Despite being Cumbria’s second-biggest lake, Ullswater is also one of its quietest.
With its spectacular scenery of towering peaks protecting the tranquil waters, Ullswater is often referred to as the ‘most beautiful’ of Lakeland ‘lakes’ and inspired the famous work of English poet, William Wordsworth.
Yet Ullswater is much more than scenic views and tasty teas around the lake – it’s all-action!
Let’s take a look at our Top 12 Ullswater activities, guaranteed to keep you returning time and again.
1 Move mountains
Helvellyn, St Sunday Crag, Fairfield, Place Fell, The Dodds – they’re all on the doorstep waiting for you to have an adventure – so grab your OS map and enjoy… Helvellyn (3,117ft) is famous (or infamous) for its twin ridges, Striding and Swirral Edges, carved out by glacial action during the last Ice Age. It’s perfect for the more advanced walker and definitely not for vertigo-sufferers! Don’t be deterred by the challenge, though – thousands of people manage Helvellyn every year. The most popular routes start in Glenridding or Patterdale. Other fabulous lower level climbs include Hallin Fell, Place Fell or Sheffield Pike. Whatever you choose, you will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views – promise!
2 Cruise ‘n’ walk
Take a lake cruise on the serene waters of Ullswater, then stop off and stretch your legs with a bracing walk. Open all year round, the Ullswater ‘Steamers’ connect some of its best walks, cycle routes and sights. Plying up and down the lake on a regular timetable, the steamers call at Glenridding, Aira Force (from June onwards), Pooley Bridge and Howtown. Jump aboard and let the on-board commentary guide you through some amazing tales as they point out the unique wildlife of this area as well as celebrated properties. Make sure you download their handy app too. A favourite walk from Waternook is to follow the low-lying undulating path along the lake shore to Glenridding. Or test out the new woodland footpath that connects Aira Force with Glenridding. ‘To fell and back’ with small children? Check out the ‘Tale Trails’ laminated story walks and fun maps, designed for little legs! There are several for the Ullswater region including ‘Eric the Curious of Hallin Fell’, the lovable herdwick sheep who gets into all sorts of mischief.
3 Make sail
There is no better way to experience the majesty of Ullswater than from the water. The position of the fells around Ullswater makes for some of the best inland sailing in the country. Glenridding Sailing Centre offers expert tuition as well as sail boat hire including traditional boats, dinghy and single manned boats. Young adventurers can embark on their fun group activities, with pirate events, rafting, Swallows and Amazons and picnics. You can also hire boats at St Patrick’s Boatyard in Patterdale and Waternook can arrange motor boats for you. Why not grab a picnic and enjoy a great day out island hopping around the lake…
4 Splash around
Canoes and kayaks can be hired from the Glenridding Sailing Centre and St Patrick’s Boatyard, and many of the outdoor companies like Reach Beyond Adventure and Distant Horizons will provide expert tuition and guided tours. Waternook are happy to arrange for kayaks, canoes and paddle boards for guests.
5 Wander lonely as a cloud
So moved was literary master, William Wordsworth, one spring day in 1802 by the daffodils along Ullswater, that a spot along its western shore inspired him to write ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, which has become one of the most famous poems in English literature. Make sure you visit Glencoyne Bay, a small pebbly beach and grassy woodland, close to the village of Glenridding, as Wordsworth and his sister did. Known as ‘Wordsworth Point’, it’s simply a must visit throughout the seasons; from daffs aplenty in April to perfect summer picnics and paddles. And why not try the off-road walk from Glencoyne Bay to Aira Force, another of Wordsworth’s favourite places to visit, inspiring yet further of his works. The 2km walk takes in Glencoyne Deer Park and has wonderful views of Ullswater.
