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Height of calm

ENGLISH holidays may not hold much kudos, but a visit to the Lake District is always worthwhile, writes Amanda Holmbrook.

One of the most beautiful places in the country, this sprawling region of hills, islands, wide expanses of water and picturesque villages has retained most of its unspoilt natural beauty, while attracting visitors from both home and abroad.

Our weather is notoriously fickle, so even visits in the height of summer should involve an umbrella, but to go in November is surely asking for wind and rain of mythological proportions. Not so, and the disadvantages of a winter break in the Lake District are easily outweighed by the benefits.

Off season, accommodation is much cheaper and we booked a room at the Rosemount bed-and-breakfast hotel ten minutes walk from Bowness-on-Windermere, for just £90 for three nights. More luxurious accommodation is available and, at this time of year, should not be difficult to book at short notice.

Bowness is a tiny but bustling community on the edges of Lake Windermere, combining the relaxing charm of a traditional village with many of the attractions of a big town. Shops selling handmade chocolate (try Helen's for delicious fudge and liqueur nibbles) and the Beatrix Potter Museum recall a more innocent era, while clothes shops stock the latest fashions and the cinema screens the latest films.

There are three things you must do on a visit to the Lake District: go for a long walk, have a cream tea, and enjoy a big plate of fish and chips. During our three-day visit, we managed each, more than once.

Not being particularly experienced walkers, we went to one of many bookshops stocking guides of approved National Trust walks. For panoramic views, a visit to Post Knott, one of the most popular viewpoints, gives plenty of opportunity to admire the stunning beauty of the lakes, extensive woodland and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Even in winter this is a well-worn path and, at busier times of year, the chance of enjoying the calming effect of the countryside in solitude must be pretty slim.

Despite the drizzle, the muddy paths (treacherously slippery, but it all adds to the fun) and the cold, the chance to get away from the neverending noise and confusion that we city-dwellers learn to block out, is very welcome. The sound of silence is eerie when you're on the top of a hill on a winter afternoon, but surprisingly liberating. Another recommended spot is Queen Adelaide's Hill, which provides yet more stunning views and the chance to walk along the lake and past natural waterfalls to reach it.

Food lovers are spoiled for choice in the Lake District. Kendal mint cake might be the region's most famous contribution to international cuisine, but things are slightly more sophisticated in the many restaurants and tea shops. The Hole in the Wall pub, right at the end of the high street, serves a fantastic array of dishes from curries to Thai-style duck and even a whole pheasant. Its traditional English puddings are a treat not to be missed, but be warned, this is a popular spot for tourists and in summer you might not even make it to the bar.

For cream tea, there's no better place than the Hedgerow tea shop in Lake Road, a delightful little room up rickety stairs which serves huge, fruity scones with mounds of cream and jam for mere pennies. The fruit and herbal teas make a slightly healthier accompaniment.

There is a lot more to the Lake District than walking and food. Museums, theatre and other cultural events, as well as many historical places, ensure this astonishingly lovely corner of Britain keeps people coming back again and again.

Reproduced from Limited Edition magazine, exclusive guides to living in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and the London Borough of Barnet (01923 216295).

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