by Hayley Withall
It has to be said that I’m a bit of a planner; anyone who knows me will tell you that. I’m the sort of planner that also likes a contingency, so in the weeks before our trip to the Lake District I started my research.
I’d visited the Lake District as a child and gone fell walking with friends as I got older but this was our first family holiday in the area so I decided to start from scratch. I wanted to find activities that would be toddler friendly but also accommodate the fur child.
But what if it rains?
I don’t mind a wet walk and Bethany loves being in her wellies and puddle suit but the dog doesn’t like the rain. Maybe she’s worried that it’ll mess up her hair or something, she’s a bit of a princess at times!
That said I didn’t fancy sharing a motorhome with a dog who soaks up water like a sponge then shakes when you least want her to! I did a little more research to make sure that we had ‘wet weather’ options! This website came up with some good ideas: www.lakedistrictlodgeholidays.co.uk
Where’s the Motorhome?
Greg made the trip to Chichester to collect our motorhome, a Swift Escape 695, for us to load at home – partly because we didn’t want to drive there and back with the kids before a journey to the Lakes and partly so we could see what came with the van and not over pack.
Since backpacking in my youth I’ve learnt to travel light. Kids kind of scupper that – there are high chairs, car seats, prams, carriers, stuff for feeding them, stuff for washing them…the list seems endless and the smaller they are the more ‘stuff’ they seem to need!
I didn’t want to spend hours each day playing Motorhome Tetris as nothing is worse than having to constantly move stuff around to find what you need so everything that was going to be packed for the kids had to serve a purpose.
Over the course of the week we figured out what was useful and what wasn’t – anything that wasn’t was slung into the large ‘garage’ of the campervan so as not to get in the way.
Other than the pram the two things that did come in really handy were the bed guard – just a normal toddler bed guard to stop Bethany from falling out of her bunk (she is a very ‘active’ sleeper) and our folding high chair which we would attach to the dining area seats using the seatbelts.
In hindsight I would’ve probably taken our normal high chair, it’s one of the really basic ones from Ikea and only takes up a little more space than the folding chair when it’s taken to bits.
The van itself was one of the best kitted out that we’ve hired (we’ve used the big companies and small local hire companies before), and the fridge was huge…this made the chef in the family very happy!
We packed in the evening so we’d be ready to leave early the next morning. We both drive a lot for work and know that the M6 can be a complete pain so we were aiming to beat the chaos and be in the Lakes at around midday.
Some people may be apprehensive about driving a campervan, don’t! The one we hired had an automatic gearbox and cruise control so the motorways were a doddle – yes it’s a little wider than a car and it did make for some slow drives on smaller roads in and out of the campsites in the Lakes but what’s the rush? You’re on holiday!
No hook up, no problem!
Whilst I’d been researching activities to keep everyone entertained Greg had been looking for campsites. We didn’t want to move around every day and most sites require a minimum of 2-3 nights stay so we settled on 2 sites staying for 3 nights at each.
Greg’s first choice was the National Trust site at Low Wray. The site has pitches overlooking Lake Windermere as well as hardstanding in the woodland area. There aren’t a huge number of hook ups but for a 3 day stay the battery and gas provided us with all the power we needed.
Within an hour of arrival we were set up overlooking the river trying to show Bethany how to play Pétanque. She didn’t quite get the hang of it and Greg ended up fishing one of the balls out of the river.
Cooking wasn’t top of the agenda after the drive so we treated ourselves to pizza from The Sourdough Pizza Co who deliver to the campsite! Happy Days!
One of the reasons for choosing Low Wray was that we could take the ferry to Ambleside. There are 2 routes to the launch from the campsite – the lake side path gives you beautiful views of Windermere, but is not great even for the most rugged of prams. Reuben will confirm that this wasn’t his favourite pram ride of the holiday!
The walk to the launch took us around 30 minutes but we left ourselves twice as much time to get there so we wouldn’t be rushing…rushing a toddler is like playing tantrum roulette!
The other option is a track via Wray Castle which is accessed off the main drive into the campsite and was a much easier route for the pram!
The 30 minute crossing to Ambleside via Brockhole (which can be a destination in itself) was enough of a rest for Bethany to recharge for more walking and the crew were great in helping us get the pram, children and dog safely on and off the boat.
Although we only used the green route on Windermere there are numerous options and ticket combinations to allow you to explore the lake and it’s worth checking them out in advance as it can save the headache of parking in the towns.
We had lunch at Ambleside before stocking up on supplies to cook back at Low Wray and tested out the van’s facilities in combination with a disposable BBQ – who says camp cooking has to be dull?
We nodded off listening to tawny owls in the trees above us. Reuben and I had bagged the double bed that dropped down from the ceiling above the dining area.
It was a great space saving idea and the safety nets made it a very secure place for us to sleep. It’s big enough for 2 adults but with a baby that still wakes through the night it meant more sleep for everyone else if he was next to me and could be fed quickly!
Maybe it was the fresh air, maybe it was all of the walking, maybe it was the blackout blinds? Whatever it was we got to lie in until gone 9.00 and a lazy morning is a rarity with small people!
