The Lake District for just a day? Aficionados of this UK tourist hotspot will no doubt be outraged by the title of this post! The captivating contrast of craggy mountain and deep still water that has inspired the likes of Wordsworth, Wainwright, Beatrix Potter and so many outdoor enthusiasts surely cannot be enjoyed at such a frenetic pace? It must be discovered slowly, unwrapped with each loving footstep across its fells, its landscapes revealed slowly beneath the external trappings of trinket shops and busy watering holes.
If that’s what you’re thinking, I was with you.
I love the Lake District. It pains me every time we whizz by the tantalising outline of the Lakeland hills on the M6 motorway’s most scenic stretch on our annual trips to Scotland. Sometimes we stop for petrol at the uncharacteristically pleasant Westmorland Tebay Service Station (worth waiting for if you really do need a quick dash-in-and-out M6 services stop).
Our family generally subscribe to the slow travel mantra. Since Roo was a (very refluxy) baby, our long road trips have become part of the holiday, with frequent stops of several hours or overnight. As a result, we have discovered so many amazing places we would never have visited otherwise along the way.
Despite this, we have never in all that time called in at the Lake District. The reason? In my head, we never had the time to do it justice, so we called in elsewhere.
The Lake District by Breakfast
In May half-term, Scotland called to us once more. Our journey coincided with the start of both school and bank holiday. We thankfully realised in time that our plan to drive as far north as possible after school on Friday, before stopping over the night, was totally mad. Instead, we waited until Saturday and braved the 7 hour journey without an overnight stop.
Our road trip started at somewhere before 5am on the Saturday morning in Oxfordshire. Kids were duly bundled into the car with a few bananas to keep them going. Thankfully they soon resumed their rudely interrupted slumbers.
We made Birmingham and then Manchester on clear roads to a background noise of quiet snores. Somewhere north of Manchester and several hours into our journey, the children finally woke up. We calculated this gave us about an hour of ‘sane’ driving time until we would need to stop. An hour would take us parallel to the Lake District…it was too tempting to ignore!
By 0930 we were sitting at a sunny outdoors table at Green’s Cafe & Bistro in Grasmere, right in the heart of the Lake District. As we munched our way through a fantastic, locally-sourced breakfast plus a couple of well-earned coffees for the grown-ups, we asked ourselves why on earth we hadn’t discovered early starts before? The journey had been a breeze. The kids had been angelic. We were sitting enjoying the Lake District a good hour before most of the local tourists were to hit the streets of Grasmere. This was a winning formula!
A Perfect Road Trip Leg Stretch in the Lake District
Fully replenished we set off to find a good amble. We didn’t need to go far. White Moss is just down the road from Grasmere and a perfect base for quick and easy access family walks. There are even pushchair friendly routes. We parked up in the public car park (online payment) just off the A591 between Rydal and Grasmere. You can find the route we took here.
White Moss is a popular base. You’ll not get seclusion or much of the remote, ruggedness of more adventurous exploring the Lake District offers here. There are some cracking views, paddling and the option to extend your walk for as long as you have time for though. If you’ve got most of the day to play with then it’s a great starting point for those hiking up to Loughrigg, one of the Lake District’s most accessible & scenic fell tops. Just be warned. Whilst gazing off towards the surrounding scenery it will take all your determination to get back into the car again!
We continued our road trip through the Lake District on the A591 and A66, rejoining the M6 motorway at Penrith (J40). In total we added about 35-40 minutes in driving time by taking our Lake District detour. I looked out the window longingly towards the steep footpaths heading up towards Helvellyn and we recounted previous visits to Roo as we whizzed past the unmistakable outline of Blencathra. Roo wanted to take the mountains with us. She wasn’t the only one.
The rest of our journey went smoothly. The children snoozed again after the morning’s excitement and we were soon in Scotland. It was our easiest drive up to Scotland to-date. We arrived fresh and not remotely like we had just completed 9 hours of travel by car with 3 children under 6. I’d have happily done it all over again.
Service Station Alternative – Low Sizergh Farm
So good was our experience that we dropped into the Lake District again on the way home. This time it was only for a very brief stop en-route to an overnight break further south. Low Sizergh Farm was the perfect stop-off. Located off the A591, Low Sizergh Farm is a manageable 20 mins from either the M6 South Lakelands junction (J36) or Jucntion 37.
Low Sizergh Farm has everything you need for a really pleasant alternative to stopping at a motorway service station with a young family. The tea-rooms offer excellent locally sourced hot food, snacks and cakes.
Kids will enjoy eating their lunch at one of the tables located next to the floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the milking parlour. Time it right and you can enjoy your cream tea in peace whilst the little ones press their noses in silent fascination against the glass whilst afternoon milking takes place right below you. Of course, if you’d rather be in the thick of the cow-jostling action then you can watch from the open barn door out in the yard instead, where stands have been placed by the door to give smaller children a better vantage point.
Outside there are a selection of family friendly farmyard trails taking you on close encounters with the animals and exploring the rural paths of Low Sizergh Farm. You can see the route we tried out here. We had time for the mid-length loop after lunch before returning to watch the afternoon milking (Bear absolutely loved the cows) and jumping back into the car to continue our journey south. Low Sizergh is fairly busy and you’re not far enough into the Lakes to enjoy the full drama of the Lake District scenery but its popularity is well deserved. It’s a stop-off I can highly recommend. For those looking for a slightly longer but just as convenient stop-off, National Trust’s Sizergh Castle is just down the road.
So yes – it is possible to drop into the Lake District for a few hours or as a family-friendly service station alternative with a difference. No – you will not have time to do more than scratch the surface. And yes – you will leave feeling as though you really would rather stay for much, much longer. It’s also probably worth checking the traffic before taking this detour in the height of the school summer holidays.
How many road trips can boast such a spectacular detour for a mere 30-45 minutes extra driving though? How many mid-trip leg-stretches can offer such breathtaking scenery? I can’t believe I have missed out on the Lake District for so many years. Now I know how easy it is to be in the Lake District by breakfast I have a feeling we will be back to explore properly before too long. My love affair with the Lakes has been well and truly reignited.