Delicious drives in the UK: Cartmel Peninsula to the Lake District, via Furness

 

On the second day of my ‘delicious drive’ with Hertz, I drove further along the A590 to the market town of Ulverston – the birthplace of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame and home to a Laurel & Hardy Museum – before before bearing left and following the coast road in the direction of Barrow-in-Furness.

Passing through Bardsea, Baycliff and Aldingham, my next stop was Piel Island but first I had to catch the ferry from Roa Island on the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula. I say ‘ferry’ but it’s a very modest boat that can hold just a handful of foot passengers for the short crossing to the island of around around 10 minutes.

Piel Island ferry

Piel Island is rich in history and intrigue and is today owned by the people of Barrow and administrated by Barrow Borough Council. Despite a population of just four people currently, it has its own English Heritage-owned castle and its own pub – The Ship Inn. The landlord of the pub is the King of Piel – a position that is currently selected by the Council yet a tradition that dates back as long ago as 1487 when Lambert Simnel and his army landed on Piel with the intention of overthrowing King Henry VII – an attempt that failed. Interest in Piel still thrives to this day and, at the time of the current king’s coronation, it was estimated that there were as many as 2,500 people present on this tiny island.

As little as 150 years or so ago, Piel Island didn’t have just a king but even its own parliament with a Prime Minister, Chancellor and more. Even today, the current king has the power to ‘knight’ people – an honour that will cost you the princely sum of a round of drinks for everyone present at the pub at the time; on the plus side, tradition also dictates that knights do then have the right to free board and lodging should they ever find themselves shipwrecked on the island.

At present there is both a king and a queen, and Steve and Sheila Chattaway are warm and generous with their welcome. Whilst Sheila appears to predominantly deal with ‘front of house’ at The Ship Inn, taking orders at the bar, Steve on the other hand, himself a trained chef, works behind-the-scenes in the kitchen. But don’t worry – there’s still a good chance of meeting the king, too, as he turns his hand to clearing tables and helping with other chores. Do speak to them both if you get the chance as you will be sure to glean some interesting insights into life on the island; from talking to Steve, I learnt that, despite only being on the island for a decade, they were already on their 28th vehicle – such are the effects of the sand and salt that they are lucky if a vehicle lasts them 6 months, and so they only ever tend to use MOT write-offs.

The king and queen of Piel Island

Do time your visit to co-incide with lunch if you get chance. For an island pub with a captive market and little in the way of competition, the food is still actually surprisingly good. I sampled the ‘bucket of mussels’ from the menu but was equally tempted by ‘King Steve’s steak pudding’.

Bucket of mussels at The Ship Inn on Piel Island

After my time on Piel, I drove northwards passing Dalton-in-Furness (here you might be surprised to see rhinos and giraffes grazing the fields, as well as the more usual cows and sheep, due to the presence of a local – and somewhat controversial – zoo) and Broughton-in-Furness, on my way to the tiny village of Waberthwaite, home to RB Woodall Ltd.. At these modest premises, the famous Waberthwaite traditional Cumberland sausage is made, using the same recipe and techniques that their ancestors have used for the past 180 years. There’s a shop on site which doubles as the local Post Office and the product range extends beyond just Cumberland sausage but also includes Cumbria air dried ham, smoked pancetta and country cured gammon to name a few.

RB Woodall

In the interests of health and safety, I was donned in suitable overalls in order to go behind the scenes and see the sausage-making process for myself. A mix of pork shoulder and back fat is minced and combined with spices before being placed into a machine…

Cumberland sausage mince

…from which it is extruded into a casing and made into Cumberland sausage as we know it – much longer and wider than typical sausages. I purchased a couple of kilos to take home but, if you can’t visit in person, don’t worry… they also sell online.

RB Woodall Cumberland sausage

After Waberthwaite, I drove to the heart of the Lake District National Park. There are a number of ways you can do this, the fastest being back to Broughton-in-Furness and then up the western side of Coniston Water, but instead I took the slightly slower option of travelling via Birker Fell and Wrynose Pass since I knew this would picturesque and provide me with some potential drone footage.

Wrynose Pass with Hertz

Wrynose Pass is one of the Lake District’s famous passes – a winding but beautiful road that eventually brings you out at Ambleside. From there, I journeyed a few miles north to The Forest Side in Grasmere: a hotel and restaurant that has really upped its game in recent years. Here Head Chef Kevin Tickle leads a Michelin-starred restaurant where I had heard that squirrel was on the menu. Grasmere is home to one of the UK’s best locations for red squirrels, but the reds are threatened by the invasive, non-native grey squirrels. The culling of grey squirrels goes a small way towards helping the reds survive.

If they have time, they catch the squirrels themselves but more usually nowadays, they source it from local supplier, Cartmel Valley Game. Kevin kindly showed me how their squirrel dish is prepared, stopping short of the skinning of the squirrel itself which is apparently no easy task.

Squirrel preparation

The squirrel is cooked and coated in a pané – a mixture of breadcrumbs that have been dyed black and white. The upshot of this is a speckled – and, dare I say it, squirrel-like – appearance to the dish. It’s a bit of fun and the chef had even toyed with the idea of adding a ‘tail’ to his creation before concluding that may be just a little too much.

Squirrel fresh from the kitchen

Instead, this canape is accompanied by a pine mayonnaise and garnished with a wood sorrel flower and matching leaf, as well as Herb Robert (an edible member of the geranium family).

Squirrel at Forest Side

I always enjoy trying different dishes so naturally jumped at the chance to sample squirrel which I found to be full of flavour: quite gamey and with a hint of sweetness. If you wanted to liken it to something else, it would perhaps be rabbit. The strong flavours of the squirrel went beautifully with the mayonnaise which itself packed quite a punch (it seemed almost garlicky to me but Kevin assured me that was just the flavour from the pine needles).

Plans are potentially in the pipeline to make a small donation to a red squirrel charity with each squirrel dish served at The Forest Side which would be a lovely, fitting gesture if it is able to come to fruition.

We hope you enjoy the video from day 2 of the trip:

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.

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