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Travel Review: A guide to Ambleside and Grasmere in the Lake District

It’s testament to the power of a place, that even in the soggiest of storms The Lake District can’t fail to impress.

Saturday, 26th February 2022, 4:55 am

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Whatever the weather, one of Britain’s most majestic natural landscapes, from its snow-capped peaks to its trickling streams, is always a great escape that’s good for the soul.

In search of a battery recharge, I headed to Ambleside. The British weather soon put paid to the walks I had planned, but fortunately this small town at the head of Lake Windermere has plenty of all-weather activities with plenty of pubs, restaurants and shops to take shelter from the rain.

Accommodation

Exploring the delights of Ambleside and Grasmere

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We stayed at The Temperance Inn which has recently undergone a multi-million pound makeover. Once a sports bar, it’s been bought by The Inn Collection group, behind Sunderland’s Seaburn Inn and many other pubs with rooms.

A major investment as part of their growing Lakes District portfolio, the new owners have completely transformed the site in the town’s Lake Road – just a 10 minute walk from the jetties of Windermere.

Like the rest of its sites, it doffs its cap to its locality with pictures displaying local scenes, mixed with retro poster art that’s an ironic reference to the temperance movement of alcohol abstinence and the fact that the site was indeed once a temperance establishment in the 1800s.

Fortunately, drinks are free flowing these days, and its bar is a great spot for a pint, with dogs welcome too, and a hearty meal after a day on the fells.

Bridge House is an Ambleside landmark

Upstairs, the rooms have all been brought bang up to date with modern bathrooms, flat screen TVs, luxury toiletries and feature wallpapers in the range of king-size doubles, twin rooms, family suites and designated dog-friendly rooms, with views over the winding streets and distinctive slate architecture of Ambleside.

Due to it being an old building, there’s no lift, however, and rooms are by stairs access only.

Parking, as you would expect, is at a premium in this tourist hotspot and though there’s no carpark at the inn, there’s a range of public carparks dotted about the town, many of which can be parked in overnight.

:: The Temperance Inn is running a Winter Breaks offer, which runs until March 31. Prices are from £99 per night, including dinner (£26 dinner allowance) bed and breakfast

The Temperance Inn is a new addition to Ambleside

Walk-Inn Breaks are from £318 for two nights, starting from April 1 - 31 October, based on two sharing a double or twin room and includes a welcome pint on arrival, two nights bed and breakfast in a double or twin room, dinner on your first night (£26 allowance pp), packed lunch on day two, waterproofed pack of self guided walking routes - and as the inn is dog friendly, it includes a free stay for dogs.

Food

You’re spoilt for choice in Ambleside which, for its size, really punches above its weight when it come to cafes and restaurants, from bakeries and cake shops to restaurants and plenty of pubs. So much so, the air seems constantly filled with the smell of food.

We ate at our hotel, which is a great pub in its own right. The food is hearty stuff and ideal fuel for walking, from a traditional Cumbrian breakfast to pub classics for dinner, with food served daily from 7am to 9pm.

One of the newly-renovated twin rooms at The Temperance Inn

This isn’t your average pub grub and we were really impressed with the options on the winter menu, with choices such as jumbo king prawns bao bun, Korean popcorn chicken and salmon beetroot gravadlax with wasabi yoghurt.

We shared a starter of raclette & ale fondue with pretzel bread (£8) which was the perfect comfort food after a bracing walk in the rain. The fondue was gloriously gooey and we mopped up every last drop.

For mains I had the pappardelle pasta with feta, roasted cherry tomatoes, red pesto and pine nuts (£14). The pasta was perfectly done with just the right amount of bite and as good as I’ve had in quality Italian restaurants. It wasn’t drowned in sauce either as is often the case.

Portions are generous and we were stuffed, but we couldn’t resist shoehorning in some churros to share for dessert.

Whilst dodging the rain, we also discovered a slice of pizza heaven. Ambleside Tap Yard lies in the shadow of the town’s landmark Bridge House, a 17th century stone house which arches over the river, and is a cracking spot for a fresh pint, straight from the brewery tank, hand-stretched pizzas and gourmet burgers.

Other things to see and do

Ambleside is a short walk to Windermere

:: Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread

Grasmere is a short drive from Ambleside and it’s arguably one of the Lakes prettiest villages – and home to one of the country’s best gingerbreads!

Tradition and the recipe are fiercely preserved at the world-famous Grasmere Gingerbread 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. Quite unlike any other on the market, this gingerbread is addictive: more cake than biscuit with a crumbly texture and a heady spice kick.

The little shop, unchanged for decades, is the only place you can buy it in person. There’s usually a queue, but it goes down quickly. A slab of six pieces costs £3.95.

:: William Wordsworth’s home, Rydal Mount

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.

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).

:: Faeryland, Grasmere

Faeryland is one of my favourite spots for a cuppa and a cake in the Lakes, so much so I was in two minds whether to share it here in case it gets too crowded.

With its old Romany caravan, prime spot on the mere of Grasmere, rowing boats for hire and resident swans and ducks who never knowingly miss feeding time, this is a really charming spot.

On the outskirts of Grasmere, on the Red Bank Road, the road behind the garden centre, it’s ideal if you’re planning on doing a walk around Grasmere, one of the area’s smaller lakes, which gives its name to the village.

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The new bar at The Temperance Inn
Hand-stretched pizza at Ambleside Tap Yard
Visiting the Grasmere Gingerbread shop is a must
Row boats for hire at Faeryland in Grasmere