Taking circular walks in the Lake District is a great way to introduce yourself to some fine Lake District views. And pub walks add another dimension!
We have long been keen hikers and always look for opportunities to walk wherever we travel. But with most of our hiking having been in Australia and the US, more recently we have really come to appreciate the British (and European) walking culture. What exactly does that mean?
In Australia and the US, you tend to hike in remote places, bushland areas and National Parks, meaning you won’t normally come across places to eat or bed ’n breakfasts. In the UK, you will find pubs, bed ‘n breakfasts and towns along most routes. If you are feeling a little tired and need a pick me up or a place to stay, it is very convenient.
The Culture of Walking in the UK
The British Isles have been inhabited for a very long time, not just centuries, but for millennia. Until modern times, the main mode of transport was walking. Therefore, huge numbers of walking paths straddle the UK, which no doubt preceded land title laws. When land title became a concept, the parliament protected these ancient pathways as a right of way that walkers still possess today. That is the right to walk across a property as the walkways existed before the land title.
Despite modern transport today, walking is still a very popular pastime in the UK, more so than anywhere else we have traveled to. And you can see why. There are ancient pubs littered across the UK catering to walkers offering accommodation, food and drink. For a visitor, not only is this a very convenient way to undertake a long-distance hike, such as the Dale’s Way, which ends in Bowness on Windemere in the Lake District, but it makes for many very pleasant, short, pub walks in the summer time.
Today, we are going to detail some of the magnificent, circular walks in the Lake District and recommending some of the great places to eat along the walk or afterwards in a nearby town.
Pub Walks for Character, Hearty Meals, Real Ale and Apple Cider
Oh, and another thing. English pubs are classics. Often old with low ceilings and full of character, they welcome walkers with open arms. Even when it rains, they help with towels and a hot and hearty meal and an ale or two. When you are approaching the end of some of the more difficult circular walks in the Lake District, discovering a pub on your route is a sight for sore eyes.
They serve “real ales” tending to feature craft brewers before that term became popular in the rest of the world. See where the craft-brewing revolution really started! Oh, and if you are gluten free, you are in luck as the range of (alcoholic apple) ciders is impressive. The ciders were as good as the beers and you can find lots of ciders which are not overly sweet. (Something the rest of the world could take note of!)
Circular Walks in The Lake District
Yes, circular walks in the Lake District. I had never heard of that term before arriving here, but I guess it makes sense! We were going to title this, “Best circular walks in the Lake District” but then there are hundreds of walks here and we managed about 10 of them! The bottom line is they’re all good!
If you are looking for things to do in the Lake District, then pub walks and circular walks in the Lake District, will be your number one activity. Here, you will find all manner of walks for families, gentle strolls along some of the magnificent lakes of the area as well as many opportunities to walk amongst lake district fells (hills). They all have one thing in common and that is the stunning, Lake District views.
As evidence, as to how popular walking in the Lake District is, there is no end of outfitter stores catering to walkers. As well, there are hundreds of hiking books, just around the Lake District. That is no exaggeration! So, get yourself a Lake District walks book and a Lake District walks map and experience the gorgeous Lake District views for yourself.
Here are a selection of circular walks in the Lake District we can heartily recommend, along with nearby (and sometimes en-route) eateries.
Grizedale Forest Trails and Eagles Head Hotel, Sutterthwaite
The first of our pub walks, Grizedale forest consists of many fine walking trails through a mixed conifer and woodlands environment. There is something for everyone here including short and medium length, all-weather fun and nature trails for children featuring animals of the forest. And, all designed to engender some curiosity around what inhabits the forest.
We followed the popular “red route” where you will experience fine Lake District views over Coniston Waters and the sea to the south. A 5 mile (8km) circuit through the forest and on through Sutterthwaite at about the ¾ mark along the walk. It is here you will find the Eagles Head Hotel. Here we stopped for a refreshing ale and apple cider before continuing our journey back to the main Grizedale Forest carpark. The publican was very friendly and the pub is clearly popular with walkers.
