The Lake District has beautiful lakes that go on for miles, with the most spectacular backdrop of the mountains surrounding them. It is a destination on many paddle boarders wish-list. My companion Wendy is a regular visitor to the area and has walked around these lakes countless times, but it was a first for her, and myself, to see the lakes from a different perspective and this is our account of a lovely weekend paddle boarding on Ullswater and Windermere….
Day 1 – Road Trip!
From Poole to the Lake District is over 300 miles and we knew it would be a long journey so we set off early, with a picnic, sweets in the glove box, and a few ideas about where to stop along the way. We estimated a 6-hour trip, but it turned out to be 8 and a half hours, as there was an accident on the M6. Not to worry, the detour along new roads to us was all part of the journey (apologies for using the J word) and we had 3 nights away from normal life to look forward to.
We scheduled a stop at The Milk Shed at Weston-on-the-green, just a mile detour off the M40. It was more than a shed, it was a lovely shabby-chic-meets-vintage style farm shop with a café. Great choice of food and as I eat a plant-based diet, they were more than happy to tweak the options to suit me. We sat outside as it was a lovely day, but you can sit inside the main building or one of 3 beach huts. Be aware though, they close at 2:30 pm and may not be open on Mondays as we tried to call there on the return journey and at 2 pm it was closed.
With news of the M6 being closed at junction 32, we attempted to find alternative routes, sending the SatNav into a spin! But as we were finally feeling like were ‘Oop North’ we had another stop at what looked like a Spanish Finca at the side of a mountain. I was transported back to a holiday in Mijas, they even piped out Julio Iglesias on the PA system, and the warm breeze reminded me of the Spanish Mountains.
The Wellsprings Restaurant Bar & Café near Clitheroe on the A59 served Mexican and Spanish food, but we just had a coffee and a comfort break and were keen to get to our destination; Windermere.
Where We Stayed
Having left Poole in 34-degree stifling heat, it was June, we arrived in Windy Windermere, and it was a little bit overcast. I was concerned I’d packed the wrong clothes. As it was now 4:30 pm, and it had been a long day in the car, we opted not to rush out to paddle, but to relax and have a wander around Bowness, the town nestled alongside Lake Windermere, where we were staying. First, we checked into our B&B, Thornbank, perfectly placed between Windermere and Bowness.
Our host, Jane, kept us up to date by email and thoroughly explained the contactless check-in process. They leave the key in a box with a code, providing us with the code and the number of our room. The key fob even had our name on it. The outside of the property was pretty, neat, and freshly decorated and looked inviting. The inside was the same, and very clean. We had a twin room on the ground floor, with a power shower and some lovely goodies in the bathroom to use. The room had a wardrobe, tea and coffee-making facilities, and a hair dryer, and if you wanted any more teas or milk, they were in the hallway near the front door for you to help yourself. Breakfast was to be served between 8:30 and 9 am which seemed a small window of time, but it worked very well. You were given a form to complete each night by 8:30 pm. Again, I was able to make a few adjustments to the vegetarian option and as Wendy had informed Jane of my plant-based preference when booking, there was oat milk for me, which was a lovely gesture.
We paid £340 for the two of us for 3 nights, with a full English breakfast, cereals, juice, tea, coffee, and toast but as an added bonus, we had complimentary use of a local Health club. We decided to try it out as soon as we had dropped our bags in the room, to ease the aches of sitting in the car for 8 hours. It was a 10-minute drive from the B&B and we marinated in the hot tub and steam room for 20 minutes to revive us before getting ready to hit the town.
Day 2 – Ullswater
At Breakfast we met Jane, our lovely, friendly, and helpful host; anything we needed, we just had to ask. Breakfast time was slick, which it needed to be within such a short time frame, but it never felt rushed, it felt like they had it all sorted. After eating everything on offer, more than I would have for breakfast and lunch combined (well, we had paid for it) we wriggled into swimmers and checked the weather forecast. It was slightly overcast with the odd blast of sunshine and a gentle breeze. We set off for Ullswater, a half-hour drive away. The scenery was breathtaking and our excitement mounted. We managed to park in a roadside layby near Glendinning, on the edge of Ullswater. Our plan was to paddle to Pooley Bridge for a spot of lunch and then paddle back. I forgot to set my Strava, which begs the question if it’s not on Strava, did it even happen? Trust me, it did! I estimate we paddled 7 miles on our 12’6 touring boards. The wind was behind us going towards Pooley Bridge, possibly the first rookie mistake, but at times there were the odd gusts and a bit of choppy water, so being cautious, we knelt down part of the way.
