On a dry, clear day, with the sun sparkling on the water and mountains brooding in the background, there are few finer places than the Lake District… but when the heavens open, your Swallows & Amazons family idyll can soon be submerged in gloom. One of the first areas in the UK to be designated as a national park, back in 1951, Lakeland is known for its natural beauty and wondrous walking, but theme parks and rainy-day recreation are thin on the daffodil-strewn ground.
The same goes for campsites and caravan parks in the Lake District proper – there are some stunning spots, but most offer seclusion and scenery rather than family fun and that all-important pool for downtime days. So, if you’re taking the kids to Cumbria, it’s best to find a base beyond the park boundaries and take day trips into the fells. We’ve found five family-friendly caravan parks with swimming pools near the Lake District, each within an hour’s drive of a classic walk or beauty spot. As a bonus, you’ll have easy access to less familiar scenery, dog-friendly beaches, Michelin-starred restaurants, the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall or the spiritual home of sticky toffee pudding. Unless stated, all the sites offer WiFi and electric hook-ups.
Haven Lakeland Leisure Park
Address: Flookburgh, Cumbria LA11 7LT
Open from March to early November
The kids are guaranteed a great time at any Haven resort, and its Cumbrian outpost will keep them busy whatever the weather. It has heated outdoor and indoor pools, watersports, a boating lake, golf courses (crazy and nine-hole), tennis courts, a high-ropes course, karting, pool tables, an all-weather sports pitch and three play areas, and the daily activity menu offers football, archery and fire-lighting lessons, as well as creative sessions for the less sporty. There are three restaurants on site and the mini market sells essentials for your stay – if you need to stock up, it’s a 10-minute drive to the high street in Grange-over-Sands or 20 minutes to the Booths supermarket in Ulverston.
Haven Lakeland Leisure Park is on the Cartmel peninsula, with views of rolling hills and the endless sands of Morecambe Bay. Holiday traffic permitting, it’s a half-hour drive to the southern end of Lake Windermere, 40 minutes to Coniston and 45 minutes to Ambleside. Closer to the caravan park, there are great walks with sea views on the wooded slopes above Grange and it’s a 10-minute drive to Cartmel, an Insta-fabulous village with a divine medieval priory and a reputation as one of the best foodie hotspots in Britain. If your budget won’t stretch to a blowout meal at the two-Michelin-starred L’Enclume, try the Cavendish Arms or pick up a sticky toffee pud at the celebrated Cartmel Village Shop.
Prices: from £16 a night for a family of four
Top tip: for a unique family escapade, book a guided walk across the shifting sands of Morecambe Bay – it’s too dangerous to cross them by yourself. Check the 2021 schedule at guideoversands.co.uk
Address: Silloth, Cumbria CA7 4HH
Open all year
Northern Cumbria seems like a sleepy spot these days, but for centuries it was the setting for skirmishes with the Scots – Hadrian’s Wall ran east from Bowness-on-Solway, and Edward I died here in 1307 en route to a campaign against Robert the Bruce. All of which will probably be lost on your little ’uns when they see the outdoor and indoor pools and bowling alley at this caravan park in the Victorian seaside resort of Silloth, across the Solway Firth from Scotland. There’s plenty more to keep kids of all ages occupied, including pool and snooker tables, play areas, a cafe and evening entertainment in the Sunset Inn. Dogs are welcome, and you can let them off the leash on Silloth West beach or have a more sedate stroll along the village’s pine-backed prom.
Stanwix Park is ideally placed for visiting Lakeland’s less crowded northern stretches, with Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water and Buttermere all within an hour’s drive. And it’s 45 minutes from Keswick, for a lake cruise or an assault on mighty Skiddaw, the third highest peak in the national park. If you’d rather stay put, Silloth has pubs, shops and a pretty village green with an adventure playground; and you can go walking or birdwatching in the marshlands of the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a few minutes up the coast. Bring your golf clubs, as there’s a cracking links course next to the caravan park.
Prices: from £32 a night for a family of four (minimum two-night stay)
Top tip: there’s a campers’ kitchen with hobs, microwaves, sinks and worktops
Solway Holiday Village
Address: Silloth, Cumbria CA7 4QN
Open from March to November
A mile up the road from Stanwix Park, Solway Holiday Village is an altogether more rural affair, with 130 acres of parkland and a farm where you’ll find Highland cattle, deer and alpacas. There’s still plenty of family fun to be had, though, thanks to the indoor pool, activity centre, playground, sports pitch and a kids’ club. The Nag’s Head serves light bites and main meals, there’s a shop on site and you can walk along the prom to the shops and restaurants in Silloth, enjoying endless views of the Solway Firth along the way.
Solway Holiday Village is well placed for visiting northern Lakeland, which attracts fewer tourists than the southern areas – Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water and Buttermere are all within an hour’s drive. You can walk to the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, home to a rich variety of waterfowl, or take the 40-minute drive to the ancient fortress town of Carlisle, where the medieval castle and cathedral were built in striking red sandstone.
Prices: from £24 a night for a family of four
Top tip: if you’ve ever considered eloping, it’s a 50-minute drive to Gretna Green
Spring Lea Holiday Centre
Address: Allonby, Cumbria CA15 6QF
Open from March to November
The Cumbrian coast isn’t an obvious tourist destination, but this family-run caravan park is a short walk from a sandy beach, within easy day-trip distance of the Lake District National Park and a few minutes’ drive from Maryport, HQ for the chain of Roman fortifications that once ran along the shore: the Senhouse Roman Museum, overlooking Maryport’s harbour, is the place to find out more. Maryport also has an aquarium with sharks, rays and jellyfish, as well as a Lidl and a cluster of pubs around its marina.
Spring Lea Holiday Centre has an indoor pool with a separate swimming area for toddlers, pool tables, arcade games, two playgrounds and a bar/restaurant that offers a takeaway service. Adults can indulge in a sauna or Jacuzzi session in the pool complex, and it’s a five-minute walk to the grade II listed Ship, in Allonby, where you can plot a trip to Bassenthwaite, Keswick, Buttermere or Crummock Water, all less than 50 minutes’ drive away. Add half an hour to that and you can be on the shores of Wast Water, ready to tackle Scafell Pike.
Prices: from £27.50 a night for a family of four
Top tip: the Lakes Distillery, in a Victorian farmhouse near Bassenthwaite, offers whisky, gin and vodka tastings, and a chance to feed its herd of alpacas
Fell End Holiday Park
Address: Hale, Cumbria LA7 7BS
Open all year
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this five-star park wasn’t in Cumbria, let alone Lakeland, but in fact it’s only half an hour from Windermere village, 40 minutes from Ambleside and 50 minutes from Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere. Set in 28 acres of woodland within the Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s also within striking distance of the Yorkshire Dales and the Forest of Bowland, so you can take in a swathe of the northwest’s most gorgeous scenery in a short break here.
Or you could relax and enjoy widescreen forest views from the park’s swimming pool and fitness suite, let the kids run wild in the playground and grab a meal or a drink at the bar/restaurant. There are three pubs within a five-minute drive – the smartest option is the Wheatsheaf, in Beetham – and the Booths in Milnthorpe, three miles away, will cover anything Fell End’s shop can’t supply. And head to Arnside, a 10-minute drive away for fish and chips on the seafront, gazing out over Morecambe Bay.
Prices: from £20 a night for a family of four
Top tip: head to the hide in the park’s nature reserve to get close-up views of the local wildlife