You really need a car to travel to Grizedale Forest as it is not by any large towns. Ambleside is the closest, large town. The walk grade is moderate and will take about 3 hours.
Aira Force/The Royal Hotel, Dockery/The Horse & Farrier, Threlkeld
The second of our pub walks, Aira Force is situated in the Ullswater Valley, a particularly beautiful valley, that is quite open and offering fine Lake District views. There is good public transport from both Penrith and Keswick. As the local brochure states, Aira Force is a showcase for the power and beauty of nature. The show piece is a 65 foot, tumbling waterfall, where the water is forced through a series of natural channels. It is spectacular, and as you would expect, a very popular one with the children.
There are a series of trails in and around the waterfall, stream, woodlands and almost landscaped-looking glades. It is suitable for all ages. We completed a 3 mile (4.8km) circuit from Aira Force, through the woodlands and onto to the hamlet of Dockray, about half way along. Here you will find the Royal Hotel, which has a fabulous beer garden and very gourmet meals. The Royal Hotel caters very well for walkers and has a fine selection of ales, ciders and meals both light and more substantial. A little more gourmet perhaps than your average pub. It was also good value.
After your visit to the Royal Hotel, you cross the stream and return along the other bank back to Aira Force. A most pleasant amble. Not a long walk and one we would rate as easy.
If it is a Sunday, we have another dining option and that is to visit the Horse & Farrier at nearby Threlkeld. This old pub is a classic offering a traditional English Sunday Roast (beef, lamb and pork, or all 3). The pub has very low ceilings and is very cosy with friendly staff. And yes, Sunday Roast is served all day.
Loughrigg Fell, Ambleside and Watermill Inn & Brewery, Stavely
If you want to see why people rave about walking in the Lake District, then this walk demonstrates why. Lake District views here are just stunning, with lakes, fells, gloriously, green valleys, farmlands and 360-degree vistas. Honestly, you don’t know which way to look!
Conveniently located right next to Ambleside, with plenty of pubs and accommodation and with excellent public transport, Loughrigg Fell is a great choice. At 3.25 miles (5.6km) this moderate hike is not long but it does include an ascent of 575 feet (175m). But the lake district views are worth it. It is one of the best and most popular circular walks in the Lake District.
There are no pubs en-route but there is no end of choice in Ambleside. As we were staying in Crook, we stopped at the rather inviting Watermill Inn and Brewery in Stavely. The Watermill Inn does indeed brew its own beers, with rather humorous dog-themed names. Try, the Collie Wobbles, an absolutely, classic beer.
Walla Crag, Keswick, Café Bar 26 and Café Oswald
The Walla Crag walk conveniently leaves from Derwent Bay, adjacent to the township of Keswick. From here many walks depart from gentle and level, well-formed paths along the lake as well as walks heading off through the adjacent forest. Derwent Water is in what many people describe as England’s most beautiful valley. This makes a great early morning hike because Derwent Bay being so close to Keswick can be busy from mid-morning on.
From the heights of Walla Crag, there are more stunning Lake District views in all directions. This a 5.25 mile (8.4km) hike through open fell and often grazed by sheep. It has a hard rating with an altitude gain of 1080 feet (330m). There is also a steep decline and finally a beautiful amble along the Derwent Water shoreline. Make sure you take your camera on surely what is one of the best circular walks in the Lake District.
There are no eateries en-route, although there are plenty by where the walk starts as well as in the town of Keswick. And just to prove we dine at establishments other than pubs, we can recommend 2 good eateries in Keswick.
We enjoyed a brilliant (late) breakfast after our hike at the Café Bar 26 in Keswick. A generous and tasty meal, this café bar also offers good value drinks. The staff here are very friendly.
Our other choice, especially in the afternoon, is to try Café Oswalds. An institution in Keswick, it is famous for afternoon tea and all of the great little sandwiches and cakes that go with it. They also serve light meals.
