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The slowest of journeys: exploring Ullswater by water

With Jo Tinsley

If slow travel is all about taking pleasure in the journey, then travelling by water must be among the most satisfying ways to travel. Roaming by water offers a unique perspective, affording you maximum exposure to nature while letting you see the shape of the landscape from a fresh point of view. Jo Tinsley, author of The Slow Traveller, explores four ways of exploring Ullswater by water.

Jo Tinsley

Faroe Islands/Ruth Allen

Slow your pace on the Ullswater steamer

Ullswater Steamer

Travelling on one of the traditional Ullswater Steamers, which have been nosing their way along the lake for the past 160 years, forces a sense of slowness on you. It is an idle way of moving through the landscape; an invitation to look more closely and adjust to the rhythms of the water. Travelling from the gently rolling hills of the lake’s northern reaches to where the wilder foothills of Helvellyn rise from the lake shore, you will pass islets and tranquil bays that are inaccessible on foot. A 22-mile round-the-lake footpath, the Ullswater Way links all four of Ullswater Steamer piers, allowing you to hop off and walk back to where you started.

Explore Ullswater Way

Ignite your curiosity by exploring by kayak or paddleboard

For an even more immersive experience, a kayak or paddleboard allows you to go where larger vessels can’t, letting you explore areas of the lake inaccessible even by walkers and bringing you in closer contact with the lake’s wildlife, perhaps watching swifts catch flies on the wing or listening to red deer stags’ bellowing calls echo over the lake.

Go paddleboarding

Ullswater Canoe trail

Messing about in boats: family adventures on the water

Family rafted canoeing on the lake

From Ratty in The Wind in the Willows to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, children’s literature is filled with tales of adventures afloat. Understandably, too; adventures by boat make lasting memories. Picture misty mornings wrapped in blankets, fuelled on porridge and waffles. Packing a bag with binoculars and snacks, you set out over the lake: pioneers, each and every one of you. The squeal of laughter as you dodge low-hanging branches or get drenched by a well-aimed splash: there’s nothing like moments of mild peril to bring a team together. Of course, this rosy picture is likely to be peppered with squabbles, unexpected downpours and an inexhaustible chorus of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ but wholesome moments like these are guaranteed to be memories children (and adults) look back on fondly.

“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Over land and water: the joy of cross country swimming

Wild swimming adventures to kailpot

While travelling by boat offers a fresh perspective on Lakeland wildlife, getting into the water allows you to completely immerse yourself in this watery world. Covering a distance by walking and then getting in to swim feels even more intrepid and is easily within reach of any confident swimmer thanks to guided trips led by resident swim expert Colin Hill. The ‘Wild swimming adventure to Kailpot’ explores the wilder side of Ullswater, where twisted, coppery oaks hang their branches over exposed rocks, on a trip that combines a boat ride, hike, swim and a gleeful leap into the lake. Who said slow travel couldn’t be exhilarating?

Jo Tinsley is the author of The Slow Traveller: An intention path to mindful adventures (Quarto, 2023).

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