For years, people had told me that the Lake District in Cumbria, England, was absolutely beautiful and that we should take our dogs on a walking holiday there. I had always smiled and nodded but quickly dismissed this as a desirable destination for two reasons:
1) A 2.5-hour drive to the hardcore English North = brrrrrr!
2) We are not yet 70-something-year-old pensioners.
My rationale changed when friends from Lichfield invited us, and our dogs, to visit them at their newly purchased bed and breakfast on the Fife coast in Scotland – more on that in another post. Allowing time for numerous comfort stops – mainly for me – the drive would easily take six hours or more. To me, an American accustomed to vast, empty interstates through mainly rural areas, a six-hour drive is easy. To my other half, a Brit who has spent 30 years commuting to jobs on overcrowded, snarled motorways, a road trip of this duration seemed about as daunting as asking him to use his arms to fly to the moon. I looked at a map to see how we could break up this journey, dogs in tow, and wouldn’t you know that the Lake District is about halfway to our destination?
We found ourselves with some unexpected free time in the week before Easter 2017 and decided to go for it. I did a quick search online for last-minute cottage rentals that would allow three dogs and was quickly disappointed that most cottages were either booked (it WAS school holidays, duh) or only turned over on a Friday or Saturday for a full week’s rental. We were looking to travel mid-week for only a few days. I eventually stumbled upon Underley Cottages, situated on a working farm right in between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales in the town of Kirkby Lonsdale. The very helpful staff suggested an appropriate cottage, offered a mid-week discount, and just like that – we were booked!
We packed up the car and the hounds and set off on the Wednesday morning before Easter. Our plan was to do a walk at Stock Ghyll Force in the Lake District town of Ambleside and then get some lunch before checking into the cottage in the afternoon. After taking in the amazing scenery during the drive – all of those folks who said this area is beautiful are absolutely right – we arrived in the picturesque town of Ambleside, easily found parking, and set off on our walk. This particular walk is easy to find, just follow the "to the waterfall" signs in the center of town. It's a hillside walk but the beautiful falls are a nice reward for the uphill trek.
Stock Ghyll Walk in Ambleside
Immediately rewarded for the uphill trek with the first falls.
Spring is still trying to arrive...buds and baby leaves on all of the trees.
The daffodils are out in force already!
So peaceful here.
Little waterfalls everywhere.
View from the top.
Our first walk complete, we were all thirsty and hungry, so we referred to our notes for dog-friendly pubs in town. To be honest, it's very difficult to find a pub that's not dog friendly in this part of the world, but it seems that some are friendlier than others. We settled on The Unicorn, a real ale pub with fairly old-fashioned (read "comfort") food - I went for the burger and my other half went for the pub special - Hungarian meatballs. The portions are huge, so make sure you're able to get in loads of walking both before and after your meal if you visit! He was happy with the selection of ales, so it became my turn to drive for the rest of the day. The dogs were exhausted by this point, and put on a convincing show of being well-behaved hounds. Tired dogs are good dogs. The meal was delicious and the pub staff provided a water bowl for the dogs, so everyone was happy.
Being sufficiently fed and watered, it was time to check into our cottage. Underley Estate was easy enough to find. We were booked into Bluebell Cottage, which was the most perfect situation we could have wanted for traveling with three dogs. The two-bedroom cottage was spacious, charming, and had an enclosed front garden for dog frolicking. The cottage was quiet, with beautiful views of the countryside. It was so cozy that we are already talking about booking it again next year!
After unpacking the car, we set off to explore the countryside and nearby Kirby Lonsdale. There is a well-marked footpath along the River Lune from the farm into town. This is sheep country, and spring is lambing season, so the dogs had to be kept on their leads in the fields and around the new lambs. (A word of warning if you ever take your dog around livestock - farmers may legally shoot any dogs who are "worrying" their sheep. This intention is clearly signposted in many places, so don't be like the idiots we encountered in another area who were laughing hysterically as their retriever chased a couple of sheep - rushing your dog to the vet to have buckshot removed isn't going to be so funny.) The footpath continued alongside the river and up the hill at the end of the field. The views over the river and countryside were absolutely stunning! It's easy to see why landscape artists such as JMW Turner and John Ruskin felt that this was one of the most beautiful views in the world. Ruskin famously declared the view as "one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world."
Bluebell Cottage at Underley Estate
Footpath goes through fields of sheep with lambs - keep your dogs on a lead.
So many sheep!
Walk along the river to Kirkby Lonsdale.
The view that has inspired so many paintings.
Closer view of the river on our return walk along the lower path.
We continued our walk through the daffodil explosion in the churchyard of St. Mary's Church and into Kirkby Lonsdale. Many people who stop here are looking for the Devil's Bridge - read all about the folklore surrounding the bridge. The town itself is a picture-perfect postcard, with listed buildings, narrow alleys, and a number of shops and restaurants. Again, most places were dog friendly. After exploring the town, we stopped in for a drink at the quaint Red Dragon Inn. The Dragon Boards for sharing light bites looked nice, but we had food waiting for us back at the cottage, so we didn't get a chance to sample it. The staff were very friendly and our dogs enjoyed the rest under our table, before heading back to the cottage for some well-deserved rest. Lake District Day 1 - done!
The Church of St Mary the Virgin, a Norman church, probably built between 1093 and 1130.
St. Mary's Churchyard - daffodils cannot contain themselves!
Yes, it's a cemetary, but it's such a beautiful spot on a sunny day.
Some lucky folks have this beautiful spot for eternity.
So much interesting history here.
A lovely small town that's big on history and natural beauty.