Around Buttermere, Haystacks and theTrout Hotel, Cockermouth
Buttermere is the location for this stunning hike. It is surely one of the best circular walks in the Lake District. The walk is a combination of 2 hikes displaying totally different characters. There is a bus to Buttermere from Keswick or drive if you have a car.
The first walk around Buttermere (Lake) is flat and gentle with stunning views up towards the higher fells. That walk is an easy grade with a length of 4.5 miles (7.2km) and suitable for all ages. Here you will gain great views looking up towards the Hay Stacks.
The second walk is an extension of the first called Hay Stacks. The combined walk measure 8 miles (12.9km) and is rated difficult with an altitude gain of 1,670 feet (510m). You can also just walk the Haystacks by starting at the south-east end of Buttermere. The Hay Stacks is one of the famous Wainwright routes. Alfred Wainwright was the author of many walking books about the Lake District in the early 20th century. He is credited with being the first person bringing the Lake District to the attention of the general public. His ashes are scattered by a nearby tarn on this beautiful hike. The picture at the top of this post is the view from the top. Need I say any more.
There are pubs in Buttermere but as this was our last hike in the area (and our favorite) we traveled to nearby Cockermouth and dined at the fabulous, Trout Hotel. What a stunner and a perfect ending to our enjoyable trip in the Lake District. The hotel is magnificent. Make sure you walk around and check out all the public rooms including the magnificent staircase. With meals to match, it was a great encore to our trip.
We hope this post inspires you to try some circular walks in the Lake District. If you want to see magnificent scenery, which is gentle on the eye make sure you visit Cumbria!
Other Great Places to Eat in the Lake District
Although they didn’t feature in any of the pub walks and circular walks in the Lake District detailed above, here is a list of other great places to eat:
- The Sun Inn, Crook, near Stavely and Kendal. Nothing pretentious about this place but we enjoyed our favorite Sunday Roast at this friendly little pub. A little off the tourist route despite being close to Bowness on Windemere, the prices were lower but with brilliant quality. The Yorkshire pudding here was outstanding and the roasts superb.
- The Sourdough Pizza, Kendal. It’s a wood fired bakery by day and a pizzeria by night. Pick up and delivery only. The best pizza we have enjoyed in the UK. A big claim but the BBC agrees!
- Dockray Hall, Penrith. A pub in a building from the 15th century. Can you believe that? With beautiful, old oak beams and an atmosphere to match. A very good choice for a special dinner with reasonable prices. What a classic, dining room and bar.
- Mr Duffin’s Coffee at the Coffee Den, Stavely. Artisan coffee roasters and the coffee here was excellent. You can buy coffee to enjoy at the shop or to takeaway.
Where is the Lake District and How to Get There?
Outside of London, the Lake District is England’s most popular destination for tourists. The Lake District is in Cumbria, which is England’s most north westerly county, bordering Scotland. If you are looking to spend time in Scotland and England, it is a great option to see some of the most beautiful, rural scenery you will see anywhere. Lake District views are legendary and taking a circular walk in the Lake District is the best way to experience them.
The M6 motorway travels through the Lake District, making it very easy to drive between Edinburgh and Glasgow, in Scotland, all the way down to London. We rented a car in Edinburgh and stopped off in the Lake District. You can comfortably drive from Edinburgh to The Lake District and then the Lake District to London in a day. If you want to visit some of the more remote places in the Lake District then renting a car is a great option.
Public Transport is excellent in the UK and we could have just as easily traveled by train from Scotland to the Lake District and onto London. Oh, and it’s quick too, usually quicker than by car. Within the Lake District itself, there are regional train lines and plenty of buses.
Be aware when traveling by car in the Lake District, travel times are slow when you are not on the motorway. Roads are narrow and traveling through some of the ancient towns in the area is time consuming. But the upside is the beautiful old towns like Penrith, Keswick, Bowness and Ambleside (I could keep going for paragraphs here) are all beautifully preserved.