As we arrived at Pooley Bridge, we found the stream leading into the village was very shallow and had many quite large rocks that we could have hit our touring fins on. I have read comments on social media where people have recommended removing your fin for this part, although do make sure it’s back on when you get onto the lake.
Carefully negotiating the changing depths of the river and obstacles, one minute it was 6 inches deep, then it was 3 feet deep, we discussed where to stop, get out, and lunch.
What we didn’t realise was just how much of this debate the people sitting in the gardens of the riverside pub and the café could hear, and as we tried so hard to ‘be cool’ we were actually making quite a kerfuffle. So much so that when we finally decided on the pub, we were welcomed by 2 members of staff, staring down at us while we were still half-submerged, advising us that we could not get out and ‘park’ (not sure the SUP term for this!) We could, they said, take our boards to the other side of the river and walk over the bridge. We could, but we didn’t. Out of principle! I have to say, that episode triggered memories of being 16 and trying to get into my local pub only to be publicly thrown out by the grumpy landlord for being underage!
We got back onto our boards, heads hung low in shame, and got out further back down the river. Instead of the pub, we queued up for the very popular café next to the pub, Granny Dowbekin’s Tearooms. The staff were very helpful and even offered for us to bring the boards into the tea garden. But at 12’6 each, I could see it would be another embarrassing calamity, like an Ealing comedy, and I couldn’t bear to draw even more attention to us.
Lunch was delicious, with lots of choice, even for an awkward vegan like me, and we filled our neoprene boots accordingly. During lunch, the wind picked up and we braced ourselves for a rough paddle back. Note to self for the next trip: have a coat or a spare warm top to wear while having alfresco lunch because when you stop paddling, you cool down rather quickly.
For the return journey, we were battling head-on wind, with the odd cheeky sideways gust, and very choppy water. We made a few stops along the edge of the lake to recover and check we were both ok but had to press on. Apparently, if you don’t get cake, you can get a ferry between Pooley Bridge and Glendinning, but you are required to deflate your boards in order to board. If the wind turns, is may be the better option, regardless of whether you have indulged in cake…
Quick Review of our Paddleboards
Here’s where I must make a shout-out to the boards we were on, because we both recognised how great they tracked and how safe we felt. Wendy was riding the Gladiator Pro 12’6 LT with its bright red crocodile deckpad, blue and white chevrons, bungee cords front and back. She’s 5’9 and around 9 stone, so the 29” width is probably quite narrow for her height, however, she has kayaked in the past and having paddled a wider board before, felt she wanted a longer, narrower board for easy forward tracking, having had a shoulder injury in the past. The LT at 4.75 inches thick, suits the lighter rider as it enables the board to sit nicely in the waterline, rather than float on top. I was on the Gladiator Elite 12’6 LT. I opted for this as I really wanted the full carbon paddle and at 5’2 the width is right for me for paddling and carrying, the Elite having a woven technology making the board lighter. I am on the top end of the weight scale for a 4.75” board (not prepared to divulge exactly but let’s say I like cake!) but I like to be low in the waterline and as it happened this worked really well for me in these conditions. The board was not hit by the side winds, and it pushed through the choppy waves with ease, either straight through them or over the top of them, 2 at a time. Despite the energy-sapping paddling, I found it exhilarating to watch the nose of my board making light work of the tempestuous water. We were moving forwards all the time, and because we were able to create the straight down (kneeling down!) paddle we only had to change sides every 5-7 strokes, keeping momentum.
