I love travelling and seeing different parts of the world, but my recent trip to the Lake District over Easter reminded me of the beautiful countryside and scenery much closer to home that I often take for granted. After a lot of research into which areas of the Lakes provided the most opportunities to visit places we've always wanted to see (and which had the most links to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter!) we decided on the beautiful village of Hawkshead. The journey from London was broken up by a few days in Abersoch, North Wales earlier in the week, but the onwards route was fairly simple. After a couple of hours on the M6 we came off at Kendal and made our way through the beautiful Lake District countryside until we arrived at Hawkshead.
= Hawkshead village =
Hawkshead is a beautiful village in the South West Lake District in the vale of Esthwaite. With all the stunning views associated with the Lake District, Hawkshead has its own little community and is full of stunning churches, arches, small whitewashed cottages and squares with connections to literary greats such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Hawkshead is a short drive (or a long walk!) from some of the more well known Lake District towns such as Coniston, Ambleside and close to Lake Windermere and Grizedale Forest. It is accessible by bus from all of these places.
Cars are banned in Hawkshead centre itself which adds to the feel of a tiny countryside village and visitors must leave their cars behind at the huge pay and display car park at the bottom of the village. The village is so tiny that the car park is less than five minutes walk from anywhere in Hawkshead.
As you enter the village you pass a café selling ice creams and high tea before you reach Hawkshead Old Grammar School and the lovely Park House; a Scout and Guide Pack Holiday House. Further into the village is the beautiful 17th Century Church of St Michael & All Angels which stands high above the village and has amazing views of the surrounding area. I didn't go inside (because I was too scared without something outside to tell me I could) but it's supposed to be lovely and the grounds are kept immaculately.
The village centre consists of four pubs, two bookshops, a few delicatessen/café/ sweet shops types, a Post Office, a Beatrix Potter shop, a teddy bear shop and a Coop! My time in Hawkshead was mainly spent sitting outside one of said pubs in the sunshine with books I had bought from the bookshops! One was more traditional village bookshop where the other was a discount bookshop where a wide selection of books were priced at two for £5 which I thought was a bargain! The local food shops sold a variety of local treats including Kendal Mint Cake, Fudge, biscuits and Hawkshead's own 'Relish' range.
The pubs were all quite similar: cosy and comfortable with a mix of locals and holiday makers keeping them busy over the bank holiday weekend. The Kings Arms, my particular favourite, offers a great menu and a wide selection of drinks including local ales such as Windermere Pale Ale and Hawkshead Bitter. Food is served from 12.00-2.30 p.m. and then 6.00-9.30 p.m. which is standard of all four pubs in the village. Steak and ale pie with vegetable mash, leg of duck, sirloin steak - just some of the delicious food we tried at the King's Arms. Meals were priced between £8 and £14 which was quite reasonable, especially for someone who lives in London. The Queen's Head was another pub we visited a few times during our stay in Hawkshead. Unlike the quiet, relaxed King's Arms, the Queen's Head has televisions showing sport, and showed the Royal Wedding while we were there so was always full. Both served a similar selection of food to The Sun and The Red Lion, the other pubs in the village, all at similar prices.
= What to do =
One of the prominent buildings in Hawkshead is the Old Grammar School, whose former students included William Wordsworth. The school still has many of the original desks with markings from former students including Wordsworth himself. It costs £2 entry which I think is worth it as it includes a brief tour where you can find out about how the school worked and its former students. There is also an exhibition relating to the school's history and Wordsworth. There is an information booklet which can be purchased for £2.50. The school can be hired out and would make a wonderful venue.
For fans of Beatrix Potter's works it is worth visiting the Beatrix Potter Gallery in the centre of Hawkshead village. This tiny 17th century building was the office of Potter's solicitor husband William Heelis and now contains many of her paintings and sketches with exhibitions which change regularly. Entry is £4.30 per adult and £2.30 for children. It's a small amount of money but probably not worth paying unless you're a real fan of her work as there isn't a huge amount to see. It's one of the things that I knew I wanted to do before visiting Hawkshead but I wouldn't return. Many of the nearby shops in the village sell Beatrix Potter merchandise including the books and stuffed animals.
Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's house is close by in Near Sawrey, just one village on from Hawkshead. I didn't manage to visit, mainly because I didn't know it was so close and I would have had a real job on my hands trying to convince Alex to go to yet another house belonging to a historical figure. Apparently the house still looks like it is lived in and each rooms contains references to one of her famous tales.
