Heading to the Lake District? Get these adventurous activities on your list
There’s more to the Lake District than just rambling. From spine-chilling scrambles and badass biking to crazy cave-camping and scintillating swims, this idyllic corner of northern England is an adventure playground. Here’s 15 of the best high-octane activities for your Lakeland adrenaline fix.
1) Live life on the edge
There’s no better way to feel alive than teetering (safely) along the apex of a knife-edged, serrated spine of barbaric rock. Ridge scrambling is as vertical, precipitous and exciting as hiking gets – and the Lakes is blessed with two classic routes. The grade one loop of Helvellyn’s Striding and Swirral Edges is an epic, but Blencathra’s Sharp Edge is (perhaps) even more adrenaline-inducing.
2) Embrace your inner caveman / cavewoman
Not got a tent? No worries. You don’t need a £600 Hilleberg shelter to have a wild night out in the Lakeland fells. Simply kip in a cave instead – it’ll be a fantastically-feral, back-to-basics experience that your inner Neanderthal will relish. Millican Dalton’s Cave, aka the ‘Cave Hotel’, on Castle Crag is a top choice, as is the Priest’s Hole on Dove Crag (but beware it’s tricky to find).
3) Put that Peloton power into practice
If you’ve spent lockdown pedal-powering your way through online workouts, now’s the time for the real thing. The Lake District’s brutally-steep mountain passes – such as Hardknott, Wrynose, Honister and Kirkstone – are a road cycling rite of passage. Feeling super-energetic? Cycle them all at the 113-mile Fred Whitton sportive, one of the UK’s most hardcore rides.
4) Jump into the deep end (literally)
Wild swimming is in vogue – and the Lake District is at the centre of this booming outdoors trend. Why? Because there are hundreds of remote tarns, deep lakes and pool-dotted streams suitable for a revitalising (aka freezing cold) plunge. Crummock Water and Buttermere are idyllic settings for an al-fresco dip, or for some cliff-jumping fun Black Moss Pot in Borrowdale is unbeatable.
5) Say “hi” to the Sphinx
On Great Gable’s southern face is the Great Napes, a fractured blockade of rock with terrifying proportions – and you can hike straight past it. The ‘Gable Girdle’ is a challenging circular walk around (not up) Great Gable. It’s a mind-bogglingly epic route that gets you up close and personal with both Napes Needle, a 20m-high spire of rock known as the birthplace of British rock climbing, and the Sphinx Rock, a remarkable outcrop that forms the Sphinx-like outline of a human head.
6) Pretend to be Alex Honnold
Get your Free Solo on (sort of) at Honister Slate Mine’s via ferrata experience. You’ll be clipped in at all times (phew), but you’ll still feel like a climbing legend as you safely do battle with vertical crags, cliff-edge ladders and vertiginous cargo nets. If it’s raining, hit the Kong Adventure indoor wall in Keswick instead; or if you’re already a trad climbing guru, Gimmer Crag and Esk Buttress are the places to be.
7) Relish a wild night out (without a cheesy nightclub or dive bar in sight)
Forget the boutique B&Bs and over-priced hotels, sleeping wild is the way to go. Whether you’re hunkering down in a bivvy, catching 40 winks in a rustic bothy (check out Lingy Hut and Warnscale Bothy) or wild camping in your tent, spending the night on a mountainside will revive your spirit and boost your mood. For epic star-gazing head to Ennerdale, a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site, or for less ‘wild’ but equally remote accommodation try Black Sail YHA or Skiddaw House hostel.
8) Shred fresh powder like an alpine pro
Ok, so it’s not exactly one for spring and summer, but this is too good not to mention. The Lake District has its very own ski club on Raise, a mountain near Helvellyn. There’s a hut, a button lift and nine ungroomed runs, the longest being almost a mile long. It’s not exactly a ‘resort’ for snow-ploughing beginners, but for off-piste aficionados and silky smooth carvers, it’s a fun day out. The only catch? You have to carry your skis and boots up from Glenridding, or skin-up for a long touring ascent if the snow is low enough.
9) Emulate the Messiah and walk on water
For a landscape named the Lake District, it wouldn’t be right to visit without heading out onto one of the lakes. Hire a paddle board to walk on water (sort of) or bring your kayak to see the stunning Lake District scenery from a whole new perspective. Ullswater, which is often billed as Britain’s most beautiful lake, offers paddling perfection, or for a more rugged, remote outing Wast Water – home to England’s highest mountain and deepest lake – is the one and only choice.
10) Follow in Old Alf’s footsteps
Much-loved guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright wrote seven books about his favourite 214 fells in the Lake District. Climbing them all has become a sensation, an uber-popular ‘peak-bagging’ challenge for determined hillwalkers. Fancy an adventurous mission for 2021? Buy the books and try to hike all 214 – it’ll be a Lake District expedition like no other.
11) Go long or go home
Day hikes are for unimaginative tourists, but multi-day backpacking treks are for legendary and intrepid Lakeland explorers. Which are you? If it’s the latter (of course it is), then pack your tent, pull on your hiking boots and take on one of the Lakes’ best long-distance hikes. The 73-mile, five-day Cumbria Way from Ulverston to Carlisle is a must-do, as is the 21-summit Cumbria Traverse.
12) Become a two-wheeling downhill supremo
If you fancy yourself more of a Danny MacAskill than a Bradley Wiggins, the Lakes is a Mecca for gnarly off-road mountain biking. The single-track routes at Whinlatter and Grizedale forests are awesome, or for the real deal take on the bridleways of Garburn Pass, High Street, Skiddaw, Helvellyn or Stake Pass – rides that genuinely put the mountain back in mountain biking.
13) Have a race with Bob
It might be the walking capital of the UK, but there’s no 4km/hr speed limit in the Lake District. In fact, fell-running is an institution in Cumbria with a long and rich history. So grab your trainers, pull on some Lycra and head off trail running like you’re Speedy Gonzales. Your options for soul-destroying uphills and exhilarating downhills are innumerable – or, for the truly masochistic, take on the 42-fell, 66-mile Bob Graham Round, one of the UK’s most iconic mountain running challenges.
14) Turn the adventure dial up to 11
Flip your Patagonia cap backwards, down a Red Bull and prepare for some full-throttle, edge-of-your-seat action – the Lakes isn’t just countryside bimbling, after all. Whether you’re up for paragliding, ghyll scrambling, quad biking, off-road 4x4ing, zorbing or paintballing, the Lake District is more than capable of serving up a ‘totally rad’ adventure. Sick, bro.
15) Rest your legs and let the electric battery do the hard work
Too tired to explore on foot after all your trail running, kayaking, biking, cave-dwelling and lake-splashing exploits? Fear not. Simply hire an electric car (David Attenborough would be proud) and tour around to your heart’s content. Drive the dizzying switchbacks of a Lakeland mountain pass, enjoy a cafe-hopping village-to-village itinerary, or simply stop off somewhere nice for a picnic in the sunshine. You deserve a rest from the adventure antics every now and then, right?
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