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Exploring the English Lake District sustainably

17 February 2020

Local tour operator Hidden Lakeland highlights the unique experiences offered by exploring the English Lake District World Heritage Site by public transport.

"It’s not just the place, but the getting around that makes the difference."

Setting up as a tour guide in 2019 felt like the right thing to do after moving to Kendal from Kyoto, my home for more than 20 years. I wanted to “give something back” by showing Japanese visitors to Lakeland the same level of hospitality and service I’d long enjoyed in Japan.

Hidden Lakeland isn’t just about sharing the hidden gems of the English Lake District and Cumbria with Japanese visitors to the Lakes. It’s about how we get around: by bus, boat, train and on foot. After 14 years teaching environmental studies to graduates at Kyoto University in Japan, sustainable travel isn’t so much a choice for me as an imperative. When roads become busy in the summer, using public transport allows me to get more off the beaten track than being tied to a private vehicles and car parks, doing walks that finish in a completely different place to where we started. Using public transport does occasionally result in unplanned adventures and sometimes I’ve recommended private vehicle tours for people who want whistle-stop visits to the Lake District. But most of the time, I can get people where they want to be. Even in winter it’s still possible to see the best of the Lakes, with the added advantage of a lot fewer people.

Everyone agrees that there’s a challenge with cars and coaches in the Lakes, while positive responses to Local Sustainable Transport Fund initiatives some years ago proved that people will use public transport if incentivized to do so – for example, with opportunities to take bicycles on buses and boats. Where is the continued government commitment for integrated travel options in the Lakes, though, and shouldn’t more be done, in terms of sticks as well as carrots for car-drivers and benefits and rewards for people who come to or travel around the Lakes on foot, by bike, bus or train?
That said, travelling around Cumbria by public transport remains its own reward. Seeing the lakes this way is simply the most relaxing way to travel. Leaving the car behind immediately catapults you into a slower vibe. One that allows breaks at the most interesting spots without having to find somewhere to park, for some of the best puds (Cartmel sticky toffee pudding or Grasmere Gingerbread, anyone?), local delicacies and tastiest pints around. Everything looks better from the top deck of a Stagecoach bus, while slowing things down helps you spend less time trying to see everything and more time enjoying, touching and feeling what you see. A view glimpsed from a car window, however stunning, is still no more than that: a glimpse. But nobody could forget a hike alongside Crummock Water or down into the Langdale valley, or an hour spent picnicking and paddling among ducklings, dragonflies and (invariably) dogs by Rydal Water on the way to Grasmere – all three of these wonderful point-to-point walks where no one has to go back for the car.

The craggy fells, luminous lakes and pastured valleys of the Lake District speak not just to our love of nature, but our reverence for everyone who’s been here before us.  A product of glaciation and geology, the landscape has also been shaped by miners, farmers and their grazing animals, by painters’ brushes, poets’ verses and the camera lens. This uniquely cultural landscape has long been celebrated as the birthplace of landscape conservation, as well, since 2017 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site drawing some 19 million visitors. I’m honoured to play a small part in sustaining this magical place as a world-class visitor destination: one that can continue to benefit from its tourist industry without loss to itself – just as long as we all take our time to enjoy it.

About the author

Tracey Gannon

Hidden Lakeland provide individual and small group tours for Japanese visitors travelling to the English Lake District, helping you discover the hidden gems of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.