Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Slaked by the taste of the Lakes

A week at Windermere - not so much a travelogue as a beer blog!

The beauty of the Lakes captured in one shot!
I've recently returned from quite possibly the best family holiday Mrs Slush and I have enjoyed since the arrival of the Slushettes meant adult-only breaks were (almost) a thing of the past.  A heady mix of decent weather (honest), beautiful scenery and some fantastic locally brewed real ales have ensured we're already planning a return trip.  (And I even managed to wangle a bit of Under 21s action in the pub to boot...but I didn't let that spoil things!). Thought I'd share some of it with you...

It was mid-morning when we departed God's Own County bound for Limefitt Park, just outside Troutbeck on the road climbing north from Windermere to Ullswater and the Kirkstone Pass.  After decent progress along the M62 and up the M6, with just the one stop at Hartshead Moor Services (where I looked longingly at the little mud track up through the bushes, which we used to use en-route to the nearby village pub back in the days when Simon Gray coaches stopped off en route to Hull City away matches in Lancashire) we arrived at our 'home', No. 29 Fellside Lodge, early in the afternoon.
Checked-in, unpacked and briefly acquainted with a very comfortable looking abode, we headed off back into Windermere to pick up provisions.  Of course, for me this meant a sample of the local brews and I returned with four fine-looking local specimens: the Watermill Inn & Brewing Co's "A Bit'Er Ruff"(4.1%), Cumbrian Legendary Ales "Loweswater Gold" (4.3%), Hawkshead Brewery's "Lakeland Gold" (4.4%) and Thwaites "Wainwright" ("Exquisitely Lovely Golden Ale", 4.1%).  Not a bad start to the week.
In addition to the bottled offerings, hopes of a decent week ahead were raised by two other factors - the fine weather and the predominance of pubs selling "real ale"...well, we were expecting to do plenty of eating out!  This even extended to the on-site hostelry, The Haybarn Inn which boasted a near perfect combination of "good food, real ale and Sky Sports".  Result!
A Haybarn with almost everything this man could ask for!
Friday evening was glorious, in stark contrast to what we'd have been getting back home where something of a torrential downpour was being experienced.  I enjoyed "A Bit'er Ruff" on the decking while planning the first of our week's walks.  It certainly lived up to its label's boast: "A classic best bitter".  And after BBC North West news had reported - albeit briefly - on Yorkshire's T20 win at Old Trafford, I retired to bed with thoughts of a cracking week ahead.
Saturday dawned in the most glorious fashion and after breakfast we headed off for our first "Short Walk", aided by a route enclosed in the lodge owner's welcoming pack.  Known as the "Ing Bridge Circular" we amended the route slightly, starting at the Haybarn before ascending up onto Applethwaite Common and setting off in a northerly direction before eventually returning to the valley bottom, across the aforementioned bridge and back to Limefitt via the main road.  It was approximately three to three-&-a-half miles long, enough to ensure both Slushettes would be complaining by the end!
Lunch was enjoyed out on the decking, to the accompaniment of the lodge owners' 101 80s Anthems CD, which included a cracking three-in-a-row from Simply Minds ("Don't you Forget About Me"), The Waterboys ("Whole Of The Moon") and Danny Wilson ("Mary's Prayer").  Ah, the memories...
But this was no time for nostalgia.  Fortified by recently bought Westmorland sausages  we headed off down to the nearby childrens playground by the beck where an afternoon of simple pleasures was enjoyed (which mostly involved me getting wet of course).
With Windermere not boasting Mrs Slush's fave supermarket, a quick change before tea saw us head off down to Kendal to stock up at the nearest Asda.  En route back, we just happened to pass The Watermill at Ings.  Oh dear.  Well, it would have been rude not to pop in...
Disappointingly, only 13 of the advertised 16 cask ales were actually available this particular evening (!) but I felt it only fair to sample two of the "house" offerings, "Isle of Dogs" ("Golden, Hoppy & Malty" 4.5%) and "Collie Wobbles" ("A pale refreshing bitter", 3.7%) which provided perfect wash-down material for the sumptious Beef & Collie Wobbles pie.  The pub was a popular draw, which wasn't surprising given the quality of the fare on offer.  Oh, and the Younger Slushette had fish and chips...not for the last time this particular trip.

