A couple of days in the Lake District this week gave me the chance to re-visit a few old favourites....
I have always liked to visit the Lakes out of season. The chance to wander around when it's less busy, an opportunity to take in the outstanding scenery, lovely villages, and excellent pubs without the crowds that flock there for so much of the year is an attraction. So when I decided to go for a couple of days this week, even though it was half-term, with the weather forecast not being particularly good in the wake of Storm Denis, I didn't anticipate that it would be too busy.
I was wrong. OK, you could still drive around the area easily enough, provided you carefully negotiated the puddles and streams that seemed to be everywhere, but there did seem to be a whole lot more people than a couple of years ago, when I had also visited in February. And like last time, I had booked to stay at The Sun Hotel in Coniston, and whilst it was quieter later on, when I checked in early evening there was already a healthy crowd of walkers and a cluster of locals in the stone-flagged bar enjoying a teatime drink.
|A pint at the Sun Hotel, Coniston|
It was pretty busy when I got there, with most of the tables occupied. I ordered a half of the Table Beer, a full-flavoured pale ale weighing in at a mere 2.8% ABV, which I rated a 3.5 on the NBSS scale. Some of the table beers around these days really are very good, and Hawkshead's is up there with the best of them. I headed off to one of the seats by the window and scrolled through my phone as I enjoyed my drink. I decided to go for another half, and I spotted a familiar figure at the bar. It was Nick Briggs, from two of Huddersfield's finest, Mallinsons and Briggs' Signature Ales. We had a natter and it turned out he was in the Lakes for a few days' holiday with his wife. Small world!
|Black Bull, Coniston; at the heart of the village|
|The Yewdale Hotel, Coniston; friendly and welcoming|
Having had breakfast and checked out of The Sun in the morning, I went for a wander down to the lake. It was raining, and the cold wind cut through to the bones. A coffee at the busier-than-usual Bluebird Cafe by the jetties helped a little, but by the time I got back to the hotel and retrieved the car, I was pretty cold and wet. Heating cranked up, I decided to pay a visit to the Drunken Duck at Barngates where I hadn't been for a few years.
The road back towards Ambleside was even wetter than yesterday, and taking the turn off at Clappersgate to head up to Barngates it was wetter still, with streams flowing off the hillside at will, forming large, ever-increasing small lakes. The Drunken Duck is signposted half a mile up off the road to Hawkshead, and stands proudly at a crossroads, with - when weather permits - outstanding views towards Ambleside and the fells beyond. It has been home to the Barngates Brewery since 1997 which, apart from the Drunken Duck, now supplies another 150-plus outlets. The attractive pub is also a destination for lovers of good food, and the wet weather meant it was a very busy Tuesday lunchtime with most tables taken. Still pretty full from a hearty breakfast, I ordered a sandwich, which arrived doorstep-size filled with Lancashire cheese and tomato chutney. I washed it down with a pint of 4% Brathay Gold, a delicious fruity bitter from the brewery round the back. This was another really good beer, another NBSS 3.5, and maintained the high quality of the beer I tried on this trip.
If only the weather had been as good....
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