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April 4, 2017

A fabulous night to remember at Cumbria Family Business Awards

A fabulous night to remember at Cumbria Family Business Awards
Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton - Cumbria Family Business Awards

CFBA organisers Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton – photo Victoria Sedgewick

‘I gotta feeling’ by the Black-Eyed Peas rocked out from the speakers as Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton stepped onto the stage to announce the start of the very first Cumbria Family Business Awards. Sue, whose company, Coulson Associates was one of the CFBA  sponsors, Janett and Sophia had worked tirelessly for many months in the run-up to the ceremony in March 201 7.  “From over 100 applications we had to whittle it down to about 30 finalists. The judging panel really had their work cut out!”  The tone for the evening was set as they held up the ‘Wrong Envelope‘; a reference to the recent Oscars fiasco when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong name of the Best Picture winner!

Cumbria Family Business Awards - the Wrong Envelope

Sue, Janett and Sophia with the ‘Wrong Envelope’

An audience of 250 people, including the finalists, their families and friends plus sponsors, judges and the media, enjoyed a fabulous evening with delicious food, plenty of drink and a fair smattering of gossip. As Sister Sledge belted out ‘We are Family’ the celebrity host stepped up to the mike …

Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Dave Myers opens Cumbria Family Business Awards

Dave Myers introduces the finalists

Let’s face it, you don’t choose to have a business in Cumbria to make millions. You do it because it’s a great place to live and work.” So said TV chef Dave Myers as he opened this glittering event at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal on the edge of the Lake District. All the businesses nominated for the Cumbria Family Business Awards are family-run, and many have links with the area going back for generations. Some could move away from the area and probably be more profitable, but choose to stay in and around the Lake District because of its inspirational landscape and local links. There were 12 categories plus Ones to Watch. Finalists included well-known names such as Hawkshead Relish, English Lakes Hotels and The Herdy Company as well as lesser-known but equally significant business including The Churchmouse in Barbon, West Coast Composting and JB Banks, as small ironmongers in Cockermouth. Winners included Zeffirelli’s Restaurant and Cinema (Food & Drink Establishments), PHX Training Providers (Professional Business Services), Sally’s Cottages (Smalle Leisure and Tourism Business) and Bells of Lazonby who won Food and Drink Producers AND Outstanding Cumbrian Family Business of the Year.

Winners Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Zeffirellis, PHX Training, Sally’s Cottages and Bells of Lazenby

The beautiful glass awards were made by local artist Jo Vincent, ‘…. designed to reflect the intimate relationship between family businesses and Cumbria.’  The ‘star prize’ was an enormous ceramic bowl, created by Siobhan Newton. ‘It combines three iconic Cumbria materials: Egremont Haematite, Coniston Slate and Shap Granite – along with Cumbrian rainwater!‘ Full list of the Winners of Cumbria Family Business Awards here. I was seated on the Lamont Pridmore table, main sponsors of the event, along with Bells of Lazonby, who were clearly overwhelmed at winning both their category and the overall award. “It’s such a great honour. We really had no idea we’d win, especially against such strong finalists.”

Cumbria Family Business Awards Dinner - Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Dinner at Castle Green Hotel

Earlier, as guests arrived, a welcoming Drinks Reception Market served up sparkling wine and got us all in the mood. Photographer Victoria Sedgwick had us all posing for glitterati photos and Castle Green Hotel did us proud on the hospitality front.  We ate very well on local produce that night. I had Cartmel Valley smoked salmon, smoked salmon rillette, beetroot, horseradish and rye bread, followed by Eden Valley chicken, fondant potato, shallots, wild mushrooms and broad beans, finished off with delicious Windermere Ice Cream and Grasmere Gingerbread. All served with excellent wines – thank you Graham Lamont! Every table had Wax Lyrical candles, bottles of Hawkshead Relish’s new product, Black Garlic Ketchup, prints by artist Daniel Cooper and also signed copies of books by Cumbrian authors to take home. I chose Dances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly.

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at Cumbria Family Business Awards

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at CFBA Awards – photo Victoria Sedgwick

Dave Myers was an excellent host, bringing his inimitable humour and a local awareness that was much appreciated by everyone. He stayed on until every award had been given, every hand had been shaken and every selfie had been taken. A real gent and a great Barrovian ambassador. This photo of the winners sums up a great evening of fun and laughter, business excellence and Cumbrian friendliness.

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Many thanks to Sue Coulson of Coulson Associates, Janett Walker of Make it Happen and Sophia Newton, The Good News Girl for inviting me join in such a wonderful celebration. More CFBA photos by Victoria Sedgwick here.

Castle Green Hotel

I stayed overnight in the Castle Green Hotel, a four star hotel on the outskirts of Kendal, in one of their very luxurious Executive Bedrooms, complete with a huge four-poster bed. See what the room really looks like; watch this short video recorded on my arrival, before the CFBA evening started.

For many years I was a member of the hotel’s excellent gym; use of their Health and Fitness Club with swimming pool and spa was included in my stay. Breakfast was delicious and I was pleased to see local produce including Hawkshead Relish sauces, Cumberland Sausage, Lakeland Mues muesli, organic milk and bread from More Bakery in Staveley.

