From Roman forts to medieval castles to Victorian steam trains, for more than 2,000 years human industry has left its mark on the Cumbrian landscape, blending with the region’s natural beauty. On this full-day tour with a driver-guide, you navigate the narrow, twisty roads of Cumbria to uncover the history of the area.
Your journey to Hardknott Roman Fort runs along tiny roads heading to the picturesque valley of Little Langdale. Beyond here, the road ascends to the steep and wiggly Wrynose Pass and the even steeper and sinuous Hardknott Pass. You might choose to stop for photographs along the way at scenic points or take a short woodland walk to Colwith Force waterfall.
You reach the fort after about an hour and a half, and can explore its ruins and the striking vistas at your leisure. In clear weather, you’re able to see the looming bulk of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in the country.
Continuing on to Dalegarth, you catch the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, which chugs down a precipitous and windy descent into the attractive Eskdale Valley. The steam train is a miniature locomotive known as ‘Laal Ratty’, which takes its passengers on a 40-minute journey through woodland, past villages and alongside a babbling stream, all the way to Ravenglass.
There is a small museum at Ravenglass Station, which has railway exhibits, information about local history and some hands-on activities for children.
Ravenglass, a medieval seaside village, looks particularly pretty when the tide is out. The astonishingly well-preserved remains of a Roman bathhouse lie just outside the town. Historians continue to excavate in the immediate vicinity, with the hopes of uncovering more remains of what was once an important Roman port settlement.
About a five-minute drive from Ravenglass is Muncaster Castle, ancestral home of the Pennington family who still live here. You can either be driven into the castle grounds or, if you’d prefer, ask to be dropped at the main gate and then walk for half a mile up the drive through some of the castle’s outstanding gardens. There are numerous side-trails to follow, which are surrounded by a variety of flora.
The castle grounds also include a 12th-century church and graveyard, and a bird of prey sanctuary, which puts on excellent shows either once or twice daily, depending on the season. A daily wild heron feeding also takes place outside the main entrance to the castle, where there is a little-known but outstanding view up Eskdale Valley toward Scafell Pike and Hardknott Pass.
Inside, the castle is hung with ancestral portraits, and filled with heirlooms and ancient furniture, each of which tells a story. Historians continue to uncover new items within the castle, and you’re likely to come across volunteers documenting, researching or transcribing these objects. You’ll hear ghost stories and old family tales as you explore the rooms, which have been left untouched by the modern world.
There’s time for lunch (not included) either in Ravenglass or at the castle.
The journey back from Muncaster takes you through some of the wildest, most remote parts of the Lake District, with views out across the sea and back toward some of the highest peaks. A traverse across open moorland returns you once more to the winding lanes and close hills where you began your day.