The Lake District has always been high on my list of places to visit and given my new year’s resolution to explore more of the British Isles in 2017, where better for a weekend break and to escape the hustle and bustle of London.
The beauty of a weekend getaway within the UK is not only avoiding air travel and that passport control stress, but being able to bring Dexter along with us, the little chap does love an adventure!
I’ve always thought of the trip to the Lakelands as being rather arduous and couldn’t quite face the thought of a near 6 hour car journey through the London traffic and with a rather excitable puppy on the loose, so when we discovered that the train journey was a little under 3 hours, it wasn’t a hard decision! So last Friday we packed our bags and hopped on a Virgin Train from Euston direct to Oxenholme Lake District in the hope of some days breathing in the fresh air and exploring the stunning British countryside.
After clearing my inbox and making a start on a blog post, I was able to procrastinate to the max and make the most of the on-board BEAM app. For those of you not familiar, BEAM is Virgin’s on-board entertainment system and gives you access to over a hundred hours of TV Shows and Movies alongside games. So I kicked back coffee in hand to watch some Idiot Abroad (because who doesn’t love a bit of Karl Pilkington) and the journey flew by.
Travelling with this little man made the journey that much more enjoyable!
We had decided to rent a car for the Weekend to give us more freedom to explore and make the most of the beautiful surroundings. Fortunately there is an Enterprise Cars just a short 5 minute taxi from Oxenholme Station, although it’s worth booking online beforehand and arranging a free transfer.
When considering where to stay in the Lake District it’s important to evaluate where you are hoping to visit and find a place to ‘base’ yourself from. Cumbria is a big place so forward planning is crucial.
We came across Villa Levens and immediately fell for the traditional look and feel. The hotel is well located, dog friendly (!) and also a very good value option at just £90 a night. Situated in the South Lakes, the Villa is a 140 year old Victorian house which has been renovated into a 24 bedroom boutique hotel.
When at the Villa, you must give their afternoon tea a try – it’s the perfect fuel after a long hillside hike or pre-excursion!
Lake Windermere is a truly beautiful location and as a result there is a booming tourism industry. This means lots of pubs and restaurants to the point of too many choices. It can be difficult to split the traditional, homely gastro pubs from the more ‘tourist focused’ taverns, so after much searching we settled on the Angel Inn, overlooking the lake with some pretty special views.
The menu is diverse but the stand out dish was the homemade steak burger, great quality meat with some perfectly cooked hand cut french fries – guaranteed to satisfy any post-walk hunger.
Hawkshead is a quintessentially British town evoking memories of times gone by with it’s boutique local shops and cobbled streets. Surrounded by walking routes, it’s the perfect ‘mid-walk’ pit stop and the Queen’s Head is nestled amongst the Tudor style houses with a few outside tables.
The menu is typically British, with all the classics including beer battered cod and steak and ale pie. With the sun shining bright, we went for a few small plates to share. The baked brie was sumptuous and the Ploughman’s was the perfect sharing platter after our near 3 hour walk.
For dessert it’s just a short hop across the street to ‘The Little Ice Cream Shop’, a quaint tea room serving freshly baked cakes alongside some epic ice cream. With the sun shining, we thought it would be rude not to sample the local gelato, and I can strongly recommend the Oreo infused serve!
The beauty of the Lake District is there is an abundance of things to see and places to visit, the challenge is deciding where to go and being able to squeeze everywhere into your weekend.
One ‘must visit’ is the striking National Trust property, Sizergh Castle. A short drive from Villa Levens, Sizergh is one of the longest family-inhabited country houses within the UK and the beautiful gardens alone are worth an explore.
Aside from a fantastic spot for lunch, Hawkshead is a great place to stop off for a coffee and cake before setting off on a long walk. Poppi Red is a cute little cafe in the heart of the town and with a range of home made bakes and array of herbal teas, it’s the perfect way to kick start a day of walking.
One of the most famous Lakes in the World, Lake Windermere is another ‘must visit’ when travelling to the Lake District. It’s a spectacularly large mass of water and could easily be mistaken for a coastline (Josie!?) Walk around the Lake for some stunning views across the countryside and take in the fresh, clean air.
Cumbria is stocked full of National Trust properties but Wray Castle might just be the pick of the bunch. The Castle is a Victorian neo-gothic structure surrounded by gardens and pathways. It’s a great place to park up and explore, with the shoreline of Lake Windermere just a stones throw from the Castle itself. It’s also very Instagrammable!
On our first evening in the Lake District we decided to stay close to home and dine at the Villa’s restaurant. It didn’t disappoint with a seasonal menu featuring some of the local area’s finest produce and some very inventive dishes.
To start, I went for the pan seared scallops with cauliflower cheese and crisp bacon, it was an absolute winner, if not a little on the small side. Josie went for the ‘Piglet’; a combination of pork ‘lollipop’, ‘bon-bon’ and crisp, served with a apple relish. It’s fair to say I did have a smidge of envy, a very innovative way of showcasing the locally reared pork.
We had both worked up quite an appetite after a full day of walking, so for the main course it was hard to avoid the allure of the dry aged fillet steak, served with crispy onions and chateau potatoes. The quality of the beef was impressive and when speaking to the chef after the meal it was great to hear that all the produce is sourced locally.
Dessert was a tough one with so many delicious options on offer from pistachio cake to dark chocolate fondant. We decided on the raspberry and white chocolate cake served with a vanilla ice cream and strawberry mousse. It was undoubtedly the best dish of the evening, if not the entire trip!
When planning a weekend away it’s always important to think through those essentials and pack fairly light (although try telling that to Josie!). Here are my essentials for a weekend navigating the lakes and hillsides of Cumbria:
It’s key to pack a decent pair of walking boots to navigate the mountainous terrain and dusty paths, ideally well worn in to avoid any nasty blisters.
Sadly when embarking on any trip within the UK, a waterproof coat is an absolute must. Be sure to bring something a bit warmer to protect against those strong Cumbrian winds. Find some great options at Uniqlo.
A day bag or backpack comes in very hand when out walking and exploring all day. Check out Forbes & Lewis for some fashionable whilst also practical.
An essential for any trip away to capture those magical moments. The Olympus PEN-8 is a great all round camera and ideal for those looking for professional shots on the go.
Weather in the UK is always hit and miss, so you need to pack for all possible weather conditions! When walking the hills it’s good to layer up your clothing making it easy to remove ‘layers’ if things get a little warm or vice versa. Knitwear and in particular wool jumpers are great for this.
Don’t get caught out and forget to pack a pair of sunnies, it may be the UK but you never know when the sun is going to make a guest appearance. My two favourite brands at the moment are Oliver Peoples and Ollie Quinn.
Where are your favourite spots for a weekend getaway?
*This blog post was created in partnership with Virgin Trains, however all views and thoughts are my own.