Location: Cumbrian countryside
Perfect for: Rambling walks and fireside comfort
The Punch Bowl Inn – which is also the village post office – is one of those places you never want to leave. It achieves just the right balance of old and new: exposed beams, cosy contemporary furnishings, excellent gastroput-style food, local beers, wine and wonderfully spacious rooms, all complement its stunning rural location in the Lyth Valley. And we’re not the only ones who think so…
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It’s not often that the receptionist (Carole) comes out to meet you as your taxi arrives, but in the tiny village of Crosthwaite, things are that little bit different – a sign by the door of The Punch Bowl advises that it is also the village post office – very Larkrise to Candleford; we’re beginning to feel like Pearl and Ruby Pratt.
Noting how we’ve been admiring the Punch Bowl building, Carole reveals some of its history to us whilst checking us in. Built in the 1650s, it was designed to ensure that there would be labourers to build St. Mary’s Church next door. “No booze, no labour then?! That’s the kind of economics you understand!” Monsieur 2 quips, looking in my direction, and promptly earning a dig in the ribs.
Opening the door to our room – Danson (named after a former Crosthwaite minister)- Carole shows us in, telling us that although there are no tea-making facilities in our room we can order a tea tray whenever we like free of charge. “I’ll leave you to settle in,” she says, “then do come down for a complimentary afternoon tea.” That’s just the kind of invitation Monsieur 2 and I like.
“It feels just like home,” smiles Monsieur 2. And he’s right. The Punch Bowl has created a fantastic homely atmosphere here – the fire’s lit downstairs, the doors to unoccupied rooms are left slightly ajar, and even though our room is enormous, it feels wonderfully cosy. And it’s got a great view. Achieving this kind of atmosphere is hard, but The Punch Bowl has mastered it to perfection.
“A pint of Old School please, and one of the Westmorland Gold beer,” I say to the barman. We’ve migrated downstairs by the fire and fancy trying the locally brewed ales.
“Come on,” I exhort as the last of our second round of pints disappears, “let’s go and see some countryside.” “Must we?” Monsieur 2 complains; I can tell he’s getting comfy.
“Yes, we must. But don’t forget there’s tea and scones when we get back!” Monsieur 2 suddenly finds some energy.
“And breathe”. We’ve followed a bridle path away from the inn, crossed a stream and meandered through rolling countryside, and have now stopped for to take in this beautiful pastoral idyll; it is green as far as the eye can see.
Picking up our pace, we head back to The Punch Bowl where we are brought strong tea – just what we need – and delicious home-made fruit scones, with ample clotted cream and jam. Monsieur 2 mumbles something through a mouthful of crumbs. I interpret it as approval.
We’ve spent more time in the bar (ahem) than in our room so far, so we head back up to Danson to make the most of it. Monsieur 2 turns the tap on in the large free-standing tub, popping in some sumptuous locally-made bubble bath, and I turn on our Roberts radio.
“Aperitifs?” Monsieur 2 suggests. I love it when he has ideas like this. Fresh from a long soak and an hour with our feet up on the bed, it’s definitely time for a drink.
The bar is busy and buzzing, and as we enjoy a glass of wine, we browse the restaurant menus.
I start with a wonderful twice-baked Lancashire cheese souffle, the creamy richness balanced well by wilted spinach. Monsieur 2 meanwhile tucks into rabbit terrine. “The seasoning’s a little timid” he opines, but apricot chutney, fried quail’s egg and brioche toast liven it up nicely.
Our main courses are brilliant; Monsieur 2’s duck breast, served with dauphinoise potatoes and white balsamic jelly, comes perfectly pink, while my venison with smoked mash, green beans and red cabbage is a delicious plate of complex, earthy flavours.
Monsieur 2 is too full for a dessert (he did have an extra scone at afternoon tea) but I have souffle, again – this time toffee with banana and lime ice-cream. It’s sensational. Service has been a joy – friendly, enthusiastic and laid back. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
“Think you can manage a nightcap?” I ask Monsieur 2 as he pats his tummy contentedly. “Is the Pope Catholic?!” he replies, and we adjourn to the Snug for an Armagnac.
“You’re not going to believe this!” squeals Monsieur 2 excitedly as he comes back from powdering his nose, “but…Joan Rivers ate here! There’s a thank you note from her on the notice board!” We idolise Joan, and to know she’s graced The Punch Bowl is big news indeed. We liked it here already, now we like it even more.
We open our bedroom door to find the bed turned down and the curtains drawn. Perfect – all we need to do is brush our teeth and get under the covers.
A knock at the door heralds the arrival of the morning tea tray we’ve just ordered, and we decide to take it by the window, so we can enjoy the view, too.
Breakfast in the restaurant is as good as dinner the night before. Doorsteps of hot toast with delicious jams, tasty pastries and a cracking full English each sets us up for the day.
“And the award for the world’s most encompassingly brilliant post office,” jollies Monsieur 2 as we leave, “goes to The Punch Bowl.” I have to agree. Its warm welcomes, fabulous food and splendid service have ticked all our boxes – knowing Joan Rivers has been a patron was the icing on the cake. “Come along, dear,” I call, “Lake Windermere beckons…”
Don’t forget to mention les Deux Messieurs if you book a stay here!Travel
We travelled from Penrith to Windemere by First TransPennine Express which operates intercity rail services across the north of England and into Scotland. Fares can be purchased with no booking fee at tpexpress.co.uk.
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