As we pull off the M6 motorway and head out towards the South Lakes, the usual phrase forms in my mind; ‘why don’t we come here more often?’ We usually visit once a year, sometimes more. Yet, I feel I am guilty of neglecting a treasure on my doorstep, whilst I so frequently fly abroad to go on holiday.
We have been to Hawkshead many times, but I will reference other parts of the Lake District. Cumbria is quite a large area, and each area has its own character. The south, where Windermere is situated, has a gentler, rolling countryside. The north, centering on Keswick, is more dramatic and rugged, with higher mountains.
Common to them all is the use of slate as a building material hewn in local quarries. Its colour varies with hints of purple, blue, green, and grey. It’s the architectural call sign of the region and it looks very nice varnished on indoor walls.
Hawkshead village is as cutesy and sweet as a Beatrix Potter story. This is no coincidence, as she lived in Near Sawrey, only two miles down the road. For further historical interest, William Wordsworth went to school just next to Hawkshead’s gorgeous Church, St Michael and All Angels.
There are four old Coaching Houses (pubs) in the village dating from the 15th century to the 17th. The Kings Arms is shut at the moment, awaiting a new owner, and the Red Lion is temporarily closed, awaiting a new plumber. Ah well, that put paid to the mini pub crawl that I love so much. We went in the Queens Head a couple of times and it is so atmospheric it feels like being on a film set. King Henry VIII used to drink with Anne Boleyn in here*. You can stay at all these inns or at other B&Bs, of which there are several.
This time we stayed at The Sun Inn (the ‘Sun Boutique and Lounge’ nowadays). It’s a slate building dating back to the 17th century and boasts “an open fire, historical wood panelling, exposed stone walls, oak beams…” You get the picture. It costs about £100 a night, including a superb breakfast menu. I think they upgraded us as we got a super four poster bed. Apparently, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn slept in it. **
Part of the deal with Hawkshead and its surroundings is that you feel like you are stepping back in time. It hasn’t changed too much over the years. Consequently, it has a relaxing vibe and the pace of life is slower. Walking pace.
Ultimately, walking is what the area has to offer. We went on two walks during our trip. We’ve been on both, and others, on previous visits. The first was a four-mile stroll through part of Grizedale Forest and coming back down with views over Esthwaite Water. On the 2nd day, we did a 6½ mile walk up from Hawkshead to Tarn Hows, round the lake, and back. We managed these without too much difficulty, but it helps to have a map or guide of some kind. Even we got confused and we’ve done these walks before. Google maps helped. The signposting needs some attention; there’s not enough of them, and some are knackered. You couldn’t get really lost round here though, it’s not like fell walking in the more remote areas of the Lakes.
Another walk we have done in the past goes from the village up over Latterbarrow giving views over Lake Windermere and returning via Sawrey and Near Sawrey. I’ll put some photos from this in the video. There is a ferry for cars and foot passengers from Far Sawrey over the lake, which makes it very easy to visit places like Bowness which has the feel of a seaside town. Beware, this ferry can get quite busy in the summer and that is true of Windermere as a whole.
We ate at the Queens Head, my fish and chips was spot on, my wife had a tasty mushroom risotto. The sticky toffee pudding was worthy of royalty, indeed, it was a favourite of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn ***. We also dined at Poppi Red. The prawn bon-bon starter was excellent, as was the chicken wrapped in Parma ham. I would not recommend the pizza. KITTchEN is a cat themed bar which sells a range of artisan beers. There are loads of cats knocking about too and you can stroke them if they’re in the mood.
The Church of St Michael and All Angels is a must see. The site dates back to the 12th century, and it was enlarged in 1500 by the addition of the two side aisles. So, the church was basically as it is today from the beginning of the 16th century. Do visit and please put a donation in the box to assist with the upkeep of this glorious building.
As a final note I must comment that Hawkshead was very quiet compared to past visits. Partly this is because it was February, but it’s also clear that the village took a big hit during covid and recent rises in fuel bills have hit businesses hard. Ultimately, I’m sure the village will recover, because what it offers is so unique and charming.
Should you go?
Please do. To sum up a couple of nights in Hawkshead; we stayed in a lovely room, had delightful walks, drank excellent beer, and (generally) ate good food. I mentioned the many walking opportunities, but the area is also massively popular with mountain bikers and Grizedale Forest has many well-organised tracks. The village is sleepy and relaxing and the landscape has healing properties. Just stand on a hillside, gaze at the views, and breathe in deeply.
* This is a lie. Sorry.
** No, they didn’t.
*** Wasn’t funny the first time.
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