Sunday, May 24, 2015

Exploring England: Southern Lake District

I was 15 the first time I visited England. Every year, my high school takes the upcoming senior class on a European trip. The itinerary for our trip was: London, Paris, and Barcelona. We spent a few days in London, took the Chunnel to Paris, saw Paris and Versailles, and finished in Barcelona. 

My first trip to Europe was great. Since then, I've obviously covered a lot more ground. While living two years in Madrid, I took advantage of budget airlines, Euro Rail train passes, and one Mediterranean cruise to see a bit of the European continent. To date, I have visited the following European countries:
Czech Republic
Gibraltar (they actually stamp your passport!)
Morocco (in Africa, I know. But I include it here because I visited during my residence in Spain.)
Spain, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands
United Kingdom (England and Scotland)

Since moving to northern England, I've been able to explore more of the surrounding areas. Most American tourists don't get the chance to see much more of the UK than London, Edinburgh, and perhaps Cambridge or Oxford. I feel like living here and seeing the smaller towns gives us a more authentic feel of British life.

Just 30 minutes up the road from our town is the famous Lake District National Park. One of England's oldest National Parks, the Lake District sees some 15 million visitors per year. The hundreds of parkland includes ample lakeside trails, mountains, fells, and valleys for biking, hiking, or casual strolling. Sprinkled throughout the park are quaint, charming cities with lots of character. 

Map of Lake District National Park

The first time I visited the Lake District was one chilly October morning to go biking with my husband. We started in the southern Lakes, by Bowness-on-Windermere. We rode north along the lake to Ambleside. It's amazing just how green and lush the English countryside is. Probably due to the high amounts of rain they receive. 

We biked north to Bowness and Lake Windermere.
Windermere and neighboring town Bowness-on-Windermere reminded me of little ski towns. They were compact, with cute coffee shops and outdoor athletic wear stores. There are ample options of B&B's and elegant lakeside hotels for all the visiting families. You can also take a ferry from Bowness-on-Windermere to the northern end of the lake. I bet that's a favorite for summer.

Views of Lake Windermere from our ride.
Mental note: research this cute B&B to return.
On the way to Ambleside.
At Ambleside, we tried our first full English breakfast. Having biked all morning, we were quite hungry and, at the time, eating a heavy farm-boy breakfast seemed like a good idea. English breakfast is delicious when you are eating it. Fried eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, sometimes black pudding (sometimes not if you're American and have an aversion to eating blood), a stewed tomato, and beans make up this "fry-up". The English breakfast does satisfy a starving adult, however you are left to deal with the bad conscience of just how much grease you consumed at one sitting. We were so full, I'm not even sure we ate dinner that night. 

Dockside at Ambleside.
Can you handle this? This was the "vegetarian" version. Still enormous.
Here's a pic of a quintessential English Breakfast for anyone who hasn't experienced it, complete with blood sausage (those black medallions) 
All that being said, definitely check out the towns of Windermere, Bowness-on-Windermere, and Ambleside if you are exploring the southern Lakes. Take the English breakfast at your own risk, or opt for a nice icecream instead. (What? I'm assuming if you're in the Lakes you're on vacation anyway!) Rent a bike and go exploring. Don't forget gloves if you're going in the fall, winter, or spring! 

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