Neither of us are really “big city” people. Christine grew up in small-town Ontario, Canada and Trevor grew up on Prince Edward Island, the smallest province in Canada. Despite living in Toronto for the past decade (plus or minus), we both end up feeling a bit claustrophobic if we’re surrounded by skyscrapers all day, and definitely feel more at home in smaller towns.
When we travel, we also find that many big cities can sort of blend together, whereas the countryside and smaller towns are where you really see the local culture and experience being in a different part of the world.
Since we were already in “the north” (North in the UK refers to anything outside commuting distance to London and easy access to Wimbledon, Ascot, Henley and Harrods), we focused on three of the “mountainous” regions of the UK (we use the term lightly) – The Peak District in Derbyshire, the Lake District in Cumbria, and the Highlands of Scotland. Unfortunately, Snowdon in North Wales will have to wait for another trip, and the Peak District was rainy the few days we were there.
We were a little apprehensive about the Lake District, hearing horror stories of traffic jams and crowded towns during August. For this reason, we avoided the more popular southern towns of Windermere and Ambleside, and instead based ourselves in Keswick on Lake Derwentwater. Compared to our experience in Zakopane, Poland, the crowds were very manageable so we had worried for nothing. Keswick may be further north and take a little longer to get to, but it was an easy town to get around, incredibly beautiful, had plenty of guesthouses/restaurants/pubs, and gave us quick access to amazing hiking.
We stayed at the Thornleigh Guesthouse, with extremely friendly owners. The husband is former military and a very enthusiastic hiker, so was a wealth of information on the trails and peaks. Granted, sometimes it bordered on peer pressure, as we were grilled each morning and evening on what hike we were doing, which ridge we climbed, etc. We realized early on that anything he referred to as “a cheeky climb” was probably best avoided!
Our first hike was to summit the Haystacks, with the starting point in Gatesgarth, a 30 minute drive from Keswick along some very narrow, steep roads. Very quickly on in the hike, we had amazing views back across Lake Buttermere and the surrounding valleys. We traversed the summit to follow other paths down the next valley, creating a great circle route as Christine hates any form of backtracking. There are so many paths in this area, that you can easily create your own route by linking together multiple paths.
The next day was the hottest day of the summer in England (with beautiful clear skies), so we tackled the bigger, longer and more popular Helvellyn summit walk, which again started at just a short drive from Keswick. In order to avoid any “cheeky climbs”, we took a longer route up the neighbouring hill, then traversed from summit to summit. We didn’t run into any crowds until we topped Helvellyn itself, but because it is a wide expansive summit, it never felt crowded. From all along the summit ridge, you could see as far as Scotland to the north and the Irish Sea to the west. Continuing on, we descended through the next valley to complete the 12 mile/5.5 hour hike.
On our last day, we drove to the coast of Cumbria for a change of scenery, exploring Whitehaven and St Bees. Both small, out of the way towns, and no “must see” spots by any stretch, but it was good to give our legs a rest.
We were lucky to get (mostly) good weather in the Lake District, which makes a huge difference when you’re there for the scenery and the hiking. Trevor had been to the southern Lake District 14 years ago and always wanted to come back, and this time was able to bring Christine. It was definitely worth the wait.