Breakfast Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Breakfast at Castle Green Hotel

Find out more about Cumbria Family Business Awards and Cumbria Family Business Network here.

March 21, 2017

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District
Relaxing beside Grasmere in the Lake District Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Relaxing beside Grasmere

The stone hits the water with a splosh and rippling arcs curve further and further out towards the fells in the distance. Light peeks through darkling clouds as the weather god makes up his mind whether to shower Grasmere with sunshine or a wee bit more rain. A flash of brightness indicates the decision has been made and the clouds slowly part to reveal the blueness that’s been hiding there for the past couple of days. It’s spring in the Lake District, no better place on earth to be at this time of year …

Grasmere Lake on a spring day in the Lake District, Cumbria - zoe dawes

I’ve found a little bench at the end of the lake and am enjoying a rest after a gentle meander along the shore. It’s Saturday afternoon, halfway through my weekend break at Dale End Loggia, a pretty little holiday home looking over Grasmere, not far from the popular village made famous by William Wordsworth. Earlier in the day, I’d met my aunt and uncle, who live in Kendal, and we’d gone round Allan Bank, one of Wordsworth’s homes in this area. It’s got a quirky charm, with minimal decoration and rooms where children paint and women make lace. A huge map of the area encourages visitors to place a marker to show their favourite view.

Grasmere map at Nationals Trust Allan Bank

I have no problem choosing one; looking out from the balcony of my bijou residence at Dale End. That morning I’d eaten my breakfast outside and watched the light shifting across the lake, the hotel opposite reflected in the dark waters, listening to Canada Geese cackling in a field nearby. Behind me, sheep munched merrily on the first spring grass and early morning walkers strode up the lane, waterproofs and rucksacks prepared for whatever the day would bring.

Breakfast Dale End Loggia Grasmere Lake District

A trio of ducks pootle past, a female and two males. It will soon be time for ducklings. Easter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air. The trees are budding and spring flowers are peeking out. I lie back and enjoy the luxury of simply ‘being in the moment’ … My reverie is interrupted by loud barking. Two dogs are having a chat, their owners idling beside the water. Eventually one of them is dragged off to continue their walk and peace returns.

Dogs beside Grasmere lake, Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia – Grasmere

I’d arrived at Dale End Loggia on Friday afternoon. I was immediately drawn to the view from the balcony. Neat lawns stretched down in front of the building, a converted cow byre. I could see all along the lake. To the left, the village and Helm Crag, known locally as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ due to the craggy rock formation on the top of the hill. Mountains surround the area and opposite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust lie waiting for visitors from around the world. I can just make out the Coffin Route, a delightful and easy walk from Grasmere to Rydal, above the hotel. Grasmere Island, recently acquired by the National Trust, floats in the middle of the lake. Whatever the weather, this is beautiful, relaxing place to stay and I love it.

View of Grasmere from Dale End Loggia, Lake District

Grasmere from Dale End Loggia

Dale End Loggia is ideal accommodation for a couple wanting a romantic break or a solo traveller looking for a base from which to explore the southern Lake District. Or a busy travel writer in need of an escape from the digital world and some inspiration for a book she’s been talking about writing for decades … The Good Life Cottage Company kindly offers me this l’al place to stay and I am in seventh heaven. Its open plan, L-shaped design is compact and well-equipped. There’s a kitchen with all mod-cons, seating in front of huge windows to enjoy the scenery outside, a small table for meals or work-station, big comfy double bed and bathroom with shower. A stream with a tiny bridge, runs through the charming sloping garden and there’s a picnic table for eating out and enjoying the view on warmer days . With walks from the front door and only five minute’s drive to Grasmere village, it’s got everything you need for a Lake District holiday.

Dale End Loggia and garden overlooking Grasmere - image zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia and garden

During this weekend I visit the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, which is just coming into bloom beside Wordsworth’s family graves and stock up on Grasmere Gingerbread. I pop into the Herdy Shop and the Heaton Cooper Gallery and but sadly too late to have a slice of lemon meringue pie in Baldry’s, one of my favourite tea rooms in the Lake District. I buy a prawn paella from the Co-op to have on Friday evening with a bottle of appropriately named ‘Quirky Bird’ wine kindly left by Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company. On Saturday night I drive to Zeffirelli’s Cinema in Ambleside to see a film and get some excellent fish and chips from The Walnut Fish Bar.

Grasmere and Ambleside Lake District

On Sunday morning I will try to write, for that is what I’ve come here for. I’ll be totally relaxed and have no excuse for this area has most definitely inspired me. But the lake will call and, after a desultory hour tapping away at laptop, I’ll give up and go outside. I will take one last walk around the garden, admiring the daffodils flowering beneath a budding tree. A wood pigeon will coo gently above me and a group of children will romp along the lake path on their way back to the village. I will slowly pack up my bags, check the doors and windows are locked and reluctantly say farewell to my weekend retreat. I will go down the hill to Faeryland Tea Garden for one of their legendary scones and sit by the lake in the cool spring morning, remembering all the ways I have enjoyed this weekend.

