Active Traveller

Active Cumbria

Llama treks, zip wires and giant hamster balls are spicing up the Lake District, says Rhiannon Batten


I'm looking for adventure

Then you've come to the right place. Cumbria – and, in particular, the Lake District National Park – is the self-styled adventure capital of the UK, home to more outdoor activity options than you can shake a walking pole at.

With nine of England's 10 highest mountains and its deepest lake, Cumbria's wild, craggy landscape has long inspired poets, writers and artists including William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter and Ken Russell.

More recently, it has drawn a new fleece-lined following. From potholing to fell running, kayaking to rock-climbing, mountain biking to walking, it's all available in England's second-largest county.

Where can I put my best foot forward?

From yomps up high fells to strolls through gentle valleys, Cumbria has something for all abilities. The figurehead of walking in Cumbria has long been "fell master" Alfred Wainwright. Though he died in 1991, Wainwright's guides to the Lakeland fells still draw a following, and the Wainwright Society continues his legacy.

If you're up for a challenge, the society is organising a "Wainwright: the best of the rest" series of walks from 1 to 23 May. Focusing on walks in guides Wainwright wrote other than his famous Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, this takes in 56 outlying fells, 34 walks in "limestone country" and 32 walks in the Howgills. You have to be a member to sign up (£12 per household per year) and the minimum suggested donation for anyone joining any of the included hikes is £10, with funds going to the Fix the Fells campaign (fixthefells.co.uk).

For information on local hikes, including downloadable route maps, local walking groups and weather for walkers, walkingin cumbria.org.uk is an excellent site . Or contact Alison O'Neill, who runs tailor-made walking day trips and longer holidays from her farmhouse in the Howgills (01539 620 134; shacklabank.co.uk).

And on my bike?

A good place to start is Grizedale Forest Park, near Hawkshead, which has six waymarked mountain bike trails along forest roads and tracks and on-site bike hire. The latest trail to open is the North Face Trail, a 16km loop through oak woodlands, conifer forest and meadows. Visit forestry.gov.uk/grizedalehome or contact Grizedale Mountain Bikes (01229 860 369; grizedale mountainbikes.co.uk).

Road cyclists with stamina might want to venture on the annual Fred Whitton Challenge – a tough 112-mile charity ride around the Lake District. The ride starts and finishes at Coniston, with the route taking in the Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes. This year it will run on 9 May, but the organisation has recently introduced a timed self-led challenge ride over the same course, the Four Seasons Fred Whitton, which riders can do at any time of year (01229 716 582; fredwhittonchallenge.org.uk).

Serious mountain bikers can find more information at mountain-bike-cumbria.co.uk or the ridethelakes.co.uk website. Be Challenged can provide information about endurance races (0781 1184 812; bechallenged.co.uk).

Destination Cumbria is a one-stop shop for activity trips in the Lake District (01539 736 006; destinationcumbria.co.uk). One of its most popular packages is the Triple Thriller, an ascent across the via ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, followed by a mountain bike descent through Borrowdale valley and gorge scrambling at Stoneycroft Gill (£85 per person). If you still have energy left after that, the company also offers Waterwalkerz in Keswick, where visitors can walk on water from the comfort of a watertight hamster ball (£5 for 10 mins) and the chance to try stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Windermere (£5 per hour).

Can I head for the heights?

Latin for "iron road", a via ferrata is a steep route through mountain terrain that is tackled with the help of fixed cables, ladders and bridges. The term has its origins during the First World War, when troops used the technique to cross the Dolomites. You can have a go at Honiston Slate Mine, where Victorian miners apparently used an early version of them to nip home. Tours cost £25 for adults (£20 for children) and include equipment and guiding (01768 777230; honister-slate-mine.co.uk). Not enough adrenalin? The mine is also home to a zip wire; combined tickets cost £35 for adults or £25 for children.

More zip wires (along with rope bridges, tunnels and ladders) can be found at Cumbria's two Go Ape centres – at Grizedale and Whinlatter Forest Parks. Entrance costs £30 for adults or £20 for children (0845 643 9215; goape.co.uk).

Cumbria is a centre for gill scrambling, which involves climbing up a watercourse, tackling waterfalls and rocks and jumping into pools. Trips cost from £30 per person for a half day and can be booked through various local operators, including Keswick Adventure Centre (01768 775687; keswickadventurecentre.com), Mere Mountains (01539 535030; meremountains.co.uk) and Dave's Adventure Company (01539 568805; adventuremakers.co.uk).

