GRASMERE is my perfect Lakes spot. Surrounded but not dominated by the hills, small enough to keep a village feel yet with lots of diversions. Busy in high season, yes, but within minutes you can be on your own among some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.
This time we stayed at the lovely Rothay Garden Hotel, just out of the centre, which made a perfect base to explore. Here are my top 10 things to do in Grasmere...
1 Stuff yourself on gingerbread while paying your respects to Wordsworth
You can’t miss St Oswald’s Church. Its grey, battered roughcast stone tower dominates the village. It was founded by Oswald, King of Northumbia in 624, but the current Grade 1 listed building dates back to the 14th century. Inside church is gleamingly maintained, and the font and some stained glass are medieval, but the real reason to visit is grave of poet William Wordsworth outside. Which means you can pick up some Grasmere gingerbread at Sarah Nelson’s little shop next door to munch while you muse upon daffodils. www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk
2 Stuff Amazon and Waterstones and support a proper bookshop
He who is tired of tea-rooms and Herdwick woolen emporia is not necessarily tired of life. He just hasn’t found Sam Read’s Bookshop – a civilised oasis where the only sops to Lakeland are tomes on Wordsworth and Wainwright and maps to aid your crag hopping. In 2006 it won the Times/Independent Alliance Competition for Best UK Independent Bookshop, but it has been around since 1887, when one Sam Read set it up opposite Grasmere village green, and has had only five owners since. Its immaculately chosen stock is a magnet every time I visit the area – whether its raining or not. Open seven days a week, except in January. http://samreadbooks.co.uk
3 Snuggle into Tweedies (and no Herdwick wool involved)
My chosen bolthole when the precipitation gets too steady is Grasmere’s best pub. Tweedies is the bar of the Dale Lodge Hotel, but it doesn’t feel like a hotel bar. Like a similar set-up, Badger’s Bar at Rydal’s Glen Rothay Hotel just down the Ambleside road, it is a place of worship for real ale acolytes. So I was told off by the barman for snapping a picture of my pint of Thornbridge Jaipur before it had settled (“They’ll say I sell cloudy beer”). Real cider, too, pub games and a woodburning stove for winter in a nigh-perfect package. Each September they host a beer festival and hog roast appropriately called Guzzler. www.dalelodgehotel.co.uk
4 Jumble Room – Fusion electrifying local dining
Just along tranquil Langdale Road from Tweedies is a quirky eaterie that’s a world away from standard Cumbrian fare of rump of Herdwick Lamb and sticky toffee pudding. Against a decorative backdrop of lowering cattle try the likes of cullen skink and Emperor Choo Chee’s Seafood Curry, fusing Thai spices and coconut milk. www.thejumbleroom.co.uk
Helm Crag. We could see it looming to the north of the village from our bedroom window at the Rothay Garden. A moderate circular 7.5 mile walk will get you there and back in a little over four hours.
6 Or if that’s more than your unscuffed Brashers can handle
Easedale Tarn is only two miles away from Grasmere. It’s 480mx300m in size and its icy waters replenish the creamy spume waterfalls of Sourmilk Gill (nature writing at its best, sic) which accompany the easy bridleway up. Or you could always do a proper calf-stretcher like the Alfred Wainwright favourite up to Stone Arthur, where you could take a picture similar to the main image for this piece and impress your friends.
7 Time for some restorative troughing after falling for the Fells
The Miller Howe Cafe is handy, just opposite Sam Read’s. It’s owned by Ian Dutton, once head chef at the famous Miller Howe Hotel in its heyday under John Tovey. There is no connection now between hotel and cafe, which is part of the small Dutton Cuisine chain. It’s a fine spot for afternoon tea or savoury snacks, but for a classic Lakes dining experience I’d drive the nine miles over to stablemate The Queens Head at Troutbeck for a terrific superior pub food experience. I’ve written previously about this as perhaps the Lake Distrct’s most haunted hotel, so I fortified myself with the stomach-lining likes of Herdwick hogget and kidney suet pudding (£17.95) after a starter of lambs kidneys braised in claret, redcurrant and rosemary with deep-fried crispy onion rings (£6.95), washed down with Robinson’s Old Tom. Was I endangering the Herdwicks?
William and Dorothy, below8 Brave the coach parties – on the way back drop in on Dove Cottage
Might not work. I once drove over (it’s on the A591 Ambleside-Keswick Road outside the village) five minutes before its 10am opening time and TWO coaches, one from Kyoto, one from Hamburg, pulled up almost immediately.
And Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s fascinating home, is only tiny. How Sir Walter Scott, a famous and ample guest, miffed by the poet’s parsimony, squeezed through the back window to find a proper breakfast in the nearest inn, I ken not.
Until January 2014 the Museum is hosting an exhibition, Dorothy Wordsworth: Wonders of the Everyday. It reveals the power of her own writing, which inspired that of her brother. https://wordsworth.org.uk/home.html
9 Take opium like De Quincey and Coleridge, Wordsworth’s feckless associates
Just jesting. For a narcotic-free out of body experience (you might even feel a stanza or two coming on) hire a boat or a canoe on Grasmere Lake. It’s only one mile long, half a mile wide and 75ft deep and craft fare available for rent between March and early November. Check out boat firms locally. The picture below is from the Allan Bank blog, which offers a lovely year-round view of life in Grasmere.
10 Finally, there’s no point staying in Grasmere if you can’t admire the lovely landscape from your hotel bedroom
We were lucky at the Rothay Garden Hotel to stay in Silver Howe, one of the two ultra-luxurious second floor Loft Suites, along with Loughrigg, offering a thrilling panorama of the fells after which they are named. And are those Herdwick lambs bleating in the distance?
These suites are the final jewels in an ingenious interior conversion of the 1850s building, which has been a hotel since the Sixties; some guests might prefer the Garden Suites with a personal patio overlooking the immaculate gardens and the new Riverside Spa Complex with its Hydropspa with views of a rilling brook little diverted since Wordsworth’s days. Personal spa treatments are still conducted in the hotel itself – my wife described her aromatherapy massage as among the best she’d ever had. I was equally impressed by the New World-centric wine list curated by hotel owner Chris Carss, a brilliant match for head chef Andrew Burton’s cuisine in the two-rosette Garden Restaurant. Rothay Garen hs just been voted Cumbria's Small Hotel of the Year for 2013.
Sheepish apology: Despite what has gone before, I really have nothing against the Herdwick breed. Indeed it is probably enthusiast Beatrix Potter’s greatest contribution to the Lakes (not that I have anything against cutesy bunnies). Meanwhile for fellow animal-lovers, below, cattle rush hour in Grasmere village.
Grasmere is 90-mile drive via the M6 from Manchester, 95 from Liverpool. Or you could get the train to Windermere and hire a car or check out bus times (www.traveline.org.uk)
Rothay Garden Hotel, Broadgate, Grasmere, Cumbria LA22 9RJ.
The hotel offers special short break and holiday packages throughout the year. July and August see Summer Saver rates running, with up to £20 per person per night off longer stays, and weekend breaks are from £224 per person for two nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast, and include late checkout and complimentary Sunday lunch. All guests are able to use the exclusive Riverside Spa. The hotel also runs special Food & Wine, Christmas and New Year Break packages. Telephone 01539 435334 or visit www.rothaygarden.com for more information.
The Queen’s Head, Troutbeck LA23 1PW is nine miles away from Grasmere. Ring 01539 432174 or visit www.queensheadtroutbeck.co.uk.
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