Lake District | www.sykescottages.co.uk
Mark Nicholls heads to the Lake District for a week-long break and bags of fresh air
There’s one thing you can be sure of in the Lake District. Fresh air.
You get it by the lungful; breezy, sweet, clean air, that truly invigorates.
It’s a ‘breath-taking’ extra dimension to being amid scenic lakes, a majestic landscape of green hills, rocky crags and ice-cold streams.
We ventured north last October, which, looking back, now seems like an opportunistic dash in a ‘window of semi-normality’ in this ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Back then, we were hardly expecting to be still confined by stay-at-home restrictions come Spring 2021. But here we are.
However, with vaccinations being rapidly rolled out, vacations could follow. The hope is that we’ll be able to get further afield before long, but it seems for now that staycation is the ‘new normal’ as an element of doubt continues to hang over the overseas break this year.
With so much on our doorstep, we’ll still be enjoying our East Anglian attractions this summer, but have also booked another October break – this time in Cornwall – having been inspired during the family getaway (with dog in tow) to the Lake District last autumn.
Always popular, the Lake District remains a huge attraction because of the space, the terrain and the opportunity for socially-distanced exercise.
We stayed in a cottage at Ghyll Bank Byre on the hillside above the village of Staveley in the southern Lake District, just a few miles from Lake Windermere.
You take your chance with the weather in the Lakes whatever time of year you venture to the North-west, but in early October, the mindset is of low expectation but high optimism.
We, however, were seemingly blessed with crisp, clear days, and with only the occasional daytime shower, and our three-bedroom dog-friendly abode proved a perfect base for walks, drives out, or just lazing around with a book and admiring the view.
And the view from the cottage was spectacular.
We could set off for walks from our gate following circuits of between one and nine miles, across a walled landscape where sheep, cattle, and the occasional bull – complete with warning signs on the gates – roamed the pasture.
The routes followed flowing brooks, grassy contours, meandered through hamlets and over stiles and steps straddling ancient stone walls, to open up a landscape that hasn’t changed in centuries.
Our days settled into a happy routine: a good walk with the dog in the morning, a spot of lunch, and then to Windermere, Grasmere or Ambleside to enjoy the ambience of these Lakeland villages, which were relatively uncrowded midweek.
Grasmere is a delight. With woodland walks nearby, it has lovely hotels, shops to explore whether you want to update your hiking attire or restock with chocolate or local gingerbread, plus lots of cafes and restaurants for a slice of cake and a cuppa.
And of course, this is the heart of Wordsworth Country.
The churchyard contains the grave of the renowned romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who wrote many famous poems but is perhaps best known for `I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (…a host of golden daffodils…)’. The association with the daffodil is strong, with the daffodil garden nearby, and Wordsworth’s home, Rydal Mount, is not far away near Ambleside.
The Lake District has no shortage of places to eat and we checked out a few pubs during our week-long stay. The Eagle and Child was a cosy local in Staveley with a wholesome menu and an excellent range of beers, with the locally-brewed Hawkshead a regular choice.
But having rented a cottage, there was an element of self-catering too with some rustling up of the comfort food dishes of chilli con carne or spaghetti Bolognese, and a cheeky Chinese takeaway and cod and chips from the village chippy…all part of the experience.
While a bracing walk does you the world of good, the Lake District is also about getting on the water, whether you hire a small vessel to take the helm yourself, or board one of the Windermere cruisers.
The cruises run from Bowness, Lakeside or Ambleside along the length of the lake with the option to hop on and off at the various piers, though with coronavirus restrictions all departures must be booked online, and the same with return trips as you tour arguably the most famous lake in the region, a lovely 11-mile ribbon of water
For a whiff of nostalgia, there’s the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam railway which runs between Haverthwaite and the southern end of Lake Windermere, with the option to combine the train journey with a boat trip.
There is ample parking and a lovely tea room at Haverthwaite station where you can pop in for a cup of tea or coffee with a scone, or enjoy lunch before your steam train departure. The offerings are freshly-made.
Our locomotive for the 11.55am departure was a tank engine named Victor, at the head of cream and burgundy coaches and destined for Lakeside a few miles away for the rendezvous with the boat for the onward journey across Lake Windermere to Bowness.
What I noticed was how the Lake District, tourist attractions, and shops, cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants had responded to the various COVID-19 restrictions, which is reassuring given that social distancing could be with us for some time yet.
All relevant precautions were taken to ensure visitors felt safe, comfortable and secure, yet were not restricted in their enjoyment of the experience.
The Lakes have year-round appeal with hotels and restaurants opening, and cottages to rent into spring, summer and autumn.
For us, it was just the ‘breath of fresh air’ we needed.
With a range of companies offering holiday cottage lets across the Lake District, Mark Nicholls and family booked with Sykes Cottages