We set off from Kirkby Lonsdale in South Lakeland early in the morning. The small market town is just a short distance to the glorious green landscapes of the Lakes, and it’s not long before we encounter one of the region’s most notable features…
Slate grey clouds loom over us ominously as we work our way through the hills. We see a sign for Tebay Services and take a detour for breakfast, making it inside just before the heavens open. From the contented faces of the holidaymakers gathered , lured by farm-fresh produce, cooked breakfasts and a welcome opportunity to stretch the legs, it seems clear that not only are most people fairly unaffected by the inclement weather that the Lakes throws at visitors, it’s pretty much expected. And as we sit down and eat breakfast by the large glass windows overlooking the hills, it seems the only ones who are slightly miffed by the rain are the ducks milling around the pond outside.
A hearty breakfast is the only thing that prevents us from investing more time and money in Tebay Services’ fantastic farm shop, and as we head outside we see the clouds heading south and shards of sunlight shining through the silver clouds ahead. As if this wasn’t a good enough omen, a bright rainbow spans the valley as we resume our journey and we see the sun chase away the early morning mist that obscures the narrow ridge at the top of Saddleback.
Our local office in Keswick is set against the magnificent backdrop of Skiddaw, one of the Lakes’ highest peaks. The town is bustling under this majestic shadow with market day visitors and holidaymakers buying local produce and visiting the many whitewashed and slate built boutique shops that populate the square. We pop in to visit Ken Pridmore and Lucie, Susan and Charlotte from the regional team for a cup of tea and a chat.
Ken and the team recommend the drive to Crummock Water via Honnister Pass to see some of the Lakes District’s most beautiful and remote scenery and a quick stroll through the park to Derwentwater for a more immediate appreciation of local beauty. We say goodbye, finish our tea and enjoy a slice of Rocky Road that was kindly prepared by Lucie earlier before heading out into town.
Though Keswick is teeming with summer visitors, the pace of life in the Lakes creates one of the most placid and enjoyable town centres you could wish to visit. The fact that it’s framed by the region’s wild beauty certainly doesn’t hurt. As we amble through the tranquil Hope Park down to the shores of Derwent Water and see the crest of Catbells emerge over the horizon we can’t help but feel excited for the day ahead and the other sights we might capture.
Kayaks and rowboats gently carve through the gentle waters of Derwent as a yellow sail moves slowly over the horizon and a motorboat chugs away leading visitors out on a tour of the waters. People on the shore feed the ducks and swans, play games or sit and bask in the natural beauty on display. We do the latter and stop to admire the idyllic scenario that unfurls in front of us. It’s not long before the Lake District has us under its spell. We soon start to see why so many choose to spend their summers here.
We reluctantly depart Keswick in the warm glow of the mid-morning. The road twists and rises up and we see the town gently cradled by the surrounding scenery as we move away in a north westerly direction to our next appointment.
Whilst the Lake District isn’t short of heritage attractions that have matured like fine wine over the seasons, it’s quite rare to discover something new and novel amongst its pastoral meadows, rolling valleys and steep peaks. So it is with some excitement that we find ourselves at the Lakes Distillery on the banks of Bassenthwaite Lake (take note, pub quiz fans: it’s the only named lake in the region).
The Lakes Distillery is born of the passion and expertise of Paul Currie who has spent eighteen months converting a derelict Victorian dairy farm into a working distillery, visitor centre and restaurant. It’s safe to say that there has also been considerable financial investment: huge steel gates have been crafted by a local artisan to reflect the spirits created there, and every aspect of the experience – from the shop to the bistro and tour – has been refined and polished to convey the passion and professionalism of the enterprise. If the distillery fails to compete with the established Scottish brands then it certainly won’t be through lack of effort!
They seem to be off to a very good start; Brian our tour guide takes us to a room where the distillation process is explained through videos and interactive exhibits. The water supply from the River Derwent provides the perfect base and as evidenced by the tale of local distiller and smuggler, Lancelot Smee, it seems as though the area is no stranger to whisky production. From there we visit the distillery room where huge copper stills work to create the company’s single malt while other areas are dedicated gin and vodka, before we head down to the warehouse where rows of spirits mature in wooden barrels.
A sampling of the gin, vodka and blended whisky follows and our party seems to agree that each one is distinctive and highly palatable. It’s been a unique and illuminating hour, but the afternoon sun is out to play for the remainder of the day and we are keen to enjoy some fresh air and admire the myriad views on offer on a summer’s day in the Lakes.
We take the scenic road to Buttermere, passing through Lorton and Longthwaite Wood before we reach Loweswater, home of one of the smallest lakes and the striking Mellbreak hill towering above. We stop and enjoy a light lunch in the garden of the Kirkstile Inn as walkers and holidaying families do the same. Afterwards we walk out and stop to admire the small Parish Church of Saint Bartholemew at the foot of Low Fell. It’s a strikingly picturesque portrait of a quintessentially English scene and something that will have remained unchanged for centuries – and will no doubt be stopping visitors in their tracks for many more years to come.
Sheep shorn of their winter coats gather in the road to Crummock Water and we pass slate cliffs covered in green ferns as the road twists and bends. A stream winds down from the hill as walkers make their way past Buttermere, each one stopping to offer a moment’s appreciation of the delightful setting they find themselves in. Others have stopped for longer as children paddle and splash and attempt to catch fish.
After a few minutes’ of our own admiration we too move further over Honister Pass towards Seatoller. This part of the Lakes offers some of the region’s most dramatic scenery as the slate flecked hills loom over the narrow winding road and patches of green glow brightly in the bloom of the afternoon sun. We pass the Slate Mine, home to the Via Ferrata Xtreme climbing experience, but lacking time and possessing too much sanity we decide to press on towards the far more civilised gradients of Seatoller.
We stop at Derwent Water’s southern shore. A family are taking it in turns to jump off the jetty and swim in the lake’s cool waters. We spend a few minutes listening to the gentle lapping of the waters against the shingle and enjoying the intoxicating quiet, punctured only by occasional laughter and splashing. From there we enjoy a whistle stop tour of the beautiful and iconic Ashness Bridge, Surprise View from which we see canoeists slicing through the gentle surface of Derwentwater as a steamer sets out.
As the sun moves low we head back through Keswick, past the Thirlmere reservoir and through Grasmere – which is filled with visitors enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine. We then move up towards the Langdale Valley for some more breath-taking views. We’re very much aware that the light is fading and the day is getting away from us, but upon viewing the lovely village of Elterwater we decide that it looks like a fantastic place for dinner.
We’re not the only ones. The Brittania Inn lies opposite the village green and is populated with locals and holidaymakers enjoying fine ales, sunshine and the wonderfully slow tempo of life in the lakes. Despite the number of visitors, Elterwater is still very much free from traffic, as the sheep that seem to have made their home in the middle of the road will attest (and seeing holidaymakers stop to take pics reminds you that this is very much not the norm – however familiar it now seems!).
We enjoy a pint of Eden Gold and medium rare steaks as the sun sets and chat to our fellow diners: a couple who have ventured from Kent for the climbing and cycling opportunities and parents who have brought their children to the area for a relaxing summer. We remark how easy it is to fit in with the ease of life in the Lakes and how friendly and relaxed one becomes when under the spell of the region. As night advances we can only look forward to what tomorrow brings.