“ Address: Loweswater / English Lake District / Cumbria / CA13 0RU / England „
The Lake District can be a wonderful place for discovering great little places to eat. Step away from the tourist traps of Windermere and Coniston and move out to some of the smaller lakes like Loweswater and Buttermere, and the range of small places serving high quality food increases considerably.
One of our lucky discoveries turned out to be the Kirkstile Inn, situated between Loweswater and Buttermere. It's definitely one of those places that you have to know exists, as it's not particularly easy to find. It's around ½ mile from Loweswater and Crummock Water, but tucked down a narrow country road which you would never venture down unless you knew there was something worthwhile at the end. Trust me, there is.
Walking into the Kirkstile Inn is really like stepping back in time. There's been an inn there since Tudor times, and you wouldn't be at all surprised to see a Tudor Yeoman sitting in the corner chewing on a chicken leg. It's got that lovely sprawling feel common to many country inns. You walk in, and there seem to be passageways leading off in all different directions, leaving you slightly unsure of which way to go.
Follow your nose, though, and you will quickly find the bar, which is a brilliant place to sit and eat or drink. The bar itself is wood timbered and quite dark, but in an atmospheric, not oppressive kind of way. Inside, the inn is surprisingly large. A smallish bar area leads off to a bigger dining area and there were lots of nooks and crannies where drinkers or diners could tuck themselves away. This means that if you want to soak in the atmosphere and be sociable, you can choose a more public area. If you want to dine in private, you could choose a table tucked away in one of the alcoves.
We went on a cold, but dry November day and they had a roaring log fire burning in the centre - welcome heat to anyone who had been out for a walk round one of the nearby lakes! Better still, we were able to nab a table by a window just to the side of the fire. So, we got the warmth of the fire combined with a wonderful view through the window of one of the nearby hills capped in snow. What a perfect place to eat!
The staff were very friendly too. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with a cheery welcome from barman and everyone else was very friendly in a relaxed, casual way. Chatty without being intrusive or nosy, they really made you feel at home and the service was excellent. Food was served promptly and the staff were very attentive - getting dirty dishes out of your way quickly, without making you feel as though they were trying to chase you out or hurry you into ordering something else.
The range of drinks available from the bar was impressive for such a small place. As well as the standard lagers and ales you would expect, they had a good selection of real ales. Even more impressive, these ales were not from Jennings (which tends to be the local brewer of choice for many Lakeland pubs), but from a small, very local brewery - The Loweswater Brewery. Clearly, this is an excellent brewer, as there were certificates adorning the walls confirming that it had won several awards from branches of CAMRA scattered all over the country. Sadly, as I was driving, I was unable to taste these, so I can't comment on their quality.
Like everything else we experienced, the food in the Kirkstile Inn was superb. The menu had a very wide selection of dishes, all freshly cooked, using local produce and sounding very appetising. It was one of those menus where you were spoiled for choice, as there were so many nice sounding dishes vying for your attention! It was also very reasonably priced. When we went in, we wondered whether it would be one of those places where we took one look at the menu and walked out again in horror at the prices. In fact, the prices were pretty much the same as many other pubs in the Lakes, and a lot more reasonable than some - around £8-9 was the average price for a main course.
We had a dish of stir fried mixed vegetables served on a bed of wild rice. The food arrived quickly and was presented in a pleasing, but unfussy way. It was piping hot when it arrived, so there were certainly no worries about it not having been cooked fresh. It was also very light and absolutely delicious. To add a bit of bulk to our dinner (we were going for a walk round Buttermere later, after all!), we had a side order of chunky chips with a dip. The chips certainly lived up to their name - huge wedges of fried potato which made my taste buds think they'd died and gone to heaven! Thoroughly unhealthy, but thoroughly delicious. On the basis of what I experienced that day, I could quite happily have returned to the Kirkstile Inn every day for the rest of my holiday!
The only downside to the Kirkstile Inn is its popularity. By all accounts, if you go at lunchtimes, you tend to be OK and able to get a table (although in tourist season, you may have to wait even then). However, so good is its reputation that if you want to go there for an evening meal, you often have to book weeks, even months, in advance.
So, if you're in one of the quieter parts of the Lake District looking for somewhere that offers excellent, reasonably priced food served in a charming and friendly atmosphere, make sure you give the Kirkstile Inn a visit.
Tel: 01900 85219
© Copyright SWSt 2009
The inn is nestled in the heart of the North West Lake District.