Possibly one of the most underrated bus routes in the Lake District is the 508 service between the transport hub towns of Windermere and Penrith. A seemingly endless display of wonderful mountain, valley and lake scenery with plenty of attractions from start to finish. It only does the full route between Easter and November, probably because it goes over Kirkstone Pass, the highest road in the Lake District and not a place to be in wintry weather. During the winter there is a reduced service between Penrith and Patterdale which avoids the mountain pass but is still very scenic. Between Easter and November there is an additional 508 service between Penrith and Patterdale which is normally open top, therefore allowing you to fully appreciate the Ullswater valley on route.
The full route is basically from Windermere railway station to Bowness, then following the A592 through Troutbeck valley, over Kirkstone Pass, Brotherswater, Patterdale, Glenridding, Ullswater to Pooley Bridge, then the B5320 to Eamont Bridge and Penrith. There are many attractions on route and an excellent day out can be had on this bus, perhaps disembarking to appreciate one or more attractions before getting a later bus. The following is a summary of the route and highlighted attractions, further information and links are shown at the end;
The service normally starts at Windermere train station, a public transport hub for trains from Oxenholme and for several other bus services. Windermere town is adjacent with plenty of attractive buildings, independent shops and cafes. The bus drops down through Windermere town and through the seamless town boundary into Bowness town. Another interesting and popular town with plenty to see and do, including The World of Beatrix Potter where you can learn all about the famous local author who did a lot more than write children’s books. The town sits on the shores of Windermere lake and the bus also stops at the main lake jetties where Windermere Lake Cruises boats are continually coming and going. The bus then follows the lake shore northwards, past the Windermere Jetty Museum which contains a wealth of information and artefacts on historic boating in the area. Just beyond is Rayrigg Meadow with attractive lakeshore access, viewpoints and large picnic and play areas.
The bus then follows the A592 away from the lake, across the main A591 and starts up the winding and sometimes narrow Kirkstone Pass road. The wonderful Holehird Gardens are soon on the right, set on a picturesque hillside overlooking Windermere. Beyond that is the attractive Troutbeck valley with Troutbeck village across the valley on the left. A peaceful and timeless village where you will also find Townend, an historic Lakeland farmhouse and now National Trust property. The scenery becomes more impressive and the road becomes narrower as you climb up the mountain pass with excellent views all around. The bus stop on Kirkstone Pass road summit is the highest bus stop in the Lake District but unfortunately the iconic Kirkstone Pass Inn is temporarily closed pending new owners.
Descending Kirkstone Pass also gives great views, especially ahead towards one of the smaller Lake District lakes, Brother Water. You soon reach the lake which has a lovely footpath along the western shore, surrounded by mountains. Onwards down the beautiful and rugged valley, soon pass through the small village of Patterdale and meet the southern end of Ullswater lake, with Glenridding village nearby. Glenridding is a good little place to explore and has a lovely parkland area next to the lake where the Ullswater Steamers set off down the lake. Beyond the village the road follows the lakeshore, although trees often obscure the surrounding views. Soon meet Glencoyne with some open shingle shore and woodland which is filled with daffodils in spring and where William Wordsworth had the inspiration for his famous poem ‘Daffodils’.
Next stop is the impressive Aira Force waterfall, well worth a short walk up through attractive woodland and fellside. Ullswater Steamers also stop here in season. Now a longer bus leg without any significant attraction stops but plenty of good scenery, following the lakeshore before meeting the foot of Ullswater lake at Pooley Bridge. The River Eamont drains the lake here and the new road bridge over the river was built to replace the one washed away by storm Desmond in 2015. Over the bridge you enter the main village where there are a number of pubs and good lakeshore access. The village is regularly full of local campers in season.
The bus continues along the B5320 where the scenery is a little less impressive but still very pleasant. Through Tirril village and over the M6 motorway to Eamont Bridge village where you can visit the prehistoric monuments of Mayburgh Henge and King Arthur’s Round Table. Then it’s just a short hop over the River Eamont again, across the main A66 and into Penrith town. The historic market town is worth exploring with its attractive red sandstone buildings and good selection of shops, restaurants and pubs. There are various other bus services from here and a station on the west coast main railway line.
From Penrith you can return to Windermere town on the train via Oxenholme, or do the return leg on the bus which is just as attractive in the opposite direction!
There is a bus doing the full route every 2 hours in each direction between Easter and November. Inbetween those buses is an open top service between Penrith and Patterdale during the same period. Between November and Easter there are a few buses daily between Penrith and Patterdale only.
Further information and links to all highlighted attractions can be found on the South East Lake District Attractions, North East Lake District Attractions and North Cumbria Attractions webpages on this website.
Enjoy a grand day out!