Open top bus is the best way to see the Lakes

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Travelling through the beautiful Lake District onboard an open top bus on one of the warmest days of the year? It was a big ask… But Roger Lytollis was willing to give it a go.

I’ve always fancied a drive through the Lake District with a warm breeze ruffling what’s left of my hair. My budget doesn’t quite stretch to an open top sports car. It does, though, extend to a ticket on an open top bus. Stagecoach runs several such services all year round. Perhaps the most picturesque is the 599 through the central Lakes, between Bowness-on-Windermere and Grasmere.

Roger Lytollis waiting for a Stagecoach bus in Cumbria
Roger Lytollis waiting for a Stagecoach bus. JENNY WOOLGAR PHOTOGRAPHY.

It takes a certain confidence to board an open top bus in Cumbria, even in summer. Sometimes, especially in summer. I got lucky one August morning. The weather gods were smiling. And with rainy days in mind, the front section of the upper deck is covered. For particularly bracing days, there’s always the lower deck to shelter in. 

But in this beautiful landscape it makes sense to go a little higher. Rising above the buildings allows much clearer views of the lakes and mountains than we’re used to from a main road. 

Public transport’s Covid-19 rules mean face coverings are required, even on the top deck. At least you won’t have to bother smiling for selfies. And there was still a sense of freedom thanks to a welcome cooling breeze. 

We set off from Bowness Pier, calling at Windermere Station a few minutes later. Then we joined the A591, named Britain’s most popular road in a poll by satnav firm Garmin. It’s easy to see why, especially from this height. 

The familiar landscape was transformed by a new perspective. Windermere’s water was visible from much more of the A591 than usual. The Langdale Pikes loomed on the western horizon. I enjoyed a bird’s eye view of fields and their woolly inhabitants. With no roof, a bus ride becomes a 3D adventure. On some stretches, tree branches brushed the sides. As we travelled through Ambleside, the buildings at times felt close enough to touch. (Please don’t try this: leaning out of an open top bus is not good for your health).

Passengers on the Stagecoach 599 bus from Bowness on Windermere to Grasmere
Passengers on the 599 bus from Bowness to Grasmere. JENNY WOOLGAR PHOTOGRAPHY

Mo Daj from London was relishing his first visit to the Lake District. “It’s very beautiful,” he said. “It’s very different to London. I’m used to being upstairs on buses, but not with views like this. In London you see just buildings – not many lakes at all!” 

Ben Ree and Catherine Wolanski had come here from Bradford. Catherine said: “It’s more scenic from the top of a bus. You see everything. And it’s nice to get some fresh air.” Would she have braved the top deck if it had been raining? “I’d still be up here,” she insisted. “It wouldn’t bother me.” 

There were no such issues today. Rydal Water was a sun-dappled joy beneath a ceiling of blue… I wonder if anyone else has ever felt poetic in these parts? We then passed equally stunning Grasmere – the lake – and arrived in pretty Grasmere village on schedule, after 52 minutes savouring some of Britain’s most glorious scenery. No surprise that driver Jim Murray enjoys this route. “It’s partly the fact that everyone’s in a good mood,” he said. “They come from all over the world. Well, they did before coronavirus. I look forward to seeing them again.”

At Grasmere the bus turns around and heads back to Bowness. Rebecca and Jonathan Williams from Melkinthorpe, near Penrith, boarded at Grasmere with seven-year-old Luca. They’re among the many hikers who take advantage of the 599. “It’s a good route to get little ones walking,” said Rebecca. “We’ll get off at Rydal and walk to Ambleside.”

With an Explorer ticket passengers can hop on and off all day, or stay put and enjoy the ride. Like the Lake District itself in these challenging times, Stagecoach’s open top buses are open for business.

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