Glorious Walking and Delicious Repasts
William Wordsworth described England’s Lake District as “the loveliest spot that man has ever known.” The English understandably treat this far northwestern area with reverence. It is one of the country’s most scenic areas, at once pastoral and wild, graced with some fifteen principal lakes, dozens of lesser ones, and clusters of grazing sheep everywhere in between. The largest of the eleven protected national parks in England and Wales, the Lake District consists of some 880 square miles with a great variety of natural beauty. Most of it is privately owned; the rest belongs to the National Trust. Naturalists return time and again to explore its 1,800 miles of footpaths. Immortalized on canvas and in literature, it is the birthplace and definitive landscape of English Romanticism. Poet laureate Wordsworth (1770-1850) lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere with his sister (who felt Grasmere “calls home the heart to quietness”) and is buried in the graveyard of the village church there.
Wordsworth was just as taken with nearby Ullswater, describing it as “perhaps . . . the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords”; it was on Ullswater’s shores that he beheld his famous “host of golden daffodils.” In summer a restored Victorian steamer plies the 9-mile length of the lake, the second largest in the district—the best way to enjoy the lakescape that inspired the giants of Romanticism. When summer crowds reach their peak and the world is too much for you, retreat to England’s first Relais and Chateaux country house, Sharrow Bay, on the relatively secluded southern shore of Ullswater. Legendary for its exceptional views of the lake, the half-mile of waterfront it commands, its sumptuous teas, and a renowned six-course dinner (desserts are a grand tradition here), 19th-century Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel is also known for its heartfelt hospitality.
The Lakeland’s other well-known luxury hotel-cum-restaurant is Miller Howe (in local dialect howe means “hill of’). Formerly owned and run by celebrity chef John Tovey, this small Edwardian-style hotel boasts a magical setting, with views over Windermere to the Langdale Pikes, that vies for attention with the hotel’s much-celebrated five-course menu. The experimental British cuisine now under the eye of Tovey’s successor protegee, Susan Elliott, is served in a flamboyant and theatrical manner beginning with dimmed lights and an expectant hush. The service is friendly and the air is that of a comfortable house party. Kudos are also plentiful for the prodi-gious wine list and lavish desserts.
A trek up to Orrest Head (the only way to walk off Miller Howe’s sinfully abundant Lakeland Platter breakfast) offers one of the best panoramic views in the region. A high point of the unforgettable photo op is Sea Fell Pike: at 3,210 feet, the tallest peak in England.