Ramblers heaven with lakes full of hospitality
Rambling is something I've often been accused of, especially by my daughters back in the day when trying to impart some gem of knowledge while on country walks.
Now things have come full circle, in the nicest way imaginable, with a guided rambling break in the Lake District, walking in the footsteps of the late, great Alfred Wainwright and packed with interest, exercise, good company and great food and drink which included a pint or so of Wainwright, too.
I'd been somewhat sniffy on occasions about anything 'organised', but a few days with Ramblers Walking Holidays has changed all that.
Our break in the Western Fells was based at Ramblers' flagship Hassness Country House, a tastefully-refurbished Victorian residence standing in its own grounds just over a mile out of Buttermere village. Well away from the tourist hotspots of Windermere, Bowness and Keswick, the tranquil setting of the house on the eastern shore of beautiful Buttermere makes you relax with every step you take towards it, a feeling shared with all 15 fellow guests, especially when we realised all our rooms overlooked the water.
Making us feel even more relaxed as we checked in mid-afternoon were hosts Brian and Carole, smiling and ever helpful, and soon setting the standard for a tremendously-enjoyable stay with a hearty dinner which blasted my weight-loss plan out of the water. Not to mention the cakes for afternoon tea on the days which followed, lovingly baked by daughter of the house Ruby.
She honed her cake-making skills as a chalet girl in the Austrian Tirol, so as a long-time skiier, I had an inkling of what might be in store and we weren't disappointed.
Beatrix Potter is unquestionably the Lady of the Lakes, with a nod to Wordsworth's inspirational sister Dorothy, but Ruby just has to be Lady of the Cakes, with daily offerings which never failed to lift the spirits even higher than our walks on the fells.
And the walks were inspiring, helped immeasurably by Ramblers guide Alison, a long-time lover of the Lakes since her studies at Lancaster Uni, who gave a briefing every evening on the following day's planned walk, in time for people to suggest any variations or an alternative meeting-up point, depending on abilities, weather and conditions.
All Ramblers Walking Holidays are graded and all have an experienced and knowledgeable guide at the helm, whether the walks are easy or challenging.
Our break featured Ramblers E Grade walks, with the accent on 'leisure and lifestyle', like the Buttermere circuit and Rannerdale we did on Sunday, on a route of just over 9 miles, 850ft of ascent and 4 to 5 hours walking. It was good fun in glorious sunshine, with great views and plenty of photo-stops, especially with the bluebells under Rannerdale Knotts, before heading back via Whiteless Breast and Low Bank.
Some of the group decided to head off home early, splitting at Rannerdale and taking an ice cream stop at Buttermere en route, as a reminder that the 'E' walks are easy by Lake District standards, but not quite as easy as a walk across Richmond Park.
Thanks to Alison, an alternative detour was also included with Monday's walk, starting from the top of Honister Pass and taking in Castle Crag en route to Grange and Derwent Water. After a fortifying packed lunch (thanks Brian, Carole and Ruby!) the hardier headed off towards Rossthwaite, while us softies took a sail around Derwent Water on a lovely old launch which dropped us off at Ashness, just a short walk from a welcome beer at the Ladore Hotel and then a picturesque bus ride along Borrowdale to meet up with the hikers again at Seatoller before heading home to Hassness for cake. Satisfaction all round!
Tuesday's walk, a bit wetter this time, started at Lanthwaite Green Farm and took us by the fish ladders at the head of Crummock Water, before striding out over Maggie's Bridge for a wooded walk around Loweswater via Holme Wood, a reminder, if one were needed, that we were being made welcome on National Trust land - as we were most of the time in the Lakes.
Again, some of the party decided to detach, funny that, as we had just reached a splendid old pub called the Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater, where the four ladies involved decided to spend the rest of the afternoon. I completed the day's trek as the rain started in earnest, and delayed my cake in order to go back and collect them by car, to find them happily tucked in a corner with assorted teas and beers, and what had earlier been a quiet refuge was now heaving.
We did get back to Hassness eventually, to be told is no such thing as too much cake, with orders to clear every crumb as health and safety rules forbade keeping any of it until the day after. No problem!
Then it was dinner and how's this for a three-day menu run-down: cream of mushroom and tarragon soup, lasagne al forno with salad and garlic bread, followed by pears poached in spicy perry; smoked salmon and pickled cucumber to start, followed by roast supreme of chicken with all the trimmings, then bitter chocolate tart with almond pesto; and on our final day, tomato and basil bruschetta, braised steak with crushed potatoes, or a south Indian green curry and home-made naan bread, all rounded off with apple strudel and chantilly cream.
Ramblers Walking Holidays advises from the start that dietary requests are catered for and Hassness guests are welcome to take along their own beer and wine, with the use of a kitchen and facilities for making a brew at any time to relax with in the lounge, where the laid-back atmosphere is helped by views of the garden, with red squirrels often providing a lively cabaret down by the bird feeders.
And oh bliss, there might be broadband, but mobile phone signals are patchy at best so you really can escape.
Fellow walkers - some of them veterans of Ramblers Walking Holidays, both in the UK and abroad - had travelled from far and wide, even from Los Angeles, and it was heartwarming to see how well everyone got on and didn't want the trip to end.
The wrench at parting was tempered for us by a welcome stop-over on my homeward journey at another cracking former coaching inn called The Plough - a must-try haven of comfort and excellent food only minutes from the M6 at Lupton, north of Kirkby Lonsdale. The Plough has stood at the foot of Farleton Knott for nearly 200 years and has been restored with a sensitive touch, with open yet cosy public rooms and five luxury bedrooms and suites living up to their five-star rating.
After three days in the fells, what could beat a top-class meal, then crashing out in a suite big enough for an office party where you can unwind with a vast waterfall shower, huge slipper bath and oversized sleigh bed.
Now that's Rambling.
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