Earlier this year my family decided to take a much needed break to the Lake District. I had very litttle to do with the planning of this holiday, all I had to do was arrive home the day before ready for my dad to drive us all to Ambleside, the village that my parents had decided to stay in. I had half-heartedly read reviews and guides to Ambleside but really had no idea about what to expect.
My initial impression of Ambleside was very good. Driving through the village it all seemed so picturesque and quaint. I wouldn't say the buildings are the most attractive that I've ever seen, in fact they're a little bit dreary but they're old and they look old and I love old buildings.
Ambleside is in a great location. One of the reasons why my parents chose to stay in Ambleside was because it is so easy to get to various attractions and to access the beautiful countryside around Ambleside. You can walk to Windermere where it is easy to get to a number of other villages (I would recommend taking the boat and not swimming). There are also a number of bus services that leave from Ambleside going to various places of interest. The buses were described to me as frequent by locals which translated as every half an hour (and therefore not what I would consider to be frequent). For people who would rather walk everywhere (like my parents) there are a number of walks that start in Ambleside and are suitable for all abilities. It does get expensive to take the buses and boats everywhere but unless you know that there is a safe walking route to your destination I would highly recommend using them. Footpaths on the side of roads frequently disappear and there are not always crossings so walking to places (as we discovered) is not always the safest or most pleasant way to travel.
Unfortunately if you put aside the appearance of the town and the fact that it's conveniently located for a number of attractions the town itself has little to offer. For me the attraction to small towns or villages like Ambleside has always been that they're quiet, a nice break from the city. Ambleside is very crowded and far too small for the number of people who are in it. I did visit at the height of the tourist season so it's probably not so crowded at other times of the year.
The number of people crammed into Ambleside had a huge impact on every aspect of my visit. Pavements were too narrow even to walk side by side with someone in places, so sometimes you are forced onto the road if there is someone walking towards you. The roads are busy so this is quite dangerous (although traffic is quite slow due to the fact that there seems to be a constant traffic jam going through Ambleside). The supermarkets (there's a spar and a co-op) are not big enough for the number of people who need to use them and aren't particularly well stocked, they're more like corner shops and there were always long queues when I went in.
Although Ambleside seems to rely entirely on tourism the tourist information centre is just a stand with leaflets on in the post office. The only places of interest that I could find in Ambleside, using the tourist information centre was a museum that was closed the week we were there and the bridge house. The bridge house is a tiny house over the river that is now owned by the National Trust. When I say that it's tiny I mean it, it's barely big enough for some National Trust merchandise and leaflets and a few people. It's difficult to believe that a family with six children lived there. I visited the bridge house a couple of times, the first time was because I was interested in seeing what it was like. It's certainly worth seeing. After that I returned a couple of times because the man who worked there was just so helpful and friendly. After finding the tourist information centre so useless I asked him about a number of attractions that I was interested in visiting and he seemed happy to help, giving us tips about various National Trust properties.
My parents really enjoy walking and while I love walking around cities I don't like walking in the country, I'm just too clumsy and I hate getting dirty. However, as my parents were spending so much time walking and I was getting quite bored I did take a walk with them to the waterfalls in Ambleside. They're very well signposted so if you want to visit them you shouldn't have any problems finding them. I personally didn't enjoy the walk. It was muddy, wet and slippery and now my family have photographs that they'll be able to hold over me for the rest of my life. However, it wasn't a particularly difficult walk (if I can do it anyone can) and the view was beautiful.
If you are determined to stay in Ambleside and not venture out to the many great places that there are to see you will be able to keep yourself occupied in Ambleside, it's just that whatever you can do there you could do better and for less money somewhere else.
There is a cinema in Ambleside called Zefferelli's but it's nowhere near as good as the cinema's that I usually visit, it's small and overall quite uncomfortable and it isn't much cheaper than visiting the cinema in Finchley. There are plenty of restaurants and cafe's that sell a great selection of locally produced food but they're very over priced. There are a number of book shops that I loved looking around but the selection is much smaller than the book shops that I usually go to.
If you are looking for a good place to be based in the Lake District so that you can visit all of the historic houses and take lots of lovely walks in the countryside then I would certainly recommend Ambleside. If you are looking for somewhere that you can stay in for a week without having to make an effort to walk or travel outside of the town then this probably isn't the place for you. I was hoping for a quiet, relaxing stay in the country and instead I found myself in a place that's just as busy as the city with the only difference being that it isn't equipped to deal with so many people.