Kendal's calling

WHEN people head for Cumbria, they tend to make a beeline for the Lake District. Hotspots like Bowness, Grasmere and Keswick are rightfully undisputed in their popularity, and beauty, but sometimes it is worth veering off the well-worn tourist trail.

Just south of the official National Park boundary is Kendal, endearingly marketed as the ‘gateway to the Lake District’. But honestly, it doesn’t need to ride on its coattails. In fact, there is so much to do in Kendal and its immediate surroundings that on a two-day flying visit in February, we could barely pack in what we wanted.

We arrived at the Auld Grey Town on one of the milder sunny days at midday – just in time to park up and head for lunch at Baba Ganoush.

Located in a narrow alleyway off cobbled Finkle Street, delicious soups, salads and sweet treats are served up in abundance across its two bases. The peanut butter and caramel brownie comes highly recommended.

From there we explored Kendal’s pedestrianised high street, its adjoining ginnels and paid an obligatory visit to North-West upmarket supermarket chain, Booths, before heading across the River Kent for a short, steep walk up to Kendal Castle. Understood to have been built in the 12th century, only ruins remain but they are worth exploring and its elevated position provides a 360-degree view over the town.

With a spa and treatments awaiting at the relatively nearby Beech Hill Hotel, on the shores of Windermere, we made our way across the rolling pea-green fields, through picturesque villages and over narrow slate bridges until we met the A592, which snakes along the east side of the lake. A word of warning if approaching from the north - the A592 was closed a painfully close 200m from the hotel and required us to take a steep and bumpy detour.

Perched right on the water, the four-star Beech Hill Hotel has magnificent views overlooking Windermere and at this time of year, snow-capped mountains offer an idyllic backdrop to the scene of greens, blues and purples which stretch out before you.

We were lucky to have that same view from our comfortable, warm, double room and soon found the vista is best enjoyed from the hotel spa’s outdoor jacuzzi. If the winter air is too much on your bare skin, you can retreat indoors to find warmer climes at a comfortable poolside spot.

Windermere is the focal point for this hotel and windows make up most of the structure’s water-facing side. The Lakeview Spa is no exception and with glass walls in the sauna and steam room, you never lose that incredible sight. We both enjoyed a half-hour back, neck and shoulder massage which left us in a relaxing, contented haze.

After an afternoon of unwinding, our stomachs called us to the hotel’s AA rosette restaurant, Burlington’s, the namesake of the area's distinctive blue-grey slate.

With our appetites duly whetted by canapes - duck and chutney in a pastry parcel, tortilla sticks and a sliver of the smokiest salmon and cream cheese wrap – we settled on three courses accompanied by half a bottle of New Zealand’s CJ Pask Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay.

To start I had succulent pork cheeks with apple sauce followed by sea bass smothered in garlic with a squid and prawn spring roll, wilted spinach and roasted fennel.

For him, moreish tuna ‘steak and chips’ with peppercorn sauce, followed by Scottish salmon and saffron potatoes on a tomato base.

And for pudding we both chose a plum crumble with ice cream – totally delicious but, disclaimer, it comes deconstructed.

Undeterred, we tucked into breakfast just 12 hours later and made the most of little pastries, sweet fresh fruit and a mandatory cooked feast.

With unfinished business in Kendal, we swung by for another couple of hours on our way back to the North-East, before stopping to take in yet more stunning scenery atop Scout Scar – an easily accessible short walk with breath-taking views of the Lake District to the north and the sea to the south, just outside the town.

Finally, we made time for a visit to the centrally-located Abbott Hall Art Gallery which has a permanent collection with roots to the area, and were fortunate to catch Grayson Perry’s Julie Cope's Grand Tour: The Story of a Life, which combines poetry and art.

Travel Facts

Beech Hill Hotel, Newby Bridge Road, Windermere, LA23 3LR. Prices start from £69 for single room plus breakfast. Three-course meal £34.95; £14.95 for children


Abbott Hall Art Gallery W:

Baba Ganoush W: