When the rains came to Cumbria they did so with a vengeance.
But just because the television cameras and the waters have receded, it doesn’t mean all is well in the aftermath.
We arrive at Keswick’s Inn on the Square after some dealings with a blizzard on the A66.
The nice girl on reception says blizzards they don’t mind – at least it’s not more rain.
We find Keswick quiet – which might be because it’s January or because people think the Lakes is a no-go.
For the visitor it’s perfect – we encountered bright shiny winter skies one day and a rather atmospheric monochrome gloom the next, which made for a contrast in lakeside walks.
It is indeed ‘open for business’. The Inn on the Square a surprising place to find. It’s very city-centre glam rather than countrified cosy.
The décor is zippy and modern with a citrus-bright yellow and grey colour scheme and lots of textured furnishings in the lobby, cocktail bar and lounge.
Venture to the Brossen restaurant and it goes a touch scandi with blonde wood chairs and tables and a retro touch.
Rooms continue the grey/citrus colour scheme and have smashing bathrooms and jolly, fruity bathroom products. Somehow the overall feel is ‘happy’.
Our room is also dominated by a mural of sheep peering over the headboard which is a bit disarming against the rest of the furnishings, but at the same time, reinforces the laid-back wit of the place.
Most of us know Keswick: land of the outdoor clothing shop and the place to find the walking boot of your dreams. It’s one of the Lake District’s touristy hubs but an easy ramble to the fresh air and fells landscape that surrounds.
On our way we stopped off at The Lakes Distillery at Bassenthwaite and took the tour.
Well worth a trip, the visitor centre is world-class, created from a former Victorian model-farm which has been carefully and stylishly renovated.
The tour itself guides you through the history of the landscape that surrounds the distillery, the heritage of (illegal) whisky in these parts and gives a guide to the story behind whisky making with a tour of the distillery process.
Tasting is of course part of it all – they make gin and vodka on site as well as The One whisky and at the end of the visit you’re invited to taste them for yourself.
The distillery is only about a 15-minute drive from Keswick so the Inn on the Square makes for a good base.
The hotel’s restaurant is called Brossen which sounds very Scottish and is all about hearty steak.
On the wall of the restaurant there’s a giant sketch of a cow with its different cuts marked out.
The menu therefore really invites you make it meat.
It’s an enticing menu. For starters we had pan-fried rabbit wrapped in parma ham and house pickled herring with truffled potato salad and rye bread. Both impressed. The herring had the right balance of sweet not too sharp and the rabbit was lightly cooked and full of flavour – a confit leg bon-bon on the side was meltingly good.
The specials offered up a 40-day matured sirloin which was presented as a huge slab of meat with a rich, deep and earthy flavour. Tender texture and right on the cusp of medium/rare.
Brossen oak smoked rump steak – good value at £17.50 – enjoyed the subtlety of the smoker so the full flavour of meat and gentle sweetness of the oak-smoking made for a great balance.
Side dishes keep you dithering. Beef dripping chips are perfect with steak of course but we also dipped into roast bone marrow – and for gluttony mac n’ cheese, which rightly defeated us. To the extent where we couldn’t even manage desserts such as spiced apple parfait, sticky ‘stoute’ pudding or the lovely and local cheesboard (Eden smokie brie, Cumberland cheddar, Black Dub Blue). Sorry. Big marks to the wine list though and a light, luscious and juicy Paparuda Pinot Noir which we loved.
You can round your night off at the more buzzy front bar with the cocktail crowd or wine(d) down at the back bar.
In a few hours you need to face breakfast. Full Cumberland comes with good meaty sausages and thick bacon or go for eggs benedict served in a variety of ways.
After this of course, a walk is essential. And very beautiful.
The people and businesses in this part of the Lakes have had it tough (even the giant Booths supermarket is part-closed) – but that’s good reason to pop in and stay a while. It’s very much open for business.
The Inn on the Square, Keswick offers a variety of breaks from £85pp dinner, B&B.