WHOEVER said motorway driving was boring clearly hasn’t driven across Shap Fell in Cumbria.

Flanked by rich autumn colours and hardy sheep happily munching 1,000 feet up, this stunning stretch of the M6 was the perfect start to our Eden Valley break.

Many visitors may have already turned off towards the South Lakes but our destination this time around was an area with its own distinctive character and charm.

I spent many happy times in and around Penrith as a child and was excited about introducing my husband Chris and ten-year-old son Nicholas to the area.

Our base for three nights was the George and Dragon in the village of Clifton. This 18th century inn is now a stylish pub, restaurant and hotel and we particularly liked the communal seating area with tea, coffee and a DVD cupboard. Good to see Miss Potter on the shelves!    

After settling into our spacious family room with super cosy king size bed, we had our evening meal in the pub’s popular restaurant. Nicholas loved his Askham sausage and couldn’t wait to have another one at breakfast. The grown ups’ pumpkin risotto and sticky toffee pudding – a must in this part of the world – also went down well.       

Produce is locally sourced with suppliers listed on a large blackboard. Fruit, vegetables and meat are grown and reared at nearby Askham Hall and the pub’s owners, Charlie and Juno Lowther, kindly showed us around the day after our arrival.

The gardens, featuring a 230ft long herbaceous border, meadows and formal lawns are open to the public from March to early November and offer beautiful views down to the River Lowther.  

Earlier that morning, we’d visited Lowther Castle and its lush gardens, crunching leaves underfoot as we discovered the ongoing restoration work. Abandoned for 70 years, the 130 acres of gardens and castle terraces were opened to the public in 2011 and the stable courtyard now houses a restaurant and exhibition.

Another castle was on our holiday hit list and we headed north up the M6 to Carlisle, for centuries a bitter battleground between England and Scotland. Now protected by English Heritage, this impressive fortress boasts scary dungeons where Jacobite prisoners licked the walls to quench their thirst. A recently opened exhibition forms a useful introduction to the castle’s colourful history.

So when you’re planning your next staycation, bear the Eden Valley in mind for excellent accommodation, food and natural and man-made attractions.

For more details on the places listed above, visit www.georgeanddragonclifton.co.uk www.lowthercastle.org, www.askhamhall.co.uk and www.englishheritage.co.uk

For information on Cumbria, visit www.golakes.co.uk


Review by Teresa Green