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North West Walk and Discover the Lake District with Riviera Travel, July 2021

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
I should have gone to Austria with Riviera Travel in 2020, but that was cancelled and I had a credit voucher to spend against my next holiday. I’d decided I wasn’t going to go to Europe this year, so was delighted to read that Riviera were including UK holidays for the first time in 2021. After a great deal of thought I decided on the Walk and Discover: Lake District. When I first booked, they were only offering three dates, but the holiday has proved so popular it has been run regularly this year and there are already dates for 2022.

I don’t drive, so one of the downsides of booking with Riviera rather than a local bus company is that I had to get to the hotel under my own steam. This would have involved two taxis, at least one change of trains and possibly an extra night at each end. Riviera offer a door to door pick up, so I treated myself to that - it was sheer luxury!

It was a really good holiday with only 24 in the group. These were mainly couples but, as I’ve found with all other trips with Riviera, the group soon gelled and everyone was very friendly.

Riviera usually have a policy of rotating seats on the coach but, in covid times, we stayed in the same seat. These had been allocated according to date of booking, so I had the seat behind the driver.

There was a good mix of activities on the holiday with visits to Levens Hall and Gardens as well as Muncaster Castle, where we watched a bird of prey flying display. There was a trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway as well as a ride on the Steam Yacht Gondola on Lake Coniston. We also had two half days walking. The only slightly disappointing day was the day we did Ullswater, Kirstone Pass and Bowness on Windermere. There was a lot of driving and, unless you wanted to go for a cruise on Windermere or walk round the shops, there wasn’t a lot else to do in Bowness. I did rather feel this was a bit of a wasted day. Apart from that, I really enjoyed the holiday and had forgotten just how attractive the Lakes were.

I had been a bit apprehensive about the walks, as my days of hill walking are long gone and my usual walk through the local woodlands is hardly challenging. In preparation I upped my daily walk routine in an attempt to improve fitness I needn’t have worried. We had been advised to bring sturdy shoes or walking boots as well as waterproofs. We were split into two groups, each with an experienced mountain rescue leader. Pace was suited to the slowest and underfoot conditions were good and not as wet as I’d feared after all the rain the previous week.

Monday

I was picked up by my driver for the three hour trip to Kendal. He was ex army and had been in the Falklands and Afghanistan and was a fascinating bloke.

We left Scunthorpe in steady rain and there was low cloud and rain all the way across the Pennines. By the time we reached Kendal, the rain had eased, although the rest of the day was cloudy and dull. The weather improved the following day and from then on was wall to wall sunshine with temperatures heading into the mid to high 20˚s.

We were booked into the Stonecross Manor Hotel on the edge of Kendal. This is a large mid C19th mansion that was originally built as an orphanage, but is now a 4* hotel set in its own grounds with a swimming pool.

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I had a large corner room at the back of the hotel with a king size bed. The room was very clean but can best be described as ‘functional’ with no pictures and basic, but adequate, furniture. Along with the 'hospitality tray' with hot chocolate and biscuits, It also had an ironing board and iron and, best of all, a big and very quiet fan. The bath room was very modern with an excellent over the bath shower, plenty of toiletries and a big bath towels. With covid restrictions, the room wasn’t serviced during our stay, unless specifically asked.

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We had two meals together as a group in the Romney Room, their main dining room. The other two nights, I had bought into the extra dining option rather than to eat elsewhere. Those meals, along with breakfast, were eaten in the bar.

Meals were possibly a bit uninspiring - the starter and desert were more interesting than the main course, although the local lamb is not to be missed Portion sizes were generous - very generous - and the starter would have served as a main course.

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The full Cumbrian breakfast was served to the table set me up for the day and I didn’t need much lunch.

Staff were attentive and helpful and always had a smile. Nothing seemed phase them.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Monday cont...

I had arrived in plenty of time, so took the opportunity of a quick walk into Kendal while I waited for the rest of the group to arrive. It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. From the little I saw of it, Kendal is a very attractive busy town with a good range of small family owned shops.

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I didn't have time to find the ruined castle, but spent most of my time in Holy Trinity Church by the River Kent, which is huge and one of the largest parish churches in the country.

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The inside, with its central nave and four side aisle, was equally as impressive.

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In the afternoon, we visited Levens Hall and Gardens, a few minutes drive from Kendal. The original itinerary when I booked had been a visit to Sizergh Castle, but the National Trust were not allowing group bookings, so this was changed. Levens Hall is still privately owned and very much has the feel of a much loved family home. I felt we had gained!

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We had a guided tour of the house. The guide was excellent. There was just enough information, but not too much to become boring. There were a few scurrilous stories too… It is a lovely building with a lot to enjoy, but they didn’t allow photography in the house.

The gardens were amazing, particularly the topiary garden. This was a mix of ordinary dark green yew and golden yew. Many of the trees had bright orange Scottish Flame flowers growing up through them. I could have spent a lot longer there.

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The flower borders were equally as impressive.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Tuesday

Today was spent around Coniston and a walk to Tarn House.

Coniston is one of the more popular of the lakes with steeply wooded sides. We began the morning with a cruise on the Steam Yacht Gondola. This had plied C19th tourists up and down the lake and has been beautifully restored by the National Trust. The yacht no longer uses coal, but the boiler is now fuelled with compressed sawdust bricks, so there is not the characteristic smell of steam technology! It is a very leisurely way to enjoy the lake, especially on a sunny day when there is a pleasant breeze on the water.

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It is a very leisurely way to enjoy the lake , especially on a sunny day when there is a pleasant breeze on the water. We saw Brantwood where John Ruskin lived and the house Arthur Ransome stopped in as wells as Peel Island, which was the inspiration for Wild Cat Island in his Swallows and Amazon Books books.

