Tag: Cumbria

Story of the week: Walking with the Romantic Poets in the Lake District

02-Central-Wordsworth graves, Grasmere

Have you signed up for my new monthly newsletter? Subscribe at the home page.

We’ve all heard about the host of golden daffodils, and wand’ring lonely as a cloud.

But what was it about the Lake District that inspired an entire cultural movement? I wanted to find out for myself, to read between the lines of verse and see the landscape that launched a thousand couplets. I am following in a long line of travellers, inspired to climb these hills and walk beside these lakes by a group of writers and artists who redefined how we viewed nature.

In the late 18th century, with the era of the Grand Tour on the wane and city life increasingly uncomfortable, people started travelling here, and to other wild landscapes across Europe, to embrace the natural world as a means to restore health and harmony.

In April 1802, a young William Wordsworth, accompanied by his sister Dorothy, walked along the southwest bank of Ullswater, hugging the lakeside path towards Glenridding. The flowers “outdid the sparkling waves in glee.” That moment, frozen in time and alive with the sheer vitality of spring, moved him to pen the famous opening stanza of Daffodils.

The celebrated poet went on to write some 70,000 lines of verse in his lifetime – more than any other English poet. The visceral beauty of the Lakeland landscape had become a muse. And he repaid it in kind: Wordsworth’s vision of the Lakes has shaped how we see the area today.

Punk poetry

Cumbria remains defined by its natural features to this day: the rugged, weather-eroded hills, the yawning, lush valleys and the gently lapping waters of its lakes, meres and tarns. Britain has plenty of natural beauty but, despite the encroaching coach tours and souvenir hunters, the Lake District remains its wild-man heartland.

The poet also helped to shape our relationship with nature. In 1798, Wordsworth and his firebrand friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, had published Lyrical Ballads, launching Britain’s Romantic manifesto. They looked to the natural world to replace classical ideals and spoke of poetry in which …

“The passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”

They were soon joined in Cumbria by other heavyweights from the cultural scene of the day, notably the poet Robert Southey, to form an Establishment-challenging band of young literary gunslingers known as the Lake Poets.

Their philosophy of nature, suggests Alain de Botton in the book, The Art of Travel, made a huge contribution to the history of Western thought, proposing “Nature … was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.”

But Wordsworth’s lyricism didn’t lead to instant acclaim. Lord Byron, reviewing Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes in 1807, found couplets devoted to birds, daffodils and streams to be childish. “What will any reader out of the nursery say to such namby-pamby,” he wrote. Other critics took to cruelly parodying his work, but Wordsworth remained sanguine, confident he had captured something of the human condition, man’s relationship with nature in his verse.

He also had the last laugh. By the time he was appointed Poet Laureate in 1843, the critics were lauding Wordsworth’s rallying call to travel through nature as the perfect antidote to Britain’s increasingly urban lifestyle. Travellers came in increasing numbers to explore the region that inspired his words, a tourism industry was firmly established and other poets followed in search of similar inspiration.

It’s a literary tradition that continued through Beatrix Potter and Alfred Wainwright to Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame and John Cunliffe, whose stories about Postman Pat and his faithful cat have delighted generations of children.

The Lake Poets blazed the trail and Wordsworth was their de-facto leader. The journalist Stuart Maconie, a passionate advocate of wild landscapes, likens the poets to punk rock.

“Writing about flowers was a political act, almost punkish in its ‘let’s explore our primal selves’ way.”

Romanticism, like punk, changed everything in its wake.

On the road 

Sadly, the well-trodden tourist trail of the central Lakes fails to provide the edginess of punk, instead turning a revolutionary philosophy into a network of chintzy tearooms and craft-filled gift shops. Is it still possible to rediscover the radical fervour that drove the Romantics? After all, the Lake District is hardly a fragment of landscape frozen in time.

I believe it is. That’s why I’m pulling off the M6 on a blustery day in early April and following the signs for the North Lakes. I wanted to catch the first bloom of spring, to share in a moment so indelibly linked with the Romantics. It hadn’t been the most romantic of starts – just a swathe of landscape-dissecting motorway and lunch at an anodyne motorway services.

But, as I trundle down the first of many country roads, my heart swells. The dainty heads of pinprick wild flowers are already hinting at vital signs by the roadside.

