THE name of Buttermere alone conjures up a dream of cosy indulgence... a lake of butter to slather on hot toast, or to whip with sugar and pile an inch thick on a huge sponge cake. And the dream comes true if you check in at Hassness Country House, overlooking the water and also overlooking any thought of going on a diet.
'The first of the cakes for daily afternoon tea were from Ruby, who honed her cake-making skills as a chalet girl in the Austrian Tirol'
The restored Victorian residence on the eastern shore of Buttermere is the flagship base of Ramblers Countryside Holidays and mine hosts Brian and Carole, with daughter of the house and cake-making queen Ruby, make sure that the visitors who ramble over their doorstep don't go short of calories to fuel their walking.
Alfred WainwrightFor rambling is at the heart of it all, building on the Lake District legacy of the great Alfred Wainwright, iconic fell walker of this parish and one of nature's gentlemen, whose footsteps you can easily follow in this part of the world... and while you're at it, you can also relish a pint or three of the fine Thwaites beer that bears his name.
I was a bit unsure about anything “organised'” and wary of the term “guided walking” used by Ramblers, but soon changed my tune after our first outing on the Western Fells with cheerful and knowledgeable guide Alison.
This was relaxed walking, and no better place to start than Hassness, which stands in its own grounds just over a mile out of Buttermere village, well away from the tourist hotspots of Windermere, Bowness and Keswick. Its tranquil setting makes you chill out and sideline your cares, a feeling shared with all 15 fellow guests.
Checking in mid-afternoon made us even more relaxed, with the first of the cakes for daily afternoon tea from Ruby, who honed her cake-making skills as a chalet girl in the Austrian Tirol.
With that benchmark set, the standard was kept at the highest level with a hearty dinner from Brian and Carol, before another relax and time to contemplate the following day's walk. After a mega-breakfast with all the toast – and butter – that you could ever want.
The walks were inspiring, helped very much by Alison, a lover of the Lakes since her studies at Lancaster Uni, who gave a briefing before every walk in time to suggest any variations or an alternative meeting-up point, depending on abilities, weather and conditions.
All Ramblers Countrywide Holidays are graded and all have an experienced and knowledgeable guide at the helm, whether the walks are easy or challenging – and as a member of the team at Silver Travel Advisor I chose the easier end to suit fellow member of the 50+ brigade.
Our break featured Ramblers E Grade walks, flagged up as “leisure and lifestyle”, like the Buttermere circuit and Rannerdale on our first day, on a route of just over 9 miles, 850ft of ascent and 4 to 5 hours walking.
Some of the party decided to duck out early, splitting at Rannerdale and taking an ice cream stop at Buttermere en route, reminding us that the 'E' walks might be easy by Lake District standards, but not quite as easy as a walk in the park.
An alternative detour was also included with the next walk, starting from the top of Honister Pass and taking in Castle Crag en route to Grange and Derwent Water. After a fortifying packed lunch thanks to Brian, Carole and Ruby, the hardier hikers headed off towards Rosthwaite, while the rest of us took a sail around Derwent Water by launch and landed at Ashness, just a short walk from a welcome beer at the Ladore Hotel and then a bus ride along Borrowdale to meet up with the rest at Seatoller before heading home to Hassness for cake.
Our third day's walk started at Lanthwaite Green Farm and took us by the fish ladders at the head of Crummock Water, before trekking over Maggie's Bridge for a wooded walk around Loweswater via Holme Wood. A discreet sign was a reminder that we were being made welcome on National Trust land – as we were most of the time in the Lakes.
Again, some walkers decided to detach as the pace told on tired legs, a rare coincidence, maybe, as we had just reached a splendid old pub called the Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater, where the four ladies involved spent the rest of the afternoon. I completed the day's trek as the rain started, and delayed my cake to go back and collect them by car – and it was no surprise to find them happily tucked in a corner with assorted teas and beers, telling me there was no rush to get back.
We did reach Hassness eventually, thankfully in time for tea, to be told there is no such thing as too much cake, with instructions to clear every crumb as health and safety rules forbade keeping any of it until the day after. Oh, go on then!
Then it was dinner... and this is the three-day menu run-down: cream of mushroom and tarragon soup, lasagne al forno with salad and garlic bread, followed by pears poached in spicy perry; smoked salmon and pickled cucumber to start, followed by roast supreme of chicken with all the trimmings, then bitter chocolate tart with almond pesto; and on our final day, tomato and basil bruschetta, braised steak with crushed potatoes, or a south Indian green curry and home-made naan bread, all rounded off with apple strudel and chantilly cream. Now walk that off!
Dietary requests are catered for by Ramblers Countrywide and Hassness guests are welcome to take along their own beer and wine, with the use of a kitchen and facilities for making a brew at any time to relax with in the lounge, where thankfully there's no TV – but there is a great view of the garden, where red squirrels often provide a lively cabaret down by the bird feeders
And oh bliss, there might be broadband, but mobile phone signals are patchy at best... so you really can escape.
Fellow walkers – some veterans of Ramblers Holidays, both in the UK and abroad – had travelled from all over the UK, one even from Los Angeles, and it was gratifying to see how well everyone got on and didn't want the break to end.
We broke our journey back home with a welcome stop-over at a splendidly restored former coaching inn called The Plough, a must-try haven of comfort and excellent food only minutes from the M6 at Lupton, north of Kirkby Lonsdale. The Plough has stood on Cow Brow near Farleton Knott for nearly 200 years and has been refurbished with a sensitive touch, with open yet cosy public rooms and five luxury bedrooms and suites living up to their five-star rating.
After strenuous days in the fells, what the doctor ordered was a top-class meal, then crashing out in a suite big enough for a party where you can unwind with a drenching monsoon shower, huge roll-top bath and oversized sleigh bed. And there were lashings of butter for breakfast.
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