Trails and trials of the writer who walks
MY favourite place to start a Lake District pramble is Foxfield (two stops after Barrow on the West Coast line). Prambling, by the way, is rambling between pubs (as opposed to being drunk in charge of a pram). The most obvious reason to start at Foxfield is the pub and micro-brewery of the Prince of Wales, a mere stumble from the platform. Sadly, due to weekday opening hours (2.45 pm, closed on Mondays), my fate is e’er to gaze wistfully at its closed, paint-peeled front door. In the words of Cumbria’s most famous bard (before his sister filled his head with daffodils):
I wandered lonely as a cloud
O’er hills and dales, in search of ales,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
Of drinkers in the Prince of Wales.
Thus proving there’s culture in real ale fans and it’s not all yeast.
The other reason to start at Foxfield is the proximity of the Furness fells. Within a breathless minute or twenty, the Prince of Wales becomes a white blob in a sea-spangled landscape. Another twenty minutes of moderate exertion finds me in the Manor Arms at Broughton in Furness, torn between Cumberland Curly Blond and Lowester Gold because I can’t decide which to drink first.
The sun is low in the sky before my ramble brings me to Broughton Mills, a hamlet bordering the River Lickle (yes, really) where I step into the Blacksmiths Arms for a lickle dwink. The landlord has a ‘special relationship’ with Foxfield Brewery so I get a chance to play catch-up. Derwent and Barngates beers are also in the line-up. It’s a traditional, low-lintel, labyrinth to the loo type of pub. Outside, its leaning timbers are bathed in evening sunshine and warm to the touch. So quiet, so peaceful. Zzzz . . .
Resist! The ramble must go on! At least as far as Stickle Tarn (Stickle on the Lickle?). Not the prettiest tarn in my album, but a gap to the west forms a natural frame for purply-pink moors that reach down to a rosy sea so I pitch my tent to enjoy the sunset. During the night, the gap becomes a ferocious wind tunnel. I dream of shipwrecks and life rafts.
Pramblers like their lunches in pint glasses so I hold out until the Woolpack in Eskdale for mine, choosing half each of Ennerdale Blonde (hint of unfiltered tarn water) and Bowness Bay Swan Blonde. Unlike foodies, ‘beeries’ choose their ale first and then decide which food will best complement. Service and menu at the Woolpack are excellent. My bowl of chips is presented with all the panache of a lobster linguine. For ‘afters’ I down a pint of Appleby’s Middle-Aged Spread Stout on the grounds that it’s a bit chocolatey and I’m well past middle age so it can’t do me any harm. In the garden there’s live entertainment: the pub dog roams from table to table presenting herself to other dogs on her back, hind legs akimbo. Perhaps she’s heard that ‘doggy style’ isn’t ladylike.
My next day is publess, just rambling without the pee. The two pubs at Buttermere have priced themselves out of my budget, and as I’ve booked a bed at the Youth Hostel for the night, I eat and drink there: a tasty 3-course meal is £8.50 and the French house wine £9.95 a bottle. Their bar also stocks bottles of local beer, but no pumps.
Keswick is my final destination (because my bus pass gets me home from there!). Could the Keswick Wetherspoons hold the record for longest pub name I wonder? It’s the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. The courtroom is a faithful replica. You can sit in the witness stand or the dock. I choose the magistrate’s bench and pass judgment on several Cumbrian brews. All guilty. (Of inciting me to miss a bus).
There must be more to life than a cheap pint of excellent ale. Two pints? Sorry, I’m prambling.