Western shore of Windermere
Karen Gee is Cycling UK member and the founding editor of the family cycling website Cycle Sprog
Three years ago, my husband and I decided to up sticks, leave the suburban life behind and move our family to Cumbria in search of a more outdoor and active lifestyle. At the time our two boys were 6 and 8 years old and able to ride their bikes independently, but were too young to ride on the road with busy traffic. They were on small wheels which meant they had to work much harder than us to travel any distance.
On our arrival, the first thing we had to confront was just how steep the Lake District is. It may seem a bit obvious, but it’s hard work cycling up hills! It’s hard work when you’re 6 years old and haven’t fully mastered how to use gears, and it’s equally hard when you’re a 40-something used to cycling on the flat.
Over the course of three years our climbing and stamina have improved and with every ride the boys get more skilled. They are now aged 9 and 11, and much better mountain bikers than me. At the moment I can still outpace them on the road, mainly due to the fact I’ve got bigger wheels! It won’t be long before they’re leaving me far behind, but I’m enjoying it while I can still keep up.
It’s been an exciting time discovering what the Lake District has to offer and it seems right that we share some of our favourite family friendly places to cycle.
A couple of words of advice:
The Lake District is mountainous, and all these routes have some ascent and descent. Don’t underestimate the affect this will have on a child’s ability to cover distance. Just because they can ride 10 miles on the flat doesn’t mean they can do the same in the Lake District.
Remember what goes up must come down. Descending at speed, either on or off road requires skill. Start easy and build up distance and difficulty once everyone in your family is confident. There are plenty of cycle coaches in the area offering family skills sessions and guided rides.
The weather in the Lake District changes quickly, so always be prepared for rain, cold weather and low cloud. It rains at least 200 days a year and is the wettest place in England. I’ve learnt never to set out without a waterproof – if you’re lucky you won’t need it!
Western Shore of Windermere
Distance: up to 9 miles round trip
Type of bike: hybrid or mountain bike (also suitable for trailers, bike seats and tagalongs).
Terrain: undulating traffic free cycle path (uses quiet road if coming via Windermere Car Ferry).
This route was our first experience of cycling in the Lake District and is great for all ages. There are 3 miles of traffic free cycle paths and a further couple of miles of very quiet roads south of Wray Castle on the western side of Windermere.
The best thing about this route however, is that you can turn it into a real mini-adventure by catching the Windermere Bike Boat from the eastern shore of the lake. As the name cunningly suggests, this is a boat that only carries cyclists and their bikes. It runs from May half term to the end of the summer holidays (daily during holidays and weekends in term time).
It’s a magical feeling parking your car at the Brockhole Visitor Centre on the busy A591 between Windermere and Ambleside and riding down to the tranquillity of the lake shore to await the boat. The captain will then load your bikes for you as you climb on board.
After the excitement of the lake crossing you’re immediately onto the traffic-free section of the western shore cycle path. The most popular route is to head north towards Wray Castle, where you can picnic on the lake shore and enjoy the most stunning view over the lake. If it’s not picnic weather, there’s a tea room and plenty of activities in the Castle (admission fees apply). Alternatively, you could try the more undulating southern route, which eventually turns into a quiet road.
All to quickly it’s time to ride back to the jetty and await the boat back across the lake – a perfect way to end a day full of adventure.