Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount
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. This pretty market town makes a great base: catch buses to Pooley Bridge and beyond or to Keswick. Go onwards by foot, Ullswater Steamer or Keswick launch. Railways run all the way round the Lake District, but not so much into it (except for the branch line to Windermere - look out for our car-free guide). Once you’ve arrived – it’s mostly buses, boats, bikes and walking boots!
1. Arrive by train
- Virgin’s swaying high speed Pendolino trains get from Euston to Penrith in three hours, half the time it would take to drive. Book well in advance for one-way tickets from £26 in standard class and £56.50 in (fully catered) first class. Flexible off-peak tickets cost £55 each way.
- Transpennine express services arrive in Penrith from Manchester and Glasgow, where the two nearest airports are, and have flexible tickets for £49.80 (£30.40 from Glasgow) and advance tickets from about £10 each way.
- Arriving by train is more fun than driving as well as often being quicker: instead of having to concentrate on the traffic, you can get some work done, read a book, have a cup of coffee or enjoy the scenery. From a cosy 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, rocky 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 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 Penrith.
- If you’re thinking of catching a few buses, a Penrith and Ullswater day rider costs £8.30 and an Explorer ticket for the whole of the North West is £11.30.
- 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.