5 child-friendly walks to do in the Lake District – maps included!
Planning a family holiday to the Lake District this summer? Then you’re in the right place. We asked our friends at Countryside Books to recommend a handful of walks to do in the area. They went one better – the following five walks originally appeared in their excellent book, Kiddiwalks in Cumbria & the Lake District, but they’ve kindly allowed us to pass them on to you (maps and all) free of charge.
If you want more like this, we recommend picking up a copy of the book. They’ve also got loads of other titles featuring child-friendly walks covering most regions around the UK.
Even better, if you do, you'll get an extra 20% off all books just for being a Travelzoo member. Enter this code at checkout: Travelzoo20.
Keep scrolling down this page to browse through the different walks. Alternatively, check out the options on the map below, click on the corresponding item in the list next to the map, and hey presto, you'll be taken straight to it!
So, walking boots, tea flasks and biscuits at the ready! And we’re off…
From the beach into the tangled woods
Starting along the beach south of Bardsea, which at high tide feels like proper seaside, this is a walk of three distinct parts. First you climb up to the open moorland and limestone of Birkrigg Common, with unfolding views across the bay to the Lancashire coast and the Forest of Bowland beyond. Here you’ll find a mysterious stone circle amongst the other prehistoric remains on the moor. Part two takes you into the tangled woodlands of Sea Wood – a semi-ancient domain now preserved by the Woodland Trust. And last you get back to the beach.
Getting there: Bardsea’s Coast Road is 3 miles south of Ulverston on the A5087
Length of walk: 2 miles
Time: 1 hour
Terrain: Beach, woodland and open moor. Not suitable for pushchairs
Start/Parking: Lay-by on Coast Road (GR: SD299740)
Refreshments: About 400 yds (366 m) north along Coast Road you’ll find a cabin selling hot snacks, sandwiches and ice-creams – open most days. There’s also usually an ice-cream van selling locally-made products in one of the parking areas
Fun Things to See & Do
- Make some time for building dams, flying kites and collecting driftwood on the beach.
- On Birkrigg Common, see who can find the stone circle first. It’s hidden in the bracken in summer and there are dozens of tracks in all directions to confuse you.
- Sea Wood offers lots of opportunities for games of hide and seek.
1. From the beachside parking area opposite the Loft Gallery, walk along the footway for 50 yards until you’re opposite the entrance to Wellwood. Cross and go through the stile next to the elaborate entrance gate. Keep to the right of the access road between the pond and the fence. The pond served the former mill, which is the white building by the roadside. Reaching a gate in the access road fence, bear off right across the field, heading for a gap in the hedgerow. Beyond this you’ll find a squeeze stile pressing you through the gap between Wellhouse and Wellhouse Farm, leading out to a quiet lane.
2. Turn left, past a cottage and up the enclosed trackway. As you ascend the wood on the right, known as Hag Wood, has been coppiced. As the wood disappears on the right, the track veers left and you get a glimpse of Bardsea Monument. At the top of the track go through a metal gate and out onto the common. Ignore the path right, but now you must locate the stone circle in the midst of the bracken. From the gate, walk ahead 50 paces, then turn left and walk a similar distance. That should get you to the centre of the circle, or at least somewhere near!
3. Imagine the stone circle is a roundabout and you came in at one point; now take the second left and descend with a wall on your left. It’s roughly south-south-east and should lead you to a wall corner. Keep to the left-hand path for another 50 yds (46 m) and you’ll reach the edge of some shallow quarry workings. Bear right, across the head of the quarry to reach a minor road.
4. Cross over and locate a gate in the wall opposite, leading into Sea Wood. Follow the path into the wood, keeping right when you have the choice. The path descends eventually to a gate leading out onto the main road. Turn left, crossing a lay-by then staying on the wide verge before crossing over with care at the point where the woods appear on the opposite side of the road.
5. Here you’ll find a path that ducks down the side of the wood, but shortly offers you a turning to the left. Take this and follow the meandering woodland trail all the way to the end of the wood by the beach at some large boulders. Keep ahead, choosing the right-hand side of the hedgerow ahead and a beachside track leading all the way back to your parking area.
Uncover a queen’s childhood home
This isn’t a country walk. You are likely to meet lots of other people, exercising dogs, skateboarding, gardening, cycling, or some may just be walking to or from work. But in return for this comparative busy-ness, you get a brilliant castle, with towers to climb and cellars to explore; and you get to walk in the course of an old canal. If that isn’t enough, there’s a children’s play area near the start of the walk and if you feel like extending the walk by a few hundred yards you can have a look at one of Cumbria’s best museums, or even go shopping in the centre of town.
