The Lake District is generally agreed to be England’s finest national park. Unlike last week’s Scottish Highlands suggestion, though, during spring and summer in the Lakes you won’t be alone in the wilderness: you’ll meet hundreds of others out enjoying the countryside. Which is great, except that most of the people out enjoying the fresh air on the hills will later be spoiling it by driving back to their hotels and cottages. Like most English national parks, the Lake District is easily accessible from a major motorway, and 93% of the 8-9 million annual visitors come by car. So, despite its low permanent population, it has a serious seasonal problem with congestion, car parking, and other blight from the influx of car-bound tourists. Visitors are literally destroying the same wildlife and spectacular natural landscape that they are coming to see, as dual carriageways, bypasses and ever bigger car parks get built — merely inducing more demand and congestion. In 2003, the local authorities even looked at the feasibility of introducing a Lake District Congestion Charge. Clearly it would be irresponsible to drive to the Lake District and add to these problems. But surely it’s not possible to have a break in the lake district without a car?
I’ve had several. Mostly they were by bicycle (and I might give some bicycle route suggestions in a future post), but one time it was by bus. In february. Which was excellent. I imagine it would be even more excellent in April-June, when the full bus services are running, but before the schools break up and the families flood in with their mock military personnel carriers. (I’ve also been to the Lake District once by car, and can honestly say that not only is possible to go there without one, it’s much better to go there without one — with a car you have to plan your day around it at least as much as you do with buses: where do you park, how are you going to get back to where you parked, etc)
The buses are not tourist coach packages — the kind with a cheeky middle-aged northern failed comic giving distracting commentary between set 30 minute stops at “attractions” only the most senile of the passengers would want to visit. They are simple normal everyday buses on reasonably frequent timetables. Normal buses that get people to work, or the market, or the post office on pension day. Buses are not complicated.
(Many Motorists, of course, will not have seen the inside of a bus in decades, and the idea of using one on a holiday in unfamiliar terrain will sound awfully difficult and complicated to them — especially if their only idea of a public bus is something that they’ve picked up from the worst Radio 4 or Daily Telegraph portrayal of a Brixton night bus.)
If you’re not already familiar with the Lakes then Keswick, in the north, is a good place to start — a small market town with the full spectrum of accommodation from youth hostels to luxury hotels. It’s on the shores of Derwent Water, one of the prettiest of the lakes, and is surrounded by small hills with fantastic views which you don’t need to be a hardcore fell walker to climb. Plus, if the weather turns bad one day, you can visit the world famous pencil museum. (I’ve never been, but I know dozens of people who have and they all say: “not as awful as it sounds”.) Or maybe an ironic trip to Cars of the Stars.