Staycation: Muddy Boots Walking Holidays, the Dales
by Abigail Spooner
A Cumbrian walking holiday with a foodie focus is just the ticket for Abigail Spooner. Read her review of the 'Food and Fells of the Cumbrian Dales' self-guided walking holiday with Muddy Boots
Where is it?
2021 marks five years since the Yorkshire Dales National Park extended its borders to include the Cumbrian Dales, and we start our journey in the picturesque conservation village of Ravenstonedale. Our rigorous yet beautiful 13-mile hike across the Howgill Fells, a small group of hills, takes us to the book-town of Sedbergh, with its vast collection of independent book shops and cafes, for our second night’s stay.
What’s the accommodation like?
We spend our first night at the characterful Black Swan inn in Ravenstonedale, surrounded by unspoilt landscape which is perfect for a circular five-mile walk to ease us into our trip and wake up our ‘car legs’. Hotel owner Louise Dinnes has a keen eye for interior design -there's an appealingly cosy and well-stocked bar, a large garden complete with free-range hens and a bubbling stream. Our recently refurbished room is charming and decorated in a country cottage style with duck-egg blue paintwork and floral fabrics.
The Black Bull hotel in Sedbergh is our next destination. Coaching inn turned boutique hotel, it is deceptively large with 18 bedrooms. A dark-oak staircase leads us to our modern and sleek room, complete with monochrome palette and industrial-style lights. The bathroom is luxurious with bespoke toiletries from the Sedbergh Soap Company and sweeping countryside views from the window.
What did you eat and drink?
The head chef of the Black Swan inn, Scott Fairweather, prides himself on locally sourced, seasonal produce with modern, creative touches. To start, a twice-baked Lancashire cheese soufflé is met with a childlike grin from me. It stands proud in a pool of oozing cheese sauce laced with leeks and a whisper of truffle.
As I indulge in cheese heaven, Mum enjoys freshly dressed crab with a herby cucumber pickle that she spoons onto crisp rye croutes. We’re both sold on today’s market fish for our main courses. Crisp-skinned sea bream sits on a thick slice of aubergine, marinated fennel and juicy mussels, all bathed in an expertly spiced tandoori sauce.
Dessert is an easy choice for me. Lemon meringue tart is one of my all-time favourites and I declare it's the best I’ve tasted: a luscious combination of crisp, buttery pastry, tangy filling and torched Italian meringue. Mum’s elegantly presented passionfruit mousse with textures of chocolate and hazelnut looks equally delicious.
At the Black Bull hotel, local, quality produce from the surrounding landscape fills the dinner menu with some unexpected twists. Our starters of ravioli with a butter-soft prawn filling sits in a delicate and creamy bisque with charred cucumber and fresh sea greens.
Next up, succulent Herdwick lamb from the very fells we had climbed that day is served with wedges of earthy beetroot and hints of anchovy and mint. Meanwhile, Mum’s wild sea trout with ox tongue is an unusual but very enjoyable pairing.
After a long day of walking, we certainly have room for dessert and my sticky toffee pudding is unapologetically sweet and squidgy, as it should be. Across the table, a lemon tart with a flawless quenelle of raspberry sorbet and chunks of white chocolate is also polished off.
What is there to do?
A trip to the Dales wouldn’t be complete without donning your walking boots and striding up the hills, OS map in hand. I’d highly recommend Muddy Boots’ route across the Howgill Fells on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The landscape is wild and rugged with only lone grazing sheep for company, and it’s exhilarating to soak up the bracingly fresh air. We experience eerily foggy weather conditions, but on a clearer day, you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views towards the Lake District and North Pennines.
What do I need to pack?
A sturdy, well-worn pair of walking boots is a must. We almost make the mistake of leaving our raincoats behind, but my advice would be to expect the unexpected when it comes to the British weather and go prepared with waterproofs.
Heading downhill after miles of rolling terrain, the mist clears and our destination town of Sedbergh appears invitingly below. We arrive at The Black Bull with mud-caked boots and dripping wet hair, but I soon soak into a luxurious bath full of foaming bubbles and take in the views of the hills beyond.
Sainsbury’s magazine insider tip
Go armed on your walk with the tempting treats left by Muddy Boots. The freshly baked Yorkshire flapjack is guaranteed to hit the sweet spot and fuel you on when energy levels start to dwindle.
How to book
The ‘Food and Fells of the Cumbrian Dales’ self-guided walking holiday starts at £455 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room. It includes four nights of B&B accommodation, luggage transfers, walking notes and OS maps, the Muddy Boots survival pack and transfer back to the start once the trip is completed. Visit muddybootswalkingholidays.com.