Getting there: The car park is next to Kendal United’s community rooms on Castle Drive. This is best approached from Parkside Road, which connects the A684 by the Castle Green Hotel with the A65, Lound Road, on the south side of Kendal
Length of walk: 2 miles
Time: 1 hour
Terrain: Parkland paths, pavement and grass. Just about suitable for a pushchair (there are some steps)
Start/Parking: Castle Drive free car park (GR: SD524924)
Refreshments: Your best bet is to cross the river at the bottom of Sunnyside/Parr Street halfway through the walk and head for the café at the Abbott Hall Gallery. There are plenty more choices in town
Fun Things to See & Do
- The castle is a perfect place to explore. You can climb to the top of the north-west tower, discover the cellars and the castle’s deep well and investigate the moat. Can you find the medieval toilet? It was known as a garderobe and it’s in the north-west tower. Waste from here fell through a hole into the moat.
- While you’re there, consider this: the castle’s most famous occupant was Katherine Parr, who was born here in 1512. In a relatively short life she managed to pack in four husbands, one of whom happened to be King Henry VIII.
- A short distance into the walk is a little grove of trees. Look for the benches with the unusual leaf motifs. Beyond this you skirt round the cemetery and the allotments. How many different types of vegetable can you see growing?
- The middle of the walk passes the top of the dry ski slope. In the evening it’s fun to watch the snowboarders pretending they are in the Alps.
1. From the car park, don’t go through the gate into the castle park, but pick out an enclosed path between the football field and the castle park boundary. Shortly, on the left, you’ll find a set of benches with leaf motifs, the BMX track and the cricket ground. Keeping to the foot of the castle mound, continue on a gravel path. You’ll soon come to the cemetery on your left. Swing right with the wall on your left and walk down the hill. The track descends more steeply through an opening and down a slope by the allotments. Join a concrete path into the woods and then on the level beside the allotments. When you come to a junction of tracks, go straight ahead towards some steps and a crossing path.
2. This is the route of the Lancaster Canal. Turn right along the line of the canal to reach a bridge. Go under this and in a few paces turn left, going back on yourself, to ascend the ramp up on to the street. Turn left along the pavement and walk up the street known as Sunnyside.
3. Go through the iron gates at the top and turn left into the woods. An obvious path follows the line of the wall on the left, finally ending at a crossing flight of steps above the dry ski slope. Ascend the steps and at the top a red arrow points you left across the top of the ski slope.
4. The track rises up into a green field. Coming out of the trees, you get to see the castle and a great view out of town. Cut across the grass to intersect a wide track and turn right, up the hill to the castle. There is plenty to see at the castle and a tower to climb. Note there is no way out of the castle courtyard except through the main entrance over the moat.
5. When you’ve finished, return to the entrance and with your back to the castle, bear left on a path that follows the line of the moat. Circle the castle almost completely before picking out a track down to the right, across the grassy slope to the gate and the car park at the start of the walk.
Japanese bridges & a miniature railway
There is something very special about Eskdale. Perhaps it’s because of its delightful little railway, "t’laal Ratty" – always a hit with children – which chuffs up and down the valley from Dalegarth, near Boot, to the sea at Ravenglass. Or maybe it’s because it is unremittingly lovely at almost every turn, from the ring of high mountains to the coastal dunes and marshes. This walk takes a sumptuous taster slice from the middle of the dale, and in doing so reveals a bizarre hidden garden owned by the Forestry Commission, some fine views up to Scafell and of course allows you to see t’laal Ratty up close from the station at The Green.
Getting there: Eskdale Green is 4½ miles (7.2 km) east of the A595 at Holmrook
Length of walk: 2 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
Terrain: Woodland tracks, fell paths and a quiet lane. Not suitable for pushchairs
Start/Parking: Free car park in Eskdale Green by the entrance to the Forestry Commission’s Giggle Alley and public toilet (GR: NY141002)
Map OS Explorer OL6 The English Lakes (South-western area)
Refreshments: In Eskdale Green you have a choice of two lovely pubs. About 400 yds (366 m) to the west is the Bower House Inn, with a beer garden and play area and excellent local beers and home cooked food. It’s matched in all ways, except the play area, by the King George IV, a similar distance in the opposite direction, beyond the station
Fun Things to See & Do
- The first thing to discover on this walk is the Japanese Garden. It’s a very strange place with several tiny bridges and ponds, but you have to venture up into the woods and through a weird granite canyon to find it. It’s a great place to explore. The whole garden is surrounded by tall bamboo thickets, so there are some brilliant places to hide. Look out for the frogs and toads in the ponds.
