Sunday, 18 July 2021

A Beginners Guide to Cumbria and The Lake District

I decided that now might be a good time to put together a (not entirely serious) user guide for those folks visiting us for the very first time.  Please feel free to add things I missed in the comments below.

Roads & driving

These still operate in much the same way as they do wherever you are from, but that will probably come as a bit of a shock to many.

Pedestrians - the cars still have right of way on the roads and allowing children and/ or dogs to play in the middle of a country lane is generally a bad idea.  In line with the rest of the UK we drive on the left, so it's advisable to look both ways before crossing. 

If you have to walk along a country lane then do so in single file on the right hand side of the road so you can see oncoming traffic. It's also a good idea to use your ears as well as your eyes - the person you're walking with may be a riveting conversationalist, but when there are large lumps of metal hurtling around at 50mph+ (often being driven by people unfamiliar with the area) it's best to keep your focus on avoiding those and save the in depth chat for the pub later - or a nice quiet footpath.

Drivers - we have a lot of very narrow lanes around here. They are incredibly pretty and many of them command spectacular views. Driving everywhere at 25mph so you can fully admire them, or stopping your car in the middle of a lane to take a photo of said views, will be frowned upon by anyone else trying to use the lane to get to work. We have lots of car parks and laybys perfectly positioned for you to enjoy the scenery.

Saying thank you - always polite, but up here we shy away from the big friendly wave and insted favour the "half nod with index finger raise slightly from the steering wheel" approach. Do anything else and you'll stick out like a sore thumb. 

Parking - a thorny issue.  As I have mentioned, we have lots of car parks and laybys but, on a hot sunny weekend or bank holiday, many of those will be full and overflowing by 10am. When that happens, please don't try to "squeeze in one more", or think that "just because that person has parked there, then it must be fine", pretty, pretty, please, park responsibly.

Please avoid parking in the following places: 

  • passing places - these don't always have a sign in them, but use your common sense to spot them - a small pull in along an otherwise single track lane will be a passing place. 
  • across the entrance to a field or rammed up next to a field gate - farmers work 7 days a week and need access to their fields at all house of the day and night (seriously, during the summer they will often be out until 11pm and later, then up at the crack of dawn again the next day.)
  • opposite other cars along a narrow lane - emergency vehicles will need access from time to time, esepcially during busy summer days when there are more people around than usual - this isn't a city centre, the lane you are blocking could well be the only route in and out of the location so think, if it was you or a loved one who needed an ambulance, would you be happy for it to be delayed by inconsiderate parking?
  • on the drive of a random house because it looks empty - sounds bonkers, but has been done more than once.
Food and Drink

Hazelmere Bakery & Cafe - Grange-over-Sands
It may come as a surprise to a lot of folks, that those of us living up here do not exist on a diet that solely consists of Cumberland sausage and Kendal Mint Cake. Other local delicacies you may wish to sample include Cumberland Rum Nicky, Morecambe Bay Shrimps (available here) and XL Cheese crisps (not made here, but a grab a bag of these, and a can of Vimto, and you'll blend right in like a local).

There are loads of wonderful local food and drink producers up here so do try to make the most of them. Whilst Cumbria can, of course, offer you the big chains that you are familiar with, this is the perfect opportunity to try out local cafes and eateries.  Some of my favourites include:


Red squirrels, sadly, do not scamper around every woodland - in fact you'll be really lucky to spot one - and when you do see one, it will pose perfectly until it sees your camera, whereupon it will disappear at high speed into the undergrowth.

Other wildlife to look for up here includes red deer, osprey, seals, and even beavers, although they will be trickier to find.  If you want the full lowdown on the local wildlife then check out Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Sheep and cows may not count as wildlife, but you will encounter plenty of them. Please keep your dog under control at all times around them and, when driving, remember that sheep and cows are unfamiliar with the finer details of highway code so expect to find them sleeping on roads, having lunch on roads and playing chicken with anyone driving towards them.

They are also contrary animals - if you want them to leave you alone they will follow you closely, but if you want to get a nice photo of one, they will walk the other way.

Walking up hills

First the serious part: If you are unfamiliar with hiking up big hills, or maybe just a bit rusty, then pleasse, please, please take a look at the Adventuresmart.UK website before heading out.  It is FULL of useful information to keep you safe on the fells. I am also assuming that taking your litter home and closing gates behind you goes without saying - although I'm saying it just in case...

Other things to think about:
  • DO NOT RELY ON GOOGLE MAPS - honestly - have you ever looked at Google maps near your home and wondered why it directs you along a random street that makes no sense? Well it's the same in the hills. Google maps is not a navigation tool.  Yes, it could help Mountain Rescue to to find you if you need them, but that's about it.
  • What Three Words is not a navigation tool either. Again, it can help you be found if you need to be, but no more than that.
  • More comprehensive maps are available via apps such as Viewranger - but you need more than a map to keep you safe. For a start you need to know how to read it and be able to differentiate between a parish boundary and a footpath.
  • When you gotta go... There is a comprehensive guide to pooping outdoors here - no-one ever talks about it but maybe we should, then people would know what to do. Basically leave no trace - carry a pooh bag with you and do not leave stained white tissues blowing around in the wind.  
  • Peeing is a lot easier - especially for boys!  Ladies, the SheWee is a waste of time and money, plus squatting is great exercise. Be wary of nettles and anything with thorns and try not to be put off by nosey sheep. Also, no tissues - or if you do use one, take it away with you.
  • The weather conditions in the valleys will a) vary from valley to valley and b) be very different to the weather on the top of a hill.
  • Above 600m you will not find many trees meaning that you will be exposed to the elements - sun, wind, rain etc., so be prepared with extra layers and/ or sunscreen. I would say 'depening on the season' but, frankly, in The Lake District you could need factor 50 sunblock at the start of the walk and full thermals and waterproofs an hour or so later.
Things to do

Whilst we are the self styled 'Adventure Capital of the UK' and have plenty of high adrenaline activities to keep even the biggest adrenaline junky satisfied (check out for starters), there are also hundreds of quiet places to get away from the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Tips for avoiding the crowds:
  • Avoid Bowness, Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and all of the other 'honey pots' - great if you like a crowd, not if you don't.
  • Does it have to be a lake? The lakes will be rammed on hot sunny days, but we have well over 120 miles of coastline to explore, with stunning beaches and bays, so there is always somewhere to escape to.
  • East of the M6 - most folks coming up here only head west from the M6, but there are some amazing places to explore to the east - the Eden Valley for starters, so head east and prepare to be surprised.
  • Read a map - if you can get to grips with a map of Cumbria you'll find plenty of fells, tarns and quiet spots that are far from the beaten track - places you can walk all day in the middle of the busy season and still not see another soul. And if your mapreading is rusty go back and check out the AdventureSmart.UK website I mentioned earlier.)
Useful websites:

Here are a list of useful websites to help you find your way around and make the most of your visit:

Accomodation in Cumbria - from tents to 5 star hotels
Check how full the car parks are - live updates (thanks Jill Holliday for the idea to add this one)

And finally

If you want to find out more about Cumbria and the Lake District, then buy one of our books - you'll be helping to support a small local busines AND learning more about the county. Win Win!  Click this link to browse & buy. Thank you.


  1. Great. BETH. I think we should email it to all our guests and your books are amazing. Even me a local have learned stuff. Keep up the good work

  2. Thank you - I really appreciate that. :-)