We spent four nights in the Lake District in August and had a fantastic time: driving up on the Thursday and coming back on the Bank Holiday Monday gave us three full days, and we had really good weather.
Thorney How is an easy walk out of Grasmere, but is perfectly placed for short walks up to Easedale Tarn and Helm Crag, or for longer walks continuing further west. It's clean and comfortable and the owners were friendly and helpful without being at all intrusive. Just beware the cat Ptolemy, who climbed into our room through the window twice, the first time while we were out on the first day, the second time in the middle of the night!
Our first day was spent doing a circular walk up to Easedale Tarn, probably a bit under 7km (4 miles) starting from our hostel, but 200+ metres up and then down again, much of it on a rocky and/or boggy track. This is a fantastic walk, with waterfalls, the tarn itself, dramatic crags, stone field walls, and so forth. There were also lots of attractive Herdwick sheep, and Camilla and Helen paddled in the tarn and had little fish nibble their feet. Helen was pretty tired when we got back to our hostel, but only complained towards the end, and she coped really well with clambering over the rocks and using stepping stones across bogs and so forth. Thankfully the nice-looking shoes she had (bought just the day before) turned out to be comfortable and had rubber soles with really good traction on rocks.
Our second day was much less strenuous. We wandered around Grasmere in the morning — it was surprisingly quiet, perhaps because the Bank Holiday weekend crowds hadn't arrived yet — and visited the Wordsworth Museum and Dove Cottage, which were really interesting. Helen and Camilla were attracted by the watercolors in the museum, and Helen stayed quite attentive through the cottage tour. And we had lunch there. Then we drove to Beatrix Potter's house at Hill Top, which is a pleasant spot, though we hadn't yet read all the stories so didn't appreciate all the connections. Afterwards we did the walk up to Moss Eccles tarn (or rather I did, Camilla turned back with Helen half way) and then caught the ferry across Windermere. Bowness and Windermere really did seem like tourist disasters, so we drove through and then up into the hills again, up to Kirkstone Pass. There we climbed twenty metres up the hillside and ate dinner.
On our third day we went straight to Bowness, to visit the World of Beatrix Potter. Unfortunately the musical that they had running was booked out, but the permanent attraction was a big hit. This has dioramas from the stories, a nice garden, and some interactive displays, and kept both Helen and us entertained for nearly an hour and a half. After that we had lunch, then wandered around Bowness a little. This kind of tourist centre is not my thing at the best of times — I bought some chocolates from a nice little chocolate shop, and had a quick browse of the not very exciting bookshop — but the huge volumes of through traffic in Bowness make it a really unpleasant experience. Unless there's something there you specifically want to see, my advice would be to avoid it.
From there we drove back to Grasmere, to the boat hire at Faeryland. This was a completely different world. It is nestled right away from the village centre and there were maybe a dozen people there in total. We had a cream tea and then went out on a rowing boat, and we were the only people on the water for most of the time we were out! We got back to our hostel around 5pm, but Thorney How is well placed for access to the hills behind, so I managed to fit in a quick climb of Helm Crag (my first Wainright, I think) before dinner in the hostel. That offered nice views back over Grasmere and out over the further fells. (If we'd had an hour and a half more, I'd have taken Helen up with me.)
On our last day we stopped in Windermere briefly and got away in the late morning, then had a reasonable run straight down the M6, with a few congested stretches, stopping for lunch at Knutsford services and getting back to Oxford around 5.