THE Lakes still boasts high profile, Michelin-starred dining experiences but in this economic climate they are only for special occasions. The alternative is a dynamic range of food-savvy pubs sourcing locally and seasonally and all that. Many are also terrific boozers celebrating the current golden age of British brewing. The best are often tucked away in quiet leafy corners away from the tourist honeypots. Here are Neil Sowerby’s Top 10 Lakes Drinking Holes. Feel free to add your own...
1 Masons Arms, Strawberry Bank, LA11 SNW
A perennial favourite. If it ain’t broke... When Yorkshire-based Individual Inns took over they left long-serving managers John (pictured above) and Diane Taylor at the helm of this cosy whitewashed proper pub with log fires and stupendous views over the Winster Valley. It’s the whole package that makes it the Good Pub Guide’s 2012 North West Pub of the Year. The food is hearty with an emphasis on game (countryside campaigner Clarissa Dickson Wright recently hosted an event there), while local ales such as Hawkshead feature alongside an array of foreign bottles. Rooms and self-catering apartments for those determined to make most of this gem.
2 Hawkshead Beer Hall, Staveley, LA8 9LR
In stark contrast to the Masons, this is a bright, pine-heavy bar attached to a working brewery in a small business complex, yet it is remarkable in its own way. Ex-Gavroche chef Steven Doherty designed the ‘beer tapas’ to accompany the full range of the outstanding Hawkshead beers. Their hoppy, refreshing (only 3.5 per cent) Windermere Pale was overall champion at the recent Great Northern Beer Festival in Manchester. Owner ex-BBC foreign correspondent Alex Brodie’s commitment to British beer shows in the range of other breweries’ bottles on sale to take home. On Saturdays you can tour the brewery. NB: This is nowhere near Hawkshead itself.
3 Punch Bowl, Crosthwaite, LA8 8HR
Steven Doherty (see above) established this as a destination in the infancy of gastropubs. Its current owners have lovingly upgraded this old inn with its gorgeous hillside setting alongside Crosthwaite Church (the eight handsome bedrooms are named after past church incumbents). The food is less high end than of yore, but still worth travelling a distance for. This is damson country, so don’t miss the crumble. Good wine list alongside four changing hand-pulled ales. Handy for stamps, too. It serves as the village post office.
4 Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater, CA 13 0RU
An equally lovely spot, this time in the far west of the Lakes, surrounded by peaks, best viewed from the comnfort of an exceptional red squirrel-haunted beer garden. Low beamed ceilings, stripped stone walls, settles and a slate shove ha’penny board complete the rustic look. Food’s not really on a par with the quality of cask ale here, which is exceptional.Try their own-brewed Cumbrian Legendary Loweswater Gold. Dog-friendly, too, even in the bedrooms.
5 Brown Horse, Winster, LA23 3NR
Another authentically ancient wayside inn brewing its own beer (Old School the pick). Ten malt whiskies and a dozen wines by the glass add to the merriment in the Horse’s dark and cosy interior. Expect lots of flickering candlelight if you dine off the likes of tea-smoked mackerel with horseradish cream or trout from Ullswater with almond beurre blanc. Free range pork comes from their own animals and they grow their own vegetables, too. Four newly-refurbished, en suite rooms look tempting.
6 Watermill Inn, Ings, LA9 9PY
Why brave the throngs down in Windermere/Bowness when you can stop off at Ings? This multi-award winning, welcoming boozer just off the A591, keeps a wide range of ales in tip-top shape and now brews its own. There’s a viewing window to brewhouse and cellar. Family-friendly. Dogs get provided with water and biscuits. Food for humans is hearty and filling. No piped music.
7 Plough at Lupton, Cow Brow, LA6 1PJ
Just turn right at junction 36 of the M6 and head in the direction of Kirkby Lonsdale until you come to this immaculately refurbished wayside inn, where I recently stayed on Planet Confidential’s behalf (www.planetconfidential.co.uk/UK-and-Ireland/Kirkby-Lonsdale-A-Belting-Little-Country-Town). It’s a sister pub to the Punch Bowl and deserves to be equally popular. In the airy, comfortable bar expect to find at least one beer from the excellent Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery (based at Kirkby’s Orange Tree pub, also well worth a visit). If it’s the bittersweet Ruskin’s Bitter, you are in for a treat. The rooms, from £95, are spectacularly large and well-fitted.
8 Three Shires, Little Langdale, LA22 9NZ
Deep in one of the Lake District’s most stunning settings, this is a pub to match. Run by the same family for nearly three decades, it has been cunningly refurbished without losing its character. The extended back bar now features lots of stripped timber alongside the dark slate flagstones and a long row of handpumps showcasing the pick of local ales and a a 50-strong collection of malts. Good views from the garden into a wooded valley. The three shires of Cumberland, Lancashire and old Westmorland traditionally met at the nearby Wrynose Pass.
9 Old Crown, Hesket Newmarket, CA7 8JG
The prototype for the community pub saved and run by the villagers (Prince Charles is a fan, Sir Chis Bonington apparently a regular). From this rescue operation grew the whole Pub Is A Hub campaign. It is not a case, thankfully, of all hands to the pumps, though. The co-operative pay a manager to run it. Only open selected lunchtimes, please check. All the ales from the resident microbrewery are named after surrounding fells, except Doris’s 90th BIrthday Ale. This premium ale, well worth seeking out, was originally brewed in 1989 for the appropriate celebration. Beats a cake.
10 Hare and Hounds, Bowland Bridge, LA11 6NN
Full circle back to a 17th century coaching inn, almost in the long shadow of the Masons Arms. This southern corner of the Lakes is not the most spectacular, but it is the most pubbable. Grab a seat by the log fire and order a pint of Hare of the Dog, their house beer brewed by Tirril, or a local farm cider. Interesting guest beers and the pub hosts a May bank holiday beer festival (there are comfortable bedrooms to sleep it off). Food is simple and good value, while the outside terrace with its parasols offers fine views... of that Winster Valley again!
The Good Pub Guide 2012 (Ebury, £15.99, www.goodpubguide.co.uk). NB: It is arranged in a new regional format, subdivided into counties, which I find hard to negotiate, even before the first pint.
CAMRA Good Beer Guide 2012 (CAMRA Books, £15.99, www.camra.org.uk/gbg)
And for the best recommendations on where to stay and eat in the Lakes, highly recommended as always:
Good Hotel Guide 2012 (£20, www.goodhotelguide.com)
Good Food Guide 2012 (£16.99, www.thegoodfoodguide.co.uk)
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