Review: Northern Lake District
Cockermouth and Muncaster Castle
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A couple of years ago In early July my aunt and I went to the Lake District for a few days to visit some favourite spots and discover some new ones. We chose to go before school let out and the area was infested with lots of tourists. We could have obtained rooms on spec once we got there as there were a number of B&Bs with vacancies including the ones we were staying in but better safe than sorry, so we booked rooms ahead of time on LateRooms.com. We arrived at Lakeland (kitchen shop) in Windermere just before lunch on the Friday so did some shopping then had lunch in their cafe on the 1st floor overlooking Lake Windermere. The food is delicious!
Then it was into Ambleside for some more shopping. We parked in the big lot near St. Mary’s church and walked through the Recreation grounds (includes boules, lawn bowling, and three different types of mini golf) to the shops. There were a couple of things we couldn't find at Lakeland and I remembered a great kitchen shop in Ambleside and managed to find it down one of the side streets. It's called the Below Stairs Kitchen Shop, and it is under the stairs on Church Street. My aunt found the little pots that she was looking for – three Turkish coffee pots that have no lids and have pouring spouts, and the miniature spring form pans I was looking for.
After a bit of Christmas shopping our next stop was Grasmere, another favourite spot. We parked in the first big car park then took the walk along the river to the far end of town. We worked our way through town back to the car park while shopping. We were too late to get gingerbread at the Gingerbread Shop as it closed at 5:30 P. M. and it was 6:00 already but we could easily return the next morning as it opens at 9:15 A. M. and our first destination doesn’t open until 11:00 A. M.
We overshot the B&B we were heading for and had to double back a couple of miles. We were trying to follow the directions provided by the LateRooms.com web site and the road numbers do not exist. When we arrived in Cockermouth we knew we had gone too far so referred to the information from the B&B and found it with no trouble. We stayed two nights at the Link House near Bassenthwaite Lake and we had sheep as neighbours in the adjoining field. The views from the bedroom and the front of the house of the surrounding fells are lovely. The guest house is late Victorian and very comfortable. One day we passed the farm which supplies the bacon for the generous and well presented breakfasts. One of the house cats will make you and her very comfortable in the conservatory bar where you can enjoy a quiet drink and the scenery. We filled out our breakfast order for the morning then headed just down the road into Embleton to the Wheat Sheaf pub (recommended by the owner of the B&B) for a supper of fish and chips – the lightest battered haddock. If you are going for the three course meal, however, ensure you have a hearty appetite as the portions are more than generous.
We took the wrong road in Keswick the following morning when we were going back to Grasmere and ended up going 8 miles out of our way, but it was a lovely drive. We got back on track and this time we parked in the car park at the opposite end of Grasmere village and headed straight for the Gingerbread Shop. The shop is always a must whenever we visit the Lakes. Happily their wares are now available by mail order. After making our purchases we walked through the cemetery of St. Oswald’s Church next door to the Wordsworth’s graves then took a quick look inside the church which is whitewashed with exposed beams. We were drawn in by the bells. The bell ringers appeared to be calling guests to a wedding that morning. As we walked back to the car we passed a number of wedding guests on their way to the church in their finery.
The afternoon we spent in Cockermouth which was heavily damaged by a flood in 2009. We parked near the Market Place and after listening to a bit of The Big Sing (a music festival of sorts was happening in town) we walked down Main Street to the childhood home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Luckily for us it had just reopened so we were able to see it although with a temporary entrance as the gates to the property were washed away and had not been replaced yet. The basement had been flooded and the garden. In the past few months the garden had been brought back to life though it was not completely restored yet in fact, the far end of the garden was still missing as it backs onto the river. The basement now includes an exhibition about the flood and how it affected the village as a whole and the staff at the Wordsworth property. The house is Georgian and the staff (many in period costumes) is very knowledgeable and helpful about the history of the property and its contents including all the prints decorating the walls upstairs. The day we were there we were able to listen to a concert in the Drawing Room of music and singing from the time Wordsworth lived. We also tasted Rum Butter and oatcakes being prepared in the kitchen and obtained the recipe for the former.
