The Lake District has long been on my list of places to explore. Any place with shaggy green mountains, sheep studded valleys and tumbling waterfalls is total eye candy to me. And this lushly beautiful area of northern England has all of this, and more. The “more” being picturesque buildings, shimmering lakes, and – to my husband and father-in-law Bob – a surfeit of exceedingly good small breweries. ;-)
It has been ages since I posted about travel (see: my food and jaw-dropping scenery trip to Venice) but I know that if you are anything like me you would want to know about this really very stunning and interesting part of the world. Brought to global attention through the Beatrix Potter books (you know, Peter Rabbit and friends), The Lake District is more than just a series of quaint, postcard-pretty towns and villages linked around the many lakes of this area, but is also a surprisingly enterprising and forward looking area of England. Every town and village has its own identity, and to foodies and lovers of beer, unique food and drink opportunities and products to enjoy. The famed Grasmere gingerbread is made here, as is the perhaps even more famous Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. Every such pudding on menus all over Britain – often picked the favourite dessert in food polls – owes a debt of gratitude to the tiny and still very busy shop that is its birthplace.
So, scenery – check. Food, check. Beer, check. What about where to stay?
The Lake District is blessed with many different styles of places to stay – from fancy hotels with hot and cold running poshness, to more humble bed and breakfasts. After perusing numerous options Andrew and I chose a sweet cottage in Windermere, smack bang in the middle of the heart of The Lakes. We booked through cottages.com, sharing with Andrew’s parents, Ann and Bob. Here’s the lowdown.
Where we stayed:
Driving up to the cottage we were all thrilled to see our chosen property was a traditional, grey-slate “row” house on this quiet but centrally located street. Opening the freshly painted door directly into the living room, we found a traditional working fireplace flanked by modern squashy leather sofas and tasteful understated décor. The central heating was thoughtfully on, but as our few days there were unusually warm for the time of year we quickly shut it off. Most unusual for October!
The 2-bedroom/2-bath cottage is very comfortable, nicely decorated and spacious. Leading straight from the sitting room is the generously proportioned kitchen (much bigger than my own), well-appointed with drawers holding everything you would need to cook. There is a dining table for 4 people, small fridge, microwave and dishwasher. The slate floored utility room adjacent houses what looked to be a brand new freezer, washer and dryer, with plenty of pegs for outdoor clothes – important with all of that walking you will be inspired to do! The utility leads out to a tiny, attractive courtyard garden furnished with table and chairs for four. It was a bit too cool to sit out and enjoy this space, but it would be lovely for lingering over breakfast in warmer months. A gate opens to a path that leads up through a handful of businesses (including a fabulous furniture shop) and further onto a Booth’s supermarket (the poshest grocers I’ve been in), the charming, wooden-clad Windermere train station and the Lakeland flagship store. Talk about a prime holiday property!
The cottage does have steep steps up to the bedrooms and bathrooms, so good knees are essential. The mattresses in both bedrooms are extremely comfortable, with quality linens and fittings. Nothing fancy but very nice. A good touch was a proper hairdryer rather than one of those horrible ones where you have to hold down the button whilst you dry your hair. The master bedroom looks out onto the street, but is quiet, while the second bedroom – a handsome double – faces out the back. Both bedrooms provide a neat and small en-suite.
I want to write a balanced and honest review of the cottage, which should include some negatives. But honestly it was perfect for us, with plenty of room for four adults, and would have been great to hang out in if the weather was poor – as it can be (hence all of those lakes!). The wi-fi was fast and easy to use – again, very handy if the weather really closes in. If you are fit for steep stairs and into walking, this cottage is a fantastic choice for exploring the area. The cottage comes with a parking permit. A bonus in this very busy place.
We booked through cottages.com, where you will find plenty of Cumbrian properties from which to choose. They also have properties all over the UK, as well as on the Continent. (Food To Glow reader discount below!)
I know this sounds odd, but I would recommend a visit to LPC Furniture, right behind the cottage and on the path to Booths. If I could I would love to commission a few of their reclaimed and handmade pieces. Classy stuff and lovely, locally-made accessories. For an informal drink on low, squashy sofas (and a glimpse of Sky Sports if needs be) try The Queens; for something a bit posher, try The Lamplighter. On our last night we indulged in a Chinese takeaway from the place at the end of Cross Street (Golden Mountain) – great choice of tofu dishes and generous servings.
