Although I love walking, I have never been on a Rambler’s holiday before so when I had the opportunity to spend a week at Hassness Country House in Buttermere in the Lake District I was very unsure what to expect.
The actual holiday was called “The Lakeland Explorer” and was described as “The English Lake District made easy…”. It is run by Chapters Holidays which, I believe, is a new company set up by the Ramblers Association.
So I packed my plasters, waterproof trousers and my walking boots and headed off to Cumbria!
Hassness Country House is not the easiest place to get to by public transport.. After a long train ride to Penrith and, a bus to Keswick I opted for a cab to Hassness Country House. (There is a bus but it is hourly and only runs in the summer season). Luckily, at Keswick, I met another woman heading to the same place so we shared the fare and it was nice to meet one of my fellow walkers in advance.
Hassness Country House stands in it’s own grounds above Buttermere and my first impression was that it was a little bit rundown looking. Inside it was very homely but, again, rather erring on the shabby side. I had one of the few single rooms and it had a lovely view of the hills in the distance and the colourful, but rather overgrown garden. None of the rooms are en suite but this really isn’t a problem as all rooms have a sink and there are plenty of shower rooms and toilets along the corridor. The whole group were scheduled to meet in the lounge at 6.30 pm so after a quick freshen up I went to meet my fellow walkers.
I have to admit, my heart sank a little when I entered the lounge. It is a huge room with a large window and fabulous views but the sight of 17 other guests all sitting quietly in mismatched sofas and chairs, did, on first impression, remind me of the lounge in an old peoples home! (However, I would like to stress that as the week went on, I changed my opinion and began to find it cosy and comfortable). Our leader, Peter, introduced himself and he exuded a rather head masterly air about him and a rather Alastair Sims like manner. We all introduced ourselves and were told what the plan was for the next day. (I do think that it might have been useful to have been given a daily itinerary and also to have been given details of how far we were to walk each day…but more about that later!)
We were then summoned to the dining room by the dinner bell (which, had it really been the lounge of an old people’s home might have caused the departure of a few of the residents with it’s loud, sudden noise!)
The couple who run Hassness Country House, Brian and Claire, obviously work extremely hard and I have to say the food was excellent. They aren’t overly friendly with the guests but any requests or queries were dealt with quickly and efficiently.
I am vegetarian and each day there was a different dish for me and a different veggie sandwich in my packed lunch. You are certainly fed well: a cooked breakfast plus porridge, cereal, fruit and juices, a packed lunch comprising of a sandwich, crisps, fruit and a cake, more cake when we returned from walking each afternoon and then a 3 course meal in the evening. (You definitely need to do all the planned walks to ensure you don’t pile on the pounds!)
Unfortunately Hassness Country House is not licensed but we were prewarned about this and there is a guest kitchen where you can store any drinks you bring in from outside. It also has no TV or radios and the wi-fi is just in the lounge This meant that after dinner most people were in the lounge on their phones, tablets or lap tops. Not very conducive to conversation. There was a large hamper of games but after an inquisitive look we all decided we weren’t interested, not being 12 years old anymore!
(A rather strange “Ring the Bull” game hanging on the lounge wall did provide us with some hilarity one evening!)
The 18 of us were a mixed bunch, ranging from 30 ish to some people in their 80’s, There was a little group of “baby boomers” of my age and the 4 of us tended to pal up and had a good laugh.
When it came to the walking trips, I probably would have preferred them to be a little harder but this was described as a “Level A” activity so I am presuming that is a fairly easy grade. Our first walk around Buttermere was a lovely walk but did seem to be longer than the 4.4 miles mentioned in the information I had received previously. (In fact, on most of the walks there was always a difference between Peter’s estimate of how far it was and the amount of miles showing on some of the walkers fit bits!).
The views around Buttermere were wonderful even when it was overcast and when the sun came out it was breathtaking. This was also true of our walks around the Grasmere area, round Derwentwater and Windermere. The best thing about this trip was that, each day, as well asa walk, we also saw something of interest. Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived, Hill Top where Beatrice Potter lived, the Slate Mine at Honister Pass (Warning: if you go down it, wear a lot of clothes! I was freezing!). We had a ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway (a bit like the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway with better scenery) and a visit to Muncaster Castle where we watched a fabulous falconry show which featured a vulture (not something I have ever seen or heard of before!) We were also taken for afternoon tea at the lovely Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel which overlooked Lake Windermere (we certainly didn’t need more cakes but it was a lovely setting!)
Overall, I think the week was a wonderful break from normal life. There is something very peaceful about the Lakes. It would have been nice to have a bit more of a seating area outside of the House and maybe more time between arrival back from our walks and dinner so that we could have sat outside. And I think quite a few of the group would have liked a slightly more accurate account of how many miles a day they were walking! Peter, who obviously cares about his groups, was just a little vague at times. But, for me it was a great week with good company and memorable landscapes!