Photo Credit: Untold Agency
Katie Wiles walks for her beer in an exploration of the Lake District – originally published in BEER magazine.
“There’s nothing better than a beer you’ve earned!” exclaims my guide, as the track steepens and we weave our way up a 200-meter ascent. The words echo in my head, slowly becoming my new mantra as my legs burn and the conversation dwindles. After what feels like eternity, the ascent levels off and the full splendour of the Lake District comes into view. Windermere stretches off to the horizon and beyond it I can make out the Langdale Pikes.
Straight ahead is a small cluster of white buildings nestled among the fields – the tiny village of Kelwith Bridge, and its promise of a pint. I’m flooded with a new sense of strength that propels me over the ridge and down the other side.
Relief floods me as we reach the first pub having only strapped on our hiking boots an hour and a half before. My initial apprehension dissolves as the beer begins to pour, and suddenly an 11-mile hike seems more than manageable. I decide then and there that the best reward for a hard morning’s work is to settle into a cosy country pub, warming up by a roaring fire with a pint cradled in hand.
Walking into the Talbot Bar is a bit like stepping back in time. An old coaching inn named after the talbot hound in a hunting area, it’s easy to imagine the pub as a bustling hub 400 hundred years ago. Its rustic wooden bar is nicely complemented by a warming stone fireplace, and curios such as horse brasses and old shotguns scatter the walls. The bartender is eager to show off the pub’s history and points out paintings from the original building, an antique bed mast with witches symbols carved into it and Victorian newspapers that line the inside of a cabinet in the far corner.
With three beers on draught, I order a tasting flight of the Talbot Tipple, the Cumberland Golden and the Ripsaw Rye IPA. The Talbot Tipple is a Cask Marque English Pale Ale that seems to be a popular choice among my companions. It is light and floral, making it incredibly easy drinking before lunchtime. The Cumberland Golden by contrast has a slightly bitterer note to it, but still retains a sweet honey flavour. I finish with the Ripshaw IPA, which is by far the most interesting beer with a strong malt and rye aftertaste.
All too soon it’s time to head back out onto the path, with slightly less energy and vigour than before. The scenery morphs from rolling country fields to a wood of sessile oak, holly, rowan and birch. After another hour’s’ hike we stumble up to the Colwith Force – a waterfall that crashes dramatically through the trees – where we decide to have a short picnic. I’m already on the hunt for the next pint as we continue our journey down to Little Langdale, found on a rolling pastoral scene amongst a scattering of stone farmhouses.
The village is quiet and secluded – its history as a once busy intersection for many historic tracks long-forgotten. Little Langdale’s only pub, the Three Shires Inn, was built in the 19th century with local slate. Today it only serves real ales from brewers within a 20-mile radius. The pub is packed to the brim with ramblers from all directions eager to get their hands on what looks like generous portions of mouth-watering comfort food. We have to fight our way to find some much-needed seats.
I contemplate taking off my boots, but instead settle on heading to the bar for a half pint of the Goodhew’s Dry Stout – the only dark ale I see throughout the day and a CAMRA North West Regional Beer of the Year for 2017. It has a bitter dark chocolate flavour and I try without success to tempt some of my companions into having a bit. They stick to the Loweswater Gold, a Cumbrian legendary ale that has a sweet, buttery golden taste that stays in the mouth long after the first sip. The bartender informs me that Coniston Brewery’s Old Man Ale is the best performing beer on tap and used in their infamous pies, which I make a note to try on a future visit.
Not wanting to get too comfortable with only half of the walk behind us, I leave the pub with regret to trek north for a mile and a half, skirting the lower flanks of Lingmoor Fell to drop down into Great Langdale. Through a fairytale-like forest where old logs are decorated with coins hammered into every crack, we end up in the oddly industrial setting of a slate quarry. Just a few minutes away is our next destination – the Wainwright’s Inn.
Wainwright’s is based in the village of Chapel Stile and is the sort of place any weary-legged walker dreams of finding. Originally a farmhouse, the pub boasts a stone-flagged bar area, wooden beams, cosy fires and a menu of home-smoked meats. A 2018 Good Beer Guide recommended pub, it has seven real ales on draught and a quiz night on Tuesdays. I went for the Bowness Bay Swan Verdi, a light golden ale that is made with green hops grown and picked by the brewers themselves.
Thankfully, from here it’s just a short stroll along the riverside to the pretty village of Elterwater. At its centre, the Britannia Inn buzzes with atmosphere. Over 500-years old, the Inn is made from the same wood that was used to build the Britannia ship in the Battle of Trafalgar. The little pub is jam-packed with visitors, many of whom seem to recognise us from earlier pub stops along the way. It is a tempting watering-hole to settle into for the evening, with horse brasses pictured along the wall, wonky rooms, wooden pews and live fires.
The pub has eight Cumbrian real ales on draught, including the acclaimed Bluebird from Coniston brewery and a specially-brewed “Britannia” beer. I grab a pint of Blonde by Langdale Brewing Company – a refreshing ale with a floral nose, which is fruity and easy to drink. It is made in incredibly small batches with local Langdale water by a relatively new brewer, so is a rare find and quite the treat for a visitor to the area.
By the time we finished our pints evening is approaching, and I for one am keen to head back to the Ambleside Salutation Hotel where a fantastic pool and spa promise respite for weary feet. We lumber off on the final leg of the journey along the shore path to the Skewith Force. Dusk closes in as we make it back down to Ambleside, foregoing an additional pint at the Talbot Bar along the way. I am no longer complacent as my boots dig into my ankles and I hobble along, dreaming of returning indoors for the evening.
The village of Ambleside welcomes us as we shed our boots and backpacks at the door of the hotel. The promised spa is put on hold as we agree to share one last pint of Hawkshead Bitter at the hotel bar. Known as “the hiker’s favourite”, this beer boast both citrus and hops and is a refreshing beer to wash down our day’s journey.
Utterly exhausted, we raise our pints in a silent “cheers” as we contemplate our achievement. Muscles hum with the day’s exertion as we sip our beers, recalling the 11 miles walked and 600 metres ascended. With some fantastic pubs along the way and great local beers to try, we agree that there is no better way to explore one of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain – the Lake District.
I travelled courtesy of Best Western Hotels, which owns the Ambleside Hotel.
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