Stuck for ideas on what to do around Ambleside and Loughrigg? Then look no further than our essential Top Ten guide to keeping younger visitors to the Lakes happy.
1. Climb Loughrigg Fell
Loughrigg Fell, at 1,099ft, is an ideal fell for younger climbers. In good weather not only is it an achievable summit (we took a three-year-old up there), but there’s plenty to explore en route, including tarns, hidden knolls, craggy bluffs and dozens of meandering paths – the kind of fell that deserves a picnic and a full day out.
While children will enjoy exploring and hiding in the miles of bracken, adults can take in the panoramic views of Grasmere, the Langdale Pikes and Windermere knowing that the broad top is as safe as any mountain in the Lakes.
The most direct route is up Loughrigg Fell’s South-West flank, starting from the fellside path that links Loughrigg Tarn to the Red Bank road (bizarrely, not a Wainwright route). It’s a steep (stepped) haul, but it’s over pretty fast and there’s free parking at Tarn Foot.
For a first ‘Wainwright’, Loughrigg Fell is about as good as it gets.
2. Visit Wray Castle
Until recently, Wray Castle was an empty curiosity on the West shoreline of Windermere: a rambling Mock Gothic ‘castle’ built for Dr James Dawson – to the chagrin of his distraught wife – in 1840.
Now it is a hugely popular destination for families thanks in large part to the National Trust’s decision not to cram its rooms full of dusty old relics and ‘Keep Out’ signs, but to let kids have the run of the place – literally.
Sit back with a coffee sound in the knowledge that whatever their age, there will be more than enough to entertain even the most energetic of children. Take your pick from themed Peter Rabbit rooms (including life-size Mr McGregor’s garden), medieval dressing up clothes (plus swords, of course), arts and crafts, even a ‘build your own castle’ room boasting hundreds of foam building blocks. If the weather’s good the woodland playground offers adventure play and den-making material aplenty.
In 2014 outgoing NT chairman Simon Jenkins named Wray Castle as one of his favourite Trust properties. When you see the smiles it’s not hard to see why.
Wray Castle is open daily in summer and weekends during Winter. Check opening times here: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle/
3. Visit The World of Beatrix Potter
The official ‘World’ of all things Beatrix Potter offers an enchanting walk-through experience featuring detailed models of the scenes and characters from the books, as well as more interactive exhibits for older children and adults. Journey into Mrs Tiggy-winkle’s kitchen, step out into Peter Rabbit’s garden, join Jeremy Fisher on his lily-pad boat… Younger children who’ve grown up with the books will love it. A café and large shop round off the attraction.
The World of Beatrix Potter is in Bowness-on-Windermere (10 minutes drive from Ambleside). It can get very busy during peak season.
4. Get on the lake!
Situated just five minutes from the centre of Ambleside, the Low Wood Bay Watersports Centre offers everything from canoe and rowing boat hire to waterskiiing and wakeboarding on Windermere, the largest lake in England. You can either turn up and set sail or book ahead for private tuition and instruction.
Low Wood Bay Watersports is open 1st April – 31st October, seven days a week.
5. Soft play at Rufty Tuftys
A wet-weather lifesaver, Rufty Tuftys offers soft play in the heart of Ambleside. With multi-level ‘soft’ climbing frames, a sit-on-toy race track and more, Rufties is not only an obviously popular locals hangout for families with toddlers, their coffee and cakes offer something to console the adults too – as well as free wifi!
Rufty Tuftys is open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm; Sat and Sun 10am-5.30pm. Free parking – though it can get busy.
6. Catch a film at Zeffirellis
Another rainy day recommendation, Zeffirellis offers five award-winning cinema screens across two central Ambleside venues. Showing a mix of indie and Hollywood releases, and with regular matinee performances, you’re guaranteed something to entertain the family. For a full afternoon out, combine with a (highly recommended) pizza in the on-site restaurant.
7. Go up in the world on the Ambleside Wall
For a more energetic indoor workout, look no further than the Ambleside Climbing Wall. With different grades of routes on their 35-ft limestone replica wall, kids can take part in climbs that suit both their age and experience, all the way from ‘Mini Monkeys’ workouts designed to introduce children aged 5 and over to early climbing skills to the more advanced ‘Team Ambleside’ climbs aimed at ‘elite kids’.
The Ambleside Climbing Wall is open 7 days a week. Phone in advance to enquire about kids’ sessions: 015394 33794 ex2.
8. Adventure at Brockhole
Just south of Ambleside en route to Windermere is Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre. With an adventure playground (excellent), lake-side paths, bike and boat hire and mini golf, there’s something for everyone. Older children are catered for with orienteering and an adrenalin-raising treetop trek (culminating in a 250-metre triple zip wire). With acres of land to explore, Brockhole makes a worthy destination whatever the weather.
Brockhole is open all-year-round, gardens 8.30am-dusk; visitor centre 10am-4pm, later in summer.
9. Go wild at Grizedale Forest
Covering 25 sq km between Coniston Water and Windermere is the Forestry Commission-managed Grizedale Forest.
Children (and adults) looking for adventure need look no further; Grizedale boasts hundreds of miles of bike trails (to suit all levels of ability); orienteering courses; the infamous Go Ape treetop assault courses and dozens of walking routes.
For younger visitors, gentler attractions include the Gruffalo’s Child Activity Trail.
Grizedale Forest is open year-round. In Winter open on select days only.
10. Visit the Lakes Aquarium
A little further afield, the Lakes Aquarium at the south end of Windermere offers visitors the chance to get up-close and personal with hundreds of fish, amphibians and reptiles.
A particularity nice touch is the inclusion of local ecosystems – from Morecombe Bay to the Leven Estuary – giving the Lakes Aquarium educational caché in spades. Kids will love the ‘journey below Lake Windermere’ – where diving ducks, carp and perch swim above your head.
Combine your trip with a cruise on Windermere for a full day out.
The Lakes Aquarium, Newby Bridge, is open 7 days a week all year round.