Ramblers Walking Holidays run guided walking adventures across the world, using hotels, B&Bs and even – for the more intrepid clients – mountain huts. But the heart of their British operation is their own property in the unspoilt Western Lakes.
Hassness Country House stands on the shore of Buttermere, accessed down a winding drive and set in wooded grounds overlooking the lake. Red squirrels scamper amongst the trees and along dry stone walls, whilst the bird feeders outside the lounge window attract finches, tits and woodpeckers throughout the day.
Ramblers run a wide variety of breaks here as part of their walking holidays programme, but it’s also possible to book independent nights, subject to availability. Hassness sleeps up to 19 in 11 bedrooms and when I took part in a four-night Nordic Walking break in October, every room but one was taken.
If you cannot survive without en-suite facilities, then Hassness is not for you, as toilets and shower rooms are shared, but the whole property has been recently refurbished and facilities are modern and spotlessly clean. Rooms vary in size and shape, but each one has its own washbasin and all are located at the back of the house, affording views of the lake and fells. Not another property in sight. There is no TV and no mobile phone signal, but for those of us who do need to keep in touch with the outside world, there’s an efficient free Wi-Fi zone in the main lounge.
As a first-time visitor to Hassness, I was surprised at the level of comfort offered. Our twin bedroom was bright, light and relaxing with a toilet directly opposite and shower next door, pleasantly warm without being over-hot. Downstairs, the big lounge with its squashy sofas and panoramic views proved an instant haven to mull over the day and make new friends, whilst the dining room accommodated guests at cosy tables for four.
An even bigger surprise was the standard of catering. Resident managers Carole, Brian and Ruby do a fabulous job in replacing all those calories spent in the great outdoors. There’s a cooked breakfast option every day except Tuesday – their day off – but always porridge, fruit, yoghurt and toast. Chef Brian bakes his own bread and special diets are cheerfully accommodated, even down to gluten-free bread for my coeliac friend.
Walkers are provided with a packed lunch, left in a hamper each day so guests can help themselves. A typical picnic would be a round of sandwiches, fresh fruit, crisps and home-made flapjack. Again, individual dislikes or allergies can be accommodated. We returned from our daily walks around 4.30 to find a freshly baked cake on the lounge table and guests can make their own tea or coffee any time of day in the guest kitchen.
The evening meal, served at 7pm, is a set menu with allergy and vegetarian options where appropriate. Portions are hearty and use the ultimate in ‘slow food’ – eggs, milk and meat from local producers, often delivered to the door from neighbouring farms. On Tuesdays, guests only need to travel a mile into Buttermere village for a choice of two pubs serving good evening meals.
Our Nordic Walking break unfortunately coincided with some of the worst autumn weather imaginable – heavy skies, gusting winds and rain that varied from intermittent showers to steady downpours. But the group gelled together almost immediately, so there was much laughter and good humour as we tramped our way along sodden tracks and perfected our Nordic Walking techniques.
Despite the damp, the panorama of lakes, fells and mountains was constantly stunning in its autumn colours, the ever-changing light only adding to the drama of a landscape fashioned by ice and weather. And when we arrived back at Hassness, every facility was available to warm both us and our clothing – newspaper to stuff into wet boots, a drying room for our soggy layers and, best of all, a scrumptious slice of Ruby’s Cake of the Day!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Ramblers Walking Holidays