As we got nearer to where we had parked, some 7 hours earlier, we felt we couldn’t paddle any further so stopped at a small beach, where there were people! Wendy offered to walk back to fetch the car, while I was responsible for packing everything up. She was gone for a very long time. People came and went and swam and made tea and she still hadn’t come back. I had no signal to contact her. I packed everything up and waited while trying to keep warm. A lovely lady emerged from her Campervan with a cup of tea for me, and eventually, my companion arrived. Apparently, we had landed 3 miles away from where we parked and she had just jogged the equivalent of a Park Run in flip-flops and a wetsuit!
Exhausted, we headed back over the winding roads and mountains back to our lodgings for a quick shower and off out again for sustenance.
Day 3 – Paddling on Windermere
Without quite as much commotion this time, apart from stopping traffic as we crossed the road with our massive boards, we launched and hugged the edge of the lake being careful along the rocky coastline. We spotted some beautiful properties along the banks of the river, paddled for about half an hour then turned back and watched the sun setting behind the mountains, which provided the backdrop to the pretty town below. The scenery really is spectacular
Windermere is a huge lake with small towns all around it, so there are a number of places to launch. We opted to drive to Ambleside as it seemed a lot quieter than Bowness with its ferries and yachts, which appealed to us.
Ambleside is a quaint old town, with quirky shops and cafes. After mooching around the town in the morning, we decided to leave paddling until a little later in the day, when the wind had died down and everything felt still. There is a large car park at Waterhead, with 118 spaces, toilets and plenty of hotels and cafes nearby, which although you need to cross the road to get to the water, is a fantastic place to launch. I would recommend wearing water shoes of some sort as the bed of the lake where you enter is a bit squidgy!
The weekend we were there, the town seemed quiet and so we didn’t book any of our meals out, although I think it would be wise to book during busier summer periods. On the first night we were tired and hungry so popped into the first one we saw, and although seemed busy, they were very accommodating and found us a table for two. Urban Food was a modern restaurant with a great variety, although only 3 vegan options and I ordered the burger, which was a bit underwhelming.. but I was glad of the food … I get a bit edgy when I’m hungry! My travel and paddle companion is a regular visitor to the area, staying there with her family many times, including a few weeks prior to our trip. So she had scouted out a few places to launch and knew the local hostelries. I felt like I had my very own tour guide and an insight into why she loves this area so much. Having walked around the lakes many times, she was about to see them and the surrounding mountains from an entirely new perspective.
On the second night we found a lovely Thai restaurant, Siam Thai Cuisine restaurant in Bowness, where the decor was cosy and our waitress was fantastic in helping us chose our meals. The food was absolutely delicious and comforting. Satisfied and tired, we headed back for an early-ish night and hopefully sleep without feeling like we were still on the lake…..
For lunch on the 3rd day, before our afternoon paddle from Ambleside, we headed to Wray Castle where Wendy had discovered a there is a fully vegan café called Joe’s that she was excited to take me to. I couldn’t believe all the salads, sandwiches and cakes and pastries were vegan. Sometimes I find that the plant-based option is very much a last thought and not very well made, but this was heaven! Not only that, it’s a quirky spot to have lunch and see Windermere from another angle.
That night, being a Sunday, we found a lot of restaurants close their kitchens at 8:30 pm so we were turned away a few times, hence why it would be wise to book in advance. So we found ourselves back in the lovely Thai restaurant where we were remembered and greeted warmly like old friends and had another delicious meal.
Planning Your Trip
If you are hoping to paddle as many lakes as possible in your time there, do check the distance between the various lakes. It may feel like too much driving if, like us, you have already traveled quite far to get there. But don’t worry, you could spend days paddling just one of the lakes, as they are so huge, starting at different launch points.
As the paddles will be longer, it would be advisable to take a ‘get home paddle’, spare fins, and fin bolts on board. As I mentioned earlier, if you are going to stop for lunch, something warm to put on so you don’t get chilly.
The scenery is utterly beautiful and breathtaking, definitely worth the long trip for us to get there. There are no charges for paddling on the lakes, and you may find free parking in laybys with access to a little ‘beach’. Make sure there is a landmark to find your way back to where you parked though… !!!
Written by Helen Davies