Take right track into heart of Lake District
PAUL OGDEN bypasses the M6 by taking the train to Windermere – the perfect base for exploring The Lakes
A WEEKEND break in the Lake District without a car? Is it remotely possible? Isn’t half the fun of Lakeland getting lost down narrow roads, reversing back up them again in front of an oncoming tractor and wondering where in all this wilderness is a place you can actually park without paying a hefty fee?
Well, you can always leave the jam-packed tourist trail of the A591 behind and jump on the train.
It is a scenic one hour 50 minutes or so from Manchester Piccadilly to Windermere (well, once you get past Wigan), with a change at Oxenholme, in the very heart of The Lakes. And staying in Windermere Village itself is a great base for those with or without their own transport.
There are good pubs and restaurants, quirky shops, fell walks surprisingly close to hand and public transport on the lake itself.
Windermere Village and Bowness are, wrongly, often seen as being one continuous development.
If you want to feed the swans and eat your butties with the hoards, go to Bowness. If you want a more elegant experience in a still bustling but altogether less frenzied spot, head for Windermere Village.
The village is much younger than its sister settlement on the lake, changing its name from Birthwaite and growing rapidly after the railway from Kendal reached it in 1847.
There is a real Victorian and Cumbrian air about it - refined but not stuffy.
Which is much like the place we’re staying in for the night, The Lamplighter Dining Rooms, a restaurant with accommodation - and don’t forget the sophisticated bar.
Commanding a prime spot in the centre of the village, over the road from the train station, and lighting up a cold night with flaming heaters on its generous terrace, The Lamplighter is that happy medium between a cramped B&B and soulless tourist hotel.
Our perfectly comfortable, characterful room right at the top of the building looked down the road into the heart of the village and we watched the passersby change from the GoreTex brigade to the smartly dressed night-out crowd as the moon rose in the clear sky.
We were lucky, we were upstairs from the Windermere Village’s must-visit bar - no wrapping up warm and venturing out needed for a pre-meal cocktail.
The Lamplighter’s lounge bar was revamped last summer, with the terrace spilling out of the stunning art deco room.
It is pretty as a picture, classy and relaxing. Don’t ask how much the hand-printed wallpaper cost, you will cough into your Expresso Martini.
And you don’t want to do that. It was delicious, as was my Rhubarb And Custard cocktail - Chase rhubarb vodka with a few special ingredients and doused with prosecco.
Oh, and a custard sweetie in a striped bag to whisk you back to your youth.
Observer food critic Jay Rayner gave The Lamplighter’s Sunday Lunch the thumbs up in a review 18 months ago, and the standard of the Saturday night dinner is high, too.
The place has been run by the Tasker family for more than 25 years and now is in the capable hands of Alistair (chef) and James (front of house), who worked at The Savoy, The Dorchester and Claridge’s before returning to the family hotel.
That longevity means the kitchen has had time to refine its list of tremendous suppliers of Cumbria’s very best ingredients from locations name-checked on the menu.
My Lakeland lamb rump was excellent, with minted crushed potatoes, horseradish carrot and swede and minted jus, while over the table was an equally sublime Cartmel Valley duck, with fondant potato, spiced beetroot puree and damson gin jus. Lake District on a plate.
The Lamplighter’s cheeseboard is spectacular too. As well as the ubiquitous but always welcome Blacksticks Blue and Mrs Kirkham’s Smoked Lancashire, there was a creamy, subtle Appleby Black Dub Blue and - the exception to the local rule - Five Mile Town Goat’s, an Irish awardwinning cheese.
But don’t go over the top at dinner, a mere 12 hours later you have to tackle the Lamplighter breakfast.
My Eggs Benedict, with Cartmel Valley smoked salmon and a wonderful hollandaise, could have fed two of us.
Stoked with calories, it was time to get the legs pumping with a short but energetic hike up to Orrest Head.
The trail is just over the road from The Lamplighter and is a bracing walk to the top. You don’t really need walking boots but it does get a little muddy.
On an exertion-toexperience ratio, it is one of the most satisfying ascents in the Lake District. In just 20-30 minutes you are rewarded with a truly 360-degree panorama of the Lake District fells, Morecambe Bay and the Pennines.
At this time of year, the snow on the peaks is picture postcard pretty.
Who needs a threehour slog up Coniston Old Man?
You can also walk down to the waterside at Bowness and jump on one of the boats sailed by Windermere Lake Cruises, with destinations all around the lake.
Down in the village it was time to sit outside one of the bijou cafes and sip a coffee after buying some quirky produce in the shops as we waited for the train home.
Hang on. I’m not driving.
Swap that coffee for a few pints of Lake District ale on the terrace of The Lamplighter.
Another reason to leave the car keys behind.
The view over the Lake District fells and Windermere from Orrest Head
The Lamplighter in Windermere