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It’s impossible to know which of Cumbria’s features to admire the most. Is it the craggy mountain fells or the clear glacial lakes? The spectacular waterfalls or the miles of open grassland? The dramatic purple moorland, the gentle rolling dales, or the wild coast? No region in England is more famed for its beauty than the Lake District, home to the country’s largest national park, where stone-and-slate villages pose in tranquil waterside locations, loomed over by volcanic peaks (including Scafell Pike, England’s highest).
There’s far more to this northwestern county than Windermere, Ullswater, and the Old Man of Coniston. To the east lie the North Pennines, the country’s last true wilderness, while its west coast encompasses acres of barely populated sand dunes and beaches that look out onto the Irish Sea. Cumbria’s oft-contested border with Scotland teems with history, from the Roman remains of Hadrian’s Wall to the thousand-year-old cathedral city of Carlisle, whose castle and museums bear witness to its long-lasting importance.
Carlisle’s regional airport, Carlisle Lake District Airport (CAX), operates limited flights to London Southend (SEN), Belfast City (BHD), and Dublin Airport (DUB), but most international passengers will find Edinburgh (EDI) and Glasgow (GLA), each an hour from Carlisle by train, the nearest convenient airports. For the Lake District and south of the county, Newcastle airport (NCL), Leeds Bradford (LBA), and Manchester (MAN) offer plenty of international destinations, while the train can deliver you from London in less than three hours. Public transport connections between the towns and tourist destinations include good rail and coach links, with bus services operating more locally between villages. Only Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness are really large enough for you to need to drive in the town centre, but car hire is useful for getting around the county’s wild and remote landscape.
Cumbria’s natural graces are a sight to behold at any time of year, but given its northerly location, it tends to be most popular in summer, when temperatures are warmest. It’s then that the Lake District enjoys its peak season, and walkers come out in the countryside in force; bear in mind, however, that these are the months you’re most likely to be bothered by midges, so be sure to pack repellent. Many of the region’s stately homes open seasonally between March and October, and springtime is particularly cheerful, not just for the colours of Cumbria’s gardens and wildflowers but for the sight and sound of young lambs in the fields. Autumn has its own splendour: The moorland heather turns the hillsides aflame between August and October, and the region has a packed events calendar all year round, with any number of local traditions and major festivals.
Forging its way from south to north between the Lake District and the North Pennines, the River Eden is surrounded by farmland and forests that were once home to some of the earliest inhabitants of Britain. It’s an area dotted with pretty villages and rich with history and culture, from stone circles to Norman castles to the Appleby Horse Fair held each June.
Full of marshland, mudflats, and bog: This enthralling coastline is much more attractive than it might sound. Its long stretches of dune-backed beaches are relatively undiscovered, while its peatlands and salt marshes are wetland reserves that burst with wildlife. The Victorian seaside resort of Silloth, meanwhile, boasts one of England’s longest village greens.
Sitting on its own peninsula in the southwest of the county, Barrow was a tiny village until the 19th century, when the arrival of the railway transformed it into a busy shipbuilding town. Its red sandstone buildings are a legacy of its Victorian heyday, and its sandy beaches and 45-acre park offer breathing space amid its industrial heritage.