The Lake District is beautiful at any time of year, but in the autumn the colours come alive. The green ferns turn to brown and the mountains take on an auburn hue. Both Mr P and I had visited the Lakes before we had children, but we’d never been to the Lake District with kids. In autumn 2020 we decided it was high time we rectified that.
The Lake District, 2020
The October half-term holidays in 2020 were unlike any other, falling amid the Covid-19 crisis as rumours abounded of a second national lockdown. Many families’ trips abroad were cancelled while travel within the UK remained uncertain. England was operating under a 3-tier system, the highest tier of which meant that all non-essential shops and hospitality businesses were closed.
We booked our AirBnB in the Lake District in September, when Covid numbers were relatively low and, after a wonderful summer camping in Devon, Cornwall and the New Forest, we were looking forward to more outdoor adventures. As the date of our trip drew closer we watched parts of England close down around us. The border to Wales was shut and the areas that we were to drive through to get to Keswick in the North Lakes (almost 480km / 300 miles north of us) were put into Tier 3, the strictest tier system. Thankfully the stars aligned. When we set off on our journey up north our local area, as well as the Lake District, remained in Tier 1, meaning our trip could go ahead.
Kid-friendly autumn activities in the Lake District
Visiting the Lake District with kids in the autumn means being prepared for any weather, and we certainly had all weathers thrown at us. We aimed to keep active, as much as possible, and to use our comfortable AirBnB in Keswick, to rest up and relax between adventures. On the kids wish list for our long weekend in the Lakes was climbing a mountain, mountain biking, rock climbing, seeing waterfalls and going on a boat. Over three full days in the area we managed to tick off three and a half of those.
Climbing a mountain in the Lake District with Kids
The Lake District is home to England’s highest mountains. Scafell Pike is the highest at 978m (3,208ft) followed closely by Sca Fell, 964m (3,162ft) and Helvellyn at 950m (3,116ft). We chose our most local mountain to summit. As we were staying in Keswick, in the northern Lakes, this meant that we set our sights on the top of Skiddaw, England’s sixth highest mountain who’s summit sits at 931m (3,054ft).
Skiddaw proved to be a very suitable mountain for the boys’ first big climb. We followed the wide track from the car park at Underskiddaw which overlooks the town of Keswick. We arrived at about 10am on the Sunday morning when there was already limited space to park.
The route up from Underskiddaw contains some steep sections, but as you gain height there are moments when the path flattens, giving walkers a breather before reaching the top. There is no scrambling required on this hike and no steep edges to worry about either.
The most challenging element of the walk was the weather. As we walked we experienced sun, rain and hail, but it was the wind that made walking difficult, especially as we gained altitude. We had to keep a firm hold on the children when walking along the ridge to the trig point at the summit, shielding them from the wind with our bodies. All of us had to hold onto the trig point once we reached it to stop from being blown down the side of the mountain! We were thankful of the dry stone shelters at the top, ducking behind one to warm up with a hot chocolate before heading back down the mountain.
It took us around three and a half hours to complete the hike from Underskiddaw to the summit of Skiddaw and back again. We took frequent short breaks to eat a chunk of fudge or a piece of Kendal mint cake. The boys were allowed time on the cairns and took advantage of some playing around opportunities on fun, but safe, parts of the trail.
Mountain biking in the Lake District with kids
Our AirBnB host recommended Whinlatter Forest to us when I mentioned that our kids liked cycling. Looked after by Forestry England, Whinlatter was the perfect destination for the boys to fulfil their mountain biking dreams. There is a visitor centre, with café and bike hire centre, but we parked up at Revellin Moss Car Park on the opposite side of the road from the main entrance. From there we cycled into the forest, following the Wonderwalls, Oaky Kokey and Quercus blue mountain biking trails. The boys finished up with a go on a couple of short sections of The Bypass, a red trail. They were in heaven!
I mentioned we ticked off three and a half things from the kids check list – this was the half. It wasn’t quite the rock climbing that we’d hoped for but the wet and windy weather bookmarked by storms Barbara and Aiden was to blame.