Faeryland tea and scones beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Faeryland tea and scone

But that is all to come. For now I am still enjoying sitting here on the bench, listening to the water cascading over the rocks into the River Rothay as it makes its way towards Rydal Water. For this moment in time all is right with the world in this special place amidst the hills of Cumbria …

Bench beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Bench beside Grasmere

Dale End Loggia

Have a look round Dale End Loggia in this short video filmed during my stay.

If you’d like to stay at Dale End or are looking for a Lake District holiday cottage, contact The Good Life Cottage Company. Locally-run and well established, they know what makes a great holiday. You can follow them on Twitter: @cottagesinlakes  and Facebook: thegoodlifecottageco. I’m delighted to be working with them sharing with you some of their charming places to stay and things to do in this beautiful part of England.

The Langdale Gale: a traditional Lake District Show Jonty’s Cottage Elterwater

A Lake District weekend in lovely Elterwater Braegarth Cottage Elterwater

Travelator Media out and about in the Lake District Daw Bank Cottage Chapel Stile

Three very special cottages in the Lake District  The Malt Kiln Broughton Mills  The Woodloft Elterwater Swallows House Skelwith Fold

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A relaxing weekend Grasmere Lake District


October 25, 2016

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland
Autumn trees beside Tarn Hows Lake District - image zoedawes

Beside Tarn Hows

What’s your favourite time of year? Some love the tantalizing flirtatiousness of spring, others the voluptuousness of summer days and for some it’s the crisp, frosty cold of winter. For me it’s always been autumn, with its vibrant colour, abundant produce, luminous light and the surprise of warm sunshine in between the rain and mist. With the Lake District on my doorstep, I take every opportunity to go LEAF-PEEPING (yes, that’s what it’s called in North America). On a recent stay at Knipefold Barn, near Hawkshead, I had the chance to experience early autumn colour in the Lake District.

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn, Cumbria - - zoedawes

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn

For a couple of days I drove, walked and sailed (if you can call the Windermere Car Ferry sailing!) around some of the loveliest scenery in the south of Cumbria. Here are 3 of my favourite beauty spots within a relatively short distance of Knipefold, where you can easily find plenty of vivacious autumn colour

1.  Waterhead at Ambleside

Waterhead at Ambleside - autumn in the Lake District - image zoedawes

Waterhead at Ambleside

The view from the top of Windermere at Waterhead, near Ambleside is sublime any time of year, but in autumn those huge trees that line the road, turn every shade of the rainbow. Across the lake, towards Brathay, you can see more trees, pushing each other out of the way to show off their coats of many colours. It’s a very popular place to stop to enjoy the view. I was there over half-term and there were plenty of children paddling in the water plus a group of students learning how to canoe.

Windermere from Waterhead, Ambleside lake district - photo zoedawes

Windermere from Waterhead

Pop into one of the hotels on the shore for a meal or grab a hot drink from one of the cafes nearby. Walk along the road past the lake to find the rather uninspiring, but very important ruins of Galava Roman Fort.

2.  Tarn Hows 

Tarn Hows in early autumn, lake district - photo zoedawes

Tarn Hows in early autumn

One of the most popular autumn walks in the Lake District is round pretty Tarn Hows, between Hawkshead and Ambleside. Tarn Hows, originally 3 smaller tarns, is planted with a combination of fir trees and a wide variety of native English deciduous trees, giving it some of the best autumn colour in October and November. You can walk either clockwise past Tom Gill Waterfalls or anti-clockwise, which is the way I always go. A herd of Belted Galloways was grazing quietly beside the water, their munching adding a quiet counterpoint to the bird-song and rustling of leaves. When the sun came out it seemed to set the trees on fire …

Autumn colour at Tarn Hows in autumn Lake District - image zoedawes

Tarn Hows in autumn sun

The circular route is suitable for all access with relatively small inclines. You can borrow a Tramper from the National Trust office in the car park if they are open.

3.  Claife Viewing Station

Claife Viewing Station Windermere west shore Lake District - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station

This new addition the Lake District attractions, is a brilliant place to view autumn colour all around Windermere. Claife Viewing Station, built in the 1790s, was designed to showcase the glorious views of the lake from its west shore and the surrounding countryside, using tinted windows to ‘enhance’ the experience. ‘Yellow created a summer landscape, orange an autumn one, light green for spring, dark blue for moonlight …’ The National Trust has restored the ruins and visitors can now experience this unique place for free all year round. It was a real pleasure to gaze out across the lake, admire the the trees turning colour and feel a part of local history.

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere

I had a tasty Cumberland Sausage and Appleby Cheese toasted brioche at the Cafe in the Courtyard and walked down the path to the little bay near the quaint car ferry. Leaves twirled down to carpet the ground in gold, yachts slooped gently on the lake and a pair of swans drifted by …

Knipefold Barn

Knipefold Barn from the garden

Knipefold Barn from the garden

There are barn conversions, and then there is Knipefold Barn, one of The Good Life Cottage Company’s many charming properties in the Lake District. This 3-bedroom self-catering accommodation is built to the highest specification. From the Lakeland slate floor in the entrance hall, to the top-of-the range kitchen and bathroom fittings and elegant wooden staircase, this place has got luxury written into its ancient walls. Set in a tiny hamlet, a short distance from Outgate and only 5 minutes’ drive from popular Hawkshead, Knipefold Barn has all the comforts of home, and then some. I loved the enormous oak-beamed living area, situated on the top floor, to make the most of the view. It sleeps 5 and would be the perfect place for a family holiday, celebration or friends get-together. You can see more in this Quirky Travel Guide to Knipefold Barn.

