What To Do When It Rains In: Ambleside

Rainy days may be inevitable in the UK hills, but sometimes it's just too foul for summits. If bad weather is getting you down then do something less miserable instead. From gear shops to sightseeing, every mountain centre has wet weather options. This week we're in Ambleside, the fell walking (and gear shopping) capital of the south Lakes.

Ambleside church in the mist, 37 kb
Ambleside church in the mist
© Pete Atkinson

Low Level Walks

Sometimes the prospect of heaving yourself up the mountains in the relentless rain is just a bit too much, and a lower level, short walk is just the ticket. Its time to don the waterproof and make the most of what can still be a memorable and enjoyable day out. These walks provide spectacular views just minutes from the car.

Rydal Caves

A walk out to Rydal offers the gloriously pretty view of Rydal Water (including a wild swim if you're feeling brave - well hey, you're wet already!), and an easy footpath along to one of the treasures of the Lakes. But there's more here than first meets the eye, so why not go cave hunting.

Rydal Cave
© Obi Wan, Aug 2007

The Rydal Caves are truly spectacular, deep chambers atop huge slate piles. It's well worth a poke around, and a shout if you enjoy remarkable echoes. Less well known, however, is the smaller cave nearby. On the left hand side of the path (if coming from the Ambleside direction), high on the other side of a large dip, another cave mouth is visible. The tricky, and often wet scramble is enough to put most people off bothering to venture to this cave. Once inside though, a passage leads away to the left. No natural light makes it this far, so bring a torch! The passage leads into a cavern, where the brave will try a moment of lights out for total blackness.

If the weather has perked up, following the path up onto Loughrigg is a fine way to extend your day out. Alternatively, a retreat may be necessary back the way you came. There is a National Trust car park just over the bridge and the end of the Under Loughrigg road.

Stockghyll Waterfalls

This tributary of the River Rothay can be admired from many locations, popularly the famous Bridge House in the town centre - but viewpoints don't come more breathtaking than those up in the Stockghyll woods, just a ten minute walk from the town centre. The dramatic gorge that has been formed by the river is a remarkable land-feature that will convince anyone they are no longer in the gentler part of the Lake District. To round it off, the more rain the river has seen, the more thrilling the waterfall becomes, making it the perfect wet-weather activity. Just don't get too close!

Stock Ghyll, 108 kb
Stock Ghyll
© Obi Wan, Aug 2007

Lingmoor Fell and Elterwater

Autumn sunshine in Elterwater, 179 kb
Autumn sunshine in Elterwater
© JamesRoddie, Oct 2007

Yes it's a summit; but it's not a very big one. Coming in at only 470m, the top of Lingmoor Fell can often sit below cloud level, meaning valley views even when the higher fells all around are mist-shrouded. If it's so miserable that you only fancy a few hours out, yet you're still keen to get a real fell under you boots, then here's where to head. And if you're keen to extend the low-level part of the walk too, then it's quite possible to walk in via Elter Water.

  • See the UKH Route Card here

Mountain Biking

Opportunities to get soaked and muddy on two wheels abound in this neck of the woods. One of the best shorter circuits is around Loughrigg.

On the fantastic Loughrigg Terrace, 181 kb
On the fantastic Loughrigg Terrace
© Tom Hutton

"Both the descents are full-on fun" says MTB expert Tom Hutton, "but the roller-coaster ride along Loughrigg Terrace is one of the best in the Lakes: sweet easy rolling in some places and a real rocky horror shows in others. A word of warning: the terrace gets extremely busy with walkers so choose your day carefully or better still avoid busy periods altogether."

On a rainy day, that shouldn't be too hard to arrange...

  • See the UKH Route Card here

Climbing Walls

If the day demands some climbing, come hell or high water, then several walls can be found in the reasonably near vicinity. With the massive 25m main wall, plus a huge range of bouldering, top roping, kid's fun etc. there are few indoor centres that surpass the Kendal Wall, just a 25 minute drive away. Closer to hand, a visit to Ambleside's own climbing wall at Adventure Peaks will save a drive.

If you fancy something a bit quirky, Kong Adventure have a Mountain Rescue-themed Escape Room over in Keswick. Can you and your friends save a fallen climber in 100mph winds? Not quite climbing, but an eerily-relatable situation on a wet day in the Lakes...

Gear Shopping

As every outdoor person knows, rainy weather is a great excuse to splash... the cash! Whilst Ambleside lacks many of the high street chain stores that make every British town centre look the same, it more than compensates with a great many outdoor shops. This is the gear shopping capital of the south Lakes, a destination for getting your hands on shiny new kit that's arguably unsurpassed anywhere in the UK (though Keswick runs it close). Opportunities to empty your wallet abound.

Try The Climbers Shop - it's not just for climbers. Opened back in 1959, it boasts a fantastic stock of equipment and clothing, a library of great books, and friendly staff - too much to keep an avid outdoorsperson outside on any day, let alone a wet one!

Full-time member of staff required - Ambleside, Recruitment Premier Post, 1 weeks @ GBP 75pw, 82 kb

Alpkit's Ambleside store is well worth a browse. "Come in and make yourself comfy, grab a cuppa, read a magazine..." says store manager Chris. "This is our home when we're not off exploring the Lake District and 'testing' the gear. Whether you need a little guidance, want to take out a bike, try on a wetsuit, or just fancy a chat – there's nothing we love more than hearing about your adventures."

Alpkit Ambleside 4, 110 kb

Returning to the more technical end of the spectrum, drop into The Epicentre. "Our dog (and human) friendly store consists of 4 floors which have been beautifully designed and always remains well stocked to provide the best possible experience for the customer" they say.

The EpiCentre, 53 kb

If you've not yet cleaned out the current account then there are plenty of other shops to choose from too.

Kong Escape Room, 63 kb

Cruise Windermere

When mist steams on the felltops and rain bounces off the deck, a lake cruise on Windermere can be an atmospheric way to whittle away a soggy few hours.

See Windermere Lake Cruises

Reflections on Windermere from Ambleside, 69 kb
Reflections on Windermere from Ambleside
Only a hill, Nov 2014
© Alex Roddie

Potter to a tourist attraction

With Dove Cottage - Wordsworth's old gaff - and the National Trust property of Allan Bank both just up the road in Grasmere, you're not short of historical interest. If you don't mind crowds, Grasmere village is a nice spot for a (Beatrix)potter too, with a number of cafes and touristy shops to squander the pennies in.

Grasmere low cloud, 133 kb
Grasmere low cloud
© shaun walby, Feb 2014

Unwind at Zeffirellis

With cinema screens, top quality vegetarian food, and a busy schedule of live music, including free jazz every Friday night, Zeff's (as it's commonly known) is a true gem. A wonderful spot to enjoy a (classy) pizza and a pint after a good day out, or as part of the meal deal with a film too.

Suck it up...

You know what they say - there's no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing. Well clearly they lied. But maybe life is just too short to spend your weekend not walking the fells, come hell or high water. How wet is it really?

Jack's Wet Rake, 226 kb
Jack's Wet Rake
© JimboWizbo, Oct 2013

If you're not the sort to be daunted by a bit of water, here are a few local route ideas:

Fairfield Horseshoe

Helm Crag

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake

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