6 Go chasing waterfalls
Aira Force waterfall is awesome: a 20m (65 ft) drop that can be viewed from bridges above and below. This Victorian landscaped ‘pleasure park’ includes an arboretum and a series of footpaths, walks and footbridges from which to enjoy the rocky landscape. Wetter is actually better at Aira Force, and a visit during or after a spate of rain sees the falls in full force and at their best – you may be lucky enough to see the famous Aira rainbow! Look out too for the ‘wish tree’ where you can hammer coins into the fallen tree trunk and leave your wish. The falls are only ½ a mile from the car park, so perfect for walkers of all abilities and little legs! Or press on up Gowbarrow Fell for a more challenging hike and fine views over Ullswater. Cap it off with a cuppa and a scone in the tea rooms by the car park.
7 Get on yer bike!
Hire some bikes and head for the hills! Guests at our Cumbria Estate properties can arrange for road and mountain bikes to be dropped off during their stay. Embark on some lovely family cycling routes in the Ullswater Valley, hopping on and off the Ullswater ‘Steamers’. Alternatively, take on Whinlatter Forest, England’s only mountain forest and a playground for trail bikers. You do not need finely honed skills to enjoy the thrill of a two-wheeled descent with fabulous views across the northern fells to boot. You can hire bikes here at Cyclewise which also runs family mountain-bike skills sessions during school holidays. Active adventurers can also Go Ape at Whinlatter.
8 Go wild in the country
The adventure of heading out on a walk, fell run or cycle ride and spotting any number of beautiful creatures is pretty exciting. Keep your eyes peeled for red deer, roe deer, badgers, foxes, all manner of bird life and, if you’re lucky enough to see them, red squirrels.
9 Scramble ghylls
‘What on earth is that?’ I hear you ask! A ghyll, roughly speaking, is a mountain stream. We kind of know that the Lake District is renowned for rain but this is one activity that is enjoyed even better in the rain, making it a safe bet for a spell of unsettled weather. Ghyll scrambling ultimately involves ascending/descending a ghyll. It includes climbing and abseiling waterfalls and jumping or sliding into pools of water. A very popular activity and rightly so as it is unbelievable amounts of fun! Canyoning, cliff jumping and other adventurous activities are also available in the area with a number of local companies offering organised experiences guaranteed to thrill and spill, all under the experienced and watchful guidance of fully trained instructors (including Reach Beyond Adventure).
10 Rev up your game
Rookin House at Troutbeck (between Penrith and Keswick) is the place to go for a huge choice of exhilarating outdoor activities. Rev up the quadbikes across rough terrain or test your skills on the indoor go-karting circuit. There’s also horse riding, paintballing, clay pigeon shooting, archery, an assault course and the hilarious fun of ‘human bowling’. Or, for something completely different, take on the controls of a JCB excavator or have a go at ‘reverse steering’. The Lakes are a perfect place to try pony trekking too. Park Foot Trekking at Pooley Bridge offers pony and horse rides on the fells for all ages and abilities.
11 Make animal pals
For crafts and curious creatures, step into the fabulous fleecy world of the Alpaca Centre. Situated at the north end of Ullswater, the centre sells knitwear and other accessories derived from the silky fleeces of these camel-like animals. A short walk leads to the paddocks where alpacas and miniature donkeys can be seen.
12 Hit the road
When the clouds form, a drive is a dry way to view the Lakeland drama. Take the Kirkstone Pass from Patterdale to Ambleside, majestically connecting Ullswater and Windermere. Justifiably famous as a driving route, it’s Cumbria’s highest pass open to cars. Or take the windswept Honister Pass, an astonishingly beautiful route linking Keswick and Derwentwater with Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. It rises to 1167 feet in height at the summit where you can go underground at the Honister Slate Mine and try their fast and exciting zip line. The drive along the west side of Ullswater is delightful too, taking in Aira Force National Trust waterfall as a great stopping off spot.
There are also wonderful historic house and gardens, plus children’s activities and events aplenty. But these warrant an entirely new blog, so watch this space!
Where to stay for your Ullswater Activities
Inspired to take a break? We have just the ticket. Our Cumbria Estate properties come in a variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from luxurious stately homes like Blencowe Hall and Melmerby Hall through to cosy restored listed two bedroom cottages like Elk and Stag Cottage. Located in the North East Lake District, all are within easy access to these top 12 Ullswater activities.