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A Guide to a Staycation in the Lake District

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How to avoid the staycation boom in the Lake District – Britain’s biggest and busiest National Park

A Guide to a Staycation in the Lake District: Low Season Lakes

Blame the caravaners, blame walkers – blame Simon Reeve! The Lake District is Britain’s most popular National Park but it’s now near impossible to find that picture postcard idyll glorified in tourist brochures.

Storrs hotel lake districtThe Lakes With Simon Reeve highlighted some of problems in a region where William Wordsworth ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ and Alfred Wainwright reminded us ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’.

Reeve’s BBC series focussed on both the beauty and the beastly side of the Lakes, where the flora and fauna are fast being eroded away by more visitors than you can shake a walking stick at. The ongoing pandemic is good for tourism but a headache for those who manage the park.

I visited the Lake District last summer and left feeling grateful I’m British, born with the ability to queue. That’s queue for everything – buffet breakfasts, parking spaces, summit footpaths and a decent pint of Cumbrian Ale.

At the time, I swore I wouldn’t go back until things ‘returned to normal’ but the way things are going, that could be years away. Perhaps in the winter months, wearing a suitably warm coat, I might discover a Lake District to write home about?

Storrs Hall Hotel

Which is why I find myself hunkered down in the Tower Bar of Storrs Hall on the outskirts of Windermere. This 18th century hotel is on the shores of Lake Windermere and surrounded by parkland – except nobody would want to be out there right now.

I’ve arrived in November and double-booked my stay with Storm Arwen, bringing an icy blast and 80mph gusts that would put the wind up Wordsworth. A lengthy power cut has evoked the Dunkirk spirit and the candlelit bar is packed with guests wondering what has hit them.

Never mind, the fire is crackling and with fallen trees blocking the exit roads in both directions, there’s just enough time to sip my way down the cocktail list.

Storrs Hall Hotel bar

The ornate bar itself was shipped in from Blackpool Tower, a retro combo of ornate wood carvings and stained glass. The barman is working his socks off to meet demand as cheery staff help keep guests informed on the likelihood of a hot supper.

In the end, dinner in the restaurant becomes a hastily arranged cold buffet of epic proportions, with wind and rain battering the west-facing sash windows. I’ll have to wait until next time to sample fish caught a few miles away at Morecambe Bay, or the Cumbrian lamb.

The following morning, calm descends and the full extent of the devastation is clear to see. Boats have been ripped from their moorings and flung against the shore, trees upended and garden furniture tossed around the grounds like playground toys.

This is, perhaps, not the right moment to be assessing visitor numbers in the Lake District but fewer people are walking the hills and valleys, yet most cafés, restaurants and accommodation are full. The bottom line – in the winter months, you still need to book, whether it’s a pub lunch or gastro supper.

There’s just enough time in the afternoon to squeeze in a walk down the north-west shore of Windermere, near Wray Castle. Everybody with a chain saw is lending a hand but just south of High Wray, the road becomes impassable. Clambering over countless fallen trees, the ensuing stretch of Tarmac track might have been modelled on Badminton Horse Trials.

After an hour, my legs finally give up and refuse to jump. I retrace my bootsteps back to the car and head off to the quaint and quirky Drunken Duck, a mile or two up the road at Barngates. Two of the roads in are blocked and then, at the third attempt, I discover the pub is closed due to a power cut!

the victoria house hotel

Tired and hungry I wind my way to Grasmere and the Victorian House Hotel, a surprising mix of modern and retro chic in one of the Lake District’s prettiest towns. Wander down to the Wordsworth Museum, or just amble around an eclectic selection of art galleries and local stores, including a rather splendid toy shop stuffed with giant Airfix models.

Revamped in 2020, the hotel has its own little bar, with views across the garden towards a shepherd’s hut room, overlooking a stream. I’ve found a seat by the fire to ponder a small menu of food that is available all day and served by uber-friendly staff.

Maps and guide books are plentiful here, there’s even a cycle store and washing area for bikes and muddy dogs. Upstairs, the bedrooms are unfussy and well designed, if a little on the small side.

The Yan

The Yan at Broadrayne is just up the road, a bistro restaurant and hotel that produces excellent food which doesn’t burn a hole in your walking trouser pockets. There are plenty more showy places down the road in Windermere with prices to match – The Yan will do me fine.

In fact, it’s a shame to brand the place a boutique hotel because really this is an eatery for proper foodies, those who don’t need to Instagram their main course. The secret is already out but The Yan offers a serving of no-nonsense charm with every course. I urge you to try the shepherd’s pie.

A devastating storm, fallen trees and wartime spirit – my visit to the Lake District will be a memorable one. After the park’s ‘busiest summer ever’ it’s unlikely visitor numbers will fall in 2022. A winter walk in what Wordsworth described as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath found’ might be the only way to wander as lonely as a cloud.

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