There were still many businesses not open yet and in need of a lot of restoration work since the flood, but those that had been repaired were open and ready for business. Some businesses had been relocated and were sharing space with others. The whole community pitched in to help each other out. There is a pamphlet that you can purchase just about anywhere in the town that only costs £1, the proceeds go towards the town’s recovery and it outlines a walking trail you can take to follow the details of the flood. After a lovely afternoon in town we had dinner at the Trout Hotel next door to the Wordsworth House. It was a simple soup (mushroom) and sandwich (local cheese and chutney) but very nice on the terrace in the sun.
The next day, Sunday, it rained until mid afternoon. We went to Muncaster Castle near Ravenglass on the west side of the Lake District and were inside part of the time so the weather didn’t bother us. After wandering around the gardens a bit, following the Sino Himalayan Trail with its huge shrubs and trees we checked out the Owl Centre exhibit then we headed to the castle which opened at 12:00 noon. There are three generations of the Pennington family living in the castle which has been in the family for over 800 years. The husband of the owner came into the Library to give people his own stories adding to the audio tour everyone receives upon entering the castle. The audio tour is narrated by members of the family. His wife is the warden at the church so wasn't home to stop him from talking to the guests! He was quite funny and will happily tell you the tale of the bowl given to Sir John Pennington by King Henry VI in 1464. We then went to the stable yard cafe for a light snack before seeing the owl show. Due to the rain the owls weren't flying as their feathers just soak up the water and they're like drowned rats. The keepers had two owls for us to see – Chocolate, a European Eagle Owl and Sparky, a Barn Owl. There is a World Owl Centre at the castle which was our main reason for going to Muncaster as my aunt loves owls. The keeper spoke for 1/2 an hour about the owls and the work of the trust. They have over 50 owls there and we went around the centre to see them all including the burrowing owl which I also saw last year in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada at their owl centre. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the church and gardens as there are over 70 acres to explore. The church is well worth a visit as it has beautiful stained glass windows including one with an owl and St. Francis in the vestibule. We walked through the South Terrace which has various views of the castle and the valley and fells it overlooks including Scafell Pike, then on to the North Terrace and through the Church Wood back to the stable yard and the castle. We followed the path around the castle to Cannon bank, where the herons were still hanging around after their 4:30 feeding show, across to the other side of the castle to the Sun Dial Garden and the Wildflower Meadow. Unfortunately we were not there at the right time of the year to see the wildflowers in bloom. As the afternoon wound down we headed back to the car park via the Dragonfly Pond.
We stayed at a guest house just down the road that night that used to be the Muncaster School. After a welcome warm drink we drove into Ravenglass which is just a couple of minutes away. It is like going back in time to a very quaint little village right on the estuaries of the rivers Esk, Mite and Irt on the edge of the Irish Sea. We walked around the village then had dinner at a little pub called the Holly House Hotel right on the bank and watched the boats settle onto the river bottom as the tide went out and the light glimmered on the water as the sun started to set. If you have more time to spend in Ravenglass it is a lovely little spot to get away from it all and is the only coastal village inside the Lake District National Park. If you are a railway fan, this is the home of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
The next morning we watched the birds feeding while we had another delicious breakfast. A woodpecker kept scaring the other smaller birds away. We drove over to Coniston and Hawkeshead then around up to Windermere so we had done a full circle. As we have been to Windermere a number of times, and in the spirit of going to new places as well as old on this trip, we went to the Blackwell Arts and Crafts House on the hill just above Windermere. The house was built by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott in 1900 for Sir Edward Holt, a brewery owner in Manchester. It is very nicely restored with all the woodwork and the stained glass windows. The peacock wallpaper frieze by Shand Kydd in the Main Hall is beautiful. The White Drawing Room is a stark contrast to the natural wood in the rest of the house with lovely views across the lake. The fireplaces have also been well restored including the fireplaces in the Dining Room and Main Hall with their Delft tiles. There was also an exhibit on William Morris: a Sense of Place which gave much insight to the man William Morris was beyond his designs still so much in use today. After our tour of the house and the exhibit we just had time for tea on the terrace overlooking the lake before heading home.
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158 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.