It’s something I do a lot. The sun comes out, I’ve kept a bank holiday weekend free for ‘spontaneity’, and I mention to Chris that we could go camping. By the time the bank holiday rolls round a fortnight later it has inevitably dropped 5 degrees, non-stop rain is forecast and I’ve lost interest. Unfortunately by this time Mr P has packed and unpacked the boot several times in his mind, and before I know it we’re heading up the A65 under a blanket of cloud with cries of “stop being a fair-weather camper” ringing in the air. This Easter was no exception. We’d spent the previous couple of weekends basking in early Spring sunshine, and on a Vitamin D fuelled Sunday took the radical step of becoming members of the Caravan and Camping Club. We claimed we’d done it for the discounted ferries and wider options for our sporadic camping trips, but we both knew we’d done it for the matching membership cards and car stickers. As chance had it, their Keswick site had availability, so we booked in and set off on a drizzly Good Friday morning.
This was our third trip to Keswick in just over a year, so you could be forgiven for thinking it’s our favourite part of the Lakes. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is true, but you get the convenience of a huge variety of walks, accommodation, shops, and places to eat and drink without having to do battle in Bowness. Here are my favourite things to do in Keswick, many of which I have partaken in this weekend…
Go for a walk
It sounds obvious, but there are that many shops and a growing number of fancy bars that you could visit Keswick quite easily without leaving the town centre. This would be a terrible idea! Many people flock there to climb the ‘family friendly’ Cat Bells, though having gone up in driving wind and rain last year, I found it relatively tough. Having said that, it’s steep but not too high, and after the initial painful section you get fantastic views out over Derwent Water. On a drier and less blustery day I’m sure you could take relatives of all ages.
On this trip we climbed Latrigg. Wainwright describes it as “the easiest of promenades” and a walk for which Sunday best is quite appropriate dress. I wouldn’t have gone that far, but I’m in no position to disagree with Wainwright. We tried to do the walk via a circular route in a tourist leaflet, but one of the bridges is as yet unrepaired following the 2015 floods, so we trekked up from the town centre, crossing over the A66 before starting the climb. It’s not a long walk, and the beauty is that there are several trails heading off it into woodland so you can explore if you want to extend the walk or enjoy your picnic. It’s also pram and wheelchair friendly. I’ve got no upper body strength so I doubt I’d push a pram up, but I saw people comfortably doing just that. Once you get to the top you see down Derwent Water to Borrowdale, the Newlands Valley and Cat Bells to your right, and Bassenthwaite in the distance. Behind you is the beast that is Skiddaw. Latrigg is often described as Skiddaw’s ‘cub’ so that gives you an idea of its size. We climbed Skiddaw during the very snowy February last year and I thought my legs would never recover. Latrigg is a gentler option for those wanting a couple of hours stretching their legs and getting great Lakeland views. It’s also perfect for if you want to cross a Wainwright off quickly before getting to the pub. (More resilient walkers may wish to try Blencathra or the Newlands Horseshoe, both of which were ruled out because of the weather on this trip).
Go for a post walk pint
No Lakeland walk would be complete without the pint at the end, and there’s no shortage of places to get one in Keswick. A particular favourite and our first stop this year was The George Hotel. It’s at the top of the main street, opposite a working men’s club which I’m dying to visit for a game of pool. The George is all dark wood, brass hangings, maps of peaks and decent beer. In winter there’s always a fire, and they have both Peroni and Jennings on draught. They also do the best food – but I’ll come back to that.
Last year a Belgian beer bar opened just before our trip. Now admittedly it’s not very traditional to drink 8% Belgian beer on a Cumbrian walking holiday. That said, if you’re there for a week and become a little bored of Wainwright and meals containing gravy, their beer selection is overwhelming, they sell the glasses of many of their brands (I know this as we have some), and they have an impressive variety of both moules and cakes. Originally called The Drunken Monk, it’s now called Magnolia, and you can find it at the top of town just before you turn off for crazy golf and the lakeside.
Eat a pie
Now this may sound a little controversial, but I don’t think that the Lakes really pulls its weight when it comes to great pub food. I’m sure many people will disagree, and I will (very) happily go back and try any recommendations, but most pub meals we’ve had in the Lakes have been OK rather than fantastic. That is with the exception of The George. The George is rightly famous for its cow pie. It says something about a pie when they serve it in half and full portions. I’ve had the half, and had to retire back to my bed and breakfast suffering from what Joey in Friends described as ‘the meat sweats’. It’s not just that it’s huge; it’s rich, delicious and gravy dowsed and you do feel like you’ve eaten half a cow, but in a really, really good way. The full cow pie is the sort of thing American diners would give out bumper stickers on completion and take snaps for Instagram #fullcowconquerer. It really is a must try, if you love meat and supporting traditional pubs. On our next trip we will be attempting the full cow pie. Well, Mr P will be. I’ll be tweeting photos of him (they also have WiFi). If you love pie but couldn’t stomach a full cow, we head to Thomason Butchers each trip. They sell individual pork, steak, mince and onion and breakfast pies for under £1.50 each, and we take one on each walk. Due to being rained off our second planned walk, I can report that steak pies taste just as good eaten in a nice warm car in a layby off the A66. I always find if you’re looking at a mountain you can almost convince yourself you’ve climbed it and deserve the pie all the more.
After a lovely Saturday walking, eating and drinking in intermittent sunshine, Easter Sunday was back to back drizzle all day. There is no lack of shops to visit in Keswick, and as much as I hate shopping, there are so many wonderful things to buy in some of the independent shops in Keswick I overlook it. I also overlook how far off pay day it is. My absolute favourite is Cherrydidi. I’ve popped in on every trip and each time buy something and add something to the list for next time. They stock local artists and jewellers, are absolutely lovely and cater for people who want a Lakeland souvenir but don’t want to spend a tenner on a Herdy mug. I had a ring made by one of their local jewellers last year, Jeannie Healey Creed. Their service was fantastic and I did it all over the phone once I was home, which prompted a welcome return trip to collect it (postage was available, but that’s not as much fun).
This weekend I added these beautiful earrings to my collection. You can buy a big selection in the shop itself though, no design needed.
Head for the famous Zak the collie dog once you leave the main street (this will make sense on arrival!) and you won’t miss the shop.
Viewpoints is the gallery of Pete Tasker, keen walker and photographer. His photos are gorgeous and it’s always worth a look in. His biggest framed prints are around the £200 mark, but you can pick up a small print for under £40, or greetings cards if you’re stuck for space or funds. We’ve got one of his Wast Water prints above the fire and it’s a constant reminder of how we’ve still not climbed Great Gable (previous blog post about disastrous trips to that part of the Lakes if you’re interested).
You’ve also got to pay a quick trip into Bookends if you love reading. If nothing else, it supports and helps to keep local bookshops alive. There’s always something a little unusual to be found, bought, and read at your leisure in your camping chair.
This weekend has gone a long way to remind me that you should never let the weather at home put you off packing the tent and setting off. Yes, we’ve been cold, and my bank balance would be in a better place if we’d walked the Newlands Horseshoe with a Thomason pie instead of loitering in the aforementioned shops and pubs. Looking out of our window at home on Friday morning was enough to make me want to turn on the fire, stockpile the beers and spend the weekend socialising and complaining about the Great British weather. Yet the weather didn’t really seem all that bad from where I was sat later that day, looking up from under the awning at Skiddaw, with a rather large glass of Lakeland gin.