- Beyond this the Castle Rocks are the first of several granite outcrops to clamber over. A bit later in the walk, the crags of Hollin How are a little more precipitous but older children will enjoy the challenges.
- You can’t visit Eskdale without a ride on t’laal Ratty, the miniature railway. There are displays, shops and cafés at both ends.
1. From the parking area by the public toilets walk up the rough lane, soon turning left into Giggle Alley’s woodlands up a flight of steps. At the top of the steps turn left on a forest path, following it around to the right and up a bank to reach a granite staircase leading through a wall of rock.
2. Walk through the Japanese Garden, the paths all lead to the far side. Continue on a granite track, now descending amidst bamboo and rhododendrons. Soon a flight of steps lifts you back into the centre of the knoll and woodland opens out in Owl Glade. Continue on the obvious path through a gate and up to the craggy outcrop known as Castle Rocks. The path steers away to their left and continues, descending another stone staircase and traversing open woodland. At the far end go through a gate to a track junction.
3. Walk straight across here, going up the rough track by the side of the Gatehouse grounds. Beyond a gate at the top of the bank, turn right and follow the path, which tracks the edge of the Outward Bound centre. Passing over a little rise, the path descends away from Gatehouse now to a gate in the wall ahead. Follow the path around the summit of Hollin How until you meet a junction by a fence corner. Turn right here and continue downhill with a fence on your left. You pass several little practice crags before swinging left with the fence down to a gateway beside the delightful old farmhouse of Hollin How. Continue down a narrow path to join the access road.
4. Turn right and, crossing the railway bridge, walk out to the road. Turn right, with care, for a few paces, then cross over to the entrance to the station and a bridleway. Continue past the station on the bridleway for a few hundred more paces, then bear right up the lane to the level crossing. Cross the railway with care and follow this track as it meanders between pleasant cottages and villas to emerge in the centre of the village.
5. Turn right to return to the parking area.
Explore secret beaches & hidden woods
Buttermere is best known for the lake that shares its name. And it’s a lovely walk all the way round its shore. But sometimes you want something slightly different, a shorter walk with plenty of chance to play on the beach, perhaps. This little circuit takes you away from Buttermere to one of the valley’s other beautiful lakes. Crummock Water is less well known, but the shoreline at the head of the lake is as lovely a spot as you will find in the Lake District. It’s great for a paddle in summer, or a leisurely picnic, and you probably won’t be fending off the crowds.
Getting there: You can approach Buttermere from three sides. The main road, the B5289, comes up from Cockermouth or the Whinlatter Pass, through Lorton and along the shores of Buttermere. From the top of the valley it comes from Borrowdale over the Honister Pass, or you can drop down into the middle of the village by the tiny road that snakes over the Newlands Pass from Braithwaite or Portinscale.
Length of walk: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 hour
Terrain: Woodland trail, field paths and a short stretch of road at the end. Could be managed by an all-terrain pushchair with some help
Start/Parking: National Trust car park, Buttermere village (GR: NY172172)
Refreshments: A choice of cafés and pubs in Buttermere village – Syke Farm serves delicious homemade ice cream as well as teas and coffees.
Fun Things to See & Do
- The woods of Long How and Nether How are perfect for hide and seek. Nether How is especially good because the walk goes all the way round it, so whichever direction you go in, you’ll always end up back on the track. At the far end of Nether How you’ll find a lovely pebbly beach.
- When you’ve finished the walk, it’s worth making the trip up to the top of the Honister Pass, where you can visit the working slate quarry. It’s a surprisingly good day out to join one of the mine tours, or even test your wits against the famous Via Ferrata – a metal walkway across the face of the towering crags (older children – over 10 – and adults only).
- If you’re heading back towards Cockermouth, be sure to stop at the Whinlatter Forest visitor centre.
1. From the back of the car park, go through the kissing gate into the National Trust’s woodlands of Long How. A good track leads up to a junction. Turn left and continue, downward now, eventually to some rocky steps leading to the riverbank. Turn right and follow the riverside path to a bridge.
2. Cross this and, in the field beyond, turn right, staying by the side of the beck. The path swings up into the woodlands of Nether How, a little rocky hillock, before dropping you down gently on to one of Crummock Water’s most delightful beaches. It’s mostly pebbles and rocks, but the setting is truly magnificent.
3. When you have finished playing here – and there is plenty to explore so you could take some time – follow the path around the base of Nether How. You will find a little rocky step to negotiate at the far end. The path swings back inland around the hill, eventually returning you to the riverside near the bridge you crossed earlier. Turn right, retracing your steps briefly, but don’t cross the bridge. This time stay on the riverside path on the field side, to reach a gate.