Many thanks to Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company, for her warm welcome and providing the ideal place from which to explore the delightful autumn colours of this part of Lakeland.

July 6, 2016

Langdale Gala – a traditional Lake District Show

Langdale Gala – a traditional Lake District Show
Langdale Gala Fell Race

Langdale Gala Fell Race

The young boys were bent chest to chest, grasping each other around their backs. The referee made sure they weren’t moving an inch before shouting “Wrestle.” There was a blur of arms tightening and legs entwining before the lad in the red shorts was on the floor and the other was declared the winner. “Best of the three,” said the ref and they went again. This time the boy in the blue t-shirt was on his back. In this final round for under-9 years boys Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, he won; but there were more rounds to come …

Boys - Cumberland Wrestling Langdale Gala

Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling

Next came the older boys, the girls (yes, shock-horror … they allow girls now) and finally the men. This traditional sport has been practised in the Lake District for hundreds of years. The traditional costume of white long johns and colourful pants often embroidered with flowers has been mainly replaced by more casual modern attire though some still wear it. I was at the Langdale Gala, a Lake District Show held on the first Sunday in July in Chapel Stile.

Langdale Gala - Lake District show

The Langdale Gala

The Langdale Gala

As is often the case in this part of the world, the weather was less than clement, but a bit of cloud and a rain shower or two does nothing to dampen the Lake District spirit. The show started with the Gala Royalties Parade and the Crowing of the Gala Queen. Surrounded by her maids-in-waiting and her young King and his attendants (not all of whom looked quite as delighted as the girls to be involved in this charming ceremony), the Queen beamed happily as she received her crown and waved to the applauding crowd.

Crowning the Gala Queen at Langdale Gala

Crowning the Gala Queen

There followed the Fancy Dress Competition ( Jemima Puddle Duck won) and the Pet Show (categories included the ‘Waggiest Tail’ and ‘Pet most like its Owner’) whilst a colourful band of drummers marched around the ground beating out lively tunes. Ice creams were bought, burgers eaten and bouncy castles attacked.

Langdale Show events

Langdale Gala events

In the best tradition of country shows around the UK, there were various tents and competitions to raise money and engage the crowd. A huge ram stood patiently in a pen whilst people tried to guess his weight (I think it was 77 kgs). Wilfs of Staveley provided delicious sandwiches and tasty bakes whilst a local brewery served beer and cold drinks to thirsty folk. In the Craft Tent kiddies showed off their Lego creations, photos and biscuit towers whilst grown-ups vied for first place with elaborate floral displays, beautiful cakes, pots of jam and giant vegetables.

Langdale Gala displays

Langdale Gala attractions

The highlight of the Langdale Gala is the Fell Races, this year sponsored by local holiday homes providers The Good Life Cottage Company. Fell Racing involves running up a very steep mountain, in this case one of the famous Langdale Pikes behind the village field, in the fastest time possible. Runners of all ages took part in the races, varying in length, depending on age. The most popular was the Adults Fell Race, which every year attracts runners from around the country, keen to test themselves against fellow competitors but more importantly, the challenging Lake District mountains. They set off at at a cracking pace and were soon streaming out in a colourful ribbon up the mountain side. Within 10 minutes the winner was racing back to the finishing line, barely out of breath …

Adults Fell Race Langdale Gala Lake District

Adults Fell Race

Other attractions at the Gala included a display of Classic Rover Cars, the local Fire Brigade and Mountain Rescue vehicles, juggling and circus skills, ‘Best Beard Competition’, a Raffle and a demonstration of Sheep Shearing. A small flock of Herdwick Sheep were shorn of their thick fleeces then stood shivering in a pen beneath the fells. The farmer’s son gazed open-mouthed as Dad wielded his razor on the sheep clamped between his legs, shearing in double quick time.

Sheep shearing Langdale Gala

Sheep shearing

I spent quite a bit of time in The Good Life Cottage Company tent. There was a steady stream of cottage owners, guests and people enquiring about staying in one of their properties. I’ve been working with the company for some time now and been fortunate to stay in quite a few of their attractive cottages. Manager Natalie’s gentle rescue dog proved popular with everyone; she seemed very at home at the show.

The Good Life Cottage Co tent Langdale Gala

The Good Life Cottage Company

Jonty’s Cottage

This weekend I stayed in ‘Jonty’s Cottage‘ in the pretty village of Elterwater in the heart of the Langdale Valley. It’s in a great position, only a couple of minutes’s walk from the Britannia Inn, and surrounded by excellent walking and driving routes. All on one floor, with two bedrooms and a lounge-dining room with superb views, its been recently refurbished to a very high standard. The decor is in clean, modern colours and there’s a really relaxing ambiance to this popular place.

