Country,  National Parks,  North West,  Travel

How to make the most of your holiday in Ambleside

Ambleside is one of the larger towns in the Lake District and is located at the north of Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. After a lot of deliberation, we selected the town as our base camp for our visit to the Lake District during a rainy October to mark the end of my maternity leave. Why Ambleside? We needed to be close to shops, just in case we needed baby supplies, and needed somewhere that was located to the south of the national park. So we booked a dog-friendly accommodation through Lakeland Retreats, since we would be bringing Ted and the baby with us.

Due to horrific weather and a grumpy baby, we were forced to stay relatively local to the town, so were able to scope out some of the best things to do in the area. If you’re a first time visitor to the area, here are my tips for how to make the most of your holiday in Ambleside.

Stay in cute accommodation

The Lake District is packed with gorgeous accommodation options. On our last visit, we stayed in The Daffodil Hotel and Spa in Grasmere, but this time we opted for a self-catering apartment. The Viewpoint is located at the top of a set of stone steps, a few metres from the main high street.

It was a two bed (but probably actually a three bed considering a locked door) property, with a bathroom, kitchen, dining area, and living area. The stay was pretty balanced: we had access to all you’d need to be able to cook for the week, including a large chest freezer, and a permit for free parking in two of the local car parks. The apartment was tricky to reach with a baby and a pram – not accessible for disabilities at all – but there were a number of other properties nearby that were clearly managed by the same group. The views across Ambleside were stunning, but the double bed was so uncomfortable I had to move into one of the single beds next to the baby in the cot.

Living area of The Viewpoint

Grab a bite to eat

One of the great things about Ambleside is the abundance of food options. Due to the baby during our stay we weren’t able to eat in anywhere, which is definitely a regret. There are lots of pubs and restaurants which look welcoming and classy. If you are forced to stay indoors, perhaps due to a lack of preparation, or a sleeping baby at prime dinner time, there are takeaways too. We tried the Chinese food at China Cottage, and kebabs at The Italian Job, but I must recommend the pizzas at Mamma Mia Pizzeria and Grill. It’s handy that there is a Tesco Express and a Coop in the town, because I’m not sure I could have managed with takeaways all week.

Wander the shops

The Victorian centre of Ambleside has a number of shops that are worth a visit. Hikers who have had a packing issue will be able to pop into one of the many ‘outdoor’ shops, like Blacks or Little Walkers. There are a number of quirky shops, like Detail, selling gifts, hand made trinkets, or locally published books. On the high street there are also a couple of art shops; one I visited sold pieces made by local artists, so I had to buy something. The Old Bank House sells packs of delicious hand made chocolate, though a little pricey. If you’re someone who loves some home comforts, there is also a Costa Coffee and a Greggs for your fast food needs.

Walk down to Waterhead

Getting to Waterhead is an easy walk south of the town. With the ferry port, promenade, and boats, you’ll really feel like you’re on holiday. Nearby is a park, perfect for letting the dog run off a little steam. This is also where you’ll find the ruins of a Roman garrison – in all honesty, there’s not much to see but there are handy information boards.

We did this walk on an afternoon after the baby screamed for an entire walk to and from a viewpoint, so an easy, pram friendly walk with a sleeping baby, to a spot where all you can hear is the lapping of the lake on the shore reignited my enthusiasm for the holiday.

Banks of Windermere, near Waterhead

Hire a boat

Most unusual thing we did on our visit was hire a boat which is the perfect thing to do on a sunny day. You can hire boats from a few of the docks on Windermere, but we set off from Waterhead, the closest spot to Ambleside. It took a bit of questioning to finally get on the lake, as we had to check we could bring a 10 month old and a dog on board, but after confirmation that we could, we booked online.

We decided to eat at the Waterhead Inn before our boat trip, ordering gourmet cheeseburgers and fries. Ted was allowed to sit in the bar area with us, and the staff kindly brought us a high chair for the baby. The food was delicious, and certainly filling – ideal to prepare you for minor seasickness!

Skip over to Grasmere

What holiday to the Lake District would be without a trip to Grasmere?

We stayed in Grasmere the last time we visited, and I fell in love with the village. Last time, we were without the baby and the dog, and spent most of our time out walking, so we didn’t see the tourism of the village, but this time we really experienced it as a day tripper.

Just outside the village is Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, and a museum – ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’ – which is a great way to immerse yourself in the history of the area. Within the village is the church where Wordsworth is buried, located next door to Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread shop, where you can pick up huge blocks of delicious, freshly made gingerbread. There are pubs and cafes dotted around the village, as well as a range of shops to explore. We loved the Peter Rabbit shop, where we bought Baby V a new book!

Related: Easy Grasmere walk inspired by William Wordsworth

Pick a local walk

There are some absolutely stunning walks near to Ambleside. The longest is the circular route to Loughrigg Fell, one of the closest mountains to the village. The views from the summit are fantastic, as you can see three lakes from different directions, and you might even be able to pick out some of the more impressive mountains like Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, or the Old Man of Coniston.

For an easier fell walk, Helm Crag is reached from Grasmere. The summit is particularly interesting, as the rock formation there resembles a lion and a lamb from certain angles. It offers a beautiful view of Grasmere, and you might even be treated to spotting an RAF jet flying alongside you at the peak.

View of Grasmere from Helm Crag

Rydal Caves are also a cool place to find. You can reach them walking from Grasmere or Rydal, but would form part of a longer route if you were to walk from Ambleside to Grasmere – definitely doable!

Or, if you are looking for an easier, more accessible walking route, Orrest Head in Windermere is reached via a well laid and signposted path, right next to a pub where you can grab a snack afterwards.

Find the waterfall

Stock Ghyll Force is a 70ft waterfall just a short walk from the centre of Ambleside. Like all waterfalls, it’s best seen when there has been heavy rain, so we made the walk with V in her carrier one very damp morning. The waterfall is reached by walking up Stockghyll Lane and entering the wooded area which follows the river. There are small arrows signposting the route to the waterfall, but as expected, the route is not suitable for prams or wheelchairs. It’s tricky in the wet, with lots of running water causing steps to become slippery mini waterfalls themselves, but I imagine the route could also be quite difficult in the dry.

Stock Ghyll Force

If a walk to the waterfall isn’t enough, you could follow the signposted path back onto Stockghyll Lane, then find the public pathway on the other side of the road to continue up to Wansfell Pike, a 482m summit with excellent views of Windermere.

Of course, this is an non-exhaustive list of things to do in Ambleside, but hopefully there’s at least one idea for your next Lake District trip! If you have any other ideas, I would love to see them too!


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