We woke to the most beautiful day on Saturday morning. The sun was bright and clear and there was a thick rime of frost on the windows of the house and the car. Eleanor and Clairey had made a plan to visit Keswick and finish with supper in Cockermouth and since these were places I’d heard of for so long, I was keen to see the towns of the lakes.
Keswick is a small market town on the banks of Derwent Water, popular with visiting walkers and tea shop patrons, and nestled between the mountains that crowd the horizons including Skiddaw, Blencathra, Catbells, with the Coledale Fells and Borrowdale just a short drive away. We drove over for the early afternoon and needing the loo, stopped in the Café Bar 26, on Lake Road, that serves sandwiches and light meals at lunch and tapas in the evenings. We each had a lovely thick and creamy hot chocolate to fortify us for the freezing temperatures and our meandering.
We wandered in the shops, particularly those selling sparkly things or things with spots or flowers on them, towards the Old Keswickian Fish & Chip shop. Eleanor explained she had been visiting there since childhood and had built the chips up to quite an amazing point that they had to be tried.
(picture from their own website!)
We ordered chips, with lots of vinegar, and carried them in their steaming hot trays down to the waterside. The view could quite literally take your breath away. The chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the outside with a good number of the jagged edges that really send a chip from good to amazing. I ate these as Eleanor and Clairey frolicked in the water’s edge and donated a chip to their cause of breaking up ducks fighting. I feel a little short changed. We then walked up to Friar’s Crag, stopping on a bench to admire the view, and we watched the sunlight shine through the trees.
Walking back into town, we went to the Ye Olde Friars of Keswick chocolate shop and stocked up on handmade chocolates, fudge and liquorice for Mum (as with everywhere I go, I keep one eye open constantly for Pontefract cakes). The rose creams were particularly good, fragrant but creamy and with the beautiful frosted rose on top. I also tried the pralines which melted on your tongue, as they should.
We then drove over to Cockermouth, giddy at the thought of the supper ahead.
Cockermouth is probably best known as the birthplace of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, two people whose poems fill me with a small amount of dread but with whom I agree heartily on all things daffodil related. What it is less known for is the floods of 19-20 November 2009 when over 200 people had to be rescued from their homes overnight. The water reached over 7 foot in height through the most historic sections of the town and resulted in the collapse of one of the major bridges. The effect of the flooding can still be seen and while the town has moved mountains in terms of getting back to normal, there are still buildings that are being renovated and rebuilt following on from this.
The girls had booked a table at The Bitter End pub that morning, having attempted to book several that morning and with no success. They continued to reassure me that this was in no way a last choice and that it was delicious and knowing the girls to have great taste in all things epicurian, I was pretty hungry at the thought of supper. We stopped first in a pub on Market Place called 1761, I’m trying to ascertain why and I thought it might be because this is when it was built but recent building work has unearthed medieval aspects to the building. This was a great find. A roaring log fire, the next table’s labrador and the busy hubbub all lent a cosy and snug air to the pub and we chose ‘Scrabble’ from the games menu which distracted us from our hunger for just long enough until it was time for supper.
I won by 2 whole points!
We walked up and around the corner to The Bitter End on Kirkgate, a pub and bistro that houses its own microbrewery. We sat in a cosy corner and perused the menus while Eleanor had a glass of wine, I had a gin and tonic and Clairey, a J2O. Reading the menu the scallops with black pudding and pea puree really shone out as something I would give mine, or preferably Eleanor’s, right foot for. Clairey ordered battered brie, the batter being made with their own beer, and I was mightily relieved as I wanted to try some but had to resist the urge to order more than one starter! Eleanor also chose the scallops although this is something she normally wouldn’t go for but I think the temptation of black pudding and crispy bacon was too much!
Our starters arrived and Clairey’s piece of brie was huge and delicious. Soft and creamy and with a lovely thick fresh batter. The homemade tomato chutney on the side was the perfect accompaniment and contrast well with the cheese. We even oohed over the salad on the side of the plate. Eleanor and my scallops looked sublime. Three little towers of pea puree and black pudding topped with the softest scallop each. Along the top lay a crispy slice of bacon/pancetta and even though the flavours were delicious separately, together they were amazing.
For our main courses, we’d all gone different ways. Eleanor had ummed and ahhed over a lamb and rosemary cobbler and settled for Boston beef, rump cooked with mustard, brandy and creme fraiche. Clairey considered lasagne and other items but went for the chicken ballotine stuffed with black pudding and sun blush tomatoes. I think my decision was made on first sight, I love the idea of surf and turf as I often find myself unable to choose between meat and fish and so it was a pretty done deal that I would have the cumbrian slow cooked pork with tiger prawns, apple puree and dauphinoise potato. There were plenty of steaks and as well as the more gastro-fare, there were pub classics such as pie and chips and fish and chips.
Our mains took a little time to come out. Our accompanying vegetables were forgotten until reminded and the onion rings never did arrive but the dishes themselves looked heavenly. Only slightly marred by Eleanor getting food envy when the table next to us received their lamb cobblers. Clairey’s ballotine was strong and savoury. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the black pudding and sun blush tomatoes worked well together. The ballotine was served in a smoked bacon sauce which was strong and very similar to smoky bacon crisps. It worked perfectly with the chicken and Clairey had swapped her potatoes for the garlic ciabatta which she pronounced delicious. Eleanor’s was a huge bowl of strips of rump in a thick creamy sauce. The sauce was perfectly seasoned and the right combination of mustard, brandy and creme fraiche so that none of them were overpowering. If one thing were to change about this, I would think that fillet steak would be a more obvious choice of meat as the rump was ever so slightly tough after cooking. Her rosemary potatoes were delicious and thick and crunchy. We’d already decided we couldn’t face another chip after our lunch time glut. My pork and prawns were deliciously cooked and the combination of these and the apple puree worked perfectly. It came served in a madeira sauce that I could have foregone but only because I don’t always need a sauce. The dauphinoise were perfectly cooked and rich and creamy. I could have eaten this again and again.
I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to say ‘no thank you’ when someone offers to bring a pudding menu and so deciding I wasn’t going to have one, I ended up ordering a sticky toffee pudding with ice cream – it is a local delicacy after all. Clairey and Eleanor decided to share a cheesecake, I think it was lemon flavoured. Our puddings arrived and the sticky toffee pudding was enormous and treacly. I was in seventh heaven and the ice cream was just what was needed to cut through the sweetness. I would never choose sticky toffee pudding normally but I think I made a friend for life. The girls reported that their cheese cake was light and perfect. High praise.
We sat and chatted for a long time after, without feeling that we were in the way or that they were keen to reclaim their table. While service had been strained, I think it was more due to the exceptionally hard work of one girl than bad management. It was just exceptionally busy and she was doing her best. We ended up trying to decide what we might give up for food or what we would never give up.. It turned out we were unwilling to give up food in any outcome!
After we’d paid, we ambled over to the Castle Bar, a huge pub/restaurant/bar spread over three floors. We took our drinks up to the third floor where we lounged on an enormous sofa until such a time that we felt energised to head home.
It was a blissful weekend and next time, I’ve been promised a trip to Ambleside. Had better start saving now!