A feast of activities

With stunning scenery, outdoor pursuits and first-rate food scenes, Tristan Parker discovers why Devon and Cumbria are year-round holiday favourites whatever the weather


It’s impossible to talk about holidays to Cumbria without mentioning the Lake District and its choice of alfresco activities, or perhaps hiking sections of Hadrian’s Wall. But to focus solely on these experiences is to ignore a huge part of what makes Cumbria so appealing. Because let’s face it, there are going to be at least a few months of the year when things like kayaking and clambering up hills just aren’t fun or feasible. During those months, you’re still in for a treat. Top-notch shopping, museums covering anything from classic cars to Romantic poets, and a restaurant scene that has blossomed in recent years are just a few of the highlights to look forward to in this gem of a county.



The childhood home of timeless English poet William Wordsworth, who helped pioneer the English Romantic movement, is just as enticing as you might hope for. Visitors can explore the grand Georgian townhouse in Cockermouth as it would have looked, sounded and even tasted in the 1770s, when Wordsworth grew up there. As well as giving an insight into the formative years of one of England’s most import literary figures, the house is also a fascinating glimpse into late-18th-century life – indulge in parlour games, play a replica harpsichord, try your hand at sonnet writing with a quill and ink, or tuck in to treats prepared fresh in the kitchen to 18th-century recipes. If the weather does hold up, wander the riverside garden that inspired young Will to connect with nature. If the weather doesn’t offer any respite, spend time perusing the on-site bookshop instead.


Thanks to a clutch of market towns such as Kendal, Cockermouth and Keswick, Cumbria is a fantastic place to hit the shops. Kendal is especially useful for those wanting to delve into the arts of the region, as pockets like Branthwaite Brow and Wainwright’s Yard offer all kinds of independent boutiques and craft shops. There’s also local produce and regional specialties for those who want a taste of this foodie-focused region. Anyone with a sweet tooth will do well here, with famous favourites like Grasmere gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake – which powered Edmund Hillary and team up Everest in 1953.



Last year a spotlight was finally placed on Cumbria’s thriving culinary scene, which had been quietly growing and evolving. It is the county with the most Michelin- starred venues outside of London: Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume holds a mighty three Michelin stars. If you’re after more affordable, Cumbria is packed to the peaks with cosy pubs dishing up hearty meals, cafes brewing sublime specialty coffee (try Podda & Wren on the Lake District’s edge or the much-loved The Moon & Sixpence in Cockermouth) and everything in between.


There are also numerous excellent breweries, tap rooms and distilleries, including the Lakes Brew Co. taproom, Fell Brewery’s small but perfectly formed ‘Fell bars’ in Kendal, Penrith and Chorlton, and the centuries-old Kirkstile Inn near Loweswater lake, the very essence of a hospitable, historic Lake District pub.


Devon needs little introduction as a sought-after destination. Known far and wide for its idyllic coastal scenes, it’s been attracting holidaymakers for hundreds of years, some of whom dubbed a particularly beautiful and warm section of South Devon ‘The English Riviera’, a name that stuck. As such, its seaside locales and its two National Parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor, are the go-tos for many visitors, but there’s also lots more on offer when you need to decamp inside for entertainment, including plenty for those who arrive hungry…



Just approaching the splendid Gothic Revival exterior of this museum – crafted from local stone – tells you that a visit is going to be something special. Inside doesn’t disappoint. The first thing to enjoy is the museum’s lack of entrance fee, which makes navigating its sections covering the natural world, contemporary art, fine art and social history even more delightful. Look out for collection highlights such as samurai armour, paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, and a changing programme of temporary exhibitions, talks and events.


There are few better ways to ignore awful weather than by escaping to the warm, indulgent confines of a spa for a few hours. If you’re feeling flush, head out to Bovey Castle in Dartmoor National Park, a five-star hotel with extensive spa facilities, including whirlpools that overlook the grounds, or Salcombe Harbour Hotel if you want something stylish by the water. But there are tons more budget-friendly options, too, spread all around the county. So, when the need takes you, sauna, swim or steam the world away for a few hours.



Once you’ve eaten your way around the county, why not spend a day at one of Devon’s highly regarded cooking schools, waiting to teach punters of all abilities, including the Devon Cookery School; Ground Up, which loves to utilise seasonal produce and foraged ingredients; and River Cottage, TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s all-encompassing foodie paradise: learn to bake sourdough or make pasta, then spend the rest of the day eating, drinking and shopping here.


Cumbria may excel at beer, but Devon has the edge with artisan spirits. Learn about modern takes on ancient techniques at venues including Hattiers Rum in Holbeton, the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery in Newton Abbot, Devon Rum Company in Salcombe and Exeter Gin in Teignmouth. Or consider brewing up a storm at a coffee masterclass instead. Owens Coffee in Ivybridge offers sessions on coffee tasting and home brewing, or just tour the roastery.

Other gastro hotspots


Visitors formerly flocked to this region for historic St Andrews, but nowadays it attracts growing numbers due to its status as a foodie destination. Artisan chocolatiers, farmers’ markets and culinary celebrations (including Crail Food Festival) are all on the table, but it’s not just the food that impresses, as numerous distilleries utilise the excellent soil and water to produce whisky and gin.


Carmarthenshire is packed with delis, cosy cafes, proper pubs and gastro-focused boozers, many making good use of the region’s outstanding produce. Don’t miss the locally made ciders such as Seidr Y Mynydd, produced using a method dating back to 1700, and Coles, which uses local Welsh water and apples grown on site.


Named as “the UK’s best- kept foodie secret” by The Times. The county’s biggest town, Enniskillen, plays a big part, and its gastronomic riches can be fully enjoyed on various tasting tours highlighting regional specialties found in markets, bakeries and distilleries. Around Fermanagh, you’ll encounter everything from fine dining to rustic local pub grub.


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