It's late June. Friday evening. I am sitting at Oxenholme train station waiting for a train to take me to my final destination. Despite the late hour there is a real buzz in the air. Hordes of crows are cackling away on the rooftops of the station having their evening bleat. While on the ground beneath, highly excitable Japanese tourists are cackling away too, falling over each other snapping pictures of the crows on their Canons and Nikons. In remote synchronisation the swallows above our head are diving and falling over each other. There’s definitely something in the air tonight. Maybe with the solstice around the corner I was observing a joyous celebration of summer. Even though I am on a major station on the West Coast railway, Oxenholme has a real sense of almost being inaccessible .
When you arrive here and see the picture postcard Lakeland scenery beyond the station walls you do feel you are already far removed from reality and in some dream world. The air of inaccessibility is helped by the hour long wait for the train to Windermere. Top tip: Check the timetable for onward connection when you plan your trip Ambleside - Great base for a weekend stay in Lake District I had plumped for Ambleside as my base point for my budget weekend rendezvous in Lake District. Given Ambleside’s good location on the lake, accessibility to the other lakes and excellent hiking trails makes it a great place to base yourself for a weekend or a week long stay. The other reason for choosing Ambleside is the excellent YHA Hostel here which offers stunning views onto Lake Windermere. The YHA has a great selection of scenic, rustic hostels within the Lake District so you are really spoilt for choice here. At around £16.95 a night (shared rooms, £3 surcharge if you are not a YHA or Hostelling International member) , the Ambleside YHA is budget friendly. The hostel offers a great range of activities for both young and old such as sea kayaking, maps of local hiking trails plus there is an excellent cafe bar on the premises offering budget friendly local produce. Free WIFI, pool room plus handy amenities such as a washing room plus a self catering kitchen make this the perfect base for your budget holiday in the Lake District. A weekend’s stay may sound a bit hectic especially if you’re looking for a relaxing break away but once you reach Ambleside, the excellent choice of transport across and around the Lakes make it easier for you to leave the car behind. Top tip : If you're basing yourself at YHA Ambleside invest in the Freedom of the Lake 24 hour pass (£16 for adults, £8 for a child) If you are planning a longer stay the 3 day Freedom of the Lake ticket offers unlimited cruises across the Lake from just £32 per adult (£16, 5 -15yr old child) £44 Family. Lake District- A literary mecca For anyone who has read either Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome or loves the poetry of Wordsworth: in Lake District you are reminded of their timeless literary legacy and connect with the haunting scenery that fed their literary genius. Given I had a weekend and little time to pack everything in, visiting Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop was the top of the agenda. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was a favourite book of mine when I was young but like many of us, seeing the Hollywood adaptation of Miss Potter did stir up some childhood nostalgia and was the inspiration for my Lake District trip. Hill Top Hill Top can be reached by the ‘boat and goat’ approach -hopping onto the Lake Cruise from Ambleside to Bowness from where there are frequent sailings to Ferry Top. From there you jump onto the ‘goat’-the Mountain Goat minibus which takes you the idyllic hamlet of Sawrey where Hill Top is located. Beatrix Potter’s books comes to life at Hill Top – the farm on which she wrote many of her 22 books. There’s a real sense of time having coming to a standstill when you visit Hill Top. Since her death in 1943, National Trust (to whom she bequeathed a generous legacy of her 1600 hectare estate) have preserved the farm in the exact style in which Beatrix Potter would have lived in. Thanks to this careful preservation visitors today can recognize furniture and details of the house , straight out of the pages of her books. The garden at Hill Top is blissfully idyllic and alive. With the riot of summer flowers in full bloom plus with a tender lamb grazing on the grass the garden there is a real sense of nature being alive around here. After the highs of visiting Hill Top, the busy lakeside town of Bowness is a pleasant antidote. With the masses of tourists that pile into these shores at the height of the summer, Bowness does have