I’m heading across the top of Lake District National Park (Britain’s second such park after the Peak District in 1951) to Cockermouth, a sturdy Cumbrian market town on the banks of fast-flowing, flood-prone River Cocker. Here, a Georgian townhouse marks the start of a Wordsworth trail that offers moments of intimacy among the tour groups.

The poet was born here in 1770, and it remained his home until the age of eight, when his mother died and his grieving father sent him and his older brother, John, away to Hawkshead Grammar School (deep in the central Lakes, between Lake Windermere and Coniston Water),

The young William spent, in his own words, “Half his boyhood running wild among the mountains,” and it was during his early childhood that he developed his love of the Cumbrian countryside. The National Trust now owns the Wordsworth House and Garden, which was restored using records from the Wordsworth archive and fulfils a living-museum role with costumed interpreters keeping the house alive.

Away from the bonneted servants and quill pen and ink demos, I catch a glimpse of Wordsworth in the walled garden, still planted with 18th-century vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers, such as lemon balm (good for stings) and garlic chives (a natural remedy for nausea).

My next stop is a tourist hotspot, with coach parties and time-limited tours. It’s Dove Cottage, the ramshackle former coaching inn outside Grasmere that Wordsworth and Coleridge discovered on a walking tour of Cumbria.

The cramped, whitewashed cottage provided the growing Wordsworth clan with a family home from 1799 to 1808.

He wrote much of his best-known poetry here, and his sister Dorothy kept her famous diary, later published as the Grasmere Journal, while living in the cottage with William, his wife Mary Hutchinson and, later, their three eldest children, John, Dora and Thomas.

The charitable Wordsworth Trust now manages Dove Cottage and the adjoining Wordsworth Museum and Library, which houses one of the greatest collections of manuscripts, books and paintings relating to British Romanticism. The collection includes over 90 per cent of Wordsworth’s surviving manuscripts.

Pick a quiet moment, or avoid the tour altogether and beat the hordes to the visit’s scholarly denouement, for a sense of the man reading, editing and re-writing these lines for the first time, long before his punk-rock prose was tamed by inclusion in school textbooks and tourist brochures. Wordsworth would feel at home here, scribbling away in the half light. He would, doubtless, despise the brouhaha of the gift shop.

Family graves 

Rydal Mount, just a short drive towards Ambleside hugging Rydal Water dappled with morning sun, feels more intimate with its homely entrance hall, easy-going ambiance and collection of family heirlooms. This was Wordsworth’s family home for 37 years from 1813 to 1850 and the property marks the 200th anniversary of Wordsworth’s arrival in May this year.

The family settled into a more stable lifestyle at Rydal Mount, buoyed by earnings from William’s writing and lectures. He revised many of his earlier works while living at Rydal Mount and completed the final draft of Daffodils here in 1815. Today the house remains privately owned by the Wordsworth family and retains a lived-in, welcoming ambience, offering a personal take on the Wordsworth story – an insight into William as the family man.

You can even sit in Wordsworth’s chair overlooking the terrace and admire the spring flowers bursting into life.

While the house contains portraits, personal possessions and first editions of the poet’s work, it’s in the four-acre, Romantic-style garden that I feel closest to understanding what motivated Wordsworth in his craft. He loved to potter here, and it remains as he designed it with rare shrubs, such as Smooth Japanese Maple and Japanese Red Cedar. Wordsworth joked that, if he hadn’t been a poet, he would have wanted to be a gardener.

“At Rydal, I feel close to him and his family – my ancestors. From spending time there, I’ve learnt a lot about the man, more than the poet,” says Christopher Andrew, six generations removed from the poet as Wordsworth’s great-great-great-great grandson. Andrew, who works in finance across Europe, still regularly visits the ancestral home. “I love sharing his sense of nature when walking in the garden at dusk.”

“I stroll down to Dora’s Field (dedicated to Wordsworth’s eldest daughter who died of pneumonia in 1847) and catch the deer prancing among the daffodils.”

The Wordsworth family grave [pictured above] is the in the grounds of St Oswald’s Church, which lies at the heart of Grasmere village. The weather-stained graves of William, Mary and Dorothy, as well as the children Dora, William, Thomas and Catherine, are regularly decorated with displays of fresh flowers from well wishers. Behind the graves, the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden skirts the fringe of the graveyard.

Wordsworth once described Grasmere as “the fairest place on earth” and, on a calm spring day with the daffodils gently bathed in spring dew, you can almost feel his words still resonating around the village on the breeze.

