England: On the ale trail

By Richard Webber

A Lakeland brewery has created hiking itineraries with a pub at journey's end.

The Western Fells in England's Lake District. Photo / Thinkstock
The Western Fells in England's Lake District. Photo / Thinkstock

Walking to the pub has taken on a new meaning, thanks to Cumbrian brewery Jennings, which has designed six two- to four-day ale trails that combine fine scenery, cosy accommodation, good food and real ale.

All abilities are catered for in the six walking trails, and en-route accommodation is bookable online via Cumbria Tourism's website. For a two-day option, the Borrowdale Trail explores the less imposing landscapes between Derwentwater and Thirlmere. But if you're pressed for time, the Grasmere Trail is the shortest (25km) and perhaps the least arduous, winding around the long ridge of low fells between Great Langdale and the village of Grasmere - synonymous with William Wordsworth.

The three-day trails cover the central and northern Lakes, while a four-day route contains much low-level walking - save the Langdale Pike stretch - and a landscape Jennings says rivals the scenery of the Alps.

I sampled the four-day, 50km Helvellyn trail. Sublime pastoral valleys, pretty hamlets and breathtaking fell-top paths culminate in the ascent of Helvellyn, the region's third-highest peak.

Exhausting it might be reaching this 949m summit but it's a fitting finale to an enjoyable circular walk.

The recommended accommodation is, of course, geared around places selling Jennings' ales, but they are spot on in terms of location and the welcome. And apart from a 14.5km hike on day two, all the legs were kept to about 11km, manageable for most proficient walkers.

For location, nothing beats The Inn on the Lake, my first night's accommodation on the shores of Ullswater. But one aspect seemingly overlooked by Jennings when preparing its itineraries was parking - often a problem in the Lake District. Fortunately, the manager at The Inn on the Lake allowed me to leave my car for the duration of my walk - an invitation extended to other hikers, as long as they stay at the hotel during their walk. Parking options at the other five trails aren't considered, which is a shame when many people arrive at the Lakes by car. No sooner had I arrived at the Traveller's Rest, a 16th-century coaching inn near Grasmere, than the landlord was pouring me a drink. I'd followed an ancient packhorse route linking Patterdale to Grasmere, passing the banks of 110-foot (33m) deep Grisedale Tarn.

After seven miles lugging my heavy rucksack, I was ready for a rest.

The Traveller's Rest is on a busy main road, my only moan, but I was made welcome and enjoyed delicious food at all my stops. The flexibility of the trails means walkers might delay a leg of their ale trail in favour of exploring other fell tops. The Scafell Hotel, a former country house where I spent my third night, is ideally located for scaling Great Gable and Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain. This said, an attraction of the Jennings trails is that many of the highlights are lower fells which get less of a fanfare.

The third leg on my route took me to the often overlooked Armboth Fell, above Thirlmere Lake, which was originally two lakes before being dammed and converted into a reservoir. Halfway along the leg, I wandered through the hamlet of Watendlath, a gem tucked away in a secret valley.

Thankfully, in compiling the six trails, Jennings hasn't compromised scenery in favour of the quickest routes between inns selling its ales. Overall, the walks offer something for all abilities and variety in terms of scenery and altitude. If you enjoy a fine walk and equally fine ale, these trails will definitely wet your whistle.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to London daily. Ordnance Survey Explorer maps should be used in conjunction with the route plan and directions printable via Cumbria Tourism's website.

Accommodation: Hotels throughout the walk can be found on lakedistrictinns.co.uk

- Daily Telegraph UK

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