Jonty's Cottage Elterwater

Jonty’s Cottage

I spent a lot of my time in the cottage reading and watching Wimbledon. The great thing about staying in a self-catering holiday property is that you all the comforts of home, without that nagging feeling you ought to do some housework, weed the garden or clean the fridge. (I speak personally here; you may already do all of this all the time in your own home – I don’t.) With a fully-equipped kitchen I was able to microwave my ‘Not Just Any …‘ meal and rustle up scrambled eggs and bacon with no hassle whatsoever. With a bottle of chilled white wine and wifi for when when I got ‘social media deprivation’, it made for a very relaxing stay.

Jonty's Cottage Kitchen with Herdy Salt and Pepper

Herdy Salt and Pepper shakers in Jonty’s Cottage

Guided Tour of Jonty’s Cottage

Watch this video guide to Jonty’s Cottage to get an idea of the situation and layout. Apologies for the quality of the footage but it does give you an idea of how lovely this property is.

The Good Life Cottage Company attends a number of Lake District Shows throughout the summer – watch out for their tent and go say hello to Natalie and her dog.

May 6, 2016

Three very special cottages in the Lakes

Three very special cottages in the Lakes
Daffodils in Ullswater, Lake District - zoedawes

Spring daffodils in the Lake District

Daffodils herald the entry of spring to the Lake District. They’re everywhere, from the little ones on the shores of Ullswater that Wordsworth made famous, to the big, blowsy chaps that trumpet merrily in the breeze along hedgerows, beside fields, in town and village. Then along come the bluebells and wild garlic, hazing the woods and scenting the air on a warm April eve. Delicate blossom bounces from trees of all shapes and sizes. Every colour of the rainbow can be seen in the rhododendrons and azaleas which grow profusely in Cumbria gardens. Lambs play chase over the fells, and, as you can see from the video clip at the end of this article, trundle along the narrow lanes. The Lake District comes alive in its own unique way.

Bluebells in the Lake District - photo zoedawes

Bluebells in the Lake District

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in spring, or anytime of the year, here are three very special cottages in the Lakes, each with its own unique attractions. Click on the links to find out more about the Good Life Cottage Company properties.

The Malt Kiln, Broughton Mills

The Malt Kiln Broughton Mills Lake District

The Malt Kiln

The tiny hamlet of Broughton Mills consists of a few farms, houses and a traditional pub in a peaceful valley not far from the quaint village of Broughton-in-Furness. It’s the quintessential ‘get-away-from-it-all’ location where visitors can enjoy rural scenery in a totally unspoilt part of the Lake District. The Malt Kiln (sleeps four) is owned by Janet and Howard Procter who have restored this ancient building with love and attention to detail. Janet says, “We wanted to create a place where people can really relax in comfort and feel a part of this beautiful area. We live on the farm and have rare-breed sheep as well as chickens. It’s lambing time now and the children who come to stay love to pet the lambs. Our chickens provide delicious fresh eggs for breakfast. If our guests want to get hands-on experience on the farm, we’re more than happy.

Spring Lamb Texel-Suffolk cross at the Malt Kiln

Spring Lamb at The Malt Kiln

The nearby Blacksmith’s Arms, is one of my favourite pubs in the area; it still has original slate floors, low ceilings, good local beers and serves excellent food with a friendly atmosphere. There are plenty of easy walks and with a car, Coniston and Grizedale Forest are not far away. The Malt Kiln is ideal for a family holiday or friends’ get-together.

The Woodloft, Elterwater

Woodloft cottage Elterwater Lake District

The Woodloft

Looking for a romantic weekend for two or a solo stay in one of the most picturesque villages in the Lakes? Then The Woodloft (sleeps two) is for you. This charming little cottage is in the heart of Elterwater village. If you ask people what is their favourite Lake District village, many will say Elterwater and it’s easy to see why. Not only does it have a very popular pub, the Britannia Inn and local cafe/shop, but it’s in the famous Langdale Valley, surrounded by mighty mountains with moorland dotted with photogenic Herdwick Sheep. The cottage makes great use of the space available, with a little conservatory and even a bike store for cycling enthusiasts.

The Woodloft sitting room Elterwater, Lake District

The Woodloft sitting room

The Woodloft is owned by Heather and Ben Price, original owners of the Good Life Cottage Company, who  have strong links to the area. “Ben’s family have lived here for years and this lovely cottage has very happy memories for me. I spent my last night as a single woman here before we got married. It has the most amazing views, changing all the time. Sitting on the bench outside, you feel you’re in the heart of this village community yet also in the midst of the fells. There aren’t many one-bedroom properties round here and it really is a very special place.”   I’d like to stay here for a few days on my own and get some writing done; I’m sure it would be very inspirational!

