Travel: sample whisky and Wordsworth on a weekend in Cockermouth, Cumbria
As you'd expect from the birthplace of the great romantic poet William Wordsworth, Cockermouth is a picture postcard of a classic Cumbrian town come to life.
Sadly, there was no host of golden daffodils to greet us during our visit in December, but we found plenty of other features to keep us entertained.
Much like the river which gives Cockermouth its name, heritage flows through this ancient market town which staunchly maintains its historical features.
Wander through the 13th century market place, lined mostly by locally-owned independent bars and boutiques, and you can find yourself meandering down medieval alleyways and marvelling at the businesses’ colourful Georgian facades.
Woe betide any major chains who try to set up shop here, this is a place which takes pride in its Cumbrian character.
Even the local newspaper’s bill on the weekend of our visit decried the arrival of a pop brand’s Christmas gimmick with the headline “Coca Cola Truck Not Welcome.”
They don’t mince their words here.
Instead you have to wet your whistle at one of the town’s many bars and restaurants which, as you’d expect here, are teeming with character.
Take The Honest Lawyer for example, so called because it’s difficult to find. Get it?
Or the colourful Castle Bar, a gastro bar housed in a renovated 16th century building.
For a relatively small town, you’re never more than a couple of metres away from somewhere to quench your thirst or appetite.
Hotels are idyllic here too. None more so than The Trout, a hop, skip from the twinkling tree-lined Main Street, making it the perfect base from which to explore the town.
It’s also handily-placed next door to Wordsworth’s birthplace, an atmospheric former Georgian townhouse where the famous wordsmith was born in 1770, which is now operated by the National Trust.
As it was winter, it was closed during our trip, but judging by our peer through the gates, it looks worth a visit once the trust’s season is up and running.
Back to the four-star hotel, it’s an attraction in itself with its pretty riverside location and a history that dates back to 1670.
Renamed in the 1960s when trout and salmon became popular on the River Derwent and River Cocker, it’s long been a popular spot in this quaint corner of the region, and was even a favourite retreat for film legend Bing Crosby who would visit on fishing breaks. It’s encountered its own Hollywood-esque levels of drama in recent years and was overcome by the devastating floods which ripped through the town in 2009 and 2015.
Today, plaques show the waterline the floods reached, some as high as my torso, but are the only reminder at the hotel which has bounced back from the natural disasters in style.
Its 49 comfortable rooms lure in plenty of tourists, but its restaurants and bars also make it a draw for locals.
For casual dining head to the hotel’s Terrace Bistro or, if you’re feeling more fancy, do as we did and dine in the more grand Derwent Restaurant which holds an AA rosette.
Set apart from the bar areas, it’s a dining room with an air of opulence, thanks to its Murano glass chandelier, ornate marble fire place and brocade furnishings.
When it comes to food, Cumbria is one of the greatest natural larders in England and the menu at The Trout has a distinctly local flavour with options such as Maryport smoked salmon, roast Lakeland turkey breast and Woodhall’s air dried Black Coombe ham, served with blood orange and lemon sorrel. Portions are hearty, very hearty, big enough to keep you well fuelled for one of the hundreds of Western Lakes walks you can stride out on during a stay at The Trout.
•More on the hotel HEREWhile you’re in the area...
The undulating hills and peaceful waters of The Lake District have inspired countless artists and walkers over the years, but more recently Bassenthwaite lake has helped to inspire another of Britain’s great loves - alcohol.
Around six miles from Cockermouth lies the award-winning The Lakes Distillery, Cumbria’s first malt whisky distillery for more than 100 years.
Housed in a renovated 1850s Victorian model farm in the shadow of one of the region’s largest lakes, it’s perfect if you’re looking for an afternoon away from the more obvious attraction of hill walking.
The Lakes Distillery’s brand of gins, vodkas and whisky may be a relative newcomer to the spirits market, but it’s already making its mark and recently hit the national headlines for its Christmas gin baubles.
The plentiful supply of pure water, which passes just 150 metres from the site, made this location ideal for a distillery and regular tours give you a fascinating insight into this painstaking process. Don’t worry, there’s also a tasting session at the end so you can taste the fruits of the brand’s labour for yourself.
But it’s not just booze which has made the distillery a tourist attraction in its own right, there’s also its Bistro at the Distillery, as recommended in the Michelin Guide as a hot spot for food. You’d expect nothing less from a site where Terry Laybourne, of the North East’s successful 21 Hospitality Group, is consultant chef.
One of the barns from this former farm now houses a stylish restaurant where contemporary art works blend seamlessly with period features and beams.
Much like The Trout, which is owned by the same company, the menu is informed by the wealth of produce available on its Cumbrian doorstep with options such as plump fishcakes and juicy Cumberland sausage.
Make sure to try its Scotch eggs too, which were moreishly runny, and lined our stomachs perfectly for more of that gin and whisky tasting.
More on the distillery HERE