Travel: Western Lake District

My geography is pretty rotten. On accepting the offer of a trip to the Western Lake District, I wondered if we could pop by Beatrix Potter’s cottage.

“No, that’s round the OTHER side of Lake Windermere,” said my partner.

It turned out we were visiting 
Eskdale, one of the villages that make up the less touristy area of the Lake District, along with Muncaster, Cockermouth, Gosforth et al. Our base was Irton Hall – a former manor house with a 16th-century core, including the original clock tower, all wrapped up in a relatively modern Victorian shell.

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According to the member of staff who led us to the self-catering Ormondroyd Cottage, it’s always busy here, as the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility is only 20 minutes away and temporary workers need a place to stay.

This may not be the most glamorous venue in the Lakes, but we liked our terraced two-up-two-down, with a lush view out of the back window. It’s also well located. Ravenglass Steam Railway was just five minutes’ drive away.

I haven’t been eight for a while, but riding inside the wooden carriage of a miniature steam train, as it meandered its way round an 80-minute circular route from Ravenglass to Dalegarth, via the charmingly named Boot Station, is just as much fun for elderly children.

The scenery, with the Scafell Range in the background, is chocolate-box pretty. Other outings near our Eskdale base included a trip to Muncaster Castle, where you’ll find the World Owl Trust. My favourite in this collection of incredible-looking birds was the baby-bear-sized Verreux’s eagle owl, with its crimson eyelids.

Set aside a couple of hours to wander the 77-acres of grounds, which include a maze and the sweeping Terrace Walk, which Victorian art critic John Ruskin described as “the gateway to paradise”.

Inside, press your ear to a mobile phone-shaped gadget, and your tour will be narrated by members of the Pennington family, who have owned this land since 1208. Their home is charmingly chaotic, with keepsakes, family photographs and newspaper cuttings about the castle ghosts, as well as perfectly preserved antiques and oil paintings of relatives and their horses.

We wished we’d reserved a whole day for this. However, it was onwards to another historic property, Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, which was the birthplace and home of Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It’s presented as it would have been in the 1770s, complete with a couple of young maidservants, in aprons and caps. On our visit, these two were busy in the kitchen, preparing tasty Georgian seed cake for us to sample.

Another attraction in Cockermouth is Jennings Brewery, which produces ales including Sneck Lifter, Tizzie Wizzie and Cumberland Ale. We took a tour, which, among other activities, involved exploring rooms filled with boxes of sweetly scented dried hops, and the huge coffin-shaped vats where the beer ferments. Every stage of the process was explained before we got to sample their wares. Mine’s a 
Cocker Hoop.

After a non-stop weekend in the Western Lake District, I’d completely forgotten about the other side of Lake Windermere. Who needs Miss Tiggywinkle anyway?

The Facts

A week in Ormondroyd Cottage starts from £230; Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass, Cumbria (www.muncaster.co.uk), admission to castle, gardens, owl centre and maze, £13 per adult; Wordsworth House, Main Street, Cockermouth (www.nationaltrust.org.uk), admission, £6.80. Jennings Brewery, Cockermouth (www.jenningsbrewery.co.uk), tour £8; see www.western-lakedistrict.co.uk