A historic coaching inn forms the idea base to explore a quiet corner of Cumbria, as HELEN MEAD discovers.

MANY a time I have driven across the roundabout at Penrith heading for the Lake District.

This time though, I turned left off the A66 and into a corner of Cumbria about which I knew nothing .

The district of Eden itself takes in softly rolling countryside, woodland, towns and villages to the east of the Lake District, as well as the lakes and rugged mountains around Ullswater.

This contrast between the Lakes proper and its softer fringe makes for a diverse experience - perfect for holidays and short breaks. With my family in tow, I discovered what this delightful part of northern England had to offer.

Our base was the George and Dragon in the village of Clifton, a ten minute drive from Penrith and the busy M6 motorway.

A better place to relax and unwind it could not have been. From the moment we set foot inside the 18th century former coaching inn we felt at home.

From its cosy reception, with flagstone floors, leather chairs and a wood burning stove, we were directed up well-trodden stone stairs to an equally inviting lounge area with inviting sofas, magazines and books to read.

We had been allocated a family room - something not so common outside large hotel chains. It was huge, with a king-size bed, a comfortable sofa bed and a single put-me-up bed, all neatly made up with crisp, white cotton bedding.

The room itself was light and bright, with two large windows, a built-in wardrobe and a mixture of old and contemporary artwork on the walls. Antique furniture and a large wall-mounted TV - DVDs are available - completed the luxurious feel of the room.

Two en-suite bathrooms, at opposite ends of the room - one with a shower, the other a bath with shower over , were an added bonus, particularly with two teenage daughters.

Owned by Charles and his wife Juno Lowther, the inn forms part of the Lowther Estate, sitting a couple of miles from the family’s Grade l-listed manor house Askham Hall, which offers luxury accommodation with a restaurant and private spa.

The George and Dragon’s large restaurant has a welcoming, rustic feel. The imaginative, varied menu draws on the area’s rich source of food, with much produced at Askham Hall and the family’s farm in the nearby village of Maulds Meaburn: there’s estate-bred rare breed pork, Lowther Estate beef, locally picked wild garlic, mushrooms and berries, and brown trout from the River Lowther.

Food is top-notch at this multi-award winning inn - it came as no surprise to learn that it was named Dining Pub of the Year at the 2014 Cumbria Life Food & Drink Awards,

On our first morning, my husband ordered the Estate Breakfast, with Askham sausage, free range egg, cured back bacon and black pudding, mushrooms, tomato, sauté potatoes and toast. It was full of flavour, while my oak smoked salmon and scrambled free range eggs was utterly delicious.

Our appetites sated, we drove beside the River Lowther, past the dramatic shell of Lowther Castle - a castellated mansion abandoned in 1937 - to Askham Hall. The beautiful country house has glorious gardens with stunning borders, wild areas and a well-stocked kitchen garden. Free-range pigs could be seen in the adjoining meadow. It was good to see the origin of some of the ingredients gracing the George and Dragon menu.

To our delight, we came across a field of goats, including numerous kids bleating like babies, and a wonderful view across the wooded valley.

Evening meal at the George and Dragon did not disappoint. Between us, we sampled a mouth-watering parade of dishes prepared by head chef Ian Jackson and his team, including a delicate pan-fried fillet of hake with hand-rolled tagliatelle, tender beef teriyaki with noodles, vegetables and cashew nuts.

An apple and caramel crumble literally melted in the mouth, and my daughters loved the chocolate pot. All were served by friendly staff who chatted to us about Cumbrian life.

With Ullswater on the doorstep, we spent a day exploring what is reputedly the most beautiful lake in England. If you’re not heading up into the fells, the best way to see the breathtaking lake-mountain panorama is by boat.

Ullswater Steamers has operated cruises on the water for more than 150 years. We boarded Lady of the Lake, believed to be the world's oldest sailing passenger vessel. Launched in 1877, she powers from Glenridding at one end of the lake, to Pooley Bridge at the other.

At seven-and-a-half miles long, the round trip take more than two hours, but with ever-changing scenery - from the softer hills at Pooley Bridge to the towering Helvellyn range behind Glenridding - there’s no fear of boredom setting in. There’s a quaint bar too.

Close to Glenridding, the tumbling waterfall Aira Force drops an impressive 65 feet. We walked through ancient woodland and sun-dappled glades to reach it before returning to sit beside the lake.

The lively market town of Penrith has a host of specialist shops and mainstream supermarkets.

If you fancy venturing further into the Lake District National Park, Keswick and Derwentwater are a 20-minute drive away, and further on is Borrowdale, thought to be the most beautiful valley in England.

We walked around the shore of Ullswater before returning to the George and Dragon to relax in the friendly bar.


The George and Dragon is at Clifton, Penrith, Cumbria.

For more information visit georgeanddragonclifton.co.uk or call 01768 865381.

For more about the Ullswater Steamers visit ullswater-steamers.co.uk or call 01768 482229.