I want to go wild

On 2 May, twitchers should head to Rydal Mount (01539 433002; rydalmount.co.uk), near Ambleside, one-time home of William Wordsworth, to take part in a new Dawn Chorus Experience. The event includes readings of Wordsworth's "To The Cuckoo", "To A Skylark" and "Daffodils" against a backdrop of early morning birdsong and landscaped gardens (5.30am to 7.30am; tickets, £6, include a Cumbrian bacon bap and a hot drink).

Other animal attractions include learning how to be a sheepdog handler in the Duddon Valley (from £40 an hour; 01229 716235, lakedistrictsheepdogexperience .co.uk) and going trekking with a llama from Keswick or Penrith (half-day treks from £50 per adult, or £30 per child; 01768 866766, lakelandllamatreks.co.uk). Ullswater Steamers (01768 482229; ullswater steamers.co.uk) runs various themed day trips by boat and on foot, some with a wildlife aspect, including RSPB cruises on 15 and 16 May (£12, with proceeds going to the RSPB). You can get your feet muddy too; the RSPB option includes escorted walks through lakeside woodland while in October Red Deer trips involve heading into one of the surrounding valleys to watch the red deer rut.

What's on the water?

Whether you take your cue from Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons or Donald Campbell's attempts on the world water speed record, the Lakes are a great place to learn to sail, with options ranging from dinghies to keelboats. Some of the best-known (and RYA-accredited) sailing and windsurfing course providers include Lakes Leisure (015394 47183; lakesleisure.org.uk), Waterpark Adventure Centre (01229 885456; waterparkadventure.co.uk) and Derwent Water Marina (01768 772912; derwentwatermarina.co.uk). Typical two-day beginners' sailing courses cost around £150 per person, with introductory 90-minute sessions around £50.

For something a little different, Platty+ offers the chance to try out a Viking-style longboat, stick your oar into dragon boating or just paddle a canoe. Prices start from £6 per hour to hire a kayak to £25 per hour for instruction; the more unusual boats can be hired by arrangement (01768 776572; plattyplus.co.uk). Or, contact Summitreks Adventure Activities to try your hand at Canadian canoeing; prices start from £30 per adult for half a day, or £25 for under 18s; minimum bookings are for four people (01539 441212; summitreks.co.uk).

If that sounds too much like hard work, indulge in some pampering instead. Step aboard a yacht and set sail for the secluded bays of Lake Windermere while enjoying brunch (£30 per person) or a four-course dinner (£50 per person). Regular "sail and dine" experiences are organised by Lakes Activities (01539 535999; lakesactivities.co.uk).

Any special events?

If you've got young children, consider a day of woodland exploration with Playdays in the Woods. Taking place on various dates in forests throughout the Lake District, activities range from cocoa around a campfire, to den-building, woodland craft and various hunts, games and challenges. Prices start from £10 per person (adults and children); children must be accompanied (01946 811938; playdaysinthewoods.com). The next one takes place on 8 April at Bowness.

Keswick Mountain Festival (01539 729048; www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk), based alongside Derwentwater, runs from 19 to 23 May and offers a mix of workshops, sporting events and talks. New to the 2010 programme are three "cyclo sportives" (challenging, long-distance cycling events) on 22 May. Entry is £25 per person and the main route involves conquering Whinlatter, Newlands and Honister passes – twice.

If you'd rather take to the water, the festival is also holding a wild swim in association with the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS; outdoorswimmingsociety.com) and wild swimming expert Kate Rew. The first OSS mass swim of the season takes place on 23 May.

Give me shelter

If you're booking a group or family holiday, Stoneview House, in Kirkby Stephen is a new barn conversion that sleeps 10. It offers easy access to the Howgill fells and has wood burning stoves, power showers and crisp white linen. Rental prices start from £295 for four nights and you can book horse riding and cycle hire on site (01539 623444; stonetrailholidays.com).

More traditional accommodation can be found at the revivified Glaramara Outdoor Centre in the Borrowdale Valley, which runs all manner of outdoor courses, but you can also just book in for B&B (£33 per person; 01768 777222; glaramara.co.uk). Otherwise, you could always book Dolly, a bright blue 1969 VW camper. Rented out through Lakeland Campers in Kendal, she comes with a double bed, hammock, a small child's bunk, central heating, pots, pans, crockery and fridge and costs from £495 per week (01539 824357; lakelandcampers.co.uk).

More information

Cumbriatourism.org; golakes.co.uk/adventure-capital

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