Winter is a wonderful time to visit the Lake District. The last of the autumn colours are there to enjoy and the snow top peaks make for exciting walks, climbs and drives. With the shorter days and longer nights, there are lots of opportunities for enjoying delicious evening feasts and warming drinks by the fire, so here is my guide to the very best the Lake District has to offer in the winter.
Where to stay
Cosy, welcoming luxury is what I’m after at this time of year, and Linthwaite House, where we stayed absolutely fitted the bill. Set in 14 acres overlooking Lake Windermere, Linthwaite House is a large Victorian country house, which has been turned into a 30-room boutique hotel. It’s a well-established and much loved place to stay.
The welcome is very warm indeed from the charming but unstuffy staff, and we were swiftly shown up to our room, a junior suite, to relax after the long drive up. Our room, number 7, had plenty of seating to relax and enjoy a hot drink to warm up – Nespresso machine in the room – and a seriously luxurious bathroom with a huge shower and bath, the fluffiest towels and Molton Brown toiletries. There are many carefully considered details in the bedrooms that make them so comfortable, such as the huge beds, your choice of pillows, and marble topped bedside tables, not to mention a fridge full of complimentary drinks.
There are a number of small rooms to enjoy downstairs with open fires and views out across Lake Windermere. There are plenty of board games, maps, books and free-to-borrow DVDs, so for those less inclined to head out on a cold day, there is plenty to keep you occupied. There’s a small, well-stocked bar (local spirits are on offer here) and facilities such as spa treatments and sporting activities will be organised for you by staff.
The relaxed and unstuffy atmosphere at Linthwaite is created by its delightful staff, who are just on the right side of friendly and informal, yet retain a very high level of attention to detail and service that makes a stay feel special and deserving of its status as a luxury hotel.
There is, of course, plenty do to here in the summer, from wild swimming pools, to sunbathing terraces and a croquet lawn for summer evenings, all set in the hotel grounds – this is not just a hotel best equipped for winter breaks, and many guests become regulars, coming back time and time again.
Where to eat
We enjoyed dinner at the Linthwaite House Hotel on our first night. Residents and non-residents can make reservations and it’s sensible to book in advance, as it does get full. Guests are booked in for pre-dinner drinks in the bar, and we enjoyed a cosy glass of fizz next to the roaring fire whilst we chose from the menu before being shown to our table around half an hour later. The choice is wide – there are five choices for each course, plus a daily special menu and a tasting menu.
I honestly would have been happy with anything on the delicious-sounding menu, but we shared a grilled scallop starter, paired with acorn fed ham and pumpkin purée, and a superb venison tartare, followed by a grouse breast topped with a disc of foie gras and a slow cooked leg positioned jauntily on the plate accompanied with a sticky fig sauce and toasted hazelnuts and the beef dish, which combined slow cooked beef cheek and a fat slice of fillet. The dining room is hugely atmospheric, with a giant table in the centre decked out with flowers and candles. It is an intimate and special place for both couples and groups to dine.
The wine list at Linthwaite is very good, as you might expect, as its owners produce Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines in South Africa. Finish your meal with some cheese – the cheeseboard at Linthwaite is exceptional. The selection of cheeses is perfectly judged and wonderfully matured, and it’s a great way of trying something new you’re bound to love. Linthwaite House work very closely with Churchmouse Cheeses in Kirkby Lonsdale to create their award-winning cheeseboards.
If a cosy pub is your kind of thing, then do try the Drunken Duck, between Ambleside and Coniston. Again, it gets very booked up, but the bar and restaurant are both very good. The bar is very relaxed, even in the evening – dogs welcome, too – and we stopped for warming and reviving drinks after our fell-top walks in the snow. There’s no need to change, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a spot near to the fire to warm up. The bar gets busy and has a very, very limited food menu – just mezze platters when we were there. The restaurant is very good, too, and you will need to phone ahead to get a table unless you’re very lucky and there is one free when you’re there. There is an open kitchen and serves smart, well-cooked pub food.
For a special experience, head to Cartmel and L’Enclume for a very special meal, or some of the local pubs for great food, and local drinks. It’s a real foodie mecca and worth a visit, or two.
What to do
One of my very favourite things to do in the Lake District is to walk. I love to climb as high as I can and enjoy the views that can only be discovered and enjoyed from the highest points. One of the main difficulties with planning walks here in the winter is the weather. Days are quite short, so one has a limited time to undertake longer climbs and the clouds can be low, so I recommend either trying an interesting walk with smaller peaks, or driving to high points to shorten the walk. Favourite walks that fit the bill are Catbells, Blencathra, and Red Screes. If you have a fine day, then do tackle Old Man of Coniston or Helvellyn for a full day’s walking.
For an adventurous drive, head over the Hardknott and Wrynose Passes for a real adventure with 1 in 3 gradients and extreme hairpin bends. There are some wonderful green lanes too, but do check maps and closures with the National Park in advance, as there are closures on some days of the week and also due to weather conditions. I managed to take my Mitsubishi 4×4 out for a spin through Langdale, which was great fun.
There are many delightful towns in the Lake District to explore, and lots of spots for a cosy hot chocolate or a good coffee to warm up. I particularly enjoy visiting Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick, as they have a fantastic selection of independent shops and cafes. On a very wet day, I can’t resist a trip to the enormous Lakeland HQ in Windermere
Thank you to Linthwaite House for inviting us to stay. Please do check their website and subscribe to their newsletter as they have some excellent offers on for gourmet breaks and discounted stays in January, too. I am Brand Ambassador for Mitsubishi Motors Outlander PHEV.