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Best budget hotels in the Lake District for an affordable escape in 2023

You don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy the outstanding beauty of the National Park

Helen Pickles
Thursday 22 June 2023 10:00 BST
Panoramic lake views of Ullswater can be seen from glamping pods at The Quiet Site
Panoramic lake views of Ullswater can be seen from glamping pods at The Quiet Site (The Quiet Site)

Undoubtedly alluring, deservedly popular, easily accessible (just off the M6) yet also – unsurprisingly – not the cheapest of destinations, the Lake District is the UK’s most-visited National Park. It contains some of the country’s most ravishing and soul-stirring landscapes: craggy fells, glistening lakes and timeless whitewashed villages. In recent years, many of its traditional inns have become gastropubs, B&Bs have gone ‘boutique’, and country house hotels have blossomed spas and Michelin-starred dining. So, how to find a wallet-friendly place to stay that isn’t a charmless shoebox with a dried-up breakfast offering?

Not so hard as you might imagine, if you bear in mind our guidelines. Want to be among the buzz? Consider the outskirts of towns rather than the centres. Not so bothered about shopping but still want views? Look at places towards the edges of the National Park, such as Eskdale, Ullswater or around the Lyth and Winster valleys. Do you need a lounge and 24-hour reception? The bar of an inn will provide all the company and local advice you need. Don’t dismiss glamping pods, either – we’ve found a couple (fully en-suite) with both views and on-site restaurants.

Best for buzz: The Royal Oak

Location: Keswick

Luxury wallpaper and bespoke oak furniture make for a homely stay (The Royal Oak)

On the corner of Keswick’s Market Square, this former coaching inn is in the heart of one of the area’s most attractive towns with its jolly twice-weekly market, parks, Pencil Museum and fell-surrounded lake: Derwentwater. Take one of the traditional launches across the lake either to climb family-friendly Cat Bells, or stroll back along the lakeshore calling in at Lingholm Kitchen for tea and cakes from its on-site bakery. The inn’s quirkily shaped 18 bedrooms are neat and compact, with feature wallpapers, bespoke oak furniture and nice touches such as colourful tea-cosies and home-made biscuits.

Best for families and eco credentials: The Quiet Site

Location: Ullswater

Gingerbread Houses at The Quiet Site can take two adults and four children (The Quiet Site)

On gentle slopes above the western shores of Ullswater, these ‘Gingerbread Houses’ are as cute as they sound with toastily insulated timber-clad interiors and exteriors, underfloor heating (from a ground source heat pump) and solar panelled roof providing power and hot water for the shower room and small kitchen. The large sleeping ledge can take two adults and up to four children and there’s a covered deck and BBQ stone, too. Don’t feel like cooking? There’s a pizza place with picnic benches plus atmospheric bar in a 17th-century barn. There’s even a games room and a dog- and bike-wash. There are walks from your doorstep, while Ullswater, with its lake steamers, is a five-minute drive.

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Best for shopping: Ambleside Townhouse

Location: Ambleside

Enjoy fresh breakfasts cooked to order in this smart but affordable B&B (Ambleside Townhouse)

Less than five minutes from the bars, eateries and shops of busy Ambleside, this smart townhouse B&B is also only a 15-minute stroll from Lake Windermere – England’s longest natural body of water, and where you’ll find year-round cruises. The B&B has free parking, too – a rarity in such a central position. Light and fresh rooms, most with good views, are surprisingly large and with sleek modern bathrooms. Hot drinks are available all day, while breakfasts are cooked to order. Come evening, there’s plenty of choice within strolling distance, from the fun of Lucy’s on a Plate to fine dining at Michelin-starred The Old Stamp House.

Best for views: The Mortal Man

Location: Troutbeck

After a hearty meal and refreshing ale, relax in snug rooms with cosy furnishings (The Mortal Man)

Once settled in the beer garden, you may find it hard to leave – the views south, down Troutbeck valley to Windermere, are mesmerising. The white-washed 17th-century inn, much extended into a large three-storey building, is firmly traditional with snug, low-beamed rooms, open fires and horse brasses. Bedrooms are modest but modern with pine furniture, pops of colour in throws and cushions, and most offer baths as well as showers. Food is hearty pub classics, plus there’s a good range of real ales and ciders. Troutbeck village (two pubs, one café) is a good base for walks, including Wansfell Pike and High Street, while Windermere and Ambleside are a 10-minute drive away.

Best for foodies: The Yan

Location: Grasmere

The pods feature wood-burning stoves, shower rooms and terraces (The Yan)

With views to hills such as Helm Crag and Silver How, these glamping pods are part of a small converted farm complex, a 20-minute walk from pretty Grasmere village. Timber-clad with wood-burning stove, shower room, terrace and kitchen, they’re not short of luxuries – underfloor heating, smart TVs and Pure Lakes bathroom treats. The big draw is the cool-rustic bistro in former outbuildings – think slate floors and chunky iron posts – which serves up modern European dishes with punchy twists on Cumbrian ingredients, such as curried Herdwick lamb pittas, and haddock and Morecambe Bay shrimp samosas. Breakfasts, which include home-produced eggs and home-smoked salmon, can be delivered to the pods.

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Best for walkers: Woolpack Inn

Location: Eskdale

Scafell Pike and Harter Fell are close to The Woolpack Inn (Woolpack Inn)

Almost the last building before the road rises steeply – and scarily – up the Hardknott Pass, this inn (with parts dating to the 16th century) is in lesser-visited Eskdale in the western Lakes. Very much a pub with rooms, the traditional flagged floors, red-patterned carpets and copper brasses have been given the odd contemporary sprucing – a large second bar, for example, with scrubbed wooden tables and a pizza oven. The seven bedrooms are simply furnished with all the essentials for the keen walker: comfortable bed, good storage and plenty of hot water in modern bathrooms. Wonderful views lure you onto the fells, including Harter Fell, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, plus valley walks. There’s guaranteed good crack in the bar come evening, too.

Best for lake fun and games: The Crown Inn

Location: Pooley Bridge, Ullswater

The Crown Inn’s traditionally furnished bedrooms overlook Pooley Bridge’s market place (Thee Crown Inn)

Close to the M6 (10 minutes) and Ullswater (five-minute walk) and in the popular village of Pooley Bridge – three pubs, cafes, deli, village store – The Crown ticks many boxes. One big one is that the landing stage for the Ullswater Steamers that criss-cross the lake is just an eight-minute walk away. Want to be more active? There are lakeside walks or, for watery fun, several places offer paddleboarding, wakesurfing, kayaking, sailing and boat hire. The 17th-century coaching inn, arguably, holds the village’s prime position, facing the market place and overlooking the River Eamont at the rear – its large riverside terraces are perfect for lazy summer days or a post-activity pint. Bedrooms have a modern-rustic look, with timber headboards, wool throws, tongue-and-groove panelling, and snazzy bathrooms.

Best for escaping the crowds: The Pheasant Inn

Location: Bassenthwaite

The Pheasant Inn offers 15 pretty rooms with country cottage vibes (The Pheasant Inn)

Close to the lower end of Bassenthwaite Lake in the northern Lakes, set back from the main road and wrapped in woodland, The Pheasant feels secluded yet is only 15 minutes’ drive from Keswick. Step inside the low-slung, whitewashed 17th-century coaching inn, with its pretty sash windows, to a series of low-beamed rooms with real fires and, at the heart, a wonderfully atmospheric bar with wine-red walls and copper-topped tables in alcoves. Bedrooms, 15 in total, share the same modern cottagey style and colours. The inn’s ace card is the vast lawned and terraced rear garden and woodland. Get up early to spot a red squirrel.

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