All my life I’ve dreamed of living in England, and now that dream has come true. Instead of picturing a place on the other side of the world, all I have to do is step outside my front door! That being said, I still have to step outside my front door. Amazing how easy it is to take a place for granted and stay in one place when you’re actually living there instead of merely visiting (Tourists do so much more than locals.). But the other day I was determined to make my Saturday count by taking a day trip into the nearby Lake District.
As a single twenty-something I value the freedom of solo travel, relishing the opportunity to go where I like, when I like, how I like without having to consult with someone else or rearrange my schedule to suit a traveling partner. That said, solo travel has its cons as well as its pros, and must be done well to be fully enjoyed. If you’re thinking about a solo day trip to the Lake District or anywhere else, bear these tips in mind so you can learn from my experiences!
My day began at 8:20 AM, driving into the small town of Carnforth in Lancashire to catch the handy 555 bus that runs all the way up to Keswick. I hadn’t had much experience with buses up to that point (I’m from the state of Arkansas, where buses are few and far between to say the least), and was unnerved when it proved to be 40 minutes late. There was a girl at the bus shelter on her way to her university class, but I didn’t strike up a conversation with her. Why didn’t I? I don’t really know, but in retrospect I think this is something that solo travellers must perfect–the art of speaking with total strangers. After all, it can get pretty lonely spending the entire day wrapped up in your own thoughts with no one but a camera to talk with. So Tip #1: Strike up a conversation (especially if you’re in Britain, because it’s not too likely that the Brits will strike one up with you)
The bus finally arrived and I started off on my adventure. I sat right at the front on the top level, a seat I highly recommend as it gives one the feeling of being on a tame roller coaster. The landscape around me seemed like something out of a story: idyllic countryside bathed in golden morning light, tiny stone cottages with even tinier front gardens, miniature cars, ancient stone fences, creepers and ivy in brilliant autumn dresses climbing up the walls. As the bus tipped and rumbled down those winding roads I recaptured the glamor and sparkle of my old love of England.
The bus journey was a long one, especially since I didn’t know my destination. I’d flown off that morning with very little planned, prepared to be as spontaneous as possible. I had a sketchy idea of what I’d like to do, but was prepared to be flexible, and this served me well throughout the day. Tip #2: Plan, but be flexible. While riding along I decided to hop off the bus at Windermere. I found a tourist information centre at once and went up to the lady at the the counter, announcing that I had a whole day with nothing to do and no fixed ideas. She recommended a cruise on the lake and then a trip on a small steam train. That sounded good to me, so I set off toward Bowness harbor. That took me down through the heart of Windermere, and I got to see the town in all its touristy sweetness. My travel guru Rick Steves doesn’t give it much credit, but I was quite charmed by the look of the place. Not much “depth,” but everything the casual tourist could want, from cozy bed and breakfasts to cheap cafes and shopping centers.
I purchased a pricey combination ticket (£14.75 from Windermere Lake Cruises) and hopped onto a large vessel named the “Teal.” It was the first time I’d been out on the water in Britain, and I enjoyed the sparkling sunlit water and the lovely view of the surrounding hills and forests, not to mention a hot cup of coffee and the local specialty, Kendal Mint Cake (which is something like a square York peppermint patty), on the enclosed lower deck. Tip #3: Food makes just about any solo experience better.
We cruised down the length of Lake Windermere and came to rest at Lakeside, where I boarded an old-fashioned train almost immediately. It wasn’t really a steam train (it was pulled by a diesel engine), but the cars were clearly about fifty years old. It reminded me so much of the Hogwarts Express, I half expected Neville’s toad to jump down from the luggage rack. The ride was only 18 minutes or so to a wee station. There we had a short layover and the chance to buy cheesy gifts and postcards and spend too much at the cafe. After chatting with a man showing specimens from a local owl sanctuary, I rode the returning train to Lakeside and the cruise back up to Windermere. I was feeling a bit sleepy at that point, nestled in the enclosed lower deck, looking out the window where gray clouds grew darker overhead and the waves sprayed mist onto the glass.
After buying a few postcards I decided that I’d had all that Windermere had to offer, and hopped a bus for the Lake District visitor centre at Brockhole. Used as I am to lame, dingy American visitor centres, Brockhole was a wonderful surprise. It’s a large house once owned by friends of Beatrix Potter, and rests on a hillside overlooking magnificent country gardens and the lake. It’s the welcome center for the whole Lake District, and they have done a wonderful job making it an interesting, family-friendly place. There’s a treetop obstacle course for kids, a zipline, horseback riding, lake cruises, miniature golf, a tiny climbing wall, and much more. I enjoyed walking around the gardens and the woodland paths, bought a sandwich and crisps for dinner, and lingered on a peaceful bench overlooking the water as evening fell.
The centre eventually closed and I took the 555 back to Carnforth, feeling quite accomplished and thoroughly exhausted. I had successfully manoeuvred trains, boats, buses, maps, and found plenty of interesting things to do. All in all, a lovely day trip in the Lakes. I hope that you can have a solo day trip as nice as that one.
What are your experiences with solo travel? Do you have any tips or hard-earned lessons to share?