Maximise Your National Trust Membership in the Lakes
As an idyllic, iconic and popular UK holiday destination filled with history and natural beauty, you probably won’t be too surprised to learn that the Lake District is also very well looked after by the National Trust, with 18 attractions, car parks and places of historical significance to choose from.
Even with many National Trust properties in the Lakes falling within a walk, cycle or drive of each other in and around Windermere and Ambleside, you’ll struggle to take them all in over the course of a single day. But if you’re one of its five million members and you’re planning an extended stay in the Lake District, this list of top National Trust properties and car parks in the Lakes is sure to be useful!
At first glance, you’ll be amazed at how such a grand, historic and gothic castle could have been so wonderfully preserved for so many years. However there’s more to Wray Castle than meets the eye! Built in the 1800s by a surgeon and heiress from Liverpool, the mock-gothic turrets, towers and grand rooms are empty of original furniture and instead filled with activities and educational games for the whole family.
With panoramic views of Windermere, a mini-castle adventure playground and walks along the lake shore, there’s also plenty to do outside the four walls of the castle itself. Inside you can find a Peter Rabbit adventure, gigantic castle building blocks, table tennis, snooker and a wealth of themed rooms. Our advice is to arrive early to secure a parking spot, bring a picnic and prepare the kids for a magical day!
Located just South of Kendal is Sizergh Castle, home to the Strickland family for over 750 years with its vast and beautifully maintained gardens, trail walks and house tours.This grandiose stately home is awash with family portraits, fine silverware and history, with an activity sheet bringing the experience to life for the younger ones.
The gardens themselves really come to life in the Spring and Summer months, with wide open spaces, trees to climb and paths to follow. The on-site cafe and shop are excellent too, and you could even combine your visit with a stop off at the Strickland Arms on your way in or out of the grounds.
Tucked away in the hills of Troutbeck Bridge is Townend, a quaint 17th century farmhouse once home to the Browne family. Townend’s wonder is primarily down to the many quirky objects and fascinating stories you’ll encounter as you wander room to room, with the family’s historical hand-carved furniture on display at every turn.
Townend has a small car park, but for a proper Lake District experience you should follow one of the trails from Windermere. The winding uphill ascent won’t be kind to the knees, but the view from above is very rewarding!
Claife Viewing Station
Resembling a miniature castle, Claife viewing station is a Victorian octagonal building with stained glass detail, found on the Western shore of Lake Windermere. It’s a perfect setting for that breathtaking panoramic photograph and a base for a number of lakeside walks.
Better known as Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top in Hawkshead is considered a time capsule of the famous children’s author’s life. Bought in 1905 using the proceeds from Potter’s first successful books, the house boasts random stone walls and a slate roof, with each room preserved or restored by the National Trust.
Popular with tourists far and wide, Hill Top and its glorious countryside surroundings are sure to provide its visitors with unspoken inspiration, much like it did for ‘our Beatrix’ back in the day!
A Roam With a View
Aira Force & Ullswater
The National Trust car park at Aira Force is ideally positioned for numerous walking and adventure routes in the hills surrounding the breathtaking Ullswater. But more than that, the Aira Force waterfall itself is just a few steps away.
Set within ancient woodland and scaling steep paths and banks of continually renovated steps, the Aira Force loop is popular with adventurers, families and dog walkers and with good reason. This monumental waterfall is a sight not to be missed and can be enjoyed from a number of surrounding viewing platforms and footpaths. It’s a little further afield North than most of our National Trust treasures, so we recommend an early start, a picnic lunch once you’ve completed the trail, and a trip back over to Windermere - stopping off at Townend along the way.
Often also known as ‘the Tarns,’ this accessible, circular 1.7 mile walk comes with jaw-dropping mountainous surroundings, woodlands and a man-made body of water teaming with natural beauty and full of red squirrels. From the moment you drop down onto its pathways, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the regions most popular beauty spots.
It’s a casual round-the-water stroll, perfect for families and accessible to wheelchairs, pushchairs and bicycles. But visitors also have the option to venture off the path and into the woodlands, where they will find waterfalls and challenging hill climbs. To complete your Tarn Hows visit, pack a picnic to enjoy with your feet dipped in the water!
A ‘classic combination of lakes and mountains’ makes the Buttermere region absolutely ideal for those seeking a challenging walk and a stunning view. The Buttermere hamlet, named after the Lake, sits between Buttermere Lake and Crummock Water, which were once a single post-glacier Lake.