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We then had just over an hour free time in Coniston Village - either to wander, visit the Ruskin Museum or get something to eat. It was too hot to try the award winning Bluebird Bitter in the Black Bull, and it would have sent me to sleep! Instead, I headed to the church and the splendid Ruskin memorial in the churchyard. I have to confess I don't have a great interest in Ruskin or his work and I can't see the point in visiting the graves of long dead men I have no affinity with - HOWEVER, this is worth visiting just for the magnificent carving.

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The afternoon was the first of the walks, to Tarn Hows.

This is one of the most popular walks in the Lake District and we started from the car park at Monk Coniston at the head of the lake. We were divided into two groups - a fast one and a slower group. I was in the slow group. Living in North Lincolnshire, I am not used to hills, especially when it is hot and the sun is on your back!

It was a long slog up from the lake but the views across Tarn Hows were worth it. The fast group walked all round the lake but our group headed to a view point and, after a suitable rest, headed back down. Fortunately the small ice cream kiosk was still in the car park when we got back...

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Wednesday

Wednesday was an early start as we drove round the coast to Ravenglass. I was on the wrong side of the coach for views of the sea and also was looking into the sun. It was a lovely drive through some stunning scenery. The mist was still catching the top of the fells.

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We arrived at Ravenglass with an hour to spend before our return train journey. I had time for a quick scamper along the road to find the remains of Ravenglass Roman Bath House.

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I had 15 minutes when I got back to the station, just long enough for a quick look in the museum. This is a fascinating small museum with several locomotives and rolling stock as well as many artefacts connected to the history and working of the line. In retrospect, I possibly ought to have spent more time in it.

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The return trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is great fun. It really is narrow gauge with rails just 15” apart. This means carriages are tiny too! our group had been booked into one of the ‘enclosed' coaches which really are small and very difficult to get in or out of. The individual compartments seat four but that is a real squash with nowhere to put your feet. Fortunately with Covid restrictions I had a compartment to myself. I did ask if it would be possible to sit in one of the ‘open’ coaches but unfortunately they were all booked.

I was also a bit disappointed that we were pulled by their newest loco, Whillan Beck, which used to run in Spain, rather than one of the original locos.

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It is a lovely run up the valley, along the estuary of the River Esk and then into the trees and open fellside with isolated farms, to the terminus at Dalegarth.

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We had about 45 minutes at Dalegarth, just long enough to walk to the tiny settlement of Boot with its C15th water mill.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Wednesday cont...

Once back at Ravenglass, we drove to Muncaster Castle, where we had a group lunch in the old laundry function room. We then watched the bird of prey flying display before having a short guided tour of the Castle.

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The castle stands high above the valley floor with wonderful views across to the high fells.

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Again, we had a guided tour and overall, I found this less interesting than Levens Hall. There were fewer rooms than at Levens Hall but we were allowed to take photographs inside.

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We also had about an hour to enjoy the gardens. These are mainly trees and shrubs with a network of paths through them. They lacked the impact of Levens Hall gardens, even though the sun was shining.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thursday

Today was an ‘easier day, involving a scenic drive around the Lake District. Again, I was on the wrong side of the coach for the best views and, was again, looking into the sun again.

We picked up the A6 which goes up the eastern edge of the Lake District with views across to the Eden valley to the Pennines.

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We by passed Penrith and cut across country past the remains of Lowther Castle to Pooley Bridge and Glenriding on Ulswater.

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We had about an hour in Glenriding, a small tourist village at the southern end of the lake.

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Back in the coach, we drove up Patterdale, a wide and fertile valley, to Kirkstone Pass.

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This is one of the ‘easier’ passes in the Lake District and the road snaked up the hillside in front of us.

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There was time for a short stop at the top to admire the view down to Lake Windermere. The original road, aptly named the Struggle, drops down into Ambleside with 20% gradients. The coach stayed on the much more gentle main road down into Windermere.

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Going down, we were overtaken by a cyclist going hell for leather. The coach driver said he’d never live that down if his mates found out.

We were heading for Bowness on Winderemere, which on a hot sunny day was very busy with tourists. We were dropped off with nearly four hours to amuse ourselves. Some of the group had booked a trip on one of the cruises on the lake, others headed for a cafe and the shops.

I decided to walk to the small chain link ferry which crosses the lake to Far Sawrey.

There has been a ferry here since the C13th cutting off a long road journey around the lake. The present ferry, Mallard, is diesel powered and is pulled across the lake by two metal cables

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I hadn’t realised it carried car, motor cycles and bicycles as well as foot passengers. There is no prebooking and there was a very long queue of cars waiting with signs saying 20 minute wait or even 40 minute wait.
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I went across for the ride. At £2 for the return trip is was good value, great fun and there were good views of the lake.

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I did contemplate the walk to Hill Top Farm, but was warned that chances of entry weren’t good. It also looked a long climb on a very hot day… I ambled back into Bowness and found somewhere to sit in the shade, until it was time to go back for the coach. I did rather fell this was a non day.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Friday

We drove to Buttermere which was a lovely drive along narrow roads through the heart of the Lake District, past Rydal Water and Thirlmere.

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Skirting round Keswick, it was a lovely drive up through Grizedale Forest and over Whinlater Pass, although after Kirkstone, this hardly seemed like a ‘pass’.

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We drove along the banks of Crummock Water. It was a very still day and the reflections were very clear. It was difficult to see where the land ended and the lake began.

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We parked in the tiny settlement of Buttermere for out last walk of the holiday. This is a lovely walk around the lake on a well made track that was ‘almost’ flat! There is one place the path goes through a short tunnel cut through the rock face.

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Buttermere is one of the quieter lakes and the views were wonderful.

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It was an excellent end to the holiday, and the cafe in the village not only sold ice cream, but also very good chocolate cake!
 

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