We spent a week in Alston, staying in a small cottage in the town centre for a week in August 2009. The nearest lake is Ullswater which is around 20 miles away, so is not too busy with the traditional Lakes tourists even in peak season.
Alston is the highest market town in the country apparentley and don't your legs know it! We stayed at the bottom of the village and so the walk up to the shops and car park is quite steep so you need to be able bodied.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and didnt venture out of the town too much. There are 6 pubs in the town, 4 of which do food. The Cumberland Hotel offers accomodation, food all day, and proper cask ales and traditional ciders. The food is mostly locally sourced and is all cooked fresh. Definitley worth a visit and unlike most other pubs in the town, serves food all day. Alston House is also great for food, but is a little more expensive. Well worth it though in my opinion.
We never tasted better pizzas than from the takeaway opposite the co-op store. Only opens in the evening, but seems to attract people from afar. Also next door to the pizza takeaway is a fish and chip shop. The pub on the same side to the takeaway, just a little further up serves Indian food. We had a takeaway from here one night and it was lovely. You can even have a drink whilst you wait for your curry.
Plenty of shops for provisions and souvenirs if you are on holiday; co-op food store, 2 butchers, sweet shop, chemist, antique shops, art and pottery shops, general gift shops, Post Office, Outdoor Clothing shop, local produce shop, cafes, to name a few. There is also a petrol garage on the way in to Alston.
Some beautiful views through to Alston if you travel from the M6 near Penrith. The Village Bakery at Melmerby is worth stopping off at for a coffee and cake.
There are plenty of walks from Alston to the surrounding villages via footpaths. Gossipgate path is a lovely short stroll away from the town and takes you past Gossipgate Gallery.
Alston was a wonderful break away for us enabling us to have rest and quiet, unlike some of the more popular destinations in the lakes.