A place guaranteed to give you the "Collie Wobbles"
It was raining as we left The Watermill and the Elder Slushette had also taken a distinct turn for the worse by the time we arrived back at Fellside.  Both girls were soon tucked up in bed...and we weren't long after them.  Two days gone, three local ales already enjoyed and a full week to go.  This was already turning out to be a cracking holiday.    
Sunday delivered on its promise of a bright and breezy start but held the promise of rain spreading up from the south west later.  A day to get the walking in early then.
Actually, today's was more of a brief stroll, albeit up the far-from-pedestrian friendly track that runs from Troutbeck Church up to the village itself.  It was enough to have the Slushettes panting by the time we reached the top.  There we enjoyed a pleaseant walk through the village, really a collection of tiny hamlets (Townhead, Townend, Head Green) strung out along about a mile-and-a-half, before coming back down just after The Mortal Man (a pub I noted for future reference!).
A sign of good things to come
With the weather already turning we headed off in the car to find Sunday lunch.  I thought I'd done well when spotting the Badger Bar, adjoining The Glen Rothay Hotel opposite Rydal Water on the road from Ambleside to Grasmere.  Sent in first to recce the joint, two things immediately convinced me this was the place to stay - a waiter carrying delicious looking plates of roast beef &Yorkshire pud along with a pump advertising Dent Brewery "Golden Fleece" (4.0%).  Sold.  I gathered the family, got them seated, ordered the drinks then began ordering the food...uh-oh!  I was suddenly informed the last of the roasts had just been sold (well it was nearly two o'clock!).  Somewhat surprisingly, Mrs Slush didn't think the kids would want to settle for Wild Rabbit Stew as an alternative (I thought it sounded great) so the "Golden Fleece" was dispatched perhaps a touch quicker than I'd have liked, while the three accompanying soft drinks were written off as "collateral" (well, we woz on us 'olidays!).
Back in the car to treatment bordering on the silent from my driver, I knew I needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat...and not the wild stew variety.  I did so in some style, courtesy of The Travellers Rest at Grasmere, a couple of miles further north. 
Not only was the long overdue Sunday Roast forthcoming but so was a fine selection of Jennings ales.  I settled on "Cocker Hoop" (4.6%), which proved an excellent choice.

We were "Cocker Hoop" to find this place
Despite persistent rainfall, we enjoyed a decent afternoon of driving and sightseeing, including the famous Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread Shop and the picturesque route up to Keswick, with nearby Derwent Water and Helvellyn thrown in for good measure.  It was a drive made more interesting when the Younger Slushette appeared to think the sound of Ollie Murs was coming from her shoes...she'd not previously realised there were speakers in the rear passenger doors.  Cuh!
Having eaten late (and well) at lunch, tea was a light affair and there was no argument from the Slushettes when bed was offered.  This being done by half-seven, it seemed silly of me not to take up the offer of the England v Spain U21 Euro Championship game on the TV in the Haybarn Inn.
Racing through a substantial downpour, my mood further darkened on arrival when I found the pub's television tuned into the Canadian Grand Prix.  "First come first serve", the bar manager told me.  But surely this race should be done by now?  Hang on, they're not even racing, it's bloody peeing it down.  "Yeah, they've suspended it but the gentleman at the front still wants to watch it".
A fine pint of Thwaites "Wainwright" helped console me but as the clock ticked by towards 8.30pm and still we watched various shots of the track being mopped and a safety car completing laps at a tediuos pace.  There was no hint let alone sign of F1 action.  I was becoming more and more tetchy.  Sharing my mood was a fellow fan who'd arrived with family at 5pm but still hadn't been early enough to secure the TV rights.
He told me he was from North Wales, supported Liverpool and was interested in seeing how Jordan Henderson, the Reds' new signing, would shape up.  On noticing my polo top he also told me his brother-in-law was a City fan.  We were to get on nicely.
In the end I bit the bullet and calling the bar manager across I asked if it would be possible to watch the game for at least as long as the race remained suspended.  "You'll have to ask this gentleman", was his reply.  I did.  And the gentleman in question - a Geordie - immediately consented, albeit rather brusquely, before grabbing his coat and leaving the pub.  How to win friends and influence - if only I'd done that half an hour earlier!
We got the game on in time to see England's best spell of the first half (the 5mins leading up to HT) and have a good Anglo-Welsh whinge about the Spanish goal before putting the world to rights over the half-time interval.
Raining on Spain...and in the Lakes!
A couple more pints of "Wainwright" helped my enjoyment of a second half which saw Danny Welbeck pop up almost two yards offside to earn England a late leveller.  All smiles then as me and my new found friend promised to meet up again on Wednesday for the Ukraine game.  On the walk back to the lodge I had my first ever close encounter with a beaver.  I felt like I was on Springwatch...
Monday; wet start, drizzle in the air and damp underfoot.  Also, and more importantly, Mrs Slush's birthday!  So a relaxed morning was enjoyed before - with the promise of things brightening and warming up - we made tracks to head off up to Ambleside.
Things took a bit of a nosedive when, being alerted to the fact I'd forgotten something, the 'Birthday Girl' pulled up to let me dash back to the lodge and then inadvertently reversed the car into a nearby lodge.  Oops.  Thankfully the damage to the cabin was mainly superficial.  That to the car looked slightly more worrying.  Still, not much we could do about it there.

