It looked like I would have to eschew foreign holidays again this year, so myself and two of my closest advisors decided a couple of months back to book a staycation, and the Lake District was a fairly clear choice of preference.
We booked a cottage on Airbnb that was pretty much in the sticks, near the west of the Lake District. I didn’t need to look at any other properties as soon as I was sent the link, my response being, “BOOK IT NOW” – 3 double bedrooms, a very large kitchen, a large living room, a huge garden to the front, a whole meadow to the back. Plus it smelt like my Grandma’s house from the 1980’s…though that bit wasn’t advertised on Airbnb.
We had two larger cottages to the side, otherwise just fields – you could see the cows from my bedroom in the morning. And smell them when you stepped outside.
There was a good pub 20 minutes walk away in one direction along the country roads, one not so good pub that was more reminiscent of a student halls bar from 1998 40 minutes in the other direction, with a restaurant 40 minutes away also. Yes, we were in the middle of nowhere.
One of the main premises around the holiday was to do some walking. The first full day there we walked along the River Esk estuary, which became pretty muddy and boggy at one point – and would have been part unfollowable were the tide in.
Once we turned off the coast and headed inland it actually became fake warm – enough to take off my coat. In England. In May. Shocker. Then we walked through some woods, over some hills, through fields of sheep and down back into the village where we started – which had its own mini railway that was even more extortionate than First Great Western.
The next day was actually sunny again – gloriously so, so we changed our plan from walking around the lake to walking along the coast, setting off from St Bees and serenaded by a fat bloke with his arse hanging out from the nearby caravan park. Everywhere in the country had heavy showers except the west of Cumbria, so we couldn’t really have picked a better spot.
Plus it was stunning. A steep uphill climb at first along the cliff, we followed along, down into a cute hidden bay – we ventured off track to go onto the beach which was a rocky and wet path, before heading back up the steep hill and along the coast to more stunning views in the glorious sunshine – it was so nice that I even considered giving Brexit a chance.
Plus it gave me two great photo opportunities. Firstly eating a sandwich in Sandwith.
Then I wanted someone to take a photograph of me having a wee on this pile of burnt sticks…but they refused. Guess you could say that they pissed on my bonfire.
The final walk was on a cloudy and damp morning, which started off nicely – through a farm, into some bluebell woods then around the edge of a lake – you could barely desire more enticing scenery.
Alas, it got a bit boring as we walked along a road back, then through a farm where we were walking through fields of worried lambs and pissed off looking sheep, without clear directions, through one field of cows and increasingly boggy land – I was a little on edge expecting either a sheep or cow to charge at me and the whole section of the walk was not helped by having to jump over streams, climb over a wall and then follow a rocky footpath downhill that had turned into a stream. The sausage roll at the end was good though.
Whilst one of my accomplices was in charge of suggesting walks – generally very successfully, I tend to always take the role of suggesting where we eat or drink. For some reason I am trusted on this.
The first night we just wandered down to our local which was a 20 minute walk along a country road, The Bridge Inn. I wasn’t expecting great shakes from it, especially as it had one of those never-ending menus that certain types of pubs have and I always wonder if they can actually be good at all of it – or any of it – pizzas, pub classics, burgers, steaks, salads – given that I was in Cumbria I decided that I should really have the Cumberland sausages and mash.
I nearly went for the Cumberland sausage and Cumberland cheese pizza – though they did look a bit basic when we saw one go by.
It was so good that we came back on rain day – soaked after our 20 minute walk where I could only choose between lamb shank or pie, as by this point I was on a gravy eating competition with absolutely nobody.
On our first full day there, after our walk we also went to Woodland’s Tea Room for cream tea – well, I had beer, a toasted sandwich and a scone – the scone was absolutely delicious, the sun was shining in pretty much clear blue skies – you can hopefully imagine how good this felt after the spring we’ve endured.
The other really memorable meal featured gravy – of course – and was a steak and ale pie. I asked for no peas. The pub/restaurant was called The Bower House Inn, and they told me that their pies are not served with peas. It came with peas. Pie was truly sexual though – as was their gravy.
Yes I flicked a couple of peas onto the floor in protest.
I did eat some haggis and black pudding balls as a starter at another place – though their main was a bit average. And I cooked one evening – spinach and feta stuffed jacket potatoes.
On the Thursday it poured down with rain all day, so we looked for something else to do. Our idea was to drive to Windermere though it was over an hour away – maybe we’d end up in Keswick at the pencil museum too. I’m loathe to visit museums due to mask requirements as they are just not compelling enough and they can wait until the pandemic is over – but I would have broken my stance for a pencil museum, wouldn’t you?
Alas we followed the directions on Google Maps rather than taking the main road which was slightly longer. Google Maps took us to somewhere called Hardknott Pass which is apparently the joint-steepest road in England.
We saw the warning signs but didn’t really take too much notice until we were driving up the first part, in the pouring rain, steep uphill climbs around sharp bends with death falls if you make a wrong move. I did my “everything will be fine” thing like at the beginning of the pandemic, but it was fucking dangerous. Luckily we found a spot to turn around.
Alas, this mean that we didn’t get to Lake Windermere. We did get to a pub called The Black Cock, which amused me childishly. Woke pub renaming has not yet made it to the Lake District.
And then on the final afternoon, not really knowing what else to do but having a couple of hours spare before our dinner, we drove to Whitehaven. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:
There is a point to the story, which is that anyone upset about their beach holiday plans being cancelled during the middle of a pandemic (how dare the government want to control the borders during a pandemic…albeit only from countries that Boris Johnson doesn’t want to get a trade deal from) – you can actually have a good holiday in the UK.
The Brexit repositioning of the country over the last 5 years has made me more dismissive of my country – and wishing to be European rather than British, but you have to make the most of what life offers, and this holiday to the Lake District, along with last year’s to Cornwall and the weekend breaks to Matlock and Stratford-Upon-Avon have been timely reminders that this country is actually fucking great.
I may not appreciate the politics or the attitudes of some groups of people – and don’t get me started on litter or pavement cyclists.
But we have some stunning scenery, great pubs, really nice walks – we even have good weather sometimes. Cakes, scones, sandwiches – you won’t find Europeans doing better than we do. Pubs in the UK are far better than in other countries – our craft beer scene is arguably superior to even Belgium’s nowadays.
I expect it won’t be too long before I go elsewhere again – maybe Cambridge or Bristol, maybe Somerset or Wales. Nothing is booked yet but there are thoughts.
So, if you haven’t already, do consider taking advantage of this opportunity of restricted travel to enjoy Britain. But do stay away from Shitehaven.