Swallows House, Skelwith Fold

Swallows House Skelwith Fold Lake District

Swallows House

Originally a working farmhouse, Swallows House (sleeps eight) dates back to at least the 17th century, with local records indicating there may have been a farm here since the 1300s. It is now a luxurious four-bedroomed house, furnished to a very high standard, in Skelwith Fold, between Ambleside and Elterwater. With a big open-plan kitchen, log-burning fire, dining room, large bedrooms and luxury bathrooms, this is an excellent place for big family get-togethers and groups of friends to share a holiday. Julie Griffiths and her husband bought it in 2001 and renovated it over the next few years. “It was a real labour of love,” says Julie.“It took a long time to create the warm, welcoming property it is today. It was originally the farmhouse to the manor and called Spy Hill, probably due to its elevated position. From the garden you can see over to Loughrigg, Fairfield Horseshoe and Red Scree.

Swallows House Lake district view

Lakeland view from Swallows House

We have had many wonderful family gatherings over the years; it’s perfect to celebrate special occasions. You can really unwind here, forget everyday life and relax in gorgeous surroundings.”  The large garden is planted with mature trees, flowering shrubs and plants that provide colour all year round. Azaleas and rhodendrons are in full flower in late spring through to early summer. A short stroll takes you to Chesters, which has a stylish cafe/restaurant with huge cakes!

Swallows House garden Lake District

Swallows House garden

Hopefully one of these special cottages in the Lakes has taken your fancy; there are plenty more like this to be found at The Good Life Cottage Company.  I’m delighted to be collaborating with Natalie and her team to bring you suggestions for lovely self-catering properties in the south Lake District. Read about my stay at Braegarth Cottage here and also a weekend I had with colleagues at Daw Bank in Chapel Stile.

Malt Kiln view_over_surrounding_countryside

‘The Malt Kiln’ Lakeland view

Finally, here’s what a traffic jam looks like in the Lake District in Spring!

January 29, 2016

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

Gazing up through enormous sandstone walls carved into fluid waves, at the distant branches of enormous trees, it feels as if you’re in another world. A world where dryads, trolls, nymphs, dwarves and elves move unseen yet seeing, observing you from afar, luring you deeper into their universe, where who knows what may happen …

Hruboskalske Rock Town - bohemian paradise - czech republic - zoedawes

Bohemian Paradise, Czech Republic

I’m in Hruboskalske ‘Rock Town’, a sandstone mesa deep within a forested ridge between Hrubá Skála and the town of Turnov, in the Bohemian Paradise (Czeský Ráj). I’m being shown round by Andrew and Linda Philips and their two daughters, who have a holiday home for rent in this beautiful part of the Czech Republic. Within a short drive of ‘Peace of Eden‘, their traditional wood-clad Czech house, is this unique fairy-tale area of impressive rock formations, fortified towers and ancient castles, quaint villages and tranquil countryside.

Trosky castle bohemian paradise - zoedawes

We’d already been to The Old Woman and the Maiden. Trosky Castle, the most significant landmark of this region, is actually two towers, built in the 14th c on twin volcanic peaks which can be seen from far away across the Bohemian Paradise (aka Czech Eden). It’s one of the most popular castles in the Czech Republic and sums up this area’s attraction; historic, imposing, picturesque and yes, most definitely quirky.

Before we’d gone into ‘rock town’ we’d had a quick look round Hrubá Skála, an attractive chateau that’s been remodelled over the centuries and has an eclectic regal appearance.

Hruba Skala Chateau bohemian paradise - zoedawes

Standing on a look-out platform in the castle courtyard, we got a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, with forests, farms and tiny hamlets scattered all about and Trosky Castle in the distance. We spent a fascinating half hour in a gem-stone shop; the owner’s wife makes jewellery from local semi-precious stones. He took great delight in showing us a photo of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wearing one of their brooches at a Duke Of Edinburgh Awards ceremony in the Czech Republic.

Hruba Skala Gemstone gallery - bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

We entered the ‘Rock Town’ down a flight of narrow steps between sandstone pillars, into a tranquil place of ‘towers’ reaching 55 metres high and straggling trees stretching up to grasp the sunlight above. The sandstone crumbles as you brush past and there are a number of caves, some of which used to be lived in. There is a very poignant memorial to a young boy who was killed falling down into this cavernous world. Emerging from its bosky depths, we followed the main road back to the chateau, passing many Czech families out on bikes and hiking in this popular walking area.

Hiking in Bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

What’s great about staying in Peace of Eden is that you get all the comforts of home after a busy day out; in fact, much greater comfort than my home for sure! Set in over 3 acres of attractive grounds, including a pond and fruit trees, the house has four bedrooms, sleeping up to eight people in cosy comfort.

Peace of Eden holiday home - Czech Republic

The kitchen- dining area is luxuriously fitted out with high-spec equipment, utensils and crockery with a traditional wood-burning oven at its heart. The large lounge has deep sofas and armchairs around a wood-burner, beneath an elegant brick-vaulted ceiling. It’s been renovated most sympathetically, keeping as many original features as possible whilst creating a contemporary feel.  My bedroom had a king-size bed and luxurious en-suite bathroom and looked out over the garden and surrounding countryside. There is wifi throughout the house.

Peace of Eden holiday home - czech republic- zoedawes

 You can order fresh bakes and preserves from a neighbouring farmer and in nearby Turnov there is a Lidl supermarket for most other shopping needs.

