Jenny Needham enjoys a peaceful weekend in what used to be one of the most lawless areas of the country

ON a clear day, you can see forever… Over to the Scottish hills 25 miles distant, anyway. The collection of holidays cottages of all shapes and sizes at Tottergill Farm, in Cumbria, really do enjoy amazing views.

They are surrounded by fields, back onto a fell and an RSPB reserve and overlook Castle Carrock reservoir. And when the weather’s warmer, you can slip into your cottage hot tub and enjoy the pastoral panorama while you soak away the stresses of day-to-day life.

For those who come from far and wide to holiday in its converted barns, it provides a spectacular retreat, a base for exploration, a vantage point over the Solway Plain, the Lakeland and Scottish hills. The old barns and mill have found new uses as holiday homes, the great wooden beams and sandstone walls now appreciated for their aesthetic value.

When Tracey and Barnaby Bowman first came to Tottergill Farm, they were blown away by the amazing setting. They had owned The Andalusian, a successful bar and restaurant in Carlisle city centre, for a number of years, but were persuaded by the national chain Prezzo to sell.

“Initially, we were reluctant, but the price was right so we decided to have a change,” says Tracey. “Barnaby saw Tottergill in an estate agent’s window and we instantly fell in love with the place. We had no previous experience, but knew we could apply our skills in hospitality to this new venture.”

They weren’t wrong. They seem to have a knack for knowing what guests need. “Our guests love how fully equipped the cottages are; they only really need to bring food and drink,” says Tracey. “I like to leave local treats for people – chocolate cake from Sally’s Tea Room, fudge from the world famous Toffee Shop in Penrith and freshly ground coffee from Bruce and Luke’s in Carlisle.” There are also fresh flowers and milk on arrival, and the log basket can be replenished as often as necessary from the pile in the barn.

We stayed in Garth Cottage, which sleeps four. It was too wild and cold outside on a dark winter night to try the hot-tub, but after a warm welcome we soon had the wood-burning stove roaring away in the cosy sitting room. The kitchen was practical and had everything we needed; the bedroom was warm and comfortable; the shower/bath room was immaculate with lovely Bath House toiletries. The visitor book in the sitting room was full of compliments and rightly so.

As you pass through the gates to come up the drive to Tottergill Farm, one of the first things you notice is a mighty oak, not tall, but stout. It is a common English oak, the Champion Oak Tree of Cumbria, with the largest girth of any in the country (7.6m). It may be a relic from the Forest of Geltsdale and has witnessed all that has happened on Tottergill land for possibly 800 years.

It has provided kindling wood and maybe charcoal, sheltered children from the rain, hosted village barbecues in its shade and witnessed the changing seasons and the daily struggle to earn a living on the farm. Perhaps its strangest role of all was as a perch for one local who used to sit amongst its branches and play his fiddle!

It has also witnessed the changes that affected all the lands along the border, back to the days when this was the most lawless region in the country, when Castle Carrock survived raids by Border Reivers, mainly by keeping a low profile, hidden by a fold in the land.

Now all is peaceful in this beautiful landscape. You can walk straight onto the fell from the cottages and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the landscape from above. Coveys of partridge and grouse break cover every now and then, and there are interesting rock formations where limestone meets more impervious rock and springs come to the surface. This is why Tottergill and other farmsteads were built here, enjoying a ready supply of fresh water. The towering mill wheel is still to be found on the side of one of the farm buildings.

Lower down, you can walk through the woods and along the side of the reservojr; if you’re lucky, you might even spot a red squirrel.

The Bowmans, members of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. “We are rural, but not remote and the village of Castle Carrock is a lovely place to live and be part of,” says Tracey. “It’s only 30 minutes to Carlisle and the market town of Brampton is just three miles away.”

We found an excellent pub just down the road in Castle Carrock. The Duke of Cumberland had been going the way of many other village pubs and was on the verge of closing when a local woman stepped in. She had retired from running two pubs in the Lake District but decided to revamp the Duke of Cumberland, which she runs with her daughter. And a very nice pub it is too, painted in muted colours, with classy but comfortable furniture, a roaring fire and candlelight. The food is excellent too, home-made and fairly hearty, as befits a pub in lovely walking country. A simple dish of haddock and chips was cooked to perfection.

There’s also a highly recommended restaurant about 20 minutes away, Fantails at Wetheral, a quaint beamed restaurant housed in a 1600 blacksmith's workshop (and former village filling station).

As befits a former farm, the Bowmans share Tottergill with six horses horses, two dogs, two cats, two pigs, nine chickens and two cockerels, and enjoy carriage driving in their spare time. “We are also fans of long walks up the fell with our dogs,” says Tracey.

They have plans to add to their offering with a few bothys – “like glamping pods for two, but very glamorous and unusually designed inside,” explains Tracey. “They won’t take anything away from what we currently offer, but hopefully add a new dimension.”


Tottergill Farm, Castle Carrock, Brampton CA8 9DP.


A peak season week in a cottage that sleeps two with log burner and hot tub is £987; a cottage that sleeps eight costs £1,747.


Swim at the Crown Hotel using the free pass from the holiday cottage. The Crown has beauty treatments and a spa.

Walk to Talkin Tarn. Set in a 165-acre country park, this is a glacial lake where you can hire canoes and kayaks.

Take a ride on the famous Carlisle to Settle railway, 73 miles long and one of the most scenic railways in the UK.

Spend some time in Carlisle with its mighty border keep, more than 900 years old, built by William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror.