8th December, 2014
We recently returned from a 'reccy' trip in the wonderful Lake District. It's not the first time we've visited - in fact, the Lakes hold a special place in our hearts, full of memories of long summer days filled with friendship, laughter, good food, good wine, and fantastic walks (plus a little rain - it wouldn't be the Lakes without a downpour or two, hoho) Nevertheless, nothing quite prepares you for the moment when you enter Lakeland, having exited off the dreary M6 motorway a few miles back. The landscape creeps up on you, and before you know it, you're surrounded by the lush, dramatic scenery of valleys, mountains and majestic waters. Everything takes on a poetic quality; the light becomes luminous somehow, and the air smells fresher.
Anyway, enough eulogising. Here are our observations of note from the trip:
1. Autumn is an excellent time to visit the Lakes
Of course summertime means you can combine walking with a dip in a lake or the Derwent river, but there is something about the colours in Lakeland during Autumn that is absolutely spectacular and not-to-missed. Otherwordly purples, deep greens, ragged greys, and moody blues... it's all pretty dreamy!
2. What looks like a simple stone wall may in fact be.... a pioneering feat of Cumbrian engineering
Take a anticlockwise stroll along the 'Coffin Trail' (pictured above) and a short while before you reach Rydal Mount, the home of William Wordsworth, you may notice what looks like a simple stone wall to your right, not 20m from the main path. It is in fact part of the Thirlmere Aqueduct, a 95 mile-long network of pipes and tunnels which supplies water to the city of Manchester, built by the Manchester Corporation Water Works. It took a team of 8,000 men eight years to build. A feat of Victorian engineering, it uses only the power of gravity and not a single pump to transport 220 million litres of water a day to the city. In October this year, it celebrated 120 years of service.
3. Ambleside has some fantastic restaurants
We strongly recommend anyone visiting the Lakes, as well as making a booking at the Michelin-starred L'enclume and The Samling, to head into Ambleside and sample the numerous foodie havens there, including The Old Stamp House, Lake Road Kitchen and The Fulling Mill. If you're vegetarian, check out Fellini's - where you can choose simply to dine or enjoy a two course meal followed by a screening of the latest arthouse film releases in their studio cinema. Fellini's also has a sister restaurant Zeffirelli's, which is great for a more relaxed bite to eat (we hear the pizza is excellent) and retreat Yewfield, a luxury vegetarian country house hotel.
4. If you want to avoid the crowds, head north or west
Peak season in the Lake District, particularly during the school holidays, can be quite busy, so if you don't know what you're doing, you can end up feeling like you're in Piccadilly Circus. Which is obviously not quite the objective when visiting the Lakes! So if you're heading to the area during peak weeks, we recommend avoiding Windermere and Ambleside and finding somewhere further north or west. Borrowdale valley is particularly nice and fairly quiet, and there are some fantastic walks nearby such as Castle Cragg and Great Gable. Another option is to head to Ullswater, where you can stay at Sharrow Bay - which we think has the best view of a lake of any hotel in the region, big claim!) and do some walking from Patterdale and Glenridding.
5. Everyone should drive over the Kirkstone Pass at dusk
If your nerves can handle it, this is an extraordinary drive along a road that connects Patterdale in the Ullswater valley to Ambleside in the Rothay Valley. At an altitude of 1,489 ft, it's not for the faint hearted, but if you make it up there, we recommend stopping for a breather at the Kirkstone Pass Inn. Perfectly positioned on the summit, it is the third highest pub in England. We loved taking it on at dusk, when the spectres of Red Screes and Stony Cove Pike loom up ahead, as thick and black as midnight on a moonless night. Nimble drivers only need apply - there is even a turning off the pass down a lane signposted as "The Struggle" (!) which only adds to the drama of the whole experience.