Explore the great outdoors in Cumbria and the Lake District

By Kingfisher Visitor Guides

There’s no denying Cumbria is one of the most picturesque counties in the country. In large, that’s thanks to the stunning Lake District National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site and hotspot for outdoor pursuits.

On (and around) the water

To appreciate the full majesty of the Lake District, you really need to get out on the water. Windermere Lake Cruises has set sail on England’s largest natural lake since the Victorian era. It’s a timeless pursuit and the traditional paddle steamers continue to attract over a million people each year. Steamer cruises also take place on Derwentwater and Ullswater.

The jewel in the Lake District’s cruising crown may be the Steam Yacht Gondola at Coniston Water. Take your pick between the luxurious first-class saloon or the open-air decks at the front and rear (or ‘forward’ and ‘aft’, if you’re feeling nautical) of the vessel. The trip takes you anti-clockwise around the lake past such highlights as Coniston Hall and Brantwood house.

Windermere, in particular, is a water sport wonderland. Myriad marinas offer the opportunity to hire a boat and sail at your own pace. For the thrillseekers among you, there’s kayak tours, paddle-boarding excursions and wild swimming. Please note the water can be bitterly cold, even in summer, so a guided tour is best. Wetsuits are a must!

Family fun

There’s lots in Cumbria and the Lake District for little legs to tackle. Brockhole on Windermere is the region’s main visitor centre and a superb family day out in its own right. The grand house contains a kid-friendly café and the gardens are glorious. However, it’s the range of activities that pack a real punch. Treetop treks, mini golf, archery, go karts – you may have a hard time tearing your young ones away.

Lakeland Maze Farm Park is home to many farmyard friends (remember to pick up animal feed at reception), plus tractor rides and trampolines. Once you’ve navigated your way out of the maize maze, treat yourself with a trip to the Chocolate Factory in Hawkshead. These hands-on workshops allow young chocaholics to make (and taste!) all sorts of chocolatey delights.

sumatran tiger at the south lakes zoo

Watch out for the tigers at the South Lakes Safari Zoo

More animal magic awaits at Walby Farm Park near Carlisle, an award-winning attraction where children can groom, feed and meet the animals before letting off steam in the outdoor play areas. Creatures of a more ferocious kind can be found at South Lakes Safari Zoo and Lake District Wildlife Park. Or, step into an underwater world at Lakes Aquarium near Newby Bridge.

Natural wonders

Nature-lovers need never twiddle their thumbs in this wild part of the world. Cumbria Wildlife Trust alone manages 38 reserves across the county. Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels on your woodland walks – Aira Force is a great place to spot these elusive creatures. Even if you’re not lucky, the 70-foot waterfall will make your trip more than worth it. Between April and August, ospreys nest around the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake. On the coast, South Walney Nature Reserve is home to Cumbria’s only grey seal colony and hundreds of bird species.

Both Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests offer hikes, biking trails and family-friendly activities like segway tours and pony treks. In the centre of the Lake District, Honister Slate Mine makes for an action-packed day out in England’s last working slate mine. Attractions include a rickety bridge crossing and suspended cliff top camping! Daring? Sure. Unforgettable? Absolutely.

If that doesn’t get your pulse racing, why not book a Kankku 4×4 driving experience? Suitable for beginners and aficionados alike, participants take to the wheel to whip around the Lake District’s off-road terrain. After all that adrenaline, you may fancy something sedate to finish your day. Alpacaly Ever After in Keswick is just the ticket, where you can walk through idyllic country estates with a furry alpaca friend in tow.

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Image credits: ©Bnoragitt/Chris Dorney/Drhfoto/James/stock.adobe.com; David Mulling; Hollie Gordon Photography

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