The Queen’s Head at Askham on the edge of the Lake District is a hidden gem with some of the best food you will find
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Grasmere, Hawkshead, Ambleside and the rest are popular for a reason – their stunning scenery and great facilities for the traveller.
But venture just a few miles off that well-beaten track and you can find a hidden gem...and without the crowds.
The Queen’s Head in Askham is just that. An inn which dates back to the 17th century, updated to provide everything we expect in the 21st century, including stunningly decorated bedrooms and amazing ‘posh’ pub food, of which more later.
Askham, just a few miles south of Penrith, is close to the ruins of Lowther Castle and home to the exceptional, Michelin starred Askham Hall Hotel.
It is full of picturesque, white-washed cottages as well as a couple of pubs, a village store and a heated, outdoor swimming pool, which was being well-used by the local community during our visit in the recent heatwave.
It is perfectly situated for discovering the Northern Lakes, with Keswick, Ullswater, Bassenthwaite and Cockermouth all within easy reach.
For our day out, we opted for a 20-minute journey away to lovely Pooley Bridge at the southern end of Ullswater. It’s a buzzing little town with plenty of shops and places to eat and drink, as well as being great for a stroll along the lake.
But we decided to take to the water on the Ullswater Steamers boat. A two-hour round trip takes you from Pooley Bridge to Glenridding and back, with the opportunity to alight on the way for a walk. On the day we stepped aboard, the sun was shining brightly and we saw the area at its stunning best but I suspect it would have its charms on the cloudiest of days.
Back at the Queen’s Head in the late afternoon, it was time to unwind with a couple of pints of a thirst-quenching Loweswater Gold, watching the world go by from the tables outside.
This is the perfect country inn, with log fires (not needed on our visit!), friendly staff, superbly-kept ale and great nosh.
Locals and tourists rub shoulders together in the bar and four-legged friends are also welcome in the bar and some bedrooms, a couple of which are on the ground floor and have huge walk-in showers.
It is under the ownership of the folk who run Askham Hall, with the pub’s accomplished chef having come from the Hall’s kitchen. And it is the food which marks the Queen’s Head out from many other inns in the Northern Lakes.
There is a set menu each evening with four choices of starter, mains and puddings – but the staff made it clear that if nothing suited, they’d do their best to provide whatever we fancied.
There was no such trouble from us with several options under consideration.
We started with some little appetisers sent by the chef – monkfish tempura with tartare sauce and a goat’s cheese bomb with homemade tomato sauce. Little mouthfuls of joy which disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Next there was a chunk of homemade beer bread and butter. I usually try to leave the bread alone, but one bite told me that was not going to be possible...the crust was crunchy and the interior soft and yielding. Along with some real butter, it was a delight.
Then it was on to the starters. Chalk stream trout tartare with apple, beetroot and cucumber for me and soy glazed Saddleback pork fillet with cider sauce for husband Bob. Both were beautifully presented, like works of art on a plate, but they were also full of wonderfully harmonious flavours.
For our main course we opted for British lobster to share. A half each with garlic butter oozing from the shell, along with a dressed tomato salad and some wickedly wonderful triple-cooked chips. It looked amazing as it was presented to us on a huge platter and it tasted just as good.
Pudding was local strawberries with a perfectly wobbly vanilla panna cotta for me and a selection of British cheeses and homemade crackers and chutney for Bob. Again, top notch.
We were brought coffees to finish, along with a couple of pistachio macarons, which were deliciously chewy and the perfect end to a wonderful meal.
After all that and a bottle a very good wine, there was a superbly comfortable super king-sized bed to retire to for a great night’s sleep.
The rooms have everything you need – great en suites, kettles to make drinks (fresh milk is offered behind the bar); TVs in case like us you want to keep up with the news and bathrobes for lounging. And I suspect if you needed anything more, the staff would sort it out in a flash.
In fact, this is the quintessential inn away from the madding crowds, with the added bonuses of a stunning setting and delicious food.
We might just have found our new favourite place on the edge of the Lake District.
The Queen’s Head at Askham
Rooms from £130 per night.
Set menu evening meals £58 per head.