The Lakes without brakes: How to visit England’s most popular National Park, car-free

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Tessa Holmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

Campaign for National Parks, who work tirelessly to preserve our green spaces, have created a guide to help you visit the Lake District while taking only photographs and leaving only footprints. They’ve identified traffic, which brings parts of the Lakes to a standstill in summer, as one of the major issues affecting the area, so here are their tips on the trains, buses and boats that can whisk you round the park on a low-impact, high adventure holiday.

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Closest cities:

Many mainline train services will come in through either Lancaster or Carlisle, although Oxenholme is often a good stop, depending on which part of the park you’re looking to access. Moving on from Lancaster and Carlise, there are several stations within the park – Ravenglass, Muncaster Mill, Newby Bridge, Lakeside, Staveley and Windermere. 

Easy journeys:

Getting to the Lakes from major cities is much easier than you might think. Here are a few potential routes and rates. All trains are direct and prices were based on a Friday in September, eight to ten weeks from time of writing. Train tickets go on sale 12 weeks in advance of travel dates and it’s worth setting a reminder to make sure you get any early bird discounts. Jump on it when the tickets are released and you’ll be trundling Lakeward, with no navigation stress and no guilt about cluttering up the roads before you know it. 

  • London to Oxenholme, 2hrs 40, £33   
  • Manchester to Oxenholme, 1hr 14, £8.70 
  • Birmingham to Oxenholme, 2hrs 15, £28 
  • Glasgow to Oxenholme, 1hrs 48, £17.50. Or to Penrith, 1hr 54, £10.10 
  • Edinburgh to Oxenholme, 1hrs 58, £15.60. Or to Penrith 1hr 34, £15.20 

In the park – Buses:

  • Buses on from Oxenholme or Penrith can land you on the shores of Coniston, Ullswater Derwentwater or Windermere, so it’s perfectly possible to wake up in London and go to bed in Cumbria, via a swim, kayak or paddleboard in a spectacularly scenic lake.
  • A Stagecoach bus has recently been launched that runs round Ullswater, connecting popular stops such as Pooley Bridge, Howtown, Lowther Castle and Ullswater Steamers and giving car-free access to some great walks.
  • The Lakesider 599 is an open-top bus which runs past Windermere, Grasmere, Brockhole and Ambleside. Between January and October 2023 you can travel anywhere on the route for £2, making it not only a wonderful way to see the scenery, but a very useful way of getting around. 
  • If you’ve come to pay homage to Beatrix Potter, the park’s unofficial patron saint, then you can visit her home at National Trust property Hill Top by taking the Windermere boat service and a connecting minibus to Sawrey with Mountain Goat tours.  

In the park: Boats:

  • On four of the lakes you’ll find steamboats, which are more than charming chug around the water. Passenger terminals are at Bowness-on-Windermere for Windermere, Pooley Bridge or Glenridding for Ullswater Steamers, Keswick for Derwentwater and Coniston Village for Coniston. You have the option of taking scenic round trips or hopping off for a hike at various points.
  • There’s also a boat that runs from Glenriddig at Ullswater to Pooley Bridge, which drops you off on the Ullswater Way, for a lovely walk onward or back along the shore. 

In the park: Walks:

You might not be heading off on a 100-mile hike, but chances are that you’re coming to the Lake District with at least a little walk in mind. These are some of our most-loved routes, with start points that can all be reached by public transport. There are thousands more of course, so ask around for one that suits your travel plans and keenness for hill climbs! 

  • To try the Wansfell Pike hike, head for Windermere on the train then hop on a bus to Hayes Garden Centre. The walk starts just across the road and is clearly marked. 
  • While there are some very popular trails in the area, this less-trodden route in Helvellyn starts at a car park near Wythburn Car Park in Wythburn Church, also reached by train from Windermere. It’s a lovely scenic walk with some steep sections, that’ll make you glad you aren’t walking home again!

With the variety on offer in the Lake District comes a great selection of accessible walking trails. Take a look at Miles without Stiles, specialists in walking for those of limited mobility, who have listed 50 routes, including some for wheelchair users, families with prams, or the visually impaired. There are details of each one on their website, including public transport access to the start points.  

Extra resources

To find out more about anything mentioned here, try the Lake District National Park website or Visit Lake District, both of which are invaluable resources for anyone exploring the park. 


If that’s got you planning a trundle up to the Lake District some time soon, there’s more to come. We’re pleased to say that we’re going to be working much more with Campaign for National Parks over the next few years, on ways to protect the UK’s wild places. We’ll keep you posted on what we’re up to and you can read more about their work here.  


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Tessa Holmes

Sawday's Expert

Tessa is our social and environmental inspiration and watchdog. She's in charge of finding ways for us to extend our positive impact as far as we can, whether that's encouraging our owners to install EV charge points, upgrading our site's accessibility or raising the flag for worthy causes like Save The Oaks. Just to make sure she completely embodies the company's purpose, she lives in a yurt in Devon, helping out with the running of a social enterprise.
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