“Even if you don’t believe in God,” says Christopher Andrew, “you can still believe in nature.”

Poetic contemporaries

Relishing these moments of insight, I aim to find out more about the Romantics by tracing the footsteps of Wordsworth’s fellow poets and the generations of artists who followed in their wake. While Coleridge is also well-known, the role of Robert Southey, another poet of the Romantic school and Poet Laureate from 1813 until his death in 1843, is only just being rediscovered.

Their lives entwined at Greta Hall on the fringe of Keswick, an evocative Georgian pile where Coleridge lived from 1800 to 1803 and Southey from 1803 to 1843. Today the property, swirling with the ghosts of the past, combines self-catering accommodation in the Coleridge Wing with a space for literary-salon events in the book-lined study where Southey once toiled. Outside, the grounds resonate to the sound of the ducks rampaging through the wildflower-strewn borders.

Coleridge, prone to dabbling with opium and nature-inspired wandering, left his family behind at the house in Southey’s care (their wives were sisters). He produced great works, notably The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, but the family suffered from his prolonged absence. Southey remained behind to provide for the families living under his roof.

The early 19th-century house was purchased by the Palmer family in 1996 as a run-down schoolhouse and re-opened to guests in 2002. For them, the house now serves to highlight the much-overlooked contribution made by Southey.

While his poetry was primarily observational and often ridiculed by Wordsworth, his academic work and hard-working nature earned him wider respect in the literary community of the day. His story The Three Bears (1837), today displayed in a case in his study, is the original take on the now better-known Goldilocks fairytale.

“Southey was the rock that enabled the Romantic Movement to grow,” explains owner Jeronime Palmer, showing me around rooms where Coleridge slept and Southey dined with the likes of Wordsworth, Byron and Keats.

“By setting Wordsworth and Coleridge free to prove themselves as Romantic poets, he proved his friendship to them.”

That night, I settle down under the covers of an elaborately carved Chinese opium bed, not an original piece but one, no doubt, Coleridge would approve of, to read works by the poet.

The house creaks and groans around me while dusty tomes, leather bound and crinkly paged, litter the bedspread. I can imagine the poets poring over their manuscripts in the same way, propped up on pillows with moonlight over the fells beyond the window.

“Southey is quite the underplayed figure,” says Palmer, delivering a breakfast of home-baked bread and freshly laid duck eggs. “I’m delighted academics have picked up his mantle in recent years.”

Next generation 

I drive onwards from Keswick towards Coniston, tracing mud-splattered arc in second gear round windy country roads, cruising past snow-topped fells, to find traces of a philosophy that added to Romantic ideals with scientific discoveries inspired by nature.

While the Romantics were busy crafting purple prose about the beauty of the Lakes, a new movement of artists was also discovering Cumbria. JMW Turner, Gainsborough and, later, Constable all journeyed north in search of those quintessentially brooding Lakeland vistas. Most importantly, it is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin, who picked up the mantle and took the Romantic Movement forward to a new era.

By 1872, when Ruskin moved to Brantwood House, an elegant, stately home on the peaceful eastern shore of Coniston Water, the Lakes Poets were long dead. Wordsworth had become increasingly disillusioned with what he saw as the invading hordes and Coleridge, a victim of ill health and opium addiction, had settled into a steady decline.

But Ruskin, the artist, writer and social reformer, took their ideas, blending them with his patronage of Turner (his collection today features 140 Turner works) and his friendship with Charles Darwin. His ideas would inspire a new generation of thinkers, writers and activists, Ghandi and Tolstoy amongst them.

“Ruskin evolved the ideas of the Romantics.”

“His vital role was taking the notion of nature as an inspiration to the human spirit and reconciling it with the scientific world,” explains Brantwood’s Director Howard Hull as we soak up the ambiance in Ruskin’s well-preserved study, an impressive, heavy-wood armillary sphere taking pride of place in the centre of the room.

“He introduced the moral dimension of our responsibility towards the natural world, an early inspiration for the establishment of the National Trust.”

Ruskin expanded the property according to his idea of ‘organic architecture’, incorporating elements of the burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement. I spend an idyllic morning exploring the 250-acre estate, skipping from an art exhibition of Ruskin’s uneasy relationship with women (soon to be the subject of a film by Emma Thompson) to a modern update of his rock lithophone, a kind of stone-mineral xylophone, is on display in Linton Room.

