Walking - Lake District vs Yorkshire Dales vs N York Moors vs Forest of Bowland

My wife & I will be heading north after 4 days in London. We like walking in hills & stark scenery. We'll have 3 days and want to decide which area to visit. We'd rather focus on one than spend time driving between them. (We'll have a car.)

Can anyone recommend which of the title areas we should go to? I looked at Google Images and all looked gorgeous. My impression was that in terms of "hilliest" the order would be: Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, then North York Moors. But the Lake District also had the most photos with clouds & fog.

To further complicate our decision, I chanced on photos of the Forest of Bowland and -- despite its name -- it seems to be hilly and largely treeless. We prefer hiking in tree-spares regions for the farther views. The photos of it were beautiful, kind of a mix of the other three.

So how do we chose one region? I'd appreciate any advice regarding scenery, walking routes, accessibility, and food/lodging.

Thanks very much!

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
1042 posts

The three areas of northern England are distinctive with the Lake District ironically mountainous (hilly) in spite of it name (lakes). That said, the Dales are pretty hilly where walking any significant distance involves a lot of cumulative up and down. And the North York Moors are not completely flat as its name implies.

Got a chance to check my Paul Hannon Coast to Coast Walk gide.:
Lake District Patterdale to Burnbanks (over Kidty Pike) = 2700 ft iof ascent mostly in the first 5 or 6 miles of 11 miles.
North York Ingleby Cross to Clay Top Banks =2700 ft over 12 miles.

We only spent two weeks crossing north England so my weather observations are pretty anecdotal. We had pretty good mostly clear weather crossing the Lake District. The day we walked from Barrowdale to Grasmere the day was so sunny and warm that my wife tried to cut off the sleeves of her long sleeve top. On the other hand, we crossed over Kidstey Pike is a whiteout that required navigation by compass bearing until we got below cloud level. And the roughest weather day walking in wind driven heavy rain was a day in the North York walking from Clay Top Banks to Glaisdale. Our anecdotal lesson is that weather can be great (i.e. blue sky) or pretty rough anywhere in northern England.

I suppose that if I had to pick one, the Lake District is a classic and the population of walkers and tourist reflect that distinction. The Dales are just plain nice with many enjoyable walking opportunities. A friend of ours rented a house in the Dales for a month at a time during late Spring for several years running and walked with a local club. The North York is scenic and somewhat desolate in terms of other travelers and memorable in its vastness. Shorter distance wise walks in the Lake District vs. longer distance flatter walks in the Dales and Moors all though the steepest country road we walked up was in the North York with the North Sea just coming into view.

Pick any of the three and you cant go wrong. (Sorry, don't know about Bowland).

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
1202 posts

I have spent time in all of the places you mention (except the Forest of Bowland) but The Lake District is my favorite. We have been there five times during the months of June, July, August and September and spent at least 5 months cumulatively. It is one of my favorite places in the world.
If you go, stay for at least 4 nights, stay in Keswick, and do your research ahead of time. There are hundreds of different walks/hikes of all difficulty levels. You can stroll around Grasmere or Rydal Water (both easy) or conquer Helvellyn or Haystacks (rigorous). There are hikes that will give you sweeping vistas for 100 miles. Some paths are popular and crowded (Catbells) and others you will have completely to yourself. There are many hikes that I would consider to be quite stark and dramatic. Most hikes in The Lakes are not forested at all and go from pastureland, to rock screes, and over fairly rugged peaks and fells. Some of my favorite fells and hikes are Blencathra, Skiddaw, Haystacks, Langdale Valley and Pikes, Walla Crag, around Buttermere, and over Helvellyn from the A591 to Ullswater and spend the night in Glenridding taking the bus back the next day. Don't miss the Castlerigg stone circle above town - there is a parking lot there now (unfortunately) but I prefer to walk from the road at Castlerigg Hall and campground through the fields to get there. It's hard to pick favorite hikes in the area because they are all amazing.
The farther away you get from the A591 the less people there will be, except in a few small pockets like Buttermere and Hawkshead.
As for the weather, the Lake District is ever changing although you'll find that most of northern England is like that. It might be pouring in the morning and sunny and beautiful after lunch thus my recommendation that you allow at least 3-4 days in case there is bad weather. If it is raining though there is plenty to see and do - many literary sites, historic houses, several small museums, and lots of places to stop in for a bite by a fire. There are excellent pubs everywhere you will go. Or just hike in the rain...we've done that many times as do most people who go here.
Keswick is absolutely brimming with B&Bs. We usually rent an apartment but last time we were there for just a few days and stayed at a simple B&B in town called the Herdwick Guest House and it was perfect for us. The owners are lovely people and really go out of their way to make sure that you get the most out of your time visiting the area. It is right in town and easily walkable to everything there plus public transportation.
The Lake District has excellent bus service if you don't have a car. We've used both the bus and a car and both are equally easy IMHO.
The tourist office in Keswick is friendly and they can also help you decide which hikes to do and how to get there - it's in the Moot Hall in the main town square.
I went on longer than I meant to but I am a true fan as you can tell! Good luck deciding -