We had booked a half-day outdoor rock climbing session with Mobile Adventure for our first morning in the Lakes. Unfortunately that was rained off, but we were able to book for two days later, hoping for better weather. Sadly the weather worsened and that outdoor session was also cancelled. Instead our Mobile Adventure instructor met us at Keswick Climbing Wall where we spent a great morning. We all got involved learning to belay, getting climbing tips plus the kids got busy on the bouldering wall. It was a great way to spend a rainy morning in the Lakes. Our desire to get out climbing on the crags has only been increased by this experience.
All that rain has to go somewhere. Driving around the Lake District we frequently spied waterfalls spilling down the sides of the mountains. We knew that we wanted to get up close to a waterfall to feel the spray on our faces and witness the effects of days of heavy rain.
After our rock climbing session at Keswick Climbing Wall we had a quick pub lunch at The White Horse, Blencathra before driving over to Aira Force. We parked up at the National Trust High Cascades car park and walked over to view the falls. There was a one-way walking system in place to help with social distancing. The falls, as expected thanks to the rain, put on a spectacular show. Be prepared to get wet, muddy feet if you visit in the late-autumn.
Where to stay in the Lakes
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Our original plan for our long weekend in the Lake District with kids was to treat ourselves to a swanky hotel with a swimming pool. Rising Covid numbers and the requirement to wear masks inside led us to the decision that we would feel more comfortable in a self-catered environment. So, sadly no swimming pool or hotel breakfast.
We booked a roomy 3-bed AirBnB in the centre of Keswick, overlooking the River Greta. We were walking distance to Keswick’s many shops and restaurants and had a comfortable space to spend time in relaxing between adventures.
The house had a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, but we’d agreed not to cook on this holiday! We have many self-catering tips and tricks up our sleeve (check out our top tips here), but we thought it was high time we had a break from the stove. We brought up a frozen homemade chilli from home, plenty of food to make big breakfasts and picnic lunches, and treated ourselves to three dinners out. Our favourite by far was The Round, a fantastic burger restaurant on Keswick’s market square. We discovered that it was essential to book in advance – this requirement may have been exacerbated by Covid, meaning fewer tables were available and restaurants had to close early under the government restrictions at the time.
Keswick makes a great base for exploring the Lake District. At the centre of town is a pretty market square full of tempting outdoor shops, cafés and restaurants. You’ll be able to pick up all of your essentials for a weekend in the Lakes on a short stroll around town. Non-essentials are catered for too. We couldn’t resist a bottle of Keswick Gin!
Keswick sits on the shores of Derwentwater. It’s possible to hire a little motorboat for half an hour or an hour from the jetty near the famous Theatre by the Lake. Sadly we arrived too late to do this on Friday afternoon (all boats needed to be back by 4pm before it starts to get dark in late October), and by the next day the wind picked up so there was no opportunity to get out safely on the water. The kids were disappointed, but it gives us another good reason to go back.
What to pack for an autumn weekend in the Lakes
Visiting the Lake District with kids at the end of October means accepting that you’re going to get wet! But don’t let that give you an excuse not to get out and experience the beautiful scenery. Here are our top tips of what to pack to make sure you’re ready for adventure, whatever the weather. We generally pack the same for us as we do for the kids.
- Waterproof coat
- Waterproof trousers (over-trousers)
- Walking boots
- Walking socks – as many pairs as days you’ll be there
- Skins / thermals to layer
- Thin fleeces to layer over skins or thermals
- Running / cycling leggings plus lightweight, quick dry shorts to wear over them if you like
- Trainers that you don’t mind getting muddy
- Waterproof gloves (like ski gloves)
- Cycling gloves
- Hiking rucksack
- Reusable water bottle
- Flask (for hot chocolate)
We loved our weekend in the Lake District with our kids, and will certainly be planning a return visit – perhaps in slightly warmer weather next time?