High stan­dards and a warm wel­come NEAL KEEL­ING

Finds a har­row­ing jour­ney up the M6 pays div­i­dends when he ar­rives at The Pheas­ant Inn

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

IT seemed half of Man­cu­nia was head­ing north on the same Fri­day night.

Soon a young buck in a beastly blue BMW lost pa­tience and started driv­ing with all the self-con­trol of a yet-to-be­potty-trained ninemonth-old.

Other id­iots soon fol­lowed his ex­am­ple with bursts of point­less ac­cel­er­a­tion and hard break­ing.

The prob­lem was Black­pool. All you have to do is turn left off the M6.

But its brash­ness was prov­ing a bea­con for hordes from Greater Manchester, and af­ter an hour on the high­way to hell we were still 80 miles from our des­ti­na­tion.

Fi­nally we reached the out­skirts of Lan­caster, and the rain came.

As our souls wilted, two songs were on re­peat in my brain – Gimme Shel­ter by the Rolling Stones and Shel­ter From The Storm by Bob Dy­lan.

The north­ern lakes were wait­ing but my beat-up old Audi was growl­ing un­der such a tor­rent of rain and sleet.

Fi­nally, the 17th cen­tury coach­ing house we were seek­ing ap­peared.

Set back off the main road from Keswick to Cock­er­mouth, The Pheas­ant Inn was the per­fect refuge from a jour­ney to for­get.

A mountain of sand­wiches were handed to us as we walked in at 10.30pm – an hour late.

A pint of Hawk­shead bit­ter and I was well on the way to re­cov­ery.

The next morn­ing af­ter a tremen­dous full English break­fast I saw our hostelry in day­light. There is a black and white pho­to­graph of the inn on the land­ing of the first floor.

From the cars parked out­side it was taken in the mid-1960s.

Where an old-style Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club sign once hung there is now just a metal bracket – oth­er­wise it looks ex­actly the same to­day.

In­side it is a very com­fort­able coun­try house, with open fires and el­e­gant sit­ting rooms.

Lake­land paint­ings and seas­capes adorn the walls.

But even more im­pres­sive is the stan­dard of ser­vice, which was im­pec­ca­ble, from night­watch­man, bar­man, cham­ber­maid, wait­ers, and re­cep­tion – high stan­dards tem­pered with an au­then­tic wel­come.

There were classy touches. The ‘Adri­ana’ Villeroy and Boch din­ner plates, cups and saucers, com­ple­mented the fine food. Our Cum­bri­an­sourced evening meal was a high­light of a week­end break. Bal­samic figs, grilled goat’s cheese, pick­led beet­root and beet­root puree, and pea shoots, tasted good and were well pre­sented.

The qual­ity was main­tained with sea bass and fen­nel in brown shrimp but­ter, and trea­cle-cured sal­mon with con­fit toma­toes.

Even a lemon tart, lemon curd, and meringue on one plate was del­i­cate and tangy rather than heavy and too much.

The Ri­oja – Bode­gas del Mediero – boasted ‘mel­low oak over­tones’ which was ac­cu­rate, and top notch.

Such good food de­manded sev­eral walks. Ris­ing be­hind the inn are the Wythop Woods – a good place to start.

Keswick is al­ways crammed and a lit­tle too ob­vi­ous. I was glad that we headed in­stead for Cock­er­mouth.

The pace is calmer. Its po­si­tion at the junc­tion of the River Cocker and River Der­went meant in 2009 the town was dev­as­tated by floods. But it also en­sures a glo­ri­ous trek through fields next to the River Cocker. On the rec­om­men­da­tion of a help­ful lo­cal we spent half an hour in Banks Iron­mon­gers.

It was opened in 1836 and has been owned by two sep­a­rate fam­i­lies. A small mu­seum of arte­facts at the back of the shop took me back to the era when my dad would get his Stan­dard 8 car fixed at a tiny, well-run garage.

Wordsworth’s child­hood home on Main Street was so fas­ci­nat­ing we ran out of time to tour Jen­ning’s Brew­ery.

The next day we climbed to wa­ter­falls across fells above Bassen­th­waite Lake – where Osprey re­turned in 2001 af­ter an ab­sence of 150 years.

At the foot of Dodd, a small fell at one end of the lake which stopped at the Old Sawmill Teashop – not a twee name, that’s what it used to be.

Driv­ing back to the Pheas­ant Inn on one of the first days of Oc­to­ber the late af­ter­noon sun caught the lower fells per­fectly am­pli­fy­ing the red, brown, and gold of the land­scape. The inn’s lo­ca­tion is per­fect and its stan­dards high, but it is not rest­ing on its lau­rels.

Since our trip, Head Chef Mark Dickson has re­placed Mal­colm En­nis who has left af­ter 25 years run­ning the kitchen. Mark, from the In­ver­ness area, has run the kitchens of many highly-rated ho­tels and restau­rants, in­clud­ing the Miche­lin starred Peat Inn in St An­drews, Fife.

The food is ex­cel­lent at The Pheas­ant Inn

There’s a roar­ing fire to greet you at the Pheas­ant Inn and the food is ex­cel­lent

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