International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Where to stay
The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. This slate-fronted inn in Great Langdale has been a hiker’s favourite for 300 years, and it’s still the valley’s best place for a night’s sleep. The 13 rooms are resolutely old fashioned, with well-worn furniture and floral wallpapers. Make the most of the views before heading to the Hikers Bar downstairs (from £100).
Borrowdale and Buttermere: Best for nature
Carving their way through the hard volcanic hills to the south of Keswick, the twin valleys of Borrowdale and Buttermere encapsulate the essence of the Lakeland landscape – a pastoral tapestry of green fields, cob cottages, rickety barns and rolling fells stitched together by mile upon mile of winding dry-stone walls.
These idyllic valleys have been a haunt of poets, writers and painters for centuries. Samuel Taylor Coleridge often walked the wooded paths while living at Greta Hall in Keswick, and the surrounding scenery has inspired such artists as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner. Alfred Wainwright loved the view from the top of Haystacks so much that he decided to stay for good.
Cut off from the rest of the area by high mountain passes and the glittering sweep of Derwentwater, the valleys are awash with wildlife. Badgers, stoats and weasels can often be seen darting across the meadows, with kestrels and buzzards hovering overhead as kingfishers and otters cast a watchful eye along the riverbanks. On the hills around Borrowdale, wild deer roam the hilltops, and Buttermere harbours one of England’s last red squirrel populations. Apart from a few sheep farms, there’s little to disturb the natural status quo.
The valleys’ three lakes – Derwentwater, Buttermere and Crummock Water – are some of the purest in the national park, and support thriving populations of wild rainbow and brown trout, as well as seasonal visitors such as Canada geese, herons, mute swans and oystercatchers. Nuthatches and chiffchaffs chatter among the treetops and, in spring, cuckoos and woodpeckers can be heard in the ancient woodlands. There’s even a stand of yew trees that inspired a poem written by William Wordsworth in 1803.
Where to eat
The Kirkstile Inn. This part-Tudor inn is one of the top places to eat around Buttermere. Its brews have won many Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) awards, and they provide the perfect accompaniment to the simple menu of battered fish, tatie pot (stew), and steak and ale pie (mains from £8; Loweswater).
Where to drink
The Fish Inn. Made famous in the 19th century by The Maid of Buttermere, a celebrated beauty who worked behind the bar and counted Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey among her admirers. It’s now a welcoming pub which is popular with locals and hikers (pint of beer from £3; Buttermere).
Where to stay
The Wood House. This National Trust-owned house stands in private gardens overlooking the shores of Crummock Water in Buttermere. Bedrooms are quintessentially English, and the drawing room is littered with eclectic books. Four-course dinners are served in the dining room (from £90).
Wasdale: Best for wild views
There’s a storm brewing in the skies above Wasdale. Inky clouds are gathering, clustering around the whaleback peaks standing watch across the head of the valley. Gusts of wind are hurtling along the fellsides and, in the distance, the summit of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, is hidden behind a cloak of mist. Apart from a few sheep huddled against a dry-stone wall, the landscape is deserted.
‘For me, this is when Wasdale looks its best,’ says Adam Naylor, manager of the Wasdale Head Inn, the historic hostelry which has served as a base for walkers for more than 150 years.
Adam is a born-and-bred Wasdaler. He grew up on his family’s sheep farm – just a few yards from the pub – where his father still works. His uncle is the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor, who made his name tackling some of the Lake District’s most challenging peaks. He’s lived almost his entire life in the valley and to him it always feels like home.