Keeping the Lake District tradition alive
Just a short stroll from the Elder Grove Hotel in Ambleside, is a wonderful old establishment named The Golden Rule. The outside of the pub is festooned with slate arranged in the dry-stone pattern popular here. Inside is equally traditional with ceilings criss-crossed with beams and an old-fashioned wooden bar. The Golden Rule has been a public house since the 18th century, though the building itself is much older, and has quite a few quirky traditions. The most unusual one is the ban on singing or music of any description. Is this so that people are free to talk? No one knows for certain. But it could be that a particularly out of tune group of songsters awoke the grumpy landlord from a deep slumber upstairs and sent him into a rage.
Drive a few minutes or better yet, take the bus and you will spot a pub in neighbouring Keswick named the Twa Dogs. This references the three different ways, and words for counting sheep in Cumbria and likely goes back to when there would have been three dialects within close proximity of each other. Our landlady can remember these counting anomalies as she grew up on a farm here.
This is what makes the Lake District unique as a destination. Not only are there rugged, bleak landscapes and gorgeous lake vistas but, also, the tiny villages and indigenous people that populate the Lakes. All right, usually these views are accompanied by leaden skies but that is just part of the charm of being on the west coast of England.
The serene beauty of the lakes – Windemere, Blelham Tarn, Brassenthwaite, Grasmere, Thirlmere and Rydal Tarn – is quite hard to describe yet you will understand once you see them. Waterhead Bay on Lake Windemere near Ambleside is a particularly lovely spot with a smattering of sailing vessels and mountain views as an added bonus.
Sheep farming is another fixture here. The expression ‘hefted to the fells’ is an ancient one denoting rough and tumble sheep that never leave the mountain sides and can survive the winter with just a wee bit of extra food from their shepherds.
The stony mountains in this district are all volcanic materials of some description. Black muds and sands that settled millions of years ago are the basis for slate. The Skiddaw mountain range has the oldest stone. Granite was formed 400 million years ago deep underground this district but can now be seen due to erosion at Eskdale, Ennerdale and at Shap.
If staying in Ambleside and looking for a strenuous walk, the Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Esk Pike journey up from the Old Hotel, Langsdale will get you scrambling, huffing and puffing. And, as most towns are located in the valleys, virtually any walk will result in remarkable views.
Wildlife is another aspect of Cumbria that is spectacular. Deer are plentiful and you will certainly spot red squirrels about. Birds worth keeping an eye out for are osprey, kestril and on the coast, auks, kittiwakes and fulmars.
For an experience that involves getting up close and personal with beasts, Alpaca walking can’t be beat. Participants get outdoors into forested landscapes while enjoying the company of these gentle beasts. The Wildlife Park near Brassenthwaite Village is one place which offers alpaca walks. A trained handler accompanies the party and each person has their own animal to lead. These creatures are extremely inquisitive, sensitive and love being with people. They are usually part of a tight knit group so are never taken out alone. Originally from Peru, alpacas became domesticated because of their luxurious wool which is not only soft but hypoallergenic. The park has other animals such as meerkats in large enclosures. On the day we were there a gibbon (Asian small ape) had crawled up into a large tree in its sizeable enclosure and was bawling and crying out to all around. It certainly made for an interesting backdrop to our visit.
If you are looking for a traditional stay in the Lake District, Ambleside’s Elder Grove Hotel is an excellent Victorian-style B&B. The management, Matt and Lucy, go out of their way to make guests feel welcome. A traditional English breakfast is available daily using locally sourced produce and there is a lounge/bar downstairs where guests can serve themselves. Two of the rooms have four-poster style beds in keeping with the historic feel and all rooms are ensuite.
Just around the corner is the remarkable Old Stamp House (where Wordsworth once worked). Just a bit further is the brilliant Zeffirelli’s vegetarian restaurant. Within walking distance is the also the award-winning Lake Road Kitchen.
There are a whole range of outdoor outfitters in Ambleside and a spattering of boutique and gift shops. The pubs are quite distinctive in appearance and likely to be hundreds of years old.
For those seeking bracing fresh air, juxtaposed with a feeling of peacefulness and sense of grandeur in a wild setting, getting off road in the Lake District certainly ticks the boxes. Equally, there is a warm atmosphere, jollity and great grub to be found in the villages and towns’ wonderful pubs and eateries.
Just a few minutes’ walk away is Zeffirelli’s, 2 Compston Road, Ambleside. A bijou vegetarian restaurant is located downstairs and a small cinema upstairs; a two-course meal and cinema ticket combo costs £21.75.
For more information on Cumbria visit: www.cumbriatourism.org
Elder Grove Bed & Breakfast, Lake Road, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0DB, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1539 432504
Type of Hotel: Victorian-style B&B
Number of Rooms: 10 ensuite rooms, two with four poster beds
Price Band: Medium. A mid-week stay for three nights for two people, including breakfast costs from £297.
Insider Tip: Table 22 at the Regent Hotel on Lake Windemere is a relaxing venue for lunch or dinner with a wide range of dishes using local produce and a good selection of wine.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Lynn Houghton is a London based travel writer and photographer.
Hotel photographs courtesy of Elder Grove Hotel and Lake District photographs by Lynn Houghton