Lake District: Rustic charmer

The view from the cottage
The view from the cottage
  • It’s well worth making the trip to find the Lake District’s “hidden gem”. Sharon Dale reports on a short break full of breathtaking beauty.
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I always take the scenic route even if it costs me a few extra minutes, so my journey from home to the Lakes, avoiding the tiresome M6, was all set to be a visual feast thanks to some old-fashioned map work.

For starters we enjoyed the Yorkshire Dales, followed by a large helping of the Lune Valley all washed down with glorious autumn sunshine. It was beautiful, of course, but I knew it would be. I’ve seen it all before. The final leg of the drive was uncharted territory, skirting the bottom edge of the Lake District National Park before climbing over the fells and down into Eskdale.

The most direct route was over the Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road with a gradient of one in three. It’s a white-knuckle ride and not my idea of fun. Instead we headed for the Birker Fell road from Ulpha to Eskdale and some of the most breathtaking scenery this side of the Scottish Highlands.

It looks and feels remote, like another timezone. If I’d seen a woolly mammoth grazing next to the Herdwick sheep I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The vast landscape falls into a lush valley and Eskdale Green, our short break destination and what sounded like the perfect holiday cottage. Mind you, holiday properties all sound good on paper and online, don’t they? Five star gold, contemporary, great views etc. But I’ve been let down before.

I’m a bit fussy with a long list of pet hates. These include bathrooms with nowhere to put toiletries; small, uncomfortable mattresses; hot tubs; hard sofas; boring décor; anything grubby. Anyone who knows me will be choking on their cornflakes and spluttering “she’s got a nerve”. I hate cleaning and my own home is a no-go area for anyone with dust allergies, and as a friend kindly put it recently “it’s looking a bit tired”.

Still, that’s why we go on holiday, in search of something better. And I had high hopes for this one, not least because Kirkbank cottage hinted at greatness and the owners clearly shared my hatred of hot tubs. Instead, they installed an outdoor bath, which gives you a hot soak under the stars uninterrupted by thoughts of cryptosporidium.

The bath was one of the final touches to a Grand Designs-style project that Kevin McCloud missed out on. “Thank goodness”, said David, the owner, who did our “meet and greet”. “He would’ve had a field day. It was over budget and took four years.”

David showed us round while giving us the full story. It is a wonderful tale of dedication and exceptional attention to detail. He and his wife bought the converted chapel for its location. It has glorious views from every window and is a hop and skip from the seven-mile long steam railway that links the villages of Ravenglass and Boot.

The property had lots of rustic charm but when the floorboards upstairs started to sag, a surveyor revealed that the whole place was in danger of collapse.

The couple then decided to “go the whole hog”. The new Kirkbank still looks like a traditional stone cottage from the outside but inside it is a mix of period architectural features and contemporary design. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, one with a waterproof telly, a sound and light system and an ultra-modern kitchen. The oak window frames, doors and staircase were all made by their son.

Every need is catered for, including a magnifying mirror in the bathroom and a kettle for those wary of the Quooker boiling water tap.

The décor is neutral with colour from the exquisite soft furnishings and art and ceramics. It looks and feels like the owners have put their heart and soul into it and is an absolute joy to stay in.

The location helps. It’s much quieter here than the better-known Lakes hotspots and Eskdale Green is a beautiful village with two pubs and a friendly shop. There are walks and train rides from the doorstep so you can ditch the car.

We ventured up Muncaster Fell with the help of an OS map. It is a bit boggy but well worth the soggy trouser bottoms for the amazing views and the smell of gorse. On the other side is Ravenglass, also the HQ of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway so we rode back.

The Bower House Inn now ranks as one of our favourite pubs. It has good food, friendly staff and a roaring fire. It is that rare species – a proper pub.

The day after we strolled along the River Esk to Boot, a pretty village with a great railway café. On the way back we hiked up to Stanley Ghyll waterfall. Then we spent the last few hours lounging in the Grand Design before composing a review for the visitor’s book. It was glowing with a promise to come back.

• Kirkbank Cottage is available to let through Sally’s Cottages, www.sallyscottages.co.uk

The local website, www.eskdale.info calls this area a “hidden gem” and that’s an accurate description. It has information on facilities and what to do and see.

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, www.ravenglass-railway.co.uk