How to take a perfect break at a Lake District coaching inn

Around the Gilpin Park plantation.
Around the Gilpin Park plantation.
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If you want to escape the crowds, and love a break with a bit of history, then a coaching inn holiday in the Lakes could be for you, writes Greg Wright.

Close your eyes and try to summon visions of the Lake District. Most people are torn between images of lakes and fells, which both attract tourists by the hundreds of thousands in the height of summer.

The Wild Boar Inn

The Wild Boar Inn

But when the shadows lengthen and the trees turn a fiery colour, the Lakes takes on a very different character. Autumn and winter are the seasons for everyone who loves hearty fires and brisk walks before the early onset of dusk.

It’s also the perfect time to take a break away from the crowds at a traditional coaching inn. They don’t come much older, or more stacked with character, than the Wild Boar Inn, in the heart of the peaceful and leafy Gilpin Valley, between Bowness and Kendal.

It’s a calm place today but, during the reign of King John (1199-1216) the locals had reason to be nervous.

The valley was the haunt of a particularly ferocious wild boar who made life hell for travellers and pilgrims.

He met his match in Sir Richard de Gilpin, a fearless local worthy, who, according to legend, tracked down the boar and killed it, prompting widespread rejoicing.

Sir Richard also had a gift for personal branding and self-publicity.

He changed his family crest to a black boar and the valley where he enjoyed his greatest triumph still carries his name. You won’t be surprised to hear that the inn is believed to occupy the spot where the boar came to an unhappy end

The Wild Boar is a coaching inn that could have been chosen by central casting; it has traditional beams, a roaring open fire and owners who clearly respect its heritage. The alcoves have well-thumbed antique books to enhance the illusion that you’ve stepped back to a lost age.

But the inn is not afraid to move with the times. It is a member of the Great Inns of Britain, a collection of 21 inns that aim to retain their character while providing 21st century service and seasonal menus focused on fresh local produce.

The inn’s Grill & Smokehouse has carved out a reputation for producing memorable dishes. Head chef Dylan Evans loves to create colourful, aromatic dishes which have been inspired by trips to the Middle East and Italy.

The bar also stocks a wide range of real ales, guest beers, draft and bottled beers and offers an extensive wine list, while the selection of more than 110 whiskies can be sampled at one of the regular tasting evenings. The Wild Boar has 34 individually styled bedrooms, which are a comfortable refuge if the weather turns nasty.

The setting for your break is very different from the congestion and bustle experienced by visitors to many Lakeland towns. The inn is surrounded by ancient communities that have changed little since the days of the stagecoach. You can walk for hours and not see another tourist.

Lying behind the inn is the vast woodland of the Gilpin Park plantation.

There are a series of trails that take you into the heart of this sweet chestnut coppice where you might find the tracks of red and roe deer, foxes, badgers and even adders.

There are remains of a former rifle platform and armoury used by volunteers from the Rifle Corps during the First World War. The platforms carry poignant names – Hell Fire Pass and Blighty Don – which must have been coined by men with memories of the Boer War.

Also hidden in the woods are traces of retting ponds, in which locally grown flax was softened and the fibres separated. It supplied the textile industry in Kendal and was used to make linen and sailcloths until the 1850s. The ponds have been drained and are now colonised by wetland species. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get a better view of the wildlife by climbing a hide.

The inn has wellingtons that can be borrowed as well as binoculars and identification books for birds, trees and fungi. The woods are sometimes used for corporate events, such as clay shooting.

If you’re feeling energetic, guests at the inn can also use the nearby Low Wood Bay Resort’s gym, pool, hot tubs and spa. The resort – which is also owned by English Lakes Hotels and Venues – has undergone a major redevelopment and has superb views of Windermere.

But when faced with their handsome, spacious room at the Wild Boar Inn, many guests may decide that they simply do not need to venture outside.

When you’re surrounded by fine food, a well-resourced DVD library and served by helpful staff, the temptation to stay put is overwhelming.

You just need to stop and let the timeless charms of a Cumbrian coaching inn seduce you.

The Wild Boar Inn, near Bowness, Cumbria, has 34 individually styled bedrooms, with three categories of rooms to choose from.

The Classic and Feature rooms offer four-star Lake District accommodation and the Luxury rooms are described as perfect if you’re looking for something special.

The Wild Boar also includes the Grill & Smokehouse restaurant. For more information go to www.englishlakes.co.uk