As you might expect, tourist-friendly Windermere has a great range of pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops, although not as wide as the larger town of Ambleside. We mainly explored the surrounding area and came back to flop in the comfy cottage, but we enjoyed a couple of drinks out (there are a few places to enjoy a drink outside under heated lamps and cuddle under woollen blankets). Windermere is very walkable, well-kept, and worth visiting. And with the rail station, local buses and bike hire, you don’t need a car to enjoy the area.
Some places we visited:
Hawkshead Brewery, Mill Yard, Staveley Cumbria LA8 9LR. We had a great first introduction to the area with a hearty, delicious lunch and freshly made beer. You can do a tour but we just ate in the airy upstairs space overlooking the steel beer tanks. Quick, friendly service; order at the bar downstairs.
More! Artisan Bakery. As above. We bought some superior savoury pies to have for supper, as well as some outstanding roasted garlic and cheese bread. Andrew said it was the best bread he had ever tasted! It was pretty fantastic.
Booths, Victoria Street, Windermere LA23 1QA. This is an upmarket Northern England grocery chain that specializes in fine regional products. They also have a great range of the high-quality Cook! frozen meals that may come in handy. We had a lovely family fish pie on one of our nights.
For general grocery needs there is also a Sainsburys Local, with larger stores in more populous Ambleside. Outside of towns there are farm shops dotted around.
Lakeland, Alexandra Bldgs, Thwaites Lane, Windemere LA 23 1BQ. Kitchenware mecca for British foodies has its headquarters in Windermere, and is literally right behind the cottage (go out the back door, up some steps and past the train station), as is Booths. We didn’t visit the café, but the menu looked great if expensive.
Windermere car and foot passenger ferry (and horses!) – Pay just £4.40 for a car ticket and experience the quick (about 10 minutes) and scenic way to get to Beatrix Potter country. Catch it year-round at Ferry Nab, Bowness (a continuation of road south from Windermere itself). The day we crossed was incredibly sunny, but we understand that is a bit unusual. 😉
Fell Foot Park, on Lake Windermere. I love water, but always view boats with suspicion. So, I made Andrew’s day by agreeing to the rental of a row boat at Fell Foot, Lake Windemere. Bless him, he has been badgering me for years to rent a boat and roar about creating wakes. Well, although the ducks were perhaps faster than us, we all had a wonderful time viewing the surrounding landscape and goings on from the lake itself. In warmer months, try swimming or paddling after enjoying a picnic in the rolling, National Trust-managed grounds. There is a handsome lakeside cafe housed in an historic building, and a really gorgeous shop, too. I bought a woollen blanket – currently spread across my lap.
Hill Top, near Sawrey, Hawkshead, Ambleside. Although we were very content with our undulating, outstandingly scenic 2 ½ hour walk through the area, National Trust-managed Hill Top is the home of Peter Rabbit creator, Beatrix Potter. Tours take you through her time capsule house and gardens. During our breathtaking ramble through the surrounding area we couldn’t stop exclaiming at how stunning the views are. All of that gawping had us gasping so we stopped for a gloriously sunny cup of tea and some shared cake in the garden of a very sweet Bell Green B&B, on the lane opposite the red “GR” postbox (from the reign of King George V). With the unexpected still, warm sunshine, it was very hard to leave!
Queen’s Head Inn & Restaurant, Main Street Hawkshead. We had a fun and adventurous Sunday lunch in the AA rosette, gleaming wood restaurant. We had read about their inventive vegetarian and vegan menu so Andrew and I sampled a couple of dishes while my father-in-law Bob had a slate platter with nicely presented local savoury pies and pickles. Hawkshead is a small but busy town with plenty of cafes and places to try local food. Look out for the very old street signs.
The Mortal Man, Troutbeck, LA23 1PL. We had a beer in the spacious sloping garden of this 17th century inn and pub, overlooking the surrounding fields and hills. A very pretty stop. Although we didn’t eat there, the families around us were tucking into gorgeous looking Sunday lunches, with HUGE Yorkshire puddings. Next time.
Cartmel Village Shop – the home of the famous Sticky Toffee Pudding – The Square, Cartmel LA11 6QB. Although they have shelves, cabinets and tables full of local foods, the main draw is the aptly named sticky toffee pudding. Weirdly it wasn’t as sweet as I was thinking it would be. But it isn’t a diet food! A must-try. We took one back to the Cottage to have after a light supper. Almost as famous as the pudding is the race course, and the acclaimed L’Enclume restaurant. A sweet (geddit?) village with numerous pubs, cafes and small restaurants.
