Visiting Lancashire and the Lake District
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 May 2019
Some of the most beautiful and diverse countryside in the UK lies just two hours away, with shopping, restaurants and the most high-end of hotels
Every year, nearly 20 million people flock to the Lake District – and who can blame them? Spanning 912 square miles in total, it is the largest National Park in England and it is dotted with 16 lakes, many smaller tarns and over 150 high peaks including Scafell Pike, which towers above the rest at 978 metres. Together these natural landmarks make the Lake District a truly spectacular part of the country, and it's no surprise that they have inspired the work of the likes of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Its beauty was recognised in July 2017 when it gained UNESCO World Heritage Status and, luckily for us, it's less than an hour and a half up the road.
The Lake District is arguably best known as an adventure seeker's paradise. Its varied terrain makes for fantastic walking routes that can be tailored to suit all abilities; the more intrepid amongst us might opt to climb one of the mountains, or if you really want to get the heart racing, you could venture along Striding Edge for breathtaking views. Many of the lakes have easily accessible circular walking routes, such as the popular 15km trail around Derwentwater. The Coffin Route from Ambleside to Grasmere defies its somewhat bleak history, with the 6.5km trail recently being named as one of the nation's top 100 walks. This is a particularly good option for literature fans as it winds its way past Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage, two former homes of Wordsworth. If you want to venture below ground, take a trip to the spectacular Rydal Caves where you can discover the secrets of the Lake District and test your balance on the stepping stones. If it's panoramic views that you're after, Gummer's How is a must – trust us, the steep ascent up from the car park is worth it.
The Lake District is also now a firmly established foodie hotspot, with a number of fantastic Michelin-starred restaurants. The Forest Side in Grasmere is a prime example, with an innovative tasting menu under the expert leadership of head chef Kevin Tickle. He takes his inspiration from his forays into the countryside, so diners can expect options such as golden beetroot with cuckoo flower followed by scorched halibut with oyster and tarragon salsa. HRiSHi, the main restaurant at Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in Windermere, also boasts a Michelin star – head chef Hrishikesh Desai creates innovative dishes that combine the best Lake District produce with a modern twist.
If you want to make a weekend away of it, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to places to stay. Low Wood Bay in Windermere ticks all the boxes: luxurious rooms complete with free-standing baths and spectacular lakeside views await weary explorers, as well as two fantastic on-site restaurants. At Blue Smoke on the Bay, diners have their dishes cooked in front of them on a 3-metre long wood fired grill, whilst The Windermere offers a selection of classic European dishes such as venison scotch egg followed by Lakeland lamb.
However, you could opt to veer off the M6 before you hit the Lakes and there's a whole lot more to be discovered. In continuation with the North West's culinary prowess, the Ribble Valley is home to a famous food trail that includes the Michelin-starred Northcote, and The Parkers Arms is a dining pub near Clitheroe that is raved about by TV food writer Jay Rayner, with a regularly changing menu that is dependent on what is available seasonally and locally.
This area is also known for its stunning landscape, and it includes the Forest of Bowland, one of England's last wildernesses and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It's a spectacular place for walkers and cyclists, and features some beautiful and totally unspoilt villages such as Slaidburn and Downham. There's another AONB across the coast by the twin villages of Silverdale and Arnside, which has a lovely prom full of arty independent shops.
Lancaster is one of the north's great historic cities and has official Heritage Status, making it a mecca for tourists. If you're feeling brave, you can take a guided tour of the ancient Lancaster prison, based in the castle dating back to the 11th century and associated with John of Gaunt and location of the infamous Pendle witch trials.
On the Fylde, you'll find the pretty coastal community of Lytham and a little further up the coast is Blackpool, one of the world's most visited holiday destinations. Across the Ribble estuary is the fine old Edwardian resort of Southport and nearby is Moor Hall, an ancient house turned into a luxury hotel with a restaurant that won two Michelin stars in its first year. Preston is the home of the Harris Museum and Gallery, an imposing building packed with fascinating artefacts and paintings.
Among the Queen's official titles is Duke of Lancaster and she has been reported as saying that if she was ever able to retire she's like to move to the red rose county. Well, if it's good enough for her…