JULIET ENGLAND pulls on her hiking boots and heads off on a Ramblers Holiday based at Hassness House in the Lake District
The first thing you realise about Hassness House is that it’s a long way from just about anywhere.
But any journey to get here would be worth it. Situated a mile from Buttermere and around half an hour by road from Keswick, it’s a welcoming and homely base from which to explore north-western Lakeland.
The two-storey white building nestles amongst trees just above Buttermere Lake’s eastern shore, with breathtaking views over the water and the dramatic fells rearing up behind it.
Despite being in the middle of a tourist heartland, it’s a serene, secluded spot, perfect for unwinding. You won’t find a TV or internet access, or phone reception, so expect a complete escape from technology!
Built in the 1920s for the Wright family who made the famous coal tar soap, it has since been a ‘home for inebriates’ and a hotel.
Today, the emphasis is on comfort rather than five-star luxury – and Hassness is much more country house than hotel. The rooms may not be en-suite or have tea and coffee-making facilities, but they are extremely comfortable.
The one I stayed in, with its incredible panorama over the lake, was so gorgeously spacious I could scarcely believe I was allowed to stay there.
And it’s nice being able to wander into a small residents’ kitchen in your pyjamas to make an early morning cuppa – you certainly can’t do that in a hotel.
There are more views from the terrace, or you can sink into deep armchairs in the cosy residents’ lounge as you enjoy some home-made cake and tea after a long walk
Just leave room for dinner – there are freshly cooked, tasty and hearty meals, and, with breakfasts of champions and packed lunches also thrown in, you won’t starve.
Dinner is a communal affair, and my fellow travellers were a friendly, mixed bunch of solo travellers and couples, with a teacher, civil servant, charity manager and an engineer among our number.
There’s no enforced evening entertainment. Most people were just happy to chat or read before having an early night and enjoying the deep sleep that comes from physical exercise.
The walks are graded by Ramblers Holidays as D+/C, which means energetic days among hills and easy mountain walking – for about six hours a day. You walk on generally reasonable paths, though odd parts may involve a spot of scrambling over rocks, and you’ll need to brace yourself for some steep climbs.
And you’ll need proper boots with good ankle support. But, if I, with my average at best fitness can do it, truly anyone can.
The first walk took us from the house along the lake and across the flat valley bottom before we climbed up the rocky Scarth Gap Pass, ascending just over a thousand feet by the time we got to Innominate Tarn, at the top of Haystacks. This is where the ashes of Alfred Wainwright, the greatest Lakeland walker of all, are scattered.
After a lunch eaten while basking in the spring sunshine, we walked up to Dubs Quarry Hut, a rough mountain shelter. While the rest of the group made an assault on Fleetwith Pike, I and two others opted to relax.
We then had a long, gentle descent to the house via Warnscale Beck, and passing plenty of the famous native Herdwick sheep.
Barry the guide had promised an ice-cream van at the bottom – it didn’t materialise. But then he also claimed an American guest told him: “Gee, why don’t you guys just tarmac over all the paths round here” – so it was hard to distinguish truth from gentle wind-up.
The next day brought cloud and drizzle. Understandably not one to muck around with safety, Barry kept us off the high fells and took us on a lowland walk instead.
Having piled in cars as far as Honister Pass, we picked up the long distance coast-to-coast path through Borrowdale before scaling Castle Crag, slatey and slippery but offering spectacular views over Derwent Water. This spot was featured on Countryfile and was also one of Wainwright’s best loved peaks.
Bolstered by coffee in the village of Grange, then a picnic on the banks of the Derwent, we followed the river to Rosthwaite before walking up the valley at Seatoller and rejoining the long distance path back to Honister. There was even time to pop into, if not down, the slate mine there.
The mine is just one of several family attractions in the area, and Ramblers Holidays holds family weeks. There’s plenty to do if you’re not a walker, including visiting places like Cockermouth and Keswick.
If you’re not into group hikes, you can always do your own walks – just tell the leader where you are going. And if you don’t want to do anything at all, no-one’s going to stop you from relaxing at the house all day with a good book as you take in that incredible view.
TOP TIPS TO MAKE A FAMILY WALK FUN!
Regular walking is good exercise, sociable and has been shown to improve children’s academic performance. But don’t force children to walk if they really don’t want to – you might put them off for good!
Make a list of natural things to pick up/ spot on the walk (feathers, cones, animals)
Hide treasure before the walk, make maps
Have some masks or fancy dress ready so the kids can ‘play act’ during your stroll
Pack some treats to eat and drink along the way
Be prepared to cut the walk short and praise special efforts or achievements. A good pace is 1.5 mph
Ensure they have comfortable clothes and shoes, and carry extra layers for them
Take waterproof overtrousers and wellies
Give them a small rucksack to pack, carry and stash ‘treasures’
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