Having reported the incident to reception, we headed off up to Ambleside (me at the wheel by now!) and within half-an-hour boarded the Steamer 'Teal' armed with a Family Freedom of the Lake ticket. 
Under leaden skies we headed down to Lakeside where a brief trip on the Lakeside-Haverthwaite Railway was followed by a cruise back up to Bowness-on-Windermere, this time on the 'Tern', and a visit to the 'World of Beatrix Potter' attraction as well as an ice cream parlour offering 32 flavours (I opted for Cinammon & Plum in case you're wondering - nice).  
By the time we arrived back in Ambleside on the 'Teal', the sun was beating down lending itself to a most picturesque scene.  A similarly delightful sight was provided by the bottle of "Wainwright" that greeted me back at Fellside.
A glorious morning greeted us on Tuesday, prompting a drive down to Grizedale Forest Park and a day spent exploring some of the various short walks.  The Millwood Long Trail, undertaken immediately after lunch, was especially rewarding.
From Grizedale we drove northwards to Hawkshead, which besides being the home of the well-known outdoor clothing company and some particularly fine local beers, is - according to the excellently produced 'Lakes' guidebook: "like going through a time warp (when) stepping into the tiny bustling mainly car-free village...the narrow streets and the brightly white-washed cottages are an oasis from today's high street sameness".  Too true.
In addition to what appeared again to be a too-good-to-be-true amount of real ale hostelries, the village is also home to the Hawkshead Relish Company, winner of over 40 Great Taste awards and it's easy to see (or rather taste) why.  I do like a good bit of relish, even when as over-priced as this.  And after the Elder Slushette and I had taken full advantage of the many tasting samples on offer, the apple, date and damson chutney was duly purchased and packed for transportation back to the East End of Holderness (along with a five-jar "Father's Day" variety pack for Grandad Slush).  A brief visit was also made to the Grammar School, where between 1779 and 1787 William Wordsworth was really encouraged to read and write poetry.

