Have you ever had one of those moments when you have a really great idea but then half an hour later the rational side of your brain has talked you out of it? Well, that happened to me earlier this year, but the rational part of my brain somehow forgot to kick in. It was during, or possibly after, a particularly long hike, when I had the idea of doing a colossal pub crawl around Cumbria – I quickly realised the impracticalities of such an adventure and evolved it into a “I wonder if it’s possible to connect all the distilleries” plan and there it would have probably quite safely stayed if it hadn’t been for Karen...
It’s a common enough situation that many of us find ourselves in, I’d known Karen for several years via social media and although we’d never met or even spoken, we’d still have described ourselves as friends. During 2016, thanks to my insatiable love for writing, I’d floated the idea of becoming pen-friends with a few folks and Karen was one of those who volunteered. Karen is a writer who spends half the year living in Cyprus and the other half travelling, so there was often a delay in our letter exchanges. However, one arrived early in 2017 where she mentioned that she was looking for a “fun, long distance hike” to get her teeth into – which is when I put my crazy distilleries hike idea to her.
Fast forward to September 2017 and there I am, stood at the end of the lane where we live, waiting for Karen to arrive before setting out on our 2 week adventure. We still hadn’t met and had made all of the arrangements via email and social media messaging - both of our respective sets of fiends were convinced we were slightly mad, and maybe we were, but life would be awfully dull if we didn’t occasionally do mad things. Luckily Karen was every bit as delightful and easy to get along with as she’d appeared on social media and we began our adventure in high spirits and brilliant sunshine in Ulverston.
Although the sunshine didn’t last, the high spirits did and we were very fortunate to meet some of the amazing people behind our counties finest brews. In Ulverston we met Andy and Zoe, the folks behind Shed 1 gin, which is literally made in a 25 litre still in their back garden – we also nipped into the Cumbria Crystal factory to learn how fine crystal is made and pick up a couple of glasses they’d donated to enable us to enjoy our spirits in style!
Luckily we’d enjoyed fine food and a very comfortable bed for the night at Virginia House, because the next day we got soaked! Our route took us up over the back of Hoad Hill then down through Greenodd and eventually into Cartmel. If that sounds like a long way then fear not – we’re currently in the middle of writing a book about our adventure and we’ll be providing details of alternate routes if you don’t fancy the walk – busses, trains, bikes, boats etc.
From Cartmel to Kendal we really had to pace ourselves and I’m not referring to the walking! There are many fine producers along that stretch of the route and my days of being able to hike with a hangover a far behind me. There was the glorious Kin Vodka and the Damson gins of Cowmire Hall – we even sneaked into Unsworth’s Brewery for a cheeky beer as we passed – well it would have been rude not to! In Kendal we met our match with “Minty Mike”, the man behind Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur, who kept plying us with cocktails so we could fully appreciate every aspect of this fine delicacy –we tried to resist but honestly, how many of us would say “no” under such extenuating circumstances? Thank goodness our route the next day took us past the front door of Ginger Bakers where I loaded my rucksack with a slab or two of their fine brownies!
One of the things me and Karen disagreed upon during our trip was what constituted rain. As anyone living in Cumbria knows a) it doesn’t rain as much as everyone else thinks it does and b) rain isn’t rain unless it’s arriving in sheets, either vertically or horizontally. All that said, I would have to concede that on our journey from Kendal to Windermere it did, in fact, rain. A van driver even offered us a lift, which we idiotically/puritanically refused. We pondered the wisdom of our decision as we stood, sodden and wind whipped, on the top of the fell and the one thing that kept us going was knowing we’d be spending the night in one of Sally’s cosiest of cottages.
When we arrived at The Hideaway, the first thing we did was nip to the Co-Op at the end of the road for hot chocolate and bubble bath. We then took turns soaking in the bath and demolishing vast quantities of chocolate – both in drink and slab form (that’s the beauty of hiking, you definitely earn the calories!). The cottage was utterly perfect in every way and, as we sat snug and warm on the sofa, the only reminder of our sodden adventure was our boots drying in the hallway.
The next day we gave our legs a rest and hopped on a Windermere Steamer up to Ambleside, which gave us a chance to explore the town before a few tough days of hiking. We were blessed with beautiful weather as we made our way up and over Loughrigg; Rydal and Grasmere could not have looked prettier as they shimmered in the sunshine. Our toughest hike lay ahead the following day – 13+ miles from Grasmere, up and over Wantendlath Fell, and down into Keswick and the forecast wasn’t looking good...
As predicted, the weather the following day was foul so we opted to check out the different routes over to Keswick – Karen magnanimously offered to research the bus route and I, clearly not being of sound mind or body, decided to hike it regardless. Although long, it’s not a technically difficult route, and the terrain alongside Blea Tarn could best be described as “soupy” even on days when it’s not relentlessly pouring down. I’ll admit that I was very glad to make it to Keswick in one piece and swap my sodden attire for something dry and fleecy.
The following day we borrowed a Twizy from Keswick Brewing Company, which allowed us to explore the area all around Bassenthwaite, home to both Bedrock & Langton’s gins. The Twizy is a small electric car painted like a sheep and was enormous fun to drive. It attracted plenty of attention as we zoomed around the lake and Karen was particularly taken with its comedic pedestrian horn – quieter than the regular horn but just enough to warn someone that a stealthy electric car containing two mildly deranged women is approaching.
From there the end of our journey was almost in sight – we visited the superb Lakes Distillery to check out their gin, vodka and whisky before hiking over to Cockermouth with a rosy glow in our cheeks. From there we headed, on foot, to the coast at Workington before taking the train down to our final destination, Whitehaven.
Although the accommodation during our trip ranged from basic hostels to luxurious spa hotels, and of course the divine Sally’s Cottage in Windermere, we only ever experience superb customer care and attention to detail.
Our adventure officially ended at The Rum Story in Whitehaven where we explored their surprisingly large museum and added rum to our list of spirits for the trip before jumping on the train back to our starting point in Ulverston.
I’m really rather glad that the rational side of my brain didn’t kick in and try and talk me out of this adventure as there are so many amazing things I would have missed out on – meeting all the wonderful producers, exploring routes I wouldn’t otherwise have travelled and drinking drinks I never knew existed. I’d also have missed out on meeting Karen. Despite both being strong willed and stubborn we never had a proper falling out, even when we were soaked to the skin and getting pummelled by the wind. We disagreed on a few things and had a lively discussion or two – but we both have a “resolve it and move on” mentality which may mean we’ll never make it into a Channel 4 documentary but it did make for a most excellent adventure.
About the author
Beth Pipe lives in South Cumbria and is the author of the Cumbrian Rambler blog. She is also (together with her husband) the author of Trails with Tails, Historic Cumbria and 50 Gems of Cumbria.
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