting Keswick museum.
    • On the far side of Keswick, is the Theatre by the Lake, with its fab location and varied line-up.
    • Friar’s Crag, a ten-minute stroll from the theatre door along the shore of Derwentwater, has a slate memorial to Victorian sage John Ruskin, born 200 years ago this Spring. And there are boats here too.
    • For refreshments, look out for the Casa Bella, a family-run restaurant on Station Street serving up traditional crisp-based pizzas and generous bowls of pasta. Open in the evening (and worth booking ahead), you can buy coffee and ice creams. Don’t miss the heavenly homemade gelato, with flavours like sour cherry and honeycomb.
  1. Buses, bikes and places to stay

    Here’s a bit more practical info if you’re planning a staycation in the Penrith area.

    • If you’re thinking of catching a few buses, you can buy good value day tickets: a Penrith and Ullswater day rider or an Explorer ticket for the whole of the North West. There are bus/boat combo tickets too.
    • To hire bikes, book ahead at Arragon’s cycle hire, two minutes’ walk from Penrith bus station.
    • There are lots of places to stay in the area, including the North Lakes hotel and spa. It’s a ten minute walk from the station and much nicer than it looks from the outside. Once you get past the motel-style exterior, there are wood beams, logs fires, friendly staff and a decent-sized swimming pool.
    • Cheaper options include Keswick Youth hostel, close to the bus stop for the X4/X5 from Penrith. The ground floor of this riverside hostel hosts a mellow, modern café-bar, a great new self-catering kitchen, and free wifi. There are 26 clean, bright rooms of different sizes, with the River Greta murmuring under the windows and lovely views of Skiddaw .
    • You can also stay at YHA Patterdale, at the far end of Ullswater. It’s a 1970s chalet near Glenridding, bus stop for bus 508 and Red Squirrels Crossing sign outside.

    Here are some more ideas of green travel in the Lake District from our friends at Green Traveller.

  • Sheep - Penrith car-free adventures
  • Bench - Penrith car-free adventures
  • Castle Rigg Stone Circle - Penrith Car-free adventures
  • Clock Tower - Penrith Car-free adventures