Copies of his seminal work on social justice and equality, Unto This Last (1860), are doing a brisk business in the gift shop.

Most impressive of all is the array of contrasting gardens as nurtured according to Rukin’s vision. The eight sections, arranged over a hillside behind the property, include a herb garden, Victorian herbaceous borders and the Zig-Zaggy, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. The High Walk is particularly impressive in spring with wild spring beds of flowers giving way to fine views across lapping Coniston Water.

Ruskin had an ability to link complex issues, such as social justice, economics and conservation, with great clarity. Brantwood was always a place of warmth, contemplation and debate.

Today hosts a series of courses in art, literature and horticulture, themes much loved by its patron, and smart new accommodation is available in a self-catering holiday cottage complete with the views looking past the tiny jetty and across tranquil Coniston Water to the village pubs of Coniston beyond, and the original Victorian bath that inspired Ruskin’s blue-sky thinking. Erudition was his gift to the movement and Brantwood remains a centre of learning as his legacy. Ruskin wrote:

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way.”

Changing seasons

From the ivory towers above Coniston Water, I choose to end my journey through Romanticism by immersing myself in the original spirit that inspired its founders.

I head back towards the North Lakes, following near-deserted country roads beyond the fringes of the National Park to find the daffodils blossoming the southwest bank of Ullswater. Shorter and stubbier than other varieties, their yellow heads are pushing upwards in search of spring.

The frost can permeate into May around these parts but I can already feel nature stirring in early April: the snow melt on the top of the St Sunday crag, Canadian geese chattering over Norfolk Island and, most of all, the golden host beside the dark-watered ribbon lake. I spend a moment admiring the views from what is known locally as Dora’s Wood, before taking the Ullswater Steamer towards Pooley Bridge.

The mist-shrouded lake has a spectral quality, the changing of the seasons heralding new life around me.

“I’m constantly intrigued by the complexity of Ullswater – every minute of every day,” says Christian Grammer, skipper for Ullswater Steamers as we cruise past Glencoyne Bay, explosions of snowdrops and early-flowering daffodils peppering the banks with tiny dashes of their radiant hues. “She has a personality all of her own.”

I finish my walk through the landscapes that informed and inspired Wordsworth’s work, heading up to the waterfalls at Aira Force in the shadow of Gowbarrow Fell. The trail, immortalised by Wordsworth in The Somnambulist (1833), takes me through a wood of Irish Yew and Silver Fir, inhabited by red squirrel and red deer. It is tranquil yet deliciously alive.

It took something as simple as spring flowers to spark a new cultural movement. Here, surrounded by the stirring of spring high above Ullswater, I too feel the power of nature in the North Lakes as something tangible, something immense, something that could truly change the world. The nature makes me feel alive.

“No part of the country is more distinguished by its sublimity,” wrote Wordsworth.

Some two centuries on, his words still ring true.

* This store was commissioned in 2013 by TRVL magazine; I first blogged about this commission in On the trail of the Romantics.

Liked this? Try this: Top 10 Lake District with Kids.

Post your comments below.


Story of the week: National Tree Week in Cumbria


* As National Tree Week gets under, here’s a more recent piece about appreciating our forests and natural landscape. Follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for more update.

My two little girls read about forests in their storybooks.

We go walking and play at Goldilocks. But we’re not exactly living off grid in urban Chester and, while we enjoy days out in the forest, we know little about the woodland ecosystem. Let’s just say that Bear Grylls is not exactly watching his back for the Atkinson clan yet.

That’s why, with school holidays kicking in, Maya (seven), Olivia (three) [pictured above in Cumbria with my dad] and I have come to Whinlatter Forest, a Forestry Commission site in the Lake District with healthy communities of Red squirrels, Roe deer and nesting ospreys, for a back-to-nature weekend of forest trails, Lakeland views and heaps of fresh air.

Whinlatter, England’s only mountain forest, opened a group of family-friendly trails a few years ago to introduce children to basic navigational skills, learn about the forest and interact with nature.

Adventure trail

By looking for clues or collecting answers along the trails, it encourages even very young children to interact with the forest and find their own way from one interpretation panel to another.

On a sunny day in July, we opt for the Squirrel Scurry Trail, a moderate, one-mile hike around eight interpretation points. The girls have to read the panels and answer questions along the way, writing their answers on the trail map to win a squirrel badge.

It’s a trail suitable for easily tired toddler legs and also accessible by buggy.

