A light drizzle sets in as we tramp across Loughrigg Fell. To the south, Windermere appears dark and moody, grey cloud hanging over the southern Lake District on this early autumn morning. It’s 10.30am and I really want a pint.
Pre-noon drinking isn’t usually my scene, especially on a hike through some of England’s most breathtaking landscapes. But I’m in Lakeland to try out a new, 11-mile self–guided ale trail – so it would be rude not to, really.
The route starts at the Ambleside Salutation hotel and has been devised as a walk that allows guests to wander straight out into the hills and head to the pub, no car required. The route is available to everyone staying at the Salutation.
I’m joined by Rob Cowen, who created the walk, and Katie Wiles from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra). As we turn a corner, a shaft of sunlight hits the valley. A damsel fly darts across a puddle and the rain lets up. I pull down my hood as Rob points towards a white building down below, the surrounding hills glowing orange in the cool autumn sun.
“There’s the pub,” he says. We up our pace now The Talbot Bar in Skelwith Bridge is within striking distance.
At the landlord’s suggestion, I opt for a Talbot Taster: three third-of-a-pint glasses filled with Wychwood Brewery’s Crystal Rye IPA, Jennings Cumberland Ale and the pub’s own Talbot Tipple. The latter’s crisp, light finish is easily my favourite, a proper thirst quencher. I’m just getting comfortable, admiring the inn’s 17th-century beams, when Rob hurries us along and gets us back out on the path. There are plenty more pubs to discover.
Our route takes us up out of the valley and into the woods, following the River Brathay towards the crashing white water of Colwith Force. Leaf mulch and fungus fill the cool, fresh air with a pleasing whiff of autumnal decay.
After a quick lunch perched on a log overlooking the falls, we drop back towards the road and our next pub, The Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale. The ale selection here puts the best city boozers to shame. While tempted by the toffee-toned Goodhew’s Dry Stout and the delicious Loweswater Gold, I instead plump for a half of Windermere Pale Ale from the Hawkshead Brewery. We’re not quite halfway and I don’t want my legs giving out.
While I sup up, Katie and I get chatting about the importance of linking up classic pubs on a dedicated trail.
“Introducing new people to local pubs like these is vital to keep them alive and thriving. Plus, the chance to get some fresh air and take in stunning countryside while not having to drive makes it even more alluring.”
Keen to crack on, I strap on my backpack and lead the way, following the path around Lingmoor Fell before crossing Great Langdale Beck into the village of Chapel Stile. Herdwick sheep stroll along the road, oblivious to oncoming traffic, as we pull open the door of the Wainwright’s Inn. Signage is written in the inimitable hand of Alfred Wainwright, pointing us towards the bar and another huge selection of ales.
This time I opt for a pint rather than a half: the mouthwatering, hoppy Swan Verdi from Bowness Bay Brewery. We take a pew, locals and tourists crowding the flagstones, and – what else? – discuss the weather. With the cloud building over Dow Bank outside, I’m not overly keen to leave.
But Rob insists we get moving once more. We follow the banks of Great Langdale Beck, a dipper dashing between rocks along the fast-flowing stream and drop into our final pub, The Britannia Inn in Elterwater.
There’s a blast of heat from the wood burner as I push open the door and step into the taproom. Walkers “um” and “ah” in unison over which tipple to choose.
“What do you fancy?” asks the barmaid. Rob leans across and points to the Britannia Inn Gold. “Try that,” he says. With pint in hand, I settle down in the snug.
After an hour of quiet drinking, the edge of the day’s walk suitably smoothed off, we gather ourselves together and follow the path back up the valley and over Loughrigg Fell, the lights of Ambleside flickering in the distance.
We arrive back at the Salutation as the light fades, unlacing our boots in the bar. “Fancy a pint?” I ask. There are nods all round. After a day on the move, it’s time to get settled.
The Ambleside Salutation hotel (bestwestern.co.uk) offers doubles from £123, B&B. Self-guided ale trail is free.
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