Cartmel Cheeses + Unsworth Yard Brewery, Unsworth Yard, Cartmel. In this hidden square (look for the sandwich board sign) you will find a shop selling an extensive range of (mostly) English cheeses, as well as fresh, artisan bread, local charcuterie, homebaking and chutneys to partner with your cheeses. It is quite expensive, but very good quality. We quickly cottoned on that you can have the helpful staff rustle up a board made from what you have purchased and eat it in the sheltered garden space. We sat down in yet more sunshine at one of the wrought iron tables and enjoyed our impromptu lunch with some really fantastic, professionally pulled beer from the tiny brewery (you can see into the brewing room, with its two soaring steel tanks). We couldn’t believe our luck with not only the weather but in finding this cute set-up. No loos as this isn’t a restaurant, but the public loos are handy and very clean.
Grange-over-Sands – a slightly faded but pretty Edwardian town with a fine, natural seafront. The best thing to do here is stride out on the “promenade” walk, with views over Morecambe Bay. We were really impressed with the well-kept council- and citizen-tended gardens that ring the promenade and carry on up the hill. Park on the main street at the bottom (it is very steep!), cross under the rail bridge and onto the promenade. Chocolate box-pretty Cartmel is nearby.
Not far away from Grange-over-Sands is the town of Sizergh (pronounced “scissor”), where we were drawn in by Low Sizergh Barn and its promise of raw milk and an open-view milking parlour. Lovely and pleasingly stocked (but not cheap) farm shop and popular cafe, also with marked walks and plenty for families to see – and all free. Andrew poured us a litre of delicious and properly creamy milk from the DIY machine, and we enjoyed it ice-cold the next day with the sticky toffee pudding. I think I even met the cow who made it! The area itself is ribboned with footpaths, guided walks and opportunities to orienteer. In the spring nearby Brigsteer woods offers walkers a a stunning natural display of daffodils and a genuine chance of spotting a deer. Sizergh, Kendal LA8 8AE
Aira Force is the interestingly named National Trust property featuring soaring peaks, thundering falls, dreamy serene pools, all surrounded by the greenest soft hills. There are a couple of walks but all go past the main waterfall and its stunning dark pool. If you are into trees like we are you will be pretty impressed with the Victorian-era collection of imported and native trees, all labeled up and spread around the impressive property. Very sweet cafe, and parking. Aira Force is situated in the Ullswater Valley, where you can catch a steamer to wend your way through the serpentine course past Lakeland’s highest peak. Watermillock, Penrith CA11 0JS.
Nearby is Castlerigg perhaps the most heart-stoppingly atmospheric of all of the British stone circles, with panoramic 360 views of the surrounding mountains of Helvellyn and High Seat. It is also among the earliest British circles, constructed in about 3000 BC during the Neolithic period. It is stunning and thought-provoking in all weathers. Castle Ln, Underskiddaw, Keswick CA12 4RN
This is only a sketch of all that we saw and experienced over the four full days we were in The Lake District. And it was so wonderful to be able to come back to our sweet cottage, snuggle up on the squashy sofas and plan the next day’s adventure. From the initial booking, picking up the keys at the Lake Windermere office, our stay (of course), and the ease of checking out – all was so easy and stress-free. Hand on heart, we all want to go back asap.
** If you want to have your own adventure, I’ve paired up with cottages.com for a 10% off discount on your booking. Have a look at their website, choose the property that’s right for you, then phone to book, quoting the Food To Glow code below. It’s as easy as that! Properties are available in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Channel Isles, Isle of Man, Italy and France. **
Discount Code: ‘FTG16’
Ts & Cs:
- 10% discount on accommodation only, when booking via the call centre.
- No restrictions on arrival periods or durations.
- Valid for bookings made BEFORE 31/12/2016.
- Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.
- Depending on popularity and property availability, cottages.com can withdraw or extend this offer. Subject to availability. Booking conditions apply.
And speaking of sketches, Bob braved the sunshine and gentle breeze to do a sketch of Cross Cottage, giving it a watercolour wash when we got back to Edinburgh. Isn’t it lovely? My favourite souvenir. :-)
Disclosure: Thank you cottages.com for providing our cottage. I was not expected to give a positive review and all opinions – as always – are my own.