Want to learn about the Lake District and maybe take some great photos? Jon Townend found a couple who have the answers.
Phil and Helen Evans must be living the dream. There is no other explanation for the love they pour into their Cumbrian guesthouse.
Whether it is the home-from-home feel of the place, the genius addition of a drying room, Phil’s expert photography lessons or Helen’s delicious baking, nothing is left to chance.
If you’re on a short break you could literally drive up from the grimy city with a head full of stress and return two days later chilled-out and having really experienced the Lakes.
It starts, of course, with the location; Hermiston is situated in the quaint village of Braithwaite two miles from the picturesque market town of Keswick.
In the heart of the North Lakes, it is ideally located between the stunning lakes of Bassenthwaite and Derwent Water; perfect for walkers, photographers, cyclists and artists – with the fell walks of Barrow and the Coledale Horseshoe right on the doorstep.
And doorstep means doorstep; from Hermiston you will not have to move the car. Simply get out your North Lakes map and a compass and you’re good to go. Get up on the tops and the world is unveiled, it’s a different geography up there.
The mountains open up and you realise the road you drove in on has little to do with where you are; it’s all about the hills and lakes.
Grizedale Pike is an obvious first target, as is Robinson. Further on, Grassmoor provides views to Buttermere, Coniston Old Man, Scafell and the Langdale Pikes. If you know your Lakes you’ll know that’s a great view.
The paths are obvious and the ascents relatively straightforward. Almost nowhere in the Lakes – lovers of Wasdale look away now – is a better base for walking than Braithwaite.
Of course, it has been known to rain a little in the North Lakes and when you book the guesthouse you’re not booking the view; you’ll just have to hope that the Lord will provide.
But rain or shine, the only Higher Power you’ll need for one of Phil’s photography lessons is Phil himself. From his lens cap to his waterproof cap, he’s not one to be put off by a drop of rain and neither should you be.
A modest but rather expert photographer, Phil is able to assist even the most ham-fisted amateur in identifying and capturing great images in any weather. His gentle calmness belies the tenacity with which he ensures people end his sessions having really learned something; really taken away knowledge and memories that will stand them in good stead while ever they have a camera in hand. And it’s not just the taking of the photographs; Phil’s expertise extends to how those images can best be edited back at base to produce the best possible effect.
It helps, of course, that the walls of Hermiston are adorned with his wondrous photos; you can’t help but be inspired. He’s obviously – and understandably – grown to love the area since moving up with Helen. The images on the walls add to the feeling of tranquillity in a place that accommodates neither pets nor children, only grown-ups.
With aching morning limbs after a previous day on the fells there cannot be many better starts to the second day than one of Helen’s breakfasts.
The plateful chimes well with the rest of Hermiston in that everything has obviously been hand-picked (the bacon from a local butcher cannot be beaten).
A meal like that probably wouldn’t do every morning, not in the modern world of veggie smoothies. But if you’re striding through the calories with a pack on your back the rest of the day, can it really do any harm as a treat?
It may be tempting in an evening just to stay in the comfy Hermiston lounge, but that thought should probably be resisted. Both Braithwaite and Keswick are well worth discovering.
Both Braithwaite and Keswick are well worth discovering. The former is a real Lakeland village with some great pubs all within a short walk of the guesthouse, and all offering great local beer and proper food.
Keswick, just down the road, is positively eclectic by comparison with Indian and Chinese food; all the welcome additions of modern living. And if you're one of those who can't resist outdoor clothing shopping, you can buy gear in Keswick that would equip you for anything from a Himalayan expedition to a walk around Booth's with the rest of the fashionable 'hikers'. You could come away from a stay in Braithwaite as well-equipped as you have been well-fed.
The location, with the high fells of the Lakes so handy, is a well-known attraction for lovers of the outdoors. Hermiston Guesthouse provides the grown-up comfort and relaxation that are so welcome when you’ve been sampling the closest thing to wilderness that England has to offer.
How much better than a rough and ready establishment mobbed in the summer holidays and rather unwelcoming the rest of the year?
The Lakes is a place to experience nature; to test yourself against the elements and achieve things you just would not attempt at home. After all that vigour it’s an absolute pleasure to return somewhere warm and cosy with a cup of tea and a couple of smiling faces to greet you and ask if you need your boots drying out.
As you drive back south, either via the handy M6 junction at Penrith, or on the more scenic route through Grasmere and Ambleside, you may reflect that to really understand and enjoy the Lake District it pays to employ the services of two people from Hampshire who have made the place their home.
This week is National B&B Week designed to celebrate the nation’s independent hosts and hoteliers.
For more visit www.bandbweek.com
Hermiston Guesthouse, telephone 01768 778190 or logo on to www.hermiston-keswick.com
Rooms are £93 per night (two people).