Go Ape! I didn't fancy swinging from trees on my trip to the Lake District but for those who do, there's Go Ape! This is one of 27 in the country, each one providing zip lines and tricky crossings across forests including this one at Grizedale which is less than 10 minutes drive from Hawkshead. Prices are £30 for adults and £20 for under 18s which includes a half hour safety session and harnesses. The whole course is 601 metres long with the longest zip wire of 89 metres.
There are some stunning walks in the Hawkshead, the most popular being the stunning circular walk to Tarn Hows. The woodland, tarns, trees and views make it one of the busiest sites in the Lake District, especially in the summer. The area around the tarn is one of the most accessible to wheelchair users of any of the walks we took during our holiday. Another walk we took, pretty much by accident, was to the Old Man of Coniston which is the twelfth most prominent mountain in England. Just a word of warning, if you decide to take on this walk wear hiking boots and shorts or trousers. Wearing a summer dress and flipflops is not just suitable hiking gear and can cause accidents and attracts lots of annoying attention from other walkers. The ascent is very steep in parts and with rocks everywhere it would have been much easier and more fun in proper attire! There are some beautiful tarns towards the top of the mountain and the views of some of the lakes at the summit are breathtaking. The way down was virtually impossible in flipflops but I won't bore you with that! I believe that it's 3.5 miles up and down which took just under 3 hours. It would probably have been closer to 2 with hiking gear!
= Where to stay =
We stayed at The Croft campsite which we thought was excellent. We paid £18.75 for a pitch for our tent and car during the peak season, with the price dropping to £15.75 in the off season. Over a bank holiday weekend, tent pitches must be booked for at least three consecutive night which was the case for us. It was my first camping trip and I was relieved to find that the toilets and showers were of a decent standard and that there were plenty of them! Electric points had to be paid for at 20p but I didn't notice them until the last day so never bothered drying my hair. Tents are supposed to be pitched 6 metres apart which was fine until the bank holiday when more people arrived and started pitching so close that we could hear them snoring all night! The people who worked in the office are really friendly and had lots of information about the area. The campsite has a laundry, utility room for washing up and a disabled access toilet and shower room. The maximum tent size they can accommodate is 6x4 metres but I noticed that some tents were certainly bigger than this - they made our 'three man' tent look absolutely tiny. Some people who got there early pitched their huge tent, set up their own area with wind breaks, awnings and chairs and took up around four times the amount of space we had! Other campsite rules include dogs being kept on leashes at all times - thank goodness, I'm scared of dogs, and no excessive noise between 11.00 p.m. and 7.00 a.m. I wish I could say that everyone respected this, but they didn't!
The site is less than 5 minutes walk from Hawkshead village so everything was in easy reach. The Croft also rent out static caravans from £296 to £539 a week depending on the time of year. They also have 9 beautiful holiday flats which can be rented from £218 to £594.
The four pubs in the village all offer accommodation and there are numerous bed and breakfasts in the village. This site is excellent for finding out all kinds of information about Hawkshead itself and the accommodation offered. http://www.hawkshead-village.co.uk/accommodation.html
= Hawkshead is famous for... =
The Hawkshead Relish Company. includes jams, sauces, preserves and relishes which are favourites of top celebrity chefs such as Ainsley Harriot! The Relish range is produced using fresh local ingredients wherever possible and they do not use any artificial flavourings, colourings or additives. They have won many 'speciality producer' awards on a local, national and international scale. The products are sold in numerous shops in the village and nearby Ambleside, Coniston and Windermere. They also have an online shop! http://www.hawksheadrelish.com/
Hawkshead Clothing originated in the village and has its flagship store there. It has since opened many shops and concessions in department stores throughout the country. Hawkshead Clothing produces outdoor wear including coats, fleeces, hiking boots and wellies.
= Overall =
Hawkshead is a beautiful village which relies on tourism to keep it thriving. Unlike some of the busier, more popular areas of the Lake District there is nothing spoiled or commercial about it. We went camping under the impression that we would be walking and barbequing the whole time, however we ended up spending a considerable amount of time in Hawkshead itself, wandering round, buying books and eating or drinking in one of the village's fine pubs or cafes. When looking on Hawkshead's Wikipedia page I laughed out loud when I read that it had 'a high pub to population ratio'!
Hawkshead is a great little village in the Lakes which is well worth visiting but I'd also recommend it for somewhere to stay. It is quieter than Coniston, Windermere and Ambleside which means it is cheaper and easier to find somewhere to stay, yet it is close enough for visiting these more well known places. Its unspoiled community, friendly staff in shops and pubs who will talk to everyone, the views and the beautiful village itself made Hawkshead an absolute pleasure to visit and I would go back time and time again.