After a later start we had a more relaxed day and headed up to Wray Castle. Although dogs aren’t allowed in the castle they’re free to visit the grounds.
As it happened this worked perfectly for us as the castle isn’t really pram friendly either, so whilst one of us sat enjoying the sunshine with the dog and the baby, the other would visit the dens, craft rooms and soft play areas with the toddler!
We spent most of the day in and around the castle grounds before heading back to the van for the evening.
Time to move
So, I mentioned that the van is a little wider than a car? It’s interesting when that van meets a bus…then a lorry…then a caravan… but definitely do-able. We drove slowly from the smaller roads back towards Ambleside and then onto Keswick.
Keswick has always been a favourite of mine and though we weren’t stopping there we decided that it would be a nice idea to bimble around for a few hours on route to our next site.
As you first drive through parking can look like a challenge for a 7m van, but head to the Lakeside which is a short walk to town and there is more space there. It’s also worth noting that Booths have a coach park that has some larger spaces if you get in there quickly to do your shopping!
More by luck than anything else we ended up in Keswick on market day (Thursdays and Sundays) so took the opportunity to stock up for the next few days; Chilli fans should look out for Mr Vikki’s stall – it’s a slight addiction of mine!
As well as visiting the market we made a quick call in at the Keswick Brewery. Tours run daily but Greg had to make do with a case to takeaway as the kids had run out of steam and the dog wasn’t allowed in.
We headed out of Keswick planning to stop at the Castlerigg Stone Circle so Bethany could have a run about but as we pulled out of Keswick a quick glance in the mirror revealed two sleeping children. We went to Castlerigg anyway and had a rare moment to enjoy a quiet cup of tea and a slice of cake together taking in the view, you don’t need a café when you have a campervan!
Never underestimate the value of a good park!
The Quiet Site was what I imagined a caravan site to be, rows of campers and caravans all neatly parked in their marked out bays. Recommended by almost every website we looked at, it was clean, well equipped and undergoing investment with a new zero waste shop being fitted out as we arrived. It didn’t have the charm of Low Wray but the views of Ullswater were beautiful.
We visited the park on site before heading back to the van and turned on the heating to get cosy for the evening as the glorious sunshine that we had in Windermere had made way for cooler weather.
The following day started with Bethany falling into the dog bowl and collapsing into fit of giggles before asking to visit the park so after breakfast we headed over.
We spent all day between the park and the van, having a picnic lunch, hunting for monsters and letting Bethany set the pace.
By the evening we had a very grubby toddler so we took advantage of the family bathrooms at the Quiet Site – que one very excited baby who was all smiles as he sunk into the bubbles!
On Saturday the sun came back so we went to Aira Force, a short drive from the Quiet Site. The paths to the falls are strewn with steps which our toddler managed quite easily but they wouldn’t have been easy with a pram – thankfully I’d packed the baby carrier so Reuben could enjoy the views too.
After a few hours around Aira Force we drove up the Kirkstone Pass, the van coped well with the twisty steep roads and at the top we stopped by the Kirkstone Pass Inn taking in the view of Windermere in the distance.
On our last day in the Lakes we headed to Rheged. Rheged is part of the Westmorland Group (they’re the people who run the best service stations in the UK; Tebay, Gloucester and Cairn Lodge) and on route back to the M6.
Rheged is a diverse site offering cinema, shopping, soft play, crafts and play areas. We couldn’t get in without passing the adventure castle so with the promise of a visit before we headed home we went into the dog café – a dedicated area for our fluffy friends.
Bethany and I went off to explore the centre as Kaiya wasn’t allowed beyond the foyer and as we wound our way through the building we came out on a balcony with a crowd of people looking into the foyer.
We went to see what the fuss was and one lady pointed out the ‘big fluffy dog’ to Bethany…
”Oh yeah, that’s my Kai” she casually replied before heading towards the toy shop! We had lunch at Rheged before loading into the van to head home.
By the time we got onto the M6 to head south Reuben was asleep and Bethany was engrossed in Ben and Holly (we were given an old travel DVD player which we use for long journeys) we started chatting about our week away.
Previously when we’ve hired motorhomes it’s been for a little bit of luxury at a music festival, this was the first time we’d actually been on holiday in one; Would we do it again? What would we do differently? What did it have that camping or holiday cottages didn’t?
In terms of the van I think the only change we would’ve made was a small awning to provide shelter and shade for the kids – not one of the huge tent like ones, just enough to provide a little space outside the van.
The type of travel worked for us – my parents were expecting us to come back frazzled after a week in a van with 2 smalls and the dog but it wasn’t the case!
Taking a motorhome was easier than camping with small people. It is quick to get set up, you could be on site and ready to explore in under an hour. This makes it easier to explore multiple locations and, if it was raining, needed to pack things away and move there wouldn’t be the hassle of drying tents once you got home.
It wasn’t as spacious as a holiday cottage but it had everything you needed, it also meant that if you went out you didn’t have to pack for every eventuality (well, this is England!) as everything was to hand in the van if summer sun was replaced by spring showers.
We would definitely do it again….maybe Europe next time…maybe for longer…!