A weekend in the Lake District: Where to go in and around Grasmere

The smell of freshly-baked gingerbread fills the air as tourists wander in the footsteps of Wordsworth in the picture postcard village of Grasmere.

Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 10:58 am
Yasmine is the daughter of Grasmere Gingerbread's owners - descendants of Sarah Nelson's errand boy. She gives visitor talks at the shop.

They’ve flocked from all corners of the globe to marvel at this glorious corner of England in all its green glory, as rich in natural history as it is in culture.

Flanked by the waters of Thirlmere and its namesake Grasmere, and circled by the distinctive sun-dappled peaks of the Lake District, including Helm Crag’s iconic Lion and Lamb rock formation, it’s no wonder this village has inspired artists to commit its beauty to paper and canvas over the years, from the words of the great William Wordsworth to modern day artists whose work is sold in the village’s many independent shops.

Grasmere from High Close, Red Bank. Photo by Dave Willis.

The most notable of these boutique businesses, which are teeming with individuality, is Grasmere Gingerbread where this most traditional of confectionery is baked year-round, filling the village with an aroma of sweet spice.

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Tradition and the recipe are fiercely preserved at this world-famous bakery – staff even have to sign a secrecy clause – which has been using its founder Sarah Nelson’s methods for making this sweet treat since 1854. A woman way ahead of her time, this entrepreneur began selling her invention from a tree stump outside her cottage and soon developed a reputation that spread across the British Isles. So much so, that she trademarked her creation.

The result of her culinary creativity, and business acumen, is a gingerbread quite unlike any other on the market: more cake than biscuit with a crumbly texture and a heady spice kick.

This little shop, unchanged for decades, is the only place you can buy it in person. However, they ship globally to places as far afield as Hawaii, and on a weekend queues snake out of the door on an almost permanent basis – fortunately, service is swift meaning you shouldn’t wait much longer than 15 minutes for your bundle of gingerbread.

Grasmere in early Spring. Photo by Dave Willis.

Before Sarah transformed the building into a cottage industry, it was a school house where Wordsworth himself once stood in front of the blackboard.

His legacy of romantic poetry inspired by his surroundings lives on in the village, from hotels named after the Poet Laureate to a daffodil garden, which acts as living ode to his I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud poem, to his grave at the village’s 13th century St Oswald’s Church, which is one of the most-visited literary shrines in the world.

For a greater insight into this famous Lake Poet you can take a short drive to the neighbouring village of Rydal, on the outskirts of Ambleside, one of Wordsworth’s best-loved family homes, in which he lived from 1813 to 1850, which is still owned by his family today. Very much a lived-in family home, the poet’s descendants allow it to be open to visitors from April 1 to October 31.

The gardens are a landscape painting of England sprung to life, with views of both Grasmere and Windermere. The grounds’ rolling landscape and its rhododendrons, fuchsia and, of course daffodils, provided much inspiration for Wordsworth’s writings and it was from this spot that he revised and published his most famous piece Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud).

Inside one of the renovated suites at Tweedies Bar & Lodge.

The man himself, who had a keen eye for gardening, designed the grounds and today they’re maintained to his vision as close as possible with boards bearing his verses peppered amongst the greenery.

Wander through the pitched roof porch of this charming home and you can pass through the bright, light rooms, stone-flagged floors and attic study where Wordsworth spent many happy years. Many of his personal items are on show and it gives an intimate portrait of the man behind arguably the world’s most famous poem.

*Entry to Grasmere Gingerbread is free. A pack of 12 gingerbread pieces is £6.70.

*Entry to the Daffodil Garden and Wordsworth’s grave is free but donations are welcome at St Oswald’s Church.

Katy exploring Rydal Mount Gardens.

*Entry to Rydal Mount and Gardens is £7.50 for adults and £4 for children aged 5-15. Parking is free but limited.

Where to stay and eat

Like all buildings in Grasmere, Tweedies Bar and Lodge, which was built in the early 1800s, is teeming with history and its location at the heart of the village makes it the ideal place from which to explore this corner of the Lakes.

Once a private country home - where Sarah Nelson worked as a cook before creating her gingerbread business – its large grounds and rooms, complete with high ceilings and period features, make it an ideal hotel.

In keeping with the name, six of its bedroom suites recently underwent a refurbishment with tweed-themed features such as Harris Tweed lampshades and bedspreads. The main public areas have also been given a new look at this family-run hotel which has a classy colour palette and an atmosphere that still feels like a private, country home.

Guests can choose to eat in the dining room or in the Tweedies bar, an attraction in itself with its huge selection of craft ales, beers and perries – a far cry from the site’s days as a Temperance hotel in the 1920s - and even bigger beer garden which is the perfect place to unwind after a day on the fells.

The restaurant at Tweedies Bar & Lodge in Grasmere.

The food menu is a hearty affair and, on our visit, featured belly warmers such as Bouillabaisse, Moroccan Lamb Shanks and Bolito Misto.

Breakfasts too are designed to fuel you for a day of exploring with options such as a classic full English with Cartmel Valley sausage and Bury black pudding and a Tweedies breakfast stack, a towering feast of bloomer, avocado, bacon and egg.

*Room prices for Tweedies Bar & Lodge start from £140per night for a newly-refurbished suite with a garden view (B&B basis, for two people sharing). More information at www.tweediesgrasmere.com

Yasmine is the daughter of Grasmere Gingerbread's owners - descendants of Sarah Nelson's errand boy.
Katy exploring Rydal Mount gardens - home of William Wordsworth
Grasmere GIngerbread Shop - the only place in the world to buy the gingerbread in person