Sunday 28 September 2014

Walk around Aira Force, near Ullswater, Cumbria

Owned by the National Trust, Gowbarrow Park incorporates the Aira Force waterfall, which drops about 65 feet, a series of quaint stone bridges and an arboretum containing more than 200 species of conifers from all over the world. There are several short, but dramatic, walks following footpaths that hug steep tree lined slopes tumbling down to the river below. For kids, the park is a lush, green adventure playground with fallen trees, rocky crags and stony stairways to scramble over and clamber along.  Several fallen trunks have hundreds of coins hammered into them. Moss and ferns cling to the rocks, while some spectacularly gnarled and deformed trees are dotted around the park. 

Queen's Head Inn, Tirril, Penrith, Cumbria

A traditional thick stone pub on the edge of the Lake District, the Queen's Head Inn has several bars and dining rooms kitted out with homely bric-a-brac.  The menu majors on pies sourced from local business, the Piemill, each named after local fells.  Although it looks a little too neat and tidy, the Carrock pie is very good. The juicy lamb and mint filling is encased in light, fluffy pastry, but the portion isn't huge. It is served with a choice of new potatoes, mash potatoes or chips, plus vegetables. For desert, the sticky toffee pudding is very sweet and hits the spot. However, it also looks like it may have been mass produced. In any case, it is worth making the trip up from Ullswater to Tirril for the beer - the delicious Dizzy Blonde, a golden ale from Robinsons' brewery, is refreshing, yet full of flavour. 7/10

Ullswater Steamers, Cumbria

A fleet of five venerable ships, of varying shapes and sizes, ferry tourists up and down the three legs of Ullswater, in the north east corner of the Lake District.  These ageing wooden vessels, which typically have inside and outside seating, stop at Pooley Bridge, How Town and Glenridding. It is worth braving the cold to sit in the bows and sterns, from where there are sweeping views of this nine mile long lake, the wind surfers, sailing boats and stunning surrounding fells. A day-long round-the-lake pass costs adults £13.40 and children half that, but you can also pay with Tesco vouchers. In the autumn, the steamers typically run every couple of hours, with the last journeys in the late afternoon. 8/10

Barton Hall, near Pooley Bridge, Cumbria

A handsome and substantial Victorian house a mile outside of Pooley Bridge at one end of Ullswater, Barton Hall oozes old-school character.  Spread over two floors and two wings, its comfortable guest bedrooms have very high four-poster beds, vintage wallpaper, velvety curtains and lampshades, distinguished wooden furniture and thick carpets. Some have en-suite bathrooms with roll-top baths, but others rely on spacious communal facilities with lovely old brass fixtures and fittings.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Ullswater, Cumbria

Evening sunshine on Ullswater near Pooley Bridge

Walk up Hallin Fell, Ullswater, Cumbria

You can catch the steamer from Pooley Bridge to Howtown from where a path winds up Hallin Fell. It can be a steep haul up the summit, but it is worth the pain for the sweeping view of two of Ullswater's three legs.  From the cairn, there are several trails back down through the heather on the hillside towards Howtown. Kids will enjoy scrambling up and down the stone crags that jut out of the hillside. Before reboarding the ferry, you can stop for a drink in the tiny bar of the Howtown Hotel, which has a hillside ornamental garden. Hallin Fell makes for a fine family walk. 8/10

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Mercure Hotel Berlin am Alexanderplatz, Berlin

A fairly grim hotel in a fairly desolate patch of Berlin, this branch of the Mercure chain does have the virtue of being only a five minute walk from the iconic Alexanderplatz, which hosted one of the largest demonstrations in the history of East Germany in 1989. The check-in process can be slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic. For dinner, the staff recommend a couple of local restaurants - one is a traditional Berlin outfit (Der Alte Fritz) which is okay, but can lack atmosphere - the waiters seem miserable. Still, the fried meat balls (bouletten, 13.80 euros) - served with a pile of potatoes and green beans in a decent sauce - is a pretty satisfying dish.