Adrian Jones, Recreation Manager at Whinlatter, meets us at the Visitor Centre for a crash course in map reading and compass points. “I feel free in the forest,” says Adrian, leading us towards trailhead marker of a carved red squirrel.

“I first started going to the woods with my father and grandfather as a boy,” he adds. “That’s how I became hooked.”

As we delve into the deep, dark coniferous forest, Olivia decides we’re going on a beer hunt. After all, we are walking through a shaded woodland glade straight out of a story by Anthony Browne or Michael Rosen.

“We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it,” she sings. “We’ve got to go through it.”

Maya, meanwhile, is taking charge of directions, folding out the map and scouring the horizon for waymarking posts as we head north. “This way,” she says, “Follow me.”

The woodland copse feels deliciously cool away from the mid-afternoon sunglare and we savour the sensory forest feast with pine combs crunching under foot, birdlife in the trees and wafts of wild flowers drifting by tantalisingly on the summer breeze.

As we climb towards panel three, a viewpoint known as The Comb, the full widescreen panorama opens out before us. From our vantage point some 1,000ft above sea level, we gaze out across Keswick and Derwentwater below, and Helvellyn to the south.

Fact finding

Maya locates the panel and makes light work of the questions while Olivia busies herself collecting daisies and buttercups from beside the scrunchy, gravelly trail. By the time we move on, we’ve all learnt that grey squirrels were brought to England from America in the 1870s and baby squirrels are called kittens.

We head towards an intersection of walking and mountain biking trails, where Tarbarrell Moss, one of the more remote sections of Whinlatter, leads deeper into the forest.

Maya decides we need to turn left for the next leg, dropping down through Western Red Cedar and past tree-hanging squirrel feeders, stuffed with nuts, corn and seeds, to duck under a squirrel rope bridge between the treetops.

Maya confidently leads the way, map in hand, along the final stretch. Even Olivia is finding her bearings as I carry her for a higher-level view of forest life, attempting to point out species of trees along the way and revealing my decidedly patchy knowledge in the process.

Memo to self: download the ForestXplorer app with the tree identifier before the next trip.

Wild play

By this point I’m ready for a slap-up dinner and a pint of Jennings Cooker Hoop but the girls have got other ideas. After a round of ice creams at Siskins Café next to the Visitor Centre, we head back to the WildPlay Trail, Olivia making a beeline for the Fairy Kingdom section.

We finish the afternoon leaping between toadstools, opening concealed-bark doors in the tree stumps to reveal fairy goodies and playing in a tree house, Olivia having set up an al-fresco café to sell Maya’s foraged ferns, leaves and berries from a makeshift hatch.

Bear Grylls shouldn’t start sweating just yet. But, after a weekend of squirrel trails and fairy dust at Whinlatter, we’ve come to appreciate the fragile beauty of the forest and the time we spend together exploring it.

This story first appeared in the Guardian in 2013. Liked this? Try If You Go Down to the Woods Today.

Post your comments below.

A Christmas gift idea in Cumbria


I filed my first Christmas feature last week.

With just 71 days to go to Christmas, it was a profile of Croglin Designs, a traditional wooden toymaker based in the Eden Valley, Cumbria.

The family-run business uses local, sustainable wood from the Lake District and keeps the natural essence of the region close to their work.

The story will run in Countryfile magazine – December issue, ‘natch.

But, by way of a preview, here come a few lines that didn’t make the final edit.

“We feel happy and comfortable here in Cumbria, so that frees you up to be creative. And the farmhouse style of our products fits with our landscape and environment.”

Do you have a Christmas story idea to share? Or a favourite local craftsperson to profile?

Post your thoughts below. 


Croglin Designs


Story of the week: Raising a glass to British Food Fortnight in Cumbria

Local ales

* British Food Fortnight runs until October 6 this year, celebrating local produce and regional flavours. Some of my favourites come from Cumbria and this story picks up on that theme.

Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS for more story updates. 

Alex Brodie sups his pint and ponders for a moment.

“Do drinkers become journalists, or journalists become drinkers?” muses the former BBC World Service broadcaster turned microbrewer.

Reclining in his beer hall-style tasting room in his Cumbrian craft brewery, he sups a pint of the award-winning Hawkshead Bitter and lets the question roll around the high ceilings.

I join him on the leather sofas with a pint of dark and malty Brodie’s Prime and a piece of Welsh rarebit from the next-door café, Wilf’s, and quaff my beer appreciatively. “I love beer,” Alex stirs from his reverie.