4. Beyond this you’ll see the campsite on the opposite bank. Soon you arrive in Buttermere’s National Park car park, where there are toilets. Walk out to the junction beyond the Fish Inn and turn left up the road.
5. At the next junction, by the Bridge Hotel, turn left, taking care as you are now on the main valley road, for about 200 yds (18 3m) to return to the National Trust car park.
Uncover spooky secrets in sandstone caves
A lovely there-and-back walk. Lacy’s Caves have long held a fascination for visitors old and young. They date from a time when Georgian gentlemen would pay for a local man to live as a hermit, somewhere on their estate, for the delight and entertainment of house guests. The sandstone caves are certainly dramatic and make a great spooky destination, as long as you’re careful. The riverside here is lovely enough to warrant a return journey the same way, with views opening out across the valley as you return to Daleraven, and a splendid fallen tree to climb at the beginning and end of the walk. There are usually buzzards circling above the woods and the overall effect is quite captivating.
Getting there: Daleraven Bridge is a mile (1.6 km) or so south of Kirkoswald off the B6413. Turn right as you come into the village from the A6 and it’s beyond Mains Farm
Length of walk: 1.5 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
Terrain: Riverbanks and woodland with some steep drops. Midway the path was notoriously quagmire-like until enlightened interests oversaw the construction of a boardwalk across the worst bits – slippery in places, so watch out! Not suitable for pushchairs
Start/Parking: The lay-by next to Daleraven Bridge (GR: NY565395)
Map: OS Explorer OL5 The English Lakes (North-eastern area)
Refreshments: In Kirkoswald you’ll find two excellent pubs. The Crown, on the left as you go up the hill, is smaller and more intimate; the Fetherston Arms, on the right, has a large beer garden at the back
Fun Things to See & Do
- The big draw for this walk is the caves at the end. They may seem dark and spooky at first, but if you shut your eyes for 30 seconds, once you are inside, then open them again, you’ll be able to see more clearly.
- Look for the fallen tree at the top of the bank at the start of the walk. It came down in the great storm of 2005 and now makes a brilliant natural climbing frame.
- When the river is very low, there are several little beaches along the route that are great for lazing on, digging holes or making castles.
- The river here is famous for its fishing, and you may well see fishermen standing up to their waists in the cool water casting their lines. If you look carefully you may also see some very large fish coming to the surface to catch flies.
1. From the parking area, take the stepped path up the bank through an area of clear felled trees. Cross the stile at the top and follow a faint track along the top of the riverbank cliff. There’s a brilliant dead tree climbing opportunity here. The route follows the River Eden upstream and although the field is broad here, the bank to the right falls away steeply. You soon dip down towards river level, first crossing a plank bridge, then traversing a bog by way of the first of several boardwalks – this one a single plank’s width. Continue past some gnarly old trees to reach a stile. Along the bottom of the next field you’ll cross another little footbridge before reaching another stile. The Eden here is still and deep with fish breaking through the surface every now and then to snap insects out of the air. The next stile leads into wooded area. Follow the narrow path over a series of little bridges before a final stile takes you into woodland proper.
2. Here you begin the magnificent boardwalk, transporting you over what used to be a succession of muddy dips and rises. The boardwalk snakes along the bank of the river, with occasional dry earth sections. Eventually it gives way to a sandy woodland path, still with the river drifting silently by to the right and woods climbing up the valley side to the left.
3. Emerging into a clear felled area you’ll find a pleasant bench opposite a favourite reach for fisherman. At low water there’s a good sandy beach here. Continue upstream and the character of the woods changes, adopting a more open appearance. As the path rises, take care with young children as the drop to your right steepens dramatically to form sandstone cliffs. The cliffs appear to your left as well, with one particular outcrop forming a shallow cave. It’s only a hint of what is to come. Pass over a little bluff and down the other side. As you reach the bottom, turn sharp right, back on yourself beneath the cliff and you’ll find yourself on a narrow ledge, passing between the crags.
4. A warning sign reminds you of the dangers. On your right a chamber has been hollowed out of the sandstone; beyond it several more can be found, connected by gloomy passages. The caves are quite safe (you don’t really need a torch), though the drop from the ‘windows’ overlooking the river is precipitous. If you want to explore further, continue along the riverside path towards the waterfalls. In the woods you’ll find the remains of an old plaster of Paris works as well as the sidings for the Long Meg gypsum mine. Take care though, as there are some unguarded drops here.
5. When you’ve finished exploring, return to the path and retrace your footsteps back downstream to Daleraven Bridge.