Travel: The Pheasant, Cockermouth, Lake District

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THE Lakes: pastoral dreamland of wandering poets and Wainwright walkers or brooding backdrop to hard-edged Jimmy McGovern drama? Unsurprisingly, neither, just a delightful corner of England with spectacular (rather than just pretty) scenery.

The hotel is located at the north end of the region, very close to Bassenthwaite Lake, which is the only actual lake in the Lake District (the others are all called “mere” or “water”), an ideal base for walkers, explorers and climbers.

WINING AND DINING

The restaurant was a real surprise. The level of the culinary experience in the bistro (which shares a menu with the slightly more formal restaurant) was that of a high-end eatery rather than a country inn. The car park was packed in the evenings as the food clearly draws customers from miles around. A main dish of hake fillet with celeriac purée and horseradish cream was particularly impressive. Breakfast was also a rare treat and the Eggs Royale with hollandaise sauce, smoked salmon, capers and more of that horseradish cream was fantastic.

BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?

Neither, more like classic coaching. A historic roadside inn between Keswick and Cockermouth, The Pheasant has seen its road moved away as part of the new A66 and so now occupies a tranquil corner far from the traffic. The main building dates back about 500 years to when it was a farmhouse, followed by a coaching inn and tap room, where Cumbrian huntsman John Peel, immortalised in the song D’ye Ken John Peel and a famous regimental march, enjoyed his ale.

Modern additions were made in the late 1950s and from 2001 to 2005. The Pheasant now has 15 rooms. The bar is welcoming and well-stocked; a pleasure to flop into for a couple of drinks at the end of the evening. Country pub decor with an eclectic mix of chairs, sofas and tables add up to a really unfussy place in which to relax and enjoy a huge range of malt whiskies or Cumbrian beers.

ROOM SERVICE

The two dog-friendly rooms are in a Garden Lodge a few yards away. The Orthwaite room had straightforward country home-style furnishings and decor, digital TV, radio and tea and coffee-making facilities. The real bonus was the bed – gigantic and unfeasibly comfortable – is there anything more important in a hotel room than a comfy bed? Molton Brown toiletries were provided in the bathroom.

WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR

The Lakes Distillery is a just a few minutes’ drive away and well worth a visit. Only opened this year, it produces whisky, gin and vodka made from water from the River Derwent and local ingredients. A guided tour gives a fascinating insight into the process and the product. The atmosphere and aroma of the cask room is truly intoxicating. Gin and vodka are already available in the shop, along with a blended whisky but, unfortunately, the flagship single malt won’t mature for a few years yet.

For walkers, there are forest routes through Wythop Wood on Sale Fell immediately above the hotel, as well as a managed wetland area with planned and tended walkways just a few yards away. The more adventurous could tackle the dramatic Skiddaw range nearby. There are plenty of walking books and guide maps with a variety of routes available in the hotel.

Keswick, gateway to stunning Derwentwater, is a ten-minute drive away, with boat trips, a variety of shops and the Theatre by the Lake.

Those who want to get on the water themselves could try Bassenthwaite Lake Sailing Club, which is just across the A66.

LITTLE EXTRAS

A daily Lakes National Park weather report delivered to your room is a nice touch. The best little surprise, though, was the truly stunning garden, where you can sit with a drink in a delightfully peaceful spot. The Pheasant makes a point of being dog-friendly and, should guests wish to have their pets with them when they eat, staff can set up a special table in one of the lounges, subject to availability.

GUESTBOOK COMMENTS

Great location, quiet but handy for road access. Clean and comfortable and great for dogs. Outstanding food and drink. Friendly and clearly hard-working staff. Bed and breakfast from £115. n

• The Pheasant, Bassenthwaite Lake, Cockermouth, Cumbria CA13 9YE (017687 76234, info@the-pheasant.co.uk)

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