Welcome to wild eastern fringes of Cumbria
There’s much more to Cumbria than the drama of the Lake District. Out east, beyond the Eden Valley the land rises up to the high moors of the Northern Pennines. Our winter C2C tour took us across a slice of this other Cumbria, and included a visit to the remote and intriguingly named Lovelady Shield Country House Hotel where owner Peter Haynes shared his thoughts on what’s unique about this less well known part of Cumbria.
Welcome in a wild place
There can be few wilder places in Northern England than Hartside Summit, just before Alston on the C2C cycle route. On this winter’s afternoon, a blue light falls across miles of deserted moorland, and the solitary motorists that drive to the top and try to venture out of their cars are almost blown away. It’s certainly a blow for us when we discover that the cafe at the top is closed.
We lean against the sign marking the summit. The wind leans back, and the celebratory photograph becomes a battle of wills between man and nature. I can’t remember feeling colder. Or more alive. Mounting the bikes again is an effort, but the ride down is so steep and lined with twisting hairpins that even the wind is no real opponent now.
“This is the best day of my life,” screams nine year old Cameron as he flies down the hill enjoying the thrill of his first big solo descent.
After the highest town lies one of the highest hotels
The cobbled settlement of Alston is undoubtedly the king of the castle; claiming the title of the highest market town in England. And our destination for the night, the Lovelady Shield Country House Hotel has to be one of the country’s highest hotels. Indeed one of the first civil marriages ever held here was a couple who lived in a lighthouse who wanted to tie the knot at the UK’s highest point. It’s a high point for us for another reason when we see our beds for the night.
Lovelady Shield is a treat for us all
Around the back of the main house we are led into in a recently converted barn that the staff casually call one of the ‘cottages.’ Matthew can’t believe his luck when he finds out he has his own room with the biggest king sized bed he has ever seen. “And there are bathrooms EVERYWHERE!” he cries, giving everyone a guided tour. “And a great big TV in here”
“Take your shoes off! You’ve got half of Cumbria on your soles” I shout, imagining crisp white bedsheets and cream carpets becoming coated in clods of Hartside earth.
For a family in need of some warmth and comfort, the accommodation is a godsend. And while the kitchen is more state of the art than our own back home, the hotel has yet another treat in store; a seven course taster menu, offering the best in local foods. In the bar afterwards we chat over a drink with owner Peter Haynes, who has personally recommended our wine for the night. He’s well equipped to do it; his ancestors were purveyors of malt to Queen Elizabeth I.
You can feel the force of nature
Peter co-owns the hotel with his wife Marie and this is their fifteenth season. They know all about the wild side of this place; having coped with forces of nature ranging from the Carlisle floods of 2005 to the heavy snow of last year, which fell higher than the road markers. “We’re just waiting for the plague of locusts now, we’ve had everything else,” Peter laughs. A former National Sales Manager in the pharmaceuticals industry, Peter took redundancy, left his West London base and bought the hotel on first sight. He explains that Lovelady Shields Hotel is a former shooting lodge and that bullet cases can still be found in the river. We look outside, onto the spot-lit grounds with the dark waters of the River Nent gushing through. No one volunteers to go looking for them.
Back in the early days it was a steep learning curve for Peter and Marie. But although they were new to the industry, they had a clear vision; to offer excellent local food and wine in a beautiful East Cumbrian location. Peter is aware of Cumbria’s Adventure Capital of the UK bid, but believes it is currently too focussed on the Central Lakes. He wants to get people out to the more un-touched areas, to a place where they can really feel nature. He’d like them to explore the wilder corners, bike the sharper edges, ski the real slopes, take a drive voted one of the top 10 in the world, and immerse themselves in colourful history. “This part of Cumbria is ideal for people who like doing things.” he says.
And you can taste the history
One of the things families can do here is search out the hidden history of the area. It’s a place with a rich mining heritage and one of Peter’s plans is to start offering people a day out involving a tour of the local mines followed by Cumbria’s answer to the Cornish Pasty; – a ‘miner’s bait.’ “A miners bait is a whole meal in one pasty; with the main course packed into one end and a fruit filling in the other. What I want is for our guests to have an enjoyable experience that’s unique to Alston,” Peter explains. A history buff himself, he points out that the highest Roman fort in Britain is only five miles down the road and that W.H. Auden was a big fan of the area; it wasn’t just the Central Lakes that inspired great poetry.
Our children’s ears prick up at the idea of the double ended miner’s pasty and they start a debate over how cool it would be.
“You could start with your pudding and then have your tea.”
“I’d have a bite of one and then the other until it was all gone.”
“Could the pudding bit be ice cream?”
In this wild and inspiring area, where the wind and the sun co-exist in a battle for supremacy, why not a hot and cold pie?
As I tuck into the hotel’s award winning ‘Brilliant Breakfast’ the following morning, I feel sure that whatever there was a demand for, our history loving, wine appreciating host would be able to provide.
Have you ever tried a ‘miners bait’? Or explored the eastern reaches of Cumbria?
See more of our Winter Coast to Coast (C2C) Photo Journals
- Are you a purist or not bothered?
- Day 1: Setting Out: Workington to Cockermouth
- Day 2: Northern Lakes: Over Whinlatter and into Keswick
- Day 3: In the Shadow of Blencathra: Keswick to Penrith
- Day 4: Goodbye Lakes, Hello Pennines: Penrith to Hartside Summit and Alston
- Day 5: Over the Pennines: Nenthead to Allenhead and onto Consett
- Day 6: Welcome to the North East: Consett to Beamish & Sunderland
- Day 7: The end of the ride: Along the Wear in Sunderland
We did this C2C ride across England, from Workington to Sunderland, as part of our Family Adventure Capital Season. We’re exploring different ways families can adventure together in and around Cumbria, sharing ideas and inspiration to encourage families to get out, get active and adventure together.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Peter Haines and the staff at Lovelady Shield Country House Hotel for helping us to bring you this story.