The Thursday Tipple takes a brief break from Dublin. It finds itself in Cumbria’s Lake District, England at its wettest, most mountainous and most majestic. At a distance from the iconic Lake District of tourist-filled towns like Keswick and Windermere, or the commercial worlds of walking gear, Beatrix Potter or William Wordsworth, we’re in the Newlands Valley. This is the other Lake District: the hidden, time-abandoned valleys and hidden lanes speckled with cottages, walls and chapels of stone, welcoming inns you won’t know about till you turn the corner.
Deep in a world revered though happy to be forgotten, we’re travelling back to our lodgings after a Thursday of steep walking. Late August sunshine radiates the oaks, horsechestnuts and pines, imposing mountains behind us forever following our eyes. Farmed, free range game leap onto stone walls as they travel from one field to another.
A turn around a sharp corner reveals a large, white-washed building. ‘That’s a nice pub apparently,’ says one of our crew, the ears of his voice pricked.
En-suite rooms, Garden, Refuge Bar is painted in large font on the gable wall. Refuge from what? Surely there’s no need for refuge in paradise. A garden?
A Whatsapp message tells us the others are walking to where we’re meeting them. There’s no point in going home beforehand. A free half hour has presented itself.
‘Will we stop for a pint in that pub we passed?’ I say, burning with thirst and curiosity.
We pull into the car park and let the beer garden we discover connect with the views in front of us. It all makes sense now. The view is the refuge after a long day’s exertion.
Before the eternal magic of a post-perambulatory pint in these parts, there’s one last, leaden-legged climb: up the decking steps from the beer garden to the bar. In the ‘Middle Room’ bar daylight sluices in from the French Windows, transforming a potentially dark room. The bar, tucked in on the right-hand side, harbours the friendly staff and all the beverage possibilities of the moment. Sprinkled through the room are high and low tables where you can sit, talk, sip and drink in the view. You immediately sense that time will never bother you here as you look out towards the mountains.
Back outside, amidst tables occupied by other amblers and cyclists, the pub’s lodgers and those staying in caravans parked on-site, we sit mesmerised by the view across to Causey Pike and Barrow, conquests past and future. The shaded mountains, abandoned now that evening has descended, stare at us, remind us of the highs and lows we’ve shared. On grey and wet days, these parts are steeped in melancholy. But on clear evenings like this there’s nowhere like it. A sip of Theakston Pale Ale feels like lightning binding sky and mountain and garden. Truly, this is the smoothest, silkiest pale ale I have ever tasted.
Sometimes memorable pub experiences are circumstantial: a time, a group, a thirst. The next day we tempt fate by returning after a light afternoon ramble. It’s Friday, late afternoon. Sunshine suffuses the beer garden again but it’s busier — people arriving and reuniting for catch-ups, open air and indulgence.
Yet our experience is repeated, this time enhanced by the tasty food we have. Various posters and fliers show the efforts the pub makes throughout the year to offer patrons and lodgers musical and culinary diversity. The following weekend will see the Swinside Beer and Music Fest.
I reflect in bewilderment at how different two consecutive Fridays can be: here today, surrounded by mesmerising mountains; at home next Friday, scurrying out of work, regretfully, predictably later than I’d hoped. By then a new cadre of holidaymakers will be descending on this beer garden full of hope at the days ahead. Our departure has arrived before our arrival had even begun.
They say that in the Newlands Valley sometimes the sun sets twice over the fells. On our days at the Swinside Inn, it never set at all.
Prices (31 August 2018)
Pint of Heineken: £4.85
Pint of Theakstons Stout: £4.85
Pint of Theakstons Lightfoot: £4.15
330ml bottle of lager: £2.95
Measure of whiskey: £3.30
Soft drink: £1.85