There are some places in this world that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a painting or a book or even a poem.
The almost ridiculously picturesque Lake District in the northwest of England is one of those places.
There’s something about those stone fences and rolling green hills, about the charming villages with their cobblestone streets, the sweeping valleys and beautiful mountains that makes people want to pack up and move into one of their cottages.
Some of the great poets of the romantic movement did just that. When William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge went on a walking tour of the Lake District in 1799, Wordsworth spotted Dove Cottage, which was empty and available for rent.
By the end of the year he was living there with his sister Dorothy, and it didn’t take long for Coleridge to move to the area as well.
When I was studying Wordsworth at school I never thought that one day I’d be standing in the very cottage where he wrote some of the poems I was pouring over. But anyone can do just that, as the Wordsworth Trust has opened Dove Cottage and its gardens to visitors, and created a museum dedicated to him next door.
Knowing this was where Wordsworth was living when he and his sister Dorothy saw that host of golden daffodils and both wrote about them (Dorothy writing about them first, and William writing two versions of his poem) I was on the lookout for that special flower in his garden. After almost giving up hope I spotted one around the side of the house and took special delight in smelling a daffodil in Wordsworth’s garden.
Foodie Pilgrimages to Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume
While some poetry geeks will make a special trip to the Lake District, these days you’re more likely to find travellers looking for poetry on a plate, for it is here that you’ll find what many consider to be the UK’s best restaurant.
Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume has been named the best restaurant in Britain for four years running by the Good Food Guide, scoring a perfect 10/10 for his ‘miracles of nature’, it has two Michelin stars, and Steve Coogan fans will know it as one of the restaurants that featured in the comedy The Trip.
After a little look around the medieval village of Cartmel, we started our L’Enclume experience with a visit to the 12-acre farm that provides most of the organic, seasonal produce for Rogan’s restaurants, including Fera at Claridges in London, which also holds a Michelin star.
As one of L’Enclume’s chefs Rory Sheehan guided us around the farm we were able to see the whole process from the germinating seeds, which are all carefully watered and inspected by hand, to the plants that were ready to make their journey to a plate. Our plate as it turned out for some of them.
As we had little nibbles on some of the herbs, including the delicious apple marigold which I vowed to attempt to grow at home, Rory was filling his basket with vegetables, herbs and flowers that he would soon be incorporating into the best meal of my life.
Yes. Big call. But it’s one I can now make.
After returning to Cartmel, following a quick stop for Rory to do a little roadside foraging for wild garlic, we headed into L’Enclume’s ‘Development Table’, Aulis.
Found just beside the restaurant, Aulis is a private dining chefs table where you get to try new dishes first. Our happy group took up every one of the six stools at the kitchen counter, but you can also book for just two people if you wanted to.
While the dishes we had may still be auditioning for the big time next door in L’Enclume, every single one had us looking at each other in goofy delight. Executive Chef Mark Birchall and Rory chatted happily as they cooked, and while I tried my best to take notes there was so much to take in, and some rather lovely matching wine being poured by restaurant manager Sam Ward, that a few details were lost along the way.
I clearly have to go back and do it all again.
While we had to move on all too quickly after our long lunch, L’Enclume makes it very easy to make a night or a weekend of it by having 17 rooms to choose from. They also offer packages that include two nights accommodation, dinner at L’Enclume, an evening in Aulis, breakfast in their sister restaurant Rogan & Co and a trip to the farm. Head to Simon Rogan’s website to chat to the team about that one.
Staying at Storrs Hall on Lake Windermere
Yes, there are some beautiful places to stay in the Lake District, including a rather grand old Georgian Mansion on the edge of Lake Windermere that goes by the name of Storrs Hall.
Now a luxury hotel set on 17 acres of lakeside grounds, Storrs Hall was originally built as a private residence in 1797, and has welcomed some illustrious guests over the years both as a home and a hotel.
I’m told Wordsworth was a regular visitor and recited “Daffodils” in the drawing room, that Beatrix Potter used to attend their parties, and that the Lake District’s society event ‘The County Ball’ was held there for more than 50 years.
As I made my way to my room after checking in I noticed a painting of Winston Churchill on the wall, and assumed it was just a nod to history. But over dinner I discovered Churchill was also a regular guest during his parliamentary career.
I could certainly imagine him there when I visited the beautiful old bar in the hotel, although the word is Churchill wasn’t very good at sharing his Pol Roger. That’s okay, I’d be happy to put the drinks on my tab.
Today the hotel is not just a gorgeous place to stay, but also a popular spot to eat. After some drinks in the drawing room we had another memorable meal thanks to Storrs Hall’s chef Connor Toomey. And as if the food wasn’t enough to draw you in, the view over the lake is stunning. One of my fellow travellers even spotted a deer casually walking by, something I wish I’d been quick enough to catch.
The Lake District’s Drunken Ducks
The Drunken Duck is found up above Ambleside and has beautiful views over the valley below. They have charming rooms for the night, which include scones, jam and cream on arrival, as well as breakfast, and the pub itself is one that I’d love as a local.
It not only serves up great food and drink, when we were there it seemed like the pub every man and his dog wanted to be in. Literally. I think we were the only table that didn’t have a dog with us, and between the happy pooches and the roaring fire, I could easily while away many an hour in this establishment.
And I love the story behind their name. According to the legend, once upon a time, back in the Victorian years, the landlady found her ducks lying stretched out in the road. She thought they were dead so being a practical sort of woman started to pluck them for dinner. But then to her horror she realised they were just passed out drunk and not deceased.
Apparently a beer barrel had fallen and all the beer had gone into their feeding ditch. Word has it she felt so bad about what she’d done she knitted them all little waistcoats to keep them warm until their feathers grew back.
I don’t care if it’s true, I like the idea of these little ducks with their knitted waistcoats, looking all dapper. I can just see one of them asking Jemima Puddle-Duck out for a walk down a country lane.
Beatrix Potter the Herdwick Sheep Saviour
As Beatrix Potter fans know, Potter spent a lot of her childhood holidays in the Lake District, and the area helped to inspire her children’s books.
But after my visit, when I think of Beatrix Potter the first creature that comes to mind is now a particular sheep, rather than Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin and friends.
You see as we travelled around the Lake District I noticed lots of sheep that I’d never seen before. It turns out there’s a reason for that: it’s because 99% of them are found in that area and they’re really only still there because Beatrix Potter insisted.
This was one of those great pieces of trivia that I picked up from Elliot, our guide from Mountain Goat Tours and Holidays.
When Potter decided to move to the area and bought Hill Top farm, she became an expert breeder of Herdwick sheep. By the time she died in 1943 she had 15 farms, and she left all 4000 acres to the National Trust on the proviso that Herdwick sheep had to continue to be bred on all of them.
The sheep that she loved so much are born black, then go dark brown, and then grey. But the fleece is so coarse it’s used in carpets and insulation, and it’s not worth very much, so Potter has been credited with saving the Herdwick sheep from extinction.
It was only after I looked back at a menu from the Drunken Duck and looked at their list of local suppliers that I realised those Herdwick lambs are also rather delicious (sorry Beatrix). And that they also serve free range duck. No word on whether they buy them a beer first.
Published under license from Well Travelled.