As wonderful as our Scottish road trip was, like any holiday it had the odd low-point. It was the first time we’d gone on a proper winter trip in the van, and it’s certainly a bit different to a summer jaunt. There are the added issues of drying, getting warm, dealing with a winter cold (which I don’t deal with very well to be honest). We also ventured into wild camping which brings a whole new load of things to consider, like showers…
Overall, we had a fabulous time, but towards the end of the week I found myself struggling with a horrendous head cold, unable to sleep, and waking poor old Jamie up at 3am to beg him to take me home. We only had one night to go, so he persuaded me to tough it out and boy, am I glad I did, because it meant we didn’t miss out on the Strickland Arms.
I can’t even remember how we found this little pot of gold hidden about 10 minutes off the M6 near Penrith, but it seemed to tick all the boxes. You can park your camper in the car park, providing you have a drink and some food (loads of places do this by the way and it’s fabulous), they had good reviews, and it’s in the Lake District which for us was a good pitstop on the long drive back to the Midlands from Scotland.
Despite the fact we’d rung ahead, I’m always a bit nervous about walking into tiny local pubs – especially when I haven’t had a shower for several days! From the moment we stepped through the door, I am not exaggerating when I say my worries fell away like autumn leaves from a tree.
Owner Anton is a character, there’s no doubt about that. But if that character gets a glass of wine in my much-needed hand and parks me in front of a warm fire on a day when I’ve never needed it more, then that’s fine by me. It’s everything you’d dream a local pub should be. Cosy, welcoming, full of locals who don’t look at you like you’ve got three heads when you walk in, but make you feel as if you, too, are a local. Within an hour, I was two wines in, the dog was wandering around with her new best dog friend, and Jamie was a new convert to one of their most popular pale ales.
It’s not just a pub but also has B&B rooms upstairs and some epic log cabins built by Anton himself that seem like the perfect hidey hole for a weekend away. He proudly showed me round, prompting me to beg Jamie to book us into one for the night, but he refused to neglect our trusty camper for the final night of our trip.
What he did do, however, was secretly arrange with Pen to let me use one of their showers in the B&B so I could inject a bit of life back into me for our final night. I can’t quite explain how special this particular shower was but it was one of those above-and-beyond moments that can make you fall in love with a place, purely for the fact they helped you in your hour of (first world problems) need.
While Anton mans the bar, wife Pen is in charge of food. The menu is simple but exactly what you need after a day walking or biking in the gorgeous surrounding Eden Valley (ask Anton for advice on walks, he is a neverending source of local knowledge). We went for steak and chips (washed down with many more wines for me and a gallon of ale for Jamie). The steak was good quality, cooked right, and it came with all the pub trimmings you’d expect – chips, onion rings and peas. Good pub grub! I’m assured Pen’s pies are the way to go, so that’s one for next time.
We were made to feel so welcome that, newly clean and fed and considerably well watered, we wiled away the evening into the early hours chatting to our newfound friends and keeping poor old Anton and Pen up until the early hours as we revelled in our discovery of a great little haven.
Even though we were sleeping in the car park, Anton and Pen offered to provide us with breakfast the next day so when we finally emerged we joined them for a full English, cooked to perfection, along with an impressive array of cereals, freshly-baked bread and even Danish pastries. After we’d filled our faces Anton gave us plenty of choices for walks nearby and we headed off, reluctantly to say the least, to nearby Aira Force Waterfall next to Ullswater to walk off the previous night’s alcohol.
As fabulous as our week in Scotland was, our Lake District pitstop on the way home was one of the highlights of our trip. The Strickland Arms is about the little touches, the details that mark it out as that little bit different. Like the fact Pen chops up the black pudding that comes with breakfast, or the Curly Wurly Anton gave us as we left to munch on during our walk.
It’s a quirky little place, the kind that people lovingly refer to when they voice concern about the growing number of identikit pubs offering the same food, the same decor, and the scripted welcome – all in the name of consistency. It’s the kind of place that breaks the mould, and while that may not be to everyone’s taste, we loved the sense of personality that shines from it.
There aren’t many places Mr M and I make it for a return trip – not because we don’t like them, but because there are SO many other places to try that we always end up going somewhere new. I have a feeling the Strickland Arms is different. Not necessarily because it’s just off the M6 and a handy place to stop, but because it’s one of a kind. And that, my friends, is something to be cherished.
We paid in full at The Strickland Arms. As mentioned, they let you stay for free in the car park providing you eat and drink in the pub.