“A good beer on a hot, sunny day is pure Ambrosia.”

“Walking the hills and sitting in country pubs sustained me through years of reporting from the Middle East,” he adds.

Real ale trail

Cumbria has a rich heritage of artisan brewing [pictured above] since the 1830 Beer Act first gave rise to a proliferation of local brew houses.

By the 1970s real ale was dying out but, thanks to Gordon Brown’s 2002 budget, whereby the excise duty was cut by 50% for brewers at a certain level of production, there are now over 600 independent breweries in the UK, of which 20-odd are based in Cumbria.

The Hawkshead Brewery, having relocated to the picture-postcard village of Staveley in 2006, is one of the new breed.

The brewery currently produces 80 brewers’ barrels per week [4 x 9-gallon casks] and sells its four permanent beers, plus seasonal beers, to 170 UK pubs. There are plans afoot to expand brewery tours to offer short courses for amateur would-be brew masters.

“We’re doing our best to change the image of real ale. We now stage two beer festivals per year and it’s not all beards and bellies — about half the drinkers are female,” enthuses Alex.

“There are now lots of microbreweries playing around with hops to produce fruity, hoppy beers,” he adds. “In same way new-world wine producers took the fear away from wine by talking about the grape, we’re now talking about hops.”

I’ve come to Cumbria to test drive the Lakes Line Real Ale Trail, a green-friendly initiative collaboratively launched by Westmorland CAMRA and the Lakes Lines Community Rail Partnership, plus First TransPennine Express.

The trail is based along the Lakes Line, a rural branch line that trundles through the scenic countryside of the Lake District National Park from the mainline train hub of Oxenholme to Windermere.

“We were conscious of the impact of the 16m visitors to Cumbria each year. This seemed an obvious way to showcase our local breweries while supporting sustainable travel and encouraging sensible drinking,” says Chris Holland, Chairman of the Westmorland branch of CAMRA.

“It’s only seven miles of railway now, but we plan to expand the idea to other parts of the region’s rail and bus network.”

Local brews

On a bright Lakeland morning I set out from my base at the Riverside Hotel in Kendal, a traditional inn serving a decent pint of Lakeland Gold, to explore the hop-flavoured trail.

There are nine pubs along the route, all within a short walk of the stations, and some attached to specialist small breweries.

Each has their own appeal from a swift lunchtime half of Directors in the Lamplighter Bar in Windermere, followed by a hike by the lake, to a mid-afternoon pint of Blond Witch at the Station Inn, Oxenholme, while soaking up the view and waiting for the next train.

It’s a greener way to sample the perfect combination of Lakeland beer and scenery, while supporting local transport.

Some of the nine establishments offer discounts upon presentation of a valid rail ticket, but make sure to have a copy of the timetable to hand at all times.

After developing a taste for Ulverston Pale Ale at the Eagle and Child Hotel in Staveley, it’s easy to roll out onto the station platform to face a sobering 60-minute wait for the next train.

Award winner

Towards the end of the day, as the sun hangs heavier in the sky than a Lakeland downpour, I head for my last stop, the Watermill Inn and Brewery.

Located down in a country lane in the village of Ings, outside Staveley, the cottage-industry microbrewery was founded in 2006 as an add-on to the family pub.

The two-man operation now produces 22 brewers’ barrels per week — around 6,300 pints — and the seven-beer portfolio includes three main brews plus seasonal ales.

“Brewing is a craft, the product of good ingredients and good practice,” explains the softly spoken brewer Brian Coulthwaite as we sit on the outdoor terrace with a pint of Blackbeard Ale and views across the rolling, sheep-grazing fields to Windermere.

“It’s essentially chemistry, all formulas and calculations. What I enjoy is experimenting to create new flavours.”

Back at the Hawkshead Brewery, Alex is taking me on a whistle-stop tour of the brewery and threatening to treat me to sneak preview of his latest brew, a Damson-flavoured stout.

“There’s a perfect storm for this kind of trail now with the public keen on local produce and green issues,” says Alex, indicating the ‘copper’, the vat where hops are added to give the complexity and flavour of the beer.

“It gets people out of their cars and walking, or using a train line that is periodically under threat,” he adds.

“After all, this is a national park, not a car park.”

 * This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2008. Liked this? Try Local Food Heroes in Cheshire.

And post your comments below.

British menu