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Land of Hops and Glory

The Best Bars and Pubs in the Lakes

There’s a proud tradition of innkeeping right across the majestic Lake District, and the growing popularity of craft beers and artisan spirits makes this a great time to sample that tradition for yourself.

From the perfect pint in gorgeous surroundings to fantastic pubs for foodies, we’ve checked out six of the Lake District’s best and most remarkable places to enjoy a drink. Our list covers working breweries, legendary pubs and even a distillery making gin, all in the name of celebrating this must-see part of Cumbria’s local culture. We’ll drink to that!

Jennings Brewery, Cockermouth

This traditional brewery produces some of the best-known beers in Cumbria and beyond, so it’s only right that guided tours end with a sampling session in the brewery’s atmospheric Old Cooperage bar. Jennings has been producing beer since 1828, and this wealth of experience shines through in a tremendous range of tipples with unforgettable names including Sneck Lifter, Cocker Hoop and Pigs Might Fly.

The brewery has a tearoom serving light lunches, and if you order your food before your guided tour, they’ll carefully time it so you can eat when you finish. Takeaway options are well catered for in the brewery shop, with kegs, firkins, polypins, metal pins and piggins of your favourite beer all available to buy. To be honest, we’re not right sure how much beer each of these containers holds, but we’d be delighted to drink Jennings from any of them.

Lakes Distillery, Bassenthwaite

Opened in 2014, the Lakes Distillery occupies an idyllic site near Bassenthwaite and was actually a Victorian model farm in a former life. Today, this state-of-the-art distillery produces world-class spirits including Cumbria’s first vodka, a unique British Isles blended whisky and a gin made using local botanicals.

Fascinating guided tours cover the still room, complete with its unique purpose-built copper stills which give the spirits their unmistakable artisan qualities, a far cry from mass-produced varieties. There’s also a gorgeous visual journey to watch, tracing the spectacular 25-mile route of the Lakeland water used to make these products. An on-site bistro serves fabulous food and tasty afternoon teas, while the distillery’s own shop provides plenty of scope for buying gifts or stocking up on a few treats for yourself.

The Golden Rule, Ambleside

Ambleside is one of the Lake District’s most popular and charismatic small towns, so it’s a fitting home to one of our favourite pubs, The Golden Rule. Tucked away behind the busy high street, the so-called Rule attracts a lovely mix of locals and visitors of all ages.

Here, tourists from the far side of the world rub shoulders with hikers, bikers and artists in a friendly atmosphere unchanged in decades. It’s a great place for those random chats and unexpected encounters with who knows who! There’s no TV, music or noisy games machines, so it’s one of those all-too-rare places where the conversation flows as freely as the beer.

And what about that beer? The Rule has seven handpumps serving a variety of regular and changing cask beers from Robinsons. Best of all, you can sample beers like Dizzy Blonde, Old Tom and Hartleys XB in special third-pint glasses – a great way to broaden your palate and choose a new favourite. When you’ve picked your ideal ale, you can even take some home in a two-pint carton!

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale

This is one of the Lake District’s real institutions, and you’ll struggle to find an experienced Lakeland walker who hasn’t had a pint here at some point in their life. The setting is stunning, with the ‘ODG’ occupying a lovely, isolated spot at the end of breathtaking Great Langdale. There’s been an inn here for around 300 years, so there’s history too. Be warned; you’re well and truly away from it all here, so the chances are you’ll need to hike up a hill for the nearest mobile reception. Then again, that’s the beauty of this place!

Although the ODG is actually a popular hotel with 12 rooms, it’s the legendary Hiker’s Bar and great beers that most visitors come to experience. Often packed out in high season or at the weekends, there’s live music and a lively atmosphere in the bar, and you’ll be mingling with walkers, climbers, locals, overseas tourists and those just looking for a scenic escape. Food is available, and drinkers can choose from a wide range of delicious local ales. There’s also an impressive selection of whiskies, perfect for rounding off your day in the hills with a nightcap or two.

Drunken Duck, Ambleside

The Drunken Duck has earned its glowing reputation by serving delicious food in a gorgeous location, up above Ambleside and close to idyllic Tarn Hows. It’s a gastro-pub that really does deserve all the fuss that has been made about it, and you’ll need to book well ahead to get a table on the dates you want.

The food is what many come for, and it’s a million miles from run-of-the-mill pub grub. Classic British dishes are the thing, and you’ll see lots of local and ethically sourced produce lovingly turned into mouth-watering masterpieces like cherry-glazed duck or pig’s cheek.

Of course, food like this needs service and surroundings to match, and while the Drunken Duck’s staff exude the kind of easy professionalism you’d expect, the pub’s interior hints at something more modern and sophisticated than your average country pub. The wine list and ale range is excellent, and there’s even accommodation here too, just in case you plan to enjoy one drink too many.

The Beer Hall, Hawkshead Brewery, Staveley

Serving as a showcase for Hawkshead Brewery’s famous beers, the light and airy Beer Hall is mentioned in every ‘Best Pub’ guide worth the paper it’s written on. The place even has a special Cask Marque award for serving the perfect pint. To put it bluntly, if you can’t get a decent pint here, you don’t know a decent pint.

The ales here include everything from session beers through to a deep dark stout and big-hopped pale ales, so there’s basically something for every taste and occasion. Since 2010 the Hall has also served food, and there’s a good choice of tasty tapas dishes to accompany the beers or proper meals if you need something more substantial. As an independent brewery Hawkhead likes to support other likeminded producers, so you’ll find some great lesser-known whiskies and wines here too.

Of course no brewery visit is complete without a tour, and you can join one of several scheduled tours each week, either as an individual or a group. Tour costs include a pint or two halves, and there’s also the chance to stock up on your favourite tipple for home.