the feel of a seaside carnival. Every where you go someone has a Lakeland ice in their hand-they are deliciously soft and creamy (I might put my head out here and say they taste as good if not better than Italian gelato!) The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction After lunch I still fancied pottering further in Beatrix’s trails so I was delighted to discover that Bowness offers a World of Beatrix Potter attraction. The tour starts with a short film about Beatrix Potter. For lovers of her books and also for kids and adults unfamiliar with her books- you instantly immerse yourself in the world of Beatrix Potter through an extremely well thought out route with the decoration along the way almost like walking through all of Potters tales. From floor to ceiling nothing had been overlooked, from Mrs Tiggywinkle doing her laundry in the kitchen, Peter and Benjamin sneaking into Mr McGreggors garden to Jemima Puddleduck encountering Mr Fox. The detail was outstanding down to the leaves on the trees and the recreation of the reeds for Jeremy Fisher. Peak through the windows and creep through Mr McGreggors greenhouse to find poor Peter trapped in the netting, all the scenes depicted were recreated from the original illustrations as near as I could remember them which really gave this place a magical feel. As I walked through all 23 tales of Beatrix Potter there were small interactive touch screens in each area which provided me with information about the tale. About three quarters away through the tour I entered a more spacious part of the tour, just before Mr McGreggors greenhouse where there were puzzles to be solved and interactive screens which had virtual walks around the area. You can also find out more about Beatrix Potter with a short film and time-line. Altogether the World of Beatrix Potter is a great addition to your itinerary and perfect for your family to visit on a typically rainy day. The other attraction on Windermere that you can cram in which I missed out on was the Lakeside and Haverwaithe Railway. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway can be enjoyed on its own or in combination with the Windermere Lake Cruises that connect with the rail line at the Lakeside terminus (Ambleside-Bowness-Lakeside) A ticket on the steam train alone for adults is under £6 for a round trip and £12 to £18 combined with a Windermere Cruise depending on whether you’re coming from Bowness or Ambleside. Food If you’re looking for some tucker in these parts - In Bowness there are a number of decently priced cafe diners serving up the greasy stuff or traditional English pub grub. I strongly recommend a visit to Vinegar Jones fish and chips-£5.75 takeaway is a perfect budget alternative , just grab a bench on the lake and watch the world go by but do watch out for those very friendly swans -they do get very peckish! The Ambleside YHA Hostel also has a massive self catering kitchen where you can cook yourself a meal. This is great especially if you’re planning a few days stay and looking to cut down on cost of eating out everyday Travel-Getting there Oxenhome is on the West Coast Railway line. You can reach there by Virgin Trains : www.virgintrains.com or CrossCountry Trains www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk From London to Oxenholme-journey time is around 3 hours and buying in advance, a one way ticket costs just £14.50 Book well in advance to take advantage of the best fares and travel on specific trains. From Oxenholme its a 15 minute train ride to Windermere and from there hop onto to the scenic 555 open top bus that will drop you off right in front of the Ambleside YHA. Top Tip: There is only one bus company in Cumbria - Stagecoach, so it is definitely worth buying a saver ticket and exploring the whole of Cumbria: The Explorer offers unlimited travel on all stagecoach buses throughout Cumbria. You can buy these tickets on the bus, so if you are travelling by train to Windermere or Oxenholme - buy your saver ticket on your first bus trip! Plus you can use the explorer pass on the Mountain Goat to and from Hilltop so some handy savings can be made. 1 day Explorer pass comes at £9.75 for adults plus there are options of 4 day and 7 day explorer passes-all offering great value for money Overall if you’re staying for a weekend or longer, Lake District has plenty to offer, great icecream , people are dead friendly and extremely hospitable, amazing scones, stunning scenery to soothe the senses and feed the soul, relatively easy to reach plus if you're in luck with the weather, the idea of holidaying locally does not such seem such a bad idea after all. Images Via Kash Bhattacharya, Europebudgetguide.com