A rarity - a tourist attraction not packed with Japanese tourists!
Heading across to Coniston via Hawkshead Hill brought with it the closest of encounters with a lorry on one of the countless "God I can't believe it's this narrow" roads in the area.  But eventually we arrived safely at the scene of Donald Campbell's ill-fated 1967 World Water Speed Record attempt.  
After a leisurely stroll from Coniston Water back to the village along a route dominated by 'The Old Man' in the background, The Crown Inn, a Robinsons establishment, was chosen as venue for tea.  How nice it was to allow the missus to choose pubs on the merits of their child-friendly menu as opposed to me having to nudge her towards the real ale establishments (they're ALL real ale establishments it would seem in this neck of the woods!).  So, although The Black Bull (home to the Coniston Brewing Company) would have been my preferred choice, The Crown was a decent substitute given the very enjoyable pint of Hartley's Cumbria Way (4.1%) which accompanied a superb Chef's Burger.  A perfect end to a near perfect day.
Wednesday and only two full days left - where had it gone, eh?!  Unfortunately, this was the sort of "day in the Lakes" we'd anticipated beforehand - damp, drizzly, thoroughly miserable.  The tops of the local peaks were hidden by low cloud and the planned agenda underwent overhaul.  Deciding to head off in the car and "go where our fancy takes us", we eventually settled on Keswick.

It's wet under Moot
Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we got there, allowing for a pleasant stroll around this market town, which is dominated by the 19th century Moot Hall (now the Tourist Information Centre) and an unbelievable number of outdoor clothes shops.  A brief stroll down to Derwent Water preceded a drive north-westwards to another Cumbrian market town, Cockermouth and from there to the "historic" coastal town of Maryport on the Solway Estuary.
The original intention was to have the highly-acclaimed fish & chips on offer at The Lifeboat Inn for tea...unfortunately they didn't start serving them for another two hours.  Therefore reluctantly - even more so when I noticed the banner outside proclaiming "All Real Ales 99p a pint" - we abandoned the idea and headed for "home".
After tea it was up onto Applethwaite Common for another of the "Short Walks" recommended by the Lodge owners.  We opted for a mix of the "High Route" and "Quick Route" with the former offering excellent views over Windermere and the latter assuaging the Slushettes.  The weather held firm with some welcome evening sunshine providing the perfect companion and the thirst I worked up was slaked by a lovely pint of Hawkshead Lakeland Gold on return to the lodge.  One more day to go...

A thirst for knowledge
Having set my sights on Wansfell Pike for the final day, the early morning drizzle didn't bode well; especially when it seemed to close in again just as were were loading the rucksack and prearing to head out.  Still, if a week in the Lakes had taught me one thing it was to trust the BBC's local weather and sure enough, no sooner had we climbed to our designated start spot (the Post Office at Troutbeck ) than the clouds rolled back and glorious sunshine took their place.
I've got to say the next three-and-a-half hours were probably the most enjoyable of my whole week.  A steady ascent up Robin Lane and The Hundreds provided us with some quite breathtaking views of Lake Windermere on one side and the area around Ambleside on the other.  The Slushettes never once questioned what we were doing (alright, so maybe the once...or twice!) and it was only when we were within what I termed "spitting distance" of the final summit (in truth about another half-hour's climb) did Mrs Slush finally bring me to a halt.  I kept my sense of failure to myself and instead thought of consolation being provided in The Mortal Man; just, oh, about an hour-and-a-bit's walk back down to Troutbeck!

Not much further now
 The reward was worth the effort.  As Mrs Slush and the Slushettes tucked into some particularly tasty lunchtime fodder (the Younger Slushette again deeming fish and chips as the only thing anyone was going to serve her) I also took in the delights of a pint of Coniston Bluebird Bitter and half a Sally Birkett Ale, which I believed at the time was a Hawkshead Brew but having returned home I'm now doubting myself on that one?.  Anyway, both hit the spot.  And the sun shone.  We all smiled and all seemed well with the world.  I could have remained there all day.
As it was we managed to drag ourselves back to the lodge where, after a quick change and freshen-up, it was down to the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole where the Slushettes somehow found the energy to give the outdoor adventure playground a good going over.
There was only one place to go for tea - The Haybarn Inn, our local, where despite the obvious temptation of another fine pint of Thwaites Wainwright, I opted for a Jennings Cumberland, my first of the trip.  I wasn't disappointed.  And the food - cajun chicken - was pretty damn good too.
Master of all he surveys...almost
And that was that.  Friday morning signalled our departure from Limefitt.  Seven thoroughly enjoyable days and numerous very enjoyable pints - not a bad combination.  I've got a feeling we'll go back in the shore up those lodge skirts!

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