And in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
William Wordsworth - Hawkshead, The Prelude, part 3
We recently took a family holiday to the Lake District and one of the things that we really wanted to do was visit Beatrix Potter's house at Hill Top. I picked up a leaflet about the attraction and had my national trust guide book on hand so we took the bus to Hawkshead as recommended and found ourselves in a little village with no sign of Hilltop. Fortunately the tourist information was close by and we were able to ask them for advice. The woman there told us that we could walk to the cottage but that it was along a road with no pavements or we could take a bus. We decided that it was too dangerous to walk there, the road was busy and we had a child with us so we waited at the bus stop only to discover that for four adults and a child we would have to pay an additional £20 to get to Hilltop. We had already paid £30 to get to Hawkshead and it seemed ridiculous to pay £50 before we had even paid to get into the attraction. For those of you going to Hawkshead with the idea of passing through on the way to Hilltop you should keep this in mind. Having spent all of the time and money to get to Hawkshead we decided that the best thing to do would be to spend the day there.
Getting to Hawkshead was quite easy but it wasn't particularly pleasant. We had decided not to drive during the holiday so we took the bus. Buses aren't exactly pleasant at the best of times but this bus felt like a rollercoaster. The roads were windy and hilly, something that I love when I'm in a car but that seems entirely different in a bus, and the bus driver really sped down them. At times I was sure that we were going to crash or cause a car to go off of the road because the roads are really narrow. It was a very bumpy ride and by the time we got to Hawkshead (it wasn't a long journey from Ambleside) we all felt a little bit sick. It's unfortunate that the bus journey was so unpleasant because the countryside surrounding Hawkshead is beautiful and it was nice to be able to take in the views while we were on the bus. Although the bus was unpleasant I wouldn't recommend driving to Hawkshead, the roads are very narrow and seem like they would be difficult to drive on if you didn't know the area.
Hawkshead is a very small place and unlike nearby Ambleside where we were staying it wasn't that busy. It was still very obvious that it was aimed at tourists and there were more people than you would generally get in a small village but it didn't feel like there were too many people. Hawkshead is car free, something I didn't realise until after we had left! I did notice that we were able to walk around freely without almost getting knocked over but I'm so unobservant that I didn't notice the lack of cars. This does make a big difference to Hawkshead. Because the village was obviously not originally built for as many people as are currently in it the pavements are quite narrow but because walking on the road is an option here it doesn't feel that crowded and the amount of people didn't bother me as much as it did in Ambleside (where the pavements are narrow and walking in the road is not an option).
For such a small place I was surprised at how many attractions there were. We visited a gallery that displays Beatrix Potter's art, an old grammar school where Wordsworth studied and a lovely church (which I guess is not strictly an attraction but I did enjoy looking around it). I'm not sure if there is anything else to do in Hawkshead because we didn't plan our trip there and I had no idea about what to expect before we arrived. I did know that Beatrix Potter's paintings were on display before we arrived but it was by chance that we found the grammar school and the church. I'm glad that we did because I thought the grammar school was really fascinating and the church was lovely with the most amazing views. I thought the gallery was worth visiting because I have a national trust membership and it's a national trust property but I don't think I would have been very impressed if I had paid to get in. Fans of Beatrix Potter would probably be far more interested in this than I was so if you are a fan it's probably worth visiting Hawkshead just for the gallery.
Hawkshead seems to rely entirely on tourism. Most shops seems to be aimed at tourists and seem to sell the same tacky souvenirs or Beatrix Potter themed items. There were two notable exceptions to this. There was a very interesting shop that sells teddy bears called Sixpenny Bears. They sell bears of all shapes, sizes and designs and although I didn't buy anything I did enjoy looking around it. There was also a book shop that I enjoyed looking around. The selection of books was surprisingly good, the shop was much bigger than it appeared on the outside and there was even a discount book section (a definite bonus now that I'm almost a student again).
There is a tourist information centre but this is just a stand in a shop and not really particularly helpful. We went into the tourist information immediately after getting off of the bus and although we could find leaflets on attractions in other towns we didn't see a single leaflet regarding anything to do with Hawkshead.
There are plenty of places to eat and one of the things that I really liked was that they were all traditional English places. This is something I would hate in a place where I lived (I get bored if I eat the same kind of food all the time) but as the whole thing seemed like a theme park where the theme was stereotypical England it was nice. I love afternoon tea and cream tea so going to a place where it's served in almost every café or restaurant that you enter is certainly a good thing.
Hawkshead is worth visiting for a morning or an afternoon. There are a few places to visit, some shops to look around and plenty of places to have lunch. The village is very picturesque and the views from the village are lovely. However, I don't think this is the kind of place that I would want to go back to and I wouldn't have wanted to spend more than a couple of hours there. The attractions were worth seeing but they weren't worth seeing twice.