The very name of Buttermere conjures up a dream of indulgence . . . a lake of butter to spread on hot toast, or to pile an inch-thick buttercream on a huge sponge cake.
The dream comes true if you check in at Hassness Country House, overlooking the water and also overlooking any thought of trying to lose weight by dieting.
The beautifully-restored Victorian residence on the eastern shore of Buttermere is the flagship base of Ramblers Countryside Holidays – and hosts Brian and Carole, with daughter of the house and cake-making queen Ruby, make sure that any visitors who ramble their way don’t go short of calories to fuel their walking.
Walking, after all, is at the heart of it all, building on the Lake District legacy of the great Alfred Wainwright, whose footsteps you can easily follow . . . and you can also relish a pint or three of the fine Thwaites beer that bears his name.
I’ve always been a bit unsure about anything ‘organised’, so I was wary of the term ‘guided walking’ used by Ramblers, but soon changed my tune after our first outing on the Western Fells with cheerful and knowledgeable guide Alison.
This was relaxed walking, and no better place to start than Hassness, which stands in its own grounds just over a mile out of Buttermere village, well away from the bustling tourist hotspots of Windermere, Bowness and Keswick . . . and its tranquil setting makes you chill out and sideline your cares, a feeling shared with all 15 fellow guests.
The walks were inspiring, helped very much by Ramblers guide Alison, a lover of the Lakes since her studies at Lancaster Uni, who gave a briefing before every walk in time to suggest any variations or an alternative meeting-up point, depending on abilities, weather and conditions.
All Ramblers Countrywide Holidays are graded and all have an experienced and knowledgeable guide at the helm, whether the walks are easy or challenging – and as a member of the team at www.SilverTravelAdvisor.com I chose the easier end to suit fellow members of the 50+ brigade.
Our break featured Ramblers E Grade walks, flagged up as ‘leisure and lifestyle’, like the Buttermere circuit and Rannerdale on our first day, on a route of just over 9 miles, 850ft of ascent and 4 to 5 hours walking. Some of the party decided to retire early, splitting at Rannerdale and taking an ice cream stop at Buttermere en route, reminding us that the ‘E’ walks might be easy by Lake District standards, but not quite as easy as a walk in the park.
An alternative detour was also included with the next walk, starting from the top of Honister Pass and taking in Castle Crag en route to Grange and Derwent Water. After a fortifying packed lunch thanks to Brian, Carole and Ruby, the hardier hikers headed off towards Rosthwaite, while the rest of us took a sail around Derwent Water by launch and landed at Ashness, just a short walk from a welcome beer at the Ladore Hotel and then a bus ride along Borrowdale to meet up with the rest at Seatoller before heading home to Hassness for cake.
Our third day’s walk started at Lanthwaite Green Farm and took us by the fish ladders at the head of Crummock Water, before trekking over Maggie’s Bridge for a wooded walk around Loweswater via Holme Wood. A discreet sign was a reminder that we were being made welcome on National Trust land – as we were most of the time in the Lakes.
All cake jokes aside, dietary requests are catered for by Ramblers Countrywide and Hassness guests are also welcome to take along their own beer and wine, with the use of a kitchen and facilities for making a brew at any time to relax with in the lounge, where thankfully there’s no TV – but there is a great view of the garden, where red squirrels put on a far better show on the bird feeders. And there might be broadband, but mobile phone signals are patchy at best . . . so you really can escape.
Fellow walkers – some veterans of Ramblers Holidays, both in the UK and abroad – had travelled from all over the UK, one even from Los Angeles, and it was gratifying to see how well everyone got on and didn’t want the break to end.
By the second day, some were already making plans to book a repeat week to meet up again next year.
I’m very tempted to join them.