The Lake District is one of my favourite places in the world. I say that about a lot of places, but the Lake District really is at the top. I spent the first ten years of my life in Morecambe, and if you’ve been to Morecambe, you’ll know that its most redeeming feature is the stunning views of the South Lakes from over the bay (plus the sunsets which I will always maintain are the best in the world, no competition.) From that viewpoint, there’s a ridge of knobbly pikes that stick up just a fraction higher than the first layer of rolling hills of South Cumbria and on a good day, you can see them. Those are the Langdale Pikes.
Great Langdale is one of my favourite places in the world. Driving up through the Yorkshire Dales (one of my favourite places in the world) with its macho flat-topped giants and weather-grizzled limestone turrets, the distinction between the two neighbouring counties becomes ridiculously exaggerated. In contrast, Great Langdale is a magnificent ice-cut valley littered with Herdwick and uniquely beautiful drystone, with huge and handsome mountains rising up in greens and slate from the ground in a 360 degree panorama. Up close, the Langdale Pikes demand a bit more reverence. And then there’s the pubs.
Walking in Great Langdale is handy, because most routes end at a good pub. If they don’t, it’s not much of a stretch to make sure they do. We played it safe and camped up at the National Trust campsite a quarter of a mile from the number one location of our visit – The Old Dungeon Ghyll.
Once a cattle shed on a thriving Victorian farm, the owner extended his sideline inn business into a hotel and bar and it’s remained the same ever since – cow stalls and everything. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the exterior, it was cold enough to shrink our lungs like crisp packets on a fire and also happened to be half ten at night. When I go back later in the year I’ll take one in the daylight, how’s that?
The pub itself is decorated with climbing effects collected over what could easily be a century – has recreational climbing been happening for that long? Hand-crafted wood and steel implements rest dustily in yellowing cabinets and above the main entrance like a coat of arms. Proudly retired.
In the Old Dungeon Ghyll, you hear a lot about climbing, scrambling and hiking exploits. Try to eavesdrop a conversation or two and you’ll hear a 60+ year old daredevil talking fondly of the time he nearly lost his skull to a granite cliff face. In many ways, climbing is like fishing.
I chose a Pennine Kinder Scout,
with the sole aim of warming up. Rather than a thick, velvety style I’m used to from a porter, it was a really pleasant dark maroon ale, if such a thing exists. Malty and easygoing and with a slight earthiness. Just like the Pennine moorland it’s named after, I hope.
The next day we walked. We walked and walked for hours on the first really sunny day of the year and it felt really good to be edging closer and closer to the sky. We climbed Pavey Ark by lunchtime avoiding Jack’s Rake (because I’m not a scrambler – at least not yet) and ate flapjacks overlooking Grasmere and Windermere from our snowy mountaintop.
Three hours later, we’d checked off Harrison Stickle and made our way downhill, sunburnt and thirsty, to Sticklebarn Tavern a the bottom of the beautiful Stickle Ghyll. The National Trust-run Sticklebarn Tavern
is very Ambleside-y, in that it’s well-presented, spick and span, has nice touches of interior design and aspects of gift-shoppery. These are in no way criticisms – it was a really welcome place to crawl into after five hours of walking.
There’s something about a post-walk pint that makes every single difficult step and accidental fall disappear. (I fell through a very small snowdrift up to my waist and although we were alone on the hill for an hour, somebody actually managed to see me do it. Typical.) Add beaming spring sunshine and a really very lovely beer garden into the bargain and you’re basically guaranteeing yourself one of the best pints you’ve ever tasted. The Hawkhsead Lakeland Lager
was immensely refreshing and lemony – perfect, since all I’d wanted was a Bluebird Bitter shandy and had to compromise. Not enough places sell Bluebird.
I’d love to tell you what Tom is drinking here, but I can’t remember, and mostly only wanted to share this picture because of the cute Lakeland house with the shortest, fattest chimney ever built in the background.
Great Langdale, then, is perfect if you like walking, but the pubs are also well worth investigating. I’d recommend doing both.