The perfect trip: The Lake District
A view of Wastwater, Englandâs deepest lake. (BBC)
Famed for its lakes, mountains and fells – not to mention a trove of restaurants and pubs – this spectacular corner of northwest England has been a fitting inspiration for artists and poets through the ages.
Winster to Hawkshead Hill: Best for food and ale
It’s lunchtime at The Drunken Duck and there’s not an empty table in sight. The old beamed bar is packed with punters, pints of ale gleam on the slate-topped bar, and waiting staff bustle back and forth from the kitchen carrying plates laden with ploughman’s lunches and slabs of sticky toffee pudding. Outside, cyclists and walkers relax in the sunshine on wooden benches, nursing amber-hued pints of beer while gazing across the fields and fells surrounding them.
‘If there’s one thing I love about the Lake District, it’s the pubs,’ says Stephen Dodd, general manager of The Drunken Duck. ‘There’s such a sense of history to them and, on a day like this, I can’t think of anywhere better to be.’
Perched on a hilltop halfway between Coniston and Ambleside, The Drunken Duck is generally acknowledged as one of the Lake District’s finest pubs. The building dates back to at least the 18th century, but it’s been run since the 1970s by husband-and-wife team Paul Spencer and Steph Barton, whose passion for high-quality food and locally brewed ales has turned their pub into one of the area’s top dining destinations.
On the walls, antique hunting prints sit alongside vintage beer posters and mounted animal heads, but the stripped wooden floors, leather furniture and blackboard wine list feel more Chelseachic than Cumbria-cosy. Outside, a tumbledown store houses the Barngates Brewery, renowned for its range of quirkily named ales such as Mothbag, Tag Lag and Chester’s Strong & Ugly. The menu seems more suited to a big-city bistro than a rural pub, offering celeriac gratin and pigeon pithivier (a type of pie) rather than chicken pie and mash. Yet at its heart, The Drunken Duck is still very much a classic Lakeland inn.
It’s one of many local pubs that blend old traditions with new ideas. At The Brown Horse Inn, in the sleepy village of Winster, the chefs now source their produce directly from their own country estate and now offer a trio of their own microbrewed ales. Meanwhile, at the nearby Masons Arms overlooking the scenic Winster Valley, the monthly events calendar takes in everything from culinary masterclasses to country markets. The ideas may be fresh, but both pubs have retained their rustic character: flagstones on the floor, rough beams, a crackling fire in the grate and, most importantly of all, a passionately loyal local clientele.
‘Keeping our historic inns alive is really important,’ explains Stephen. ‘We need to keep innovating, but it’s vital we don’t lose our links with the past – whether that means supporting our farmers, using local craftspeople or brewing our own beers. We’re part of a community, and that’s what running a pub here should be all about.’
Where to eat
The Punch Bowl. If you can’t get a table at The Drunken Duck, its sister pub in Crosthwaite is a reliable fallback (mains from £12; the-punchbowl.co.uk).
Where to drink
Also try the Hawkshead Brewery in Stavely. You can sample the latest ales in the bar or take a tour behind the scenes (ales from £2.50; hawksheadbrewery.co.uk).
Where to stay
Yewfield, a imposing mansion, stands on a private 80-acre estate just a stone’s throw from the beauty spot of Tarn Hows. Peaceful and welcoming, it’s also eco- and vegetarianfriendly. For the best views, ask for the Tower Suite (from £98; closed Dec and Jan).
Great Langdale: Best for would-be Wainwrights
Nowhere sums up the spirit of hiking in the Lake District better than Great Langdale. Carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age, it’s arguably the quintessential Lakeland valley – a broad emerald bowl studded with oaks and whitewashed houses, hemmed in by bracken-covered slopes and windswept hills.