The Lake District is one of our favourite areas to visit in the U.K., especially because it is so dog friendly and there are so many great walks, with something for everyone and for (almost) all weathers!
We were lucky enough to be able to visit with friends for a few days over New Year and we couldn't have chosen a better place for a post-Christmas break.
We stayed in a self-catering cottage on the shore of Lake Windermere - four adults and two Labradors and had no issues at all with taking the dogs. Aside from the perennial roadworks on the M6, the only tricky part of the drive up from Surrey was locating the correct driveway off the relatively busy main road from Bowness to Newby Bridge in the dark. Everything we needed was at hand in the cottage, the kitchen well stocked with equipment, there were plenty of radiators for drying wet dog towels and the bookshelves were stacked with local works (including a full set of Lakeland bibles - Wainwright's Pictorial Guides) as well as some rather intriguing 1970's cookbooks! The cottage sat well below the road so we were well shielded from traffic noise, even without leaves on the trees. We were also lucky enough to have our own direct access to the lake shore which the dogs loved and was ideal for an early morning dip for them - and for late evening stargazing for the humans!
Even in winter there are still plenty of other visitors in the Lakes, which meant that restaurants and shops were open and there was a good atmosphere in the towns, but it wasn't as busy as it can be in peak season. We also got the impression that most of the winter visitors were walkers, keen to get out of the towns and enjoy the countryside, many alongside their dogs.
One of the best features of the Lake District is that whilst the high mountains are there for those who want to explore them, you don't have venture on to "the tops" to enjoy a great walk - there are plenty of fantastic lower level walks and almost every one offers the potential for amazing views, often in return for not a great deal of effort.
Over the course of the trip our group took on walks ranging from short one hour leg stretches up to a full New Years Day yomp into the high fells, but for us, the latter in winter conditions, was not the place to take our dogs (although we did see some dogs on the high fells, it was apparent they were very used to it and their owners were very well prepared). Instead we kept to lower level walks with our dogs, still of reasonable distance and with some fantastic views, but nothing where we felt we would be asking too much of our dogs, or putting them (or us) in danger. Here are some of our favourites of those walks:
Walla Crag and Ashness Bridge from Castlerigg Stone Circle
The longest walk with dogs of the trip, but with multiple options for starting/finishing points this is more of a collection of nearby places to visit that can be linked together in a variety of ways to make your own walk as long or as short as you want it to be. We walked from the stone circle at Castlerigg on the outskirts of Keswick via Walla Crag - a lower level 'Wainwright' summit with great views over Derwentwater, Keswick and the surrounding mountains - to Ashness Bridge, an old packhorse bridge and famous local viewpoint; before returning via a lower level route including Ashness Jetty for a spot of 'dock jumping' into Derwentwater for the dogs and Great Wood.
The view from Walla Crag
Ashness Bridge and the Bark House Bothy behind
We also discovered the fabulous National Trust bothy at Ashness Bridge, the 'Bark House' - a former stone drying hut for bark from the surrounding forests, now managed by the Trust and too small & lacking in facilities to have any food serving licences, but large enough for a few seats around an open fire and to dispense free tea, coffee, biscuits and walking advice in return for a few coins in the donation jar towards the upkeep of the building - it relies on volunteers and isn't open every day, but is a real gem and if you get lucky with the opening is well worth a stop to warm up after a chilly walk on the fells.
Warming up in front of the fire at the Bark House, Ashness Bridge
Perhaps one of the shortest 'proper' walks it is possible to do in the Lakes, yet this 20 minute stroll each way from Windermere station packs no less of a punch than some much higher peaks when it comes to views. Essentially a craggy bump above Windermere, this excellent viewpoint was the first place the young Alfred Wainwright visited on his first trip to the Lakes and where the sudden and rather unexpected view from the head ignited a lifelong passion, not only for him, but for so many who have followed in his footsteps.
The Black Dog (r) and pals on Orrest Head overlooking Windermere
Look for the large 'Footpath to Orrest Head' sign on the opposite side of the main Kendal to Ambleside road from Windermere station. The route is easy to follow, just keep right at the fork staying on the main lane rather than the footpath. There are a few houses beside the initial section of the lane, so it may be best to keep dogs on lead to start with. The path gradually winds up the hill between trees until a gate leads on to open fellside and final few stony steps deliver you on to the rocky plateau of Orrest Head.
Brant Fell and the 'Back of Bowness'
A great low-level walk for days when the weather doesn't look too promising, or when you just don't want to take on too much, this route is another where you can make multiple variations of your own using the local footpaths, but it essentially covers a loop behind the lakeside town of Bowness on Windermere (which itself is distinct from Windermere, the connected centre a couple of miles up the hill away from the lake & surrounding the station). We used a route from the Pathfinder guide to the Lake District (the ubiquitous green walking guides you will find in most U.K. bookshops) as the basis for our walk, but adapted it to finish using the route of the Dales Way, a long distance footpath which follows a course from Ilkley over the Yorkshire Dales to end on the shore of Windermere. From the lakeside tourist car park in Bowness we climbed through the town to the viewpoint of Briskey Howe and then followed public footpaths through lovely rolling countryside via High Lickbarrow (titter ye not), Cleabarrow and Matson Ground to reach the small, but perfectly formed peak of Brant Fell. Whilst far from high in the context of many of the surrounding fells, Brant Fell offers a glorious panorama over Windermere to the Coniston & Langdale fells beyond.
The Black Dog on Brant Fell above Windermere
At this point, the clouds were filling in on the horizon so we decided on a swift toddle back down the final stages of the Dales Way back into Bowness, where this being New Years Eve we felt it only right and proper to partake of a celebratory pint in the pub - a dog friendly one of course, the Flying Pig.
Enjoying a post-walk fireside pint in the Flying Pig
A word on dogs in the Lake District - our dogs came on all of the walks mentioned here, but before heading out do take care to research your route and make sure it is suitable for not your dogs' and your own abilities. Conditions can change rapidly on the fells and you should always have adequate protection, food and water for both you and your dog with you - if you are unsure of what you can both cope with at first, there are plenty of excellent lower level walks (like the three mentioned here) which will still get you out & about in the Lakes, but without putting yourselves in undue danger. The Lake District is also a working landscape, and unfortunately there are many incidents each year of sheep being attacked by stray dogs - legally farmers can shoot dogs doing this - so it is always best to keep your dog on a lead when there may be livestock around or if you cannot rely on your recall. Generally, well behaved dogs should be fine off lead on the open fell above the highest farm wall, but you should always exercise caution and common-sense.
All of that said, the Lake District is a wonderful place for a holiday with your dog and we're sure it won't be long before we take on the M6 once again!