I had been yearning to return ever since I first fell in love with it aged 15. And finally, here I was boarding the train from London for a weekend away in the Lake District. My destination was The Leathes Head Hotel, which sits in the Borrowdale Valley in the north of the Lake District National Park.
Just a 3-hour train journey and we’d reached ‘The Lakes’ – as they’re affectionately known by natives. I remember this feeling from the trip as my younger self: it’s almost as though you’ve travelled to another country if you approach from the south of England. The landscape seems to suddenly rise in front of your eyes – and there are the mountains, and the distinctive grey stone walls and cottages of the area.
We hopped in the rental car at Penrith and an easy 30-minute drive later we had reached Keswick – a pleasant town that makes a great base for exploring The Lakes. We continued onwards, however, alongside Derwentwater – a 3-mile-long lake surrounded by trees and mountains; The Leathes Head sits at the far end of the lake, in the Borrowdale Valley. We swung into the gravel driveway and approached the traditional Edwardian country house standing proudly among well-tended gardens bordered by dry stone walls.
The Leathes Head has an intimate English country hotel feel with 11 luxury bedrooms, and the attentive managers – Jane and Jamie – ever present. Right away they were sitting us down with a fresh pot of tea and homemade biscuits. We were thrilled when we saw our spacious yet cosy room with windows looking out over the hotel’s gardens towards the mountains beyond; even the bathroom had a loo with a view.
The hotel's gardens often receive important visitors and we were lucky enough to spot a couple of them: a woodpecker and – most excitingly – a red squirrel. Once ubiquitous in Britain, the red squirrel is sadly a depleting species, only to be found in well-preserved rural areas such as this one.
We had been kindly invited into the kitchens to meet Head Chef Daniel Hopkins who delivers the award-winning menu from local produce. He also specialises in molecular gastronomy and demonstrated some exciting concoctions to us, including how he makes the scrumptious amuse-bouches that are served each night.
After all this, we couldn’t wait for dinner that night. It was a tricky decision, but I finally opted to start with the wild rabbit terrine wrapped in prosciutto, followed by the day’s special of grilled steak. A scoop or 2 of English Lakes ice cream, plus all that mountain air resulted in sound sleep that night. The next 2 days started with full Cumbrian breakfasts that fuelled us up ready to tackle an ascent of Britain’s highest peak – Scafell Pike, for which the most beautiful route starts from Seathwaite – a short drive from the hotel to the head of the valley.
And the next day we even braved climbing along the iron rungs that traverse the side of Honister Pass at the Via Ferrata – also a short drive. Keswick made a great place to find lunch with no fewer than 30-something pubs, not to mention cafes and delis, as well as a lovely selection of little shops to browse.
By the end of the weekend, it was very hard to pack up and leave such a spot. Although with plenty more lakes to navigate and summits to reach, at least we know we’ll be back.
How to travel to the Lake District
It's easy from London, with trains running from London Euston to Penrith for the north of the area within 3 hours, or to Oxenholme where you can change for Windermere, with a journey time of around 3 hours. Rail tickets are cheaper if booked in advance. The region is very close to England’s key Northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool, both with international airports. All the usual car rental companies are in the main towns of the Lake District. For more on the Lake District, see the local tourist board website, Visit Cumbria.
Now see how we got on with our high adventure in the Lake District!