Once you arrive and attack the pathways you’ll be certain to agree with the thousands of regular returning visitors, that Buttermere provides ‘the best view in Britain.’ If you’ve got the time, creativity, talent and patience, you might consider joining the portrait artists who often set up easel during the summer weeks to create their own interpretation of a view that, to many, cannot be beaten.
The most Westerly-located lake in the area is the pristine water of Ennerdale. Due to its remote location, this deep glacial lake offers visitors a place to truly escape from the hustle and bustle, even during peak tourism seasons and bank holidays. Ennerdale is therefore considered a true ‘hidden-gem’ often overlooked by the region’s many visitors and even the locals!
Borrowdale & Derwentwater
The valley of Derwentwater and Borrowdale is another surprise package waiting to be unpacked. Breathtaking panoramic views of Derwentwater, Skiddaw & Bassenthwaite Lake are all visible from the top of an unfenced cliff some 800 metres into the hills, with the best views coming in the Spring and Autumn while the trees are bare and the skies a theatre of cloudy white and pale blue.
At Wasdale, you’ll find Great Gable and Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, thus the area earning its nickname ‘the birthplace of British rock climbing.’ A scattered agricultural hamlet, the river Irt can be seen flowing the valley to its Ravenglass estuary, while the valley floor is primarily occupied by Wastwater, the deepest lake in England
Highest mountain, deepest lake… and quite possibly the most challenging and rewarding day out you can find in the Lake District. Wasdale doesn’t do things by halves.
Eskdale & Duddon Valley
Now, beautiful beaches perhaps don’t spring straight to mind when considering what the Lake District has to offer. But that’s where Eskdale and Duddon Valley comes in, descending from high mountains to Cumbria’s Western coast.
This part of the county is often regarded as among the best for walking, and is another somewhat underappreciated golden nugget tucked away beyond the more popular and family-friendly Lakes and fells. It’s an area of protected countryside and a glorious example of English landscapes at their finest and most varied.
Beatrix Potter Exhibition at Hawkshead
If the magic of visiting Potter’s home at Hill Top served as an appetiser, prepare yourself for the main course. Fans of the beloved children’s author can complete their Beatrix experience with a visit to the gallery in Hawkshead, where Potter’s illustrations and original artworks are on display as part of a wider exhibit.
One top tip for this one - although there is a car park just 300 yards away on Hawskhead’s main street, this isn’t a National Trust parking facility. So either bring some pennies or take one of the popular cycling routes from Ambleside to reach the exhibition.
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
Built in the mid 18th century, this Georgian townhouse was the birthplace of romantic poet William Wordsworth and today holds exhibitions and experiences, allowing its visitors to indulge their curiosity in William and Dorothy’s childhood home. Its location in Cockermouth is perfect, also, as a hub for family-friendly walks in the fells.
Home to yoga, pilates, craft days and more, this unique straw bale building has only stood since 2006, but has already made its mark on Windermere’s locals and visitors as the National Trust's ‘eco-classroom’ at St Catherine's Woods. A tremendous mix of classes and workshops take place for children and adults alike, making Footprint something a little different in an area where historical buildings and stunning views tend to steal the focus!
Steam Yacht Gondola
On Coniston Water sits a lovingly-restored Victorian-era steam yacht gondola, open to bookings for steam-powered cruises. The gondola is the oldest steam-powered vessel in the North of England, built in 1859. Having been converted into a houseboat in the 30s and abandoned in the 60s, a National Trust group raised money to acquire and restore the gondola to her former glory, finally relaunching on the water in 1980.
Time for another top tip - your National Trust card won’t gain you free access for a cruise on the gondola, but it does entitle you to a 10% discount.
Sticklebarn & the Langdales
You just have to love the National Trust when they think outside the box, or in this case on the edge of a pike… The Sticklebarn is a National Trust-run pub offering real ale, good food and the likes of walking workshops and talks from famous mountaineers.
Visitors are encouraged to take on a 1.3 mile, medium-difficulty walk around the Langdale Pikes, but it isn’t mandatory! The views from the pub are wonderful and the ales updated regularly.
There are now over 500 sites now overseen and cared for by the National Trust, supported by over five million members. Even so, it’s perhaps surprising that not one of our featured Lake District sites are among the trust’s ten most visited properties.
To us, that means that so many of the trust’s existing country-wide membership are yet to discover some of these incredible sites, not to mention those who aren’t members. At the time of typing, memberships start at around £6 a month, and a family card comes in at under a tenner a month, with that money going back in to the development and upkeep of these wonderful sites. With so much to explore in a region that keeps giving, that’s great value.