THE shortest trips are sometimes the sweetest, the unlikeliest destinations yielding a special magic. And that was what happened at Arnside.
Not that our expectations were low for our one-night stay at a five-star gold rated lodging named Britain’s Best B&B 2011. We expected to be pampered on our flying one-night visit, obviously.
It was just the feeling on a hectic Friday afternoon on the M6, under threatening skies, that we were turning off too early. BLT (Before The Lakes). How could the Kent Estuary, reached via backroads from grey old Milnthorpe, possibly compete?
A couple of hours later, having helped drain a bottle of organic white Rioja on Number 43’s decking terrace with owner Lesley Hornsby, gasped at the stupendous view across the tidal continuation of Morecambe Bay and partaken of some equally award-winning fish and chips on the way to the station, we were ready for adventures.
Arnside doesn’t have the ring of Adlestrop, that rural halt hymned in Edward Thomas’s celebrated poem, but sitting on a bench there on a suddenly sun-bathed platform, bees humming, awaiting the train to Silverdale had the same quality of epiphany.
We were only going one stop. Only the one. Not even heading in the direction of Barrow across the sweeping low viaduct that adds focus to Arnside’s great panorama.
Our aim was an hour-and-a half ramble back to our bijou lodging, taking in the tree-clad limestone bluff of Arnside Knott. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s also an Area of Outstanding Geographical Confusion for a stranger. Estuary and inland, saltmarshes and sands, dense ancient woodland and new plantations all somehow twist bewilderingly around each other.
Hidden gemOur one point of reference was to be The Woodlands pub, which the Good Beer Guide had warned it was hard to find. Alighting at Silverdale, we asked directions of a couple sharing a bottle (it must be catching) in their station house garden. They warned us it wouldn’t be easy. It wasn’t, but another jolly couple who found us lost down the maze of paths helped us over the finishing line.
It was worth it. This rambling Victorian country house set in unkempt grounds dates back to 1878 and is the unlikeliest of pub conversions, frequented mainly by locals. To get to the bar you pass from the monumental entrance hall though a pool room and into the bar proper.
Quirky decor (plastic suits of armour), decidedly dog-friendly (I counted six of all breeds), brilliantly kept real ale from a variety of breweries and the feeling of being inside a warm secret kept from the world – yes, we could have lingered, but the Knott called.
Once found, its wide paths offered a brisk toddle back. It all felt a mite mystic, Hobbit land. For the last half a mile we hit the foreshore. Dotted signs warned of fast rising tides and quicksands, but foolish folk never learn, lured lemming-like onto the benign-looking sandflats. The tidal bore on the Kent, one of Britain’s fastest flowing rivers, comes in at the speed of a galloping horse and it’s rescue time again. Double figures some weekends. Better to take one of the 40 or so guided walks across the Bay scheduled for each summer (see Fact file)
We heard the eerie tide siren next day over breakfast, which Number 43 does uncommonly well. Wild boar sausages and proper bacon from Peter Gott’s Sillfield Farm, smoked haddock from the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse and locally pressed apple and damson juice all show the attention to detail and local sourcing that makes the place special. The organic wine list comes from Ambleside specialists Organico.
This all comes at a premium price. Our estuary-facing first floor suite, No 7, costs £175 a night. Fabulous toiletries, a firm super-comfy bed, free sherry and a pair of binoculars to scan the estuary were all part of the package. Other rooms were cheaper but they are smaller and may lack the view.
You can still get that by hanging out in the jazzy downstairs lounge, well-equipped with books and with access to the organic wine list, which – if you don’t fancy dining out – can be paired with a pre-ordered smoked fish platter or huntsman’s platter, featuring cheese from the Churchmouse in Kirkby Lonsdale, bread from the brilliant More craft bakery in Staveley.
Arnside promenade need not detain you long. Tea shops, a gallery, a couple of good pubs (the Albion is across from Number 43) are all that remains of the Victorian resort Arnside became when the coming of the railway killed it off as a port.
Times move on. No.43, part of a parade of houses built during Victorian resort times, promotes itself as a an easy base for Lakeland attractions. The Southern Lakes are just half an hour away on a good day. Sublime, yes, but also ridiculous as you navigate the Bowness/Windermere bottleneck, bumper to bumper with camper vans.
Better a boutique bolthole away from all that stress. Less is more when time is short. A glass of organic wine on a terrace. A classic sunset over the estuary. First, though, I do recommend a restorative hike with Bilbo Baggins over the Knott to a certain hidden away hostelry.
For those who must be up and about, here’s five non-Lakes places easily reached from Number 43:
Horse racing outpost/ gourmet enclave. With your winnings splash out at Simon Rogan’s wonderful L’Enclume restaurant (www.lenclume.co.uk/sr/index.html). Otherwise pick up some sticky toffee pudding at the Village Shop (www.cartmelvillageshop.co.uk) or explore the exemplary Cartmel Cheeses in Unsworth’s Yard (www.cartmelcheeses.co.uk).
2 Leighton Hall
Handily down the road, the historic home of the world-renowned Gillow furniture making family offers romantic gothic towers and acres of beautiful gardens.The house’s resident falcons are flow every day during the summer season at 3.30pm. www.leightonhall.co.uk.
3 Levens Hall
Grade I listed and dating from 1694, the hall is best known for the gardens, which have have survived in their original design and the famous topiary – among the oldest in the world. In the shop buy some Morocco Ale. Made to a secret recipe from Elizabethan times. www.levenshall.co.uk.
4 Abbot Hall
Kendal’s exquisitely curated gallery inside a beautiful Georgian villa offers a frequently changing series of exhibitions. Its remarkable collection of 43 works by Ruskin is on special display until June 30, 2012. www.abbothall.org.uk.
5 Wolfhouse Gallery
Set in a cluster of renovated farm buildings in the heart of Silverdale the Wolfhouse gallery and tea-room has a spectacular range of traditional and contemporary arts, crafts and gifts. I still cherish a tank-top I bought there 20 years ago. Durable, eh? www.wolfhousegallery.co.uk.
Number 43, The Promenade, Arnside, Cumbria LA5 0AA. (01524 762 761, www.no43.org.uk).
Rooms start from £120 per night including full breakfast. Suites with estuary views from £175 per night. Check website for special offers including 3 nights for the price of 2 on midweek stays throughout June.
Number 43 is running its first ever Photography Break on June 29 and 30, which includes two days’ professional photography tuition, two nights 5-star B&B accommodation and dinner on the first night. Prices from £350.
Arnaside is easily reached from Manchester/Livrpool by car via the M6 or by a train via Preston and Lancaster.
Woodlands Hotel, Woodlands Drive, Silverdale LA5 0RU (01524 701655).
Arnside Chip Shop and The Big Chip Cafe, 1 The Promenade, Arnside LA5 0HF (01524 761874, http://arnsidechipshop.co.uk/)
There are more than 40 walks across Morecambe Bay scheduled for summer 2012. Many cross the sands between Arnside and Kents Bank and are led by Cedric Robinson MBE, the Queen's Official Guide since 1963. Bay walks between Hestbank or Silverdale to Grange-over-Sands or Flookburgh are also guided by Alan Sledmore. For schedule and prices, visit www.yourguide2thelakedistrict.co.uk/morecambe-bay-walks-c1042.html.
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