There’s nothing better than a well-earned pint or two at the end of a hard day on the fells. Or sitting beside a fire on a cold winter’s afternoon. Or losing an hour or two in a beer garden on a lazy summer’s afternoon.
The Lakes has great inns, pubs and taverns in spades. Even better, some of my favourites are within either walking distance or a short drive of Tarn House.
After years of rigorous road-testing (someone has to do it!) here’s my personal pick of the best:
1. The Britannia Inn, Elterwater
Pull on your boots for the half-hour jaunt to Elterwater (past Loughrigg Tarn and through the beautiful woodlands of High Close) to reach one of the finest inns in the county. With over 500 years of history, this is the real deal: a rambling whitewashed hostelry with oak beams, wood fires, a wide selection of real ales and one of the best beer gardens around, with seats overlooking Elterwater’s village green and its lovely maple tree. The food’s good too. A Tarn House must.
2. The Outgate Inn, Hawkshead
A ten minute drive south from Tarn House (head to Clappersgate and turn right over the Brathay, signposted Hawkshead), leads you to another favourite. Dating from the 18th century, The Outgate almost matches The Britannia’s claim on heritage. But it scores higher on food, with top quality pub grub served in generous portions and a warmth of welcome – for two and four-legged visitors – second to none.
3. The Old Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale
At the head of Great Langdale, towered over by the rocky parapets of the Langdale Pikes, lies The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, with its Climber’s Bar that has been serving walkers, climbers and locals for generations. Although its facilities – and food – may be basic, its location is supreme, its beers are good and its regular folk music night (Wednesdays) is top-drawer. The twice-yearly Langdale Charity Folk Festival that takes over the hotel and bar in May and September is a must for anyone whose blood flows a little faster to the sound of pipe and fiddle. Probably my favourite place in the world.
4. Wainwright’s Inn, Chapel Style
I’m a recent convert to Wainwright’s Inn – part of the sprawling Langdale Estate. For a long time it was simply a pub I passed en route to walking into Great Langdale. Now, it’s a regular bolthole, almost entirely because of the food. That’s not to undermine the ambience (fires, oak beams, slate walls etc), the wide selection of local ales or the traditional Lakeland welcome. But the food is just sooo good.
5. The Sticklebarn Tavern, Great Langdale
Just a few minutes walk (or stagger) from The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel is the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel (see what they did there?) and, alongside, The Sticklebarn Tavern, the only pub owned by the National Trust. Serving locally-sourced food and ales alongside seasonal fare like pizza from the outside wood burning stove (summer) and mulled wine (winter), it’s the perfect place to end a day on the fells – particularly in summer when the sun-trap beer terrace, overlooking Pike O Blisco and Side Pike, is circled by swallows and swifts. Oh, and all profits go back to protecting the fells. So you can eat, drink and make merry knowing at least some good will come from one’s efforts.
Best of the rest
With so many quality options on the doorstep it’s hard not to miss out other favourites, like Tarn House’s reliable local, The Talbot Bar (a lovely ten minute walk from the cottage), the multi-award-winning Drunken Duck Inn (very special), The Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale and, perhaps most of all, the Unicorn Inn, the oldest coaching inn in Ambleside – about as traditional as they get, with great live music nights too. All of them are well worth a visit.