You need a spirit of adventure to make the most of your stay in the Bohemian Paradise. Tourism is in its infancy here and this part of the Czech Republic gets fewer overseas visitors than Prague (only 1.5 hours away). A car is necessary; with a SatNav it’s fairly easy to get about. Many signs, directions, menus etc are only in Czech so bring along a dictionary/phrase book and you shouldn’t have a problem. We had lunch one day in quaint Restaurant Bouckuv in Mala Skala; Andrew had got the menu translated for us so it was easy to order. I can highly recommend the venison goulash …

Restaurant Bouckuv Mala Skala - Czech Republic - zoedawes

Our final excursion was to imposing Kost, one of the best-preserved Gothic castles in Bohemia, surrounded by ponds which acted as defensive protection in the 14th c. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited so we had to make do with admiring it from the outside. Aparently it has a macabre medieval torture chamber and an impressive collection of weaponry. Beside the castle is a footpath which leads into the Plakánek Trail, lined with massive sandstone rocks and home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. (Plakánek means ‘The Weeper’ and there are many legends about why is it called that, but according to the excellent Czeský Ráj information booklet, it was actually because charcoal burners got an eye-disease caused by the smoke from their fires.)

Kost Plakanek Trail Czech Republic

As we wandered along the valley, autumn sun filtered in and out of the clouds, lighting up the myriad of coloured leaves, shading from green to gold, amber to crimson, orange to yellow. The girls found a large frog croaking its way into the leaf litter and birds carolled through the canyon.

Plakanek Valley Trail czech republic - zoedawes

This is the Bohemian Paradise Protected Region, due to its unique natural beauty and historical sights. You may not have heard of it before, but now that you have, I hope you get to visit one day. There are very many other cultural attractions and excellent for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. It is a very special part of Europe with an unspoilt character that invites exploration at your leisure.

Zoe Dawes Kost Castle Czech Republic

Many thanks to the Philips family for their generous hospitality and for giving me a glimpse of this romantic region of the Czech Republic. Find out more about Peace of Eden holiday home and booking availability here. Follow them on Twitter @peaceofedencz and on Facebook PeaceofEdenCZ.

Peace of Eden holiday home wesbite

January 9, 2016

A Lake District weekend in lovely Elterwater

A Lake District weekend in lovely Elterwater
The Good Life Cottage Co and Herdwick sheep in snow

Herdwick sheep – Elterwater in winter

So, what are your holiday plans for this year? Sunbathing on a Caribbean island? Winter sports in Switzerland? An African Safari? A cruise to the Arctic Circle? How about a few days in the lovely Lake District, in Cumbria, North West England? Often voted Britain’s favourite outdoor tourist destination, there is much more to see and do than climb every mountain. If you love beautiful surroundings, excellent food and drink, a dash of culture, intriguing history, romantic hideaways and plenty for all the family, then take a break amongst the UK’s most splendid scenery. I did just that on a weekend break with the Good Life Cottage Company in the pretty village of Elterwater.

Elterwater village and Bottom Shop - goodlifecottageco

Elterwater village and Bottom Shop – Good Life Cottage Company

I’d arrived on a rather grey, wet autumn day and, donning wellies and waterproofs, went to have a reccie. Set around a village green, with tiny lanes and quaint grey-stone buildings that blend effortlessly with the surrounding countryside, Elterwater is a delight to visit any time of year. Herdwick sheep grazed on the Common, oblivious to the rain. These hardy animals are used to the extremes of weather that this area specializes in, and never lose the smile on their sheepish faces. Autumn in the Lake District is very special; the bracken shone gold and orange through the mists and all seemed right with the world.

Braegarth Cottage Elterwater Lake District - zoedawes

Braegarth Cottage on Elterwater Common

Eventually it started to get dark so I went up to Braegarth Cottage, where I was staying for the weekend. It was love at first sight. It sits above Elterwater Common, one of the most photographed views in the Lake District. Painted white and set amidst tall trees, you can’t miss it as you drive through the Langdale Valley. Built in traditional Lakeland style, it has a solid, elegant look about it. A welcoming glow came from its lit porch and walking inside, I immediately felt relaxed and at home.

Braegarth Cottage Elterwater in the evening - zoedawes

Braegarth Cottage

The log fire, comfy sofas, armchairs and understated décor all fit harmoniously and it has a very spacious feel. I had a good mooch about before unpacking. The dining room features a beautiful hand-made oak dresser; so refreshing to see a ‘real’ piece of furniture in a holiday home. The dining table is also made from very fine wood.

Braegarth Cottage Oak Dresser - zoedawes

There was a bookcase full of books, games and videos for all ages. There’s even a table tennis table hidden away for fans of Wiff-Waff, as Boris Johnson calls it. The bedrooms are all tastefully decorated. The house sleeps five people in 3 bedrooms – a huge double bed, two singles and a single. I chose the double bedroom, which has windows on THREE sides overlooking the Common and the garden. It also has a large ensuite bathroom; I love a long, lazy bath full to brim with bubbles when I’m staying away.

