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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 Grasmere, Kendal and Ambleside not far away.
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.
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.)
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.
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.