Braegarth Cottage bedroom - zoedawes

Back downstairs I found the kitchen really well-stocked with all the crockery and utensils you’d need for a house-party, plus a dishwasher, and washing machine in the utility room. Next to the kitchen is a stylish conservatory with a view of the summer house and garden. Perfect …

Braegarth Cottage conservatory - zoedawes

Braegarth Conservatory

I spent a happy couple of hours in the lounge just reading, writing, watching a bit of TV and generally enjoying being in this cosy house, in the heart of the Lake District, for a couple of days with nothing more to worry about than whether I needed a brolly to go to the pub.

Braegarth Cottage lounge Elterwater Cumbria - zoedawes

Braegarth lounge

I’d arranged to meet Natalie Barker, manager of the Good Life Cottage Company, at the Britannia Inn, only five minutes’ walk down the lane to the centre of tiny Elterwater village. Luckily I found a torch as it was very dark on the way there and there wasn’t much moon to see by. The pub is a gem. Fronting the village green, it serves a variety of real ales, decent wines and excellent home-made food with a stylish twist. It’s not been spoilt and still retains the air of a local pub whilst catering for the varied tastes of hungry walkers, intrepid travellers and picky gourmands.

Britannia Inn Elterwater - zoedawes

The Britannia Inn

Over a meal of succulent Thai prawns and very good Cumberland Sausage and Mash (a local speciality), Natalie told me how the Good Life Cottage Company, an independent family business, has grown since 2008 and has a large portfolio of distinctive cottages throughout south Lake District, including the Langdale Valley, Ambleside, Hawkshead and Grasmere. Clearly passionate about the properties and knowledgeable about the area, Natalie was keen that I make the most of my stay and gave some recommendations for activities, enough to keep me busy for a few weeks, never mind a weekend.

Dinner at the Britannia Inn Elterwater Lake District - Zoe Dawes

Dinner at the Britannia Inn

Walking back to Braegarth, I was enjoying the fresh evening air when I suddenly heard a rustling in the dark. I’ve never felt unsafe in the Lake District, but even so, I stopped rather nervously and looked all around. A few metres away, a Herdwick was munching away by the roadside … panic over!

Braegarth Cottage breakfast in conservatory - zoedawes

Breakfast in Braegarth Cottage Conservatory

The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying the view from the conservatory as I read about local walks and attractions. So many things to do and places to see. I could go further into the Langdale Valley, past Chapel Stile and maybe to the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub. Or perhaps drive over to pretty Hawkshead and see where Wordsworth went to school and Beatrix Potter’s husband used to work. There are mountains to climb, lakes to explore, historic houses, museums and galleries to visit, plus bustling villages and towns like GrasmereKendal and Ambleside not far away.

Braegarth Cottage sundial garden Elterwater - zoedawes

Braegarth Cottage Garden

After breakfast I wandered round the garden; two acres of beautifully tended lawns, shrubs, trees and even a little stream. It would be ideal for a picnic or BBQ in the summer. I decided to walk to Elterwater lake, along the country path that starts near the Britannia Inn. It was very pleasant strolling along the footpath, passing families, couples and solo walkers; even on a rainy day, you’ll find people want to get out and make the most of this stunning scenery. Elterwater means ‘Swan Lake’ in Old Norse and there were swans, ducks and Canada Geese swimming about. The lake was speckled with raindrops and looked like a scene from a Japanese painting, with mists swirling around the hills outlined in the distance. Herdies looked up from their eating as I walked by.

Elterwater lake and Herdwick sheep Lake District - zoedawes

Elterwater lake and Herdwick

On my return I packed and left lovely Braegarth Cottage with regret. I was in no hurry to return home so drove over to Chesters, by the River Brathay at Skelwith Bridge, for a bite to eat. They have an eclectic selection of luxury household items, gifts, jewellery, toys and books plus a café with the most tempting cakes you could ever wish for. Be prepared to queue for a table – it’s popular all year round. (If you don’t want to wait, they do Take-Away now.)

Chesters Cafe take-away lakedistrict - zoedawes

Chesters Take-Away

To round off the weekend I went to Ambleside, only 15 minutes’ drive from Elterwater and a favourite centre for walkers and tourists from all over the UK and around the world. I wanted to visit the Armitt Museum, a quirky place of local history, but it was closed so I had a look around the shops. Finally, it was time to get back to reality. As I drove along the shores of Windermere on my way back home, I reflected on the tranquil world I’d left behind in Elterwater. Those sheep would still be contentedly grazing on the Common and the pub would be getting ready for another evening of conviviality. Hopefully it won’t be long before I return …

You can see more of Elterwater and nearby places of interest in this video of The Quirky Traveller Tour of southern Lake District.

The Good Life Cottage Company logo

If you’d like to stay in Elterwater or are looking for a Lake District holiday cottage, contact The Good Life Cottage Company. Family-run, local and well established, they know what makes a great holiday! You can follow them on Twitter: @cottagesinlakes  and Facebook: thegoodlifecottageco. I’m delighted to be working with them over the coming months to share with you some of their charming places to stay and things to do in this lovely region.

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