Louise Cahill

Tread Lightly? Does this mean we tiptoe gently up and down fells in one of England’s most beautiful areas? Or must we be careful not to leave footprints from boots, to mark an outstanding landscape?

Not so. These are key words for our summer break with HF Holidays. My husband Ron and I are joining its 4-night Northern Lake District Tread Lightly Guided Walking Holiday.

We love it that the company cites the importance of sustainability, minimal carbon footprint and countryside protection. This holiday choice also means the joy and freedom of leaving our car relaxing in the car park, as guided walks begin and end at Derwent Bank, our accommodation in Portinscale, Keswick.

Here, in the foyer, Ignacio greets us warmly and takes our dinner order. He’s efficient and friendly as are the rest of the staff, managed by Mariano, at this country house hotel.

It’s apparent this is a venue for walkers. On display is a detailed programme of options – three graded walks for each day. There are also photos of the three leaders, details for self-guided walkers and mountain weather information. A warning about ticks means Ron rejects his shorts.

Before dinner, it’s a chance to have a drink in the bar, check out the leaders and book the next day’s Option 1 walk – Friar's Crag and Castlehead, a six-miler, with an ascent of 140m.

Post dinner, we explore Derwent Bank’s grounds, walking down the lush, sloping lawn to the lakeside, for a closer look at the jetty, lolling boats, water lilies and mountains beyond. Midges (proof they are not just a Scottish phenomenon) send us scuttling to the rhododendron area of the gardens. It’s busy with bees and scented with fragrant honeysuckle.

Next morning, Jack, our leader, greets our six-strong group. Then we’re off and it’s time to socialise and suss out the standard and speed. As an easy, shorter walk, the pace is comfortable and leisurely. Though at times, it’s a tad slow for us, it’s a joy to take in the scenery, and try identifying wildflowers, without galloping to clock up miles.

Keswick town’s busy but peaceful Hope Park’s a contrast with leisurely, obstacle-golfers and customers enjoying Café Hope in glorious sunshine.

We reach Friar’s Crag, named because it was used by monks to embark for their pilgrimage to St Herbert’s Island, a destination which inspired Beatrix Potter. It’s Owl Island in her story, 'The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’.

Walkers tap sticks along a wooden walkway, then crunch along a path and uphill through woods to Castlehead’s toposcope and rocky summit. We’re rewarded with views of Derwentwater’s length and up to 30 fells, including Skiddaw, Causey Pike, and Grisedale Pike. Jack spots a soaring bird, probably a kestrel.

The views are a temporary distraction from delving into brown, paper carrier bags full of pre-ordered, bespoke lunches. An extensive menu instructed us to ‘choose any 7 items’ from the extras, in addition to a choice of sandwiches or salad bowls.

Satiated, we return to Portinscale, passing brown and black cows, and hardy Herdwicks with their endearing black lambs.

Dinner that night is memorable. I’d requested two starters – soup and mushrooms, and no main. The staff are tops, surprising me with a starter delivered as a main course – a plate piled with delicious fried, oyster mushrooms and pancakes.

Ron enjoys Caprese flatbread, and also on the menu is coq au vin and sea bass. With no set places at mealtimes, there’s a superior chance to meet others. We hear about the Option 2 walk around Derwentwater, when a couple of walkers plus their leader ventured into the lake.

Next morning is the biggie – Applethwaite and Latrigg, a 7.5 mile walk towards Skiddaw, to summit Latrigg, an ascent of 300 m. Nigel’s the guide for our group of 15, which includes familiar faces. There are differing levels of ability, fitness and endurance, as some may have chosen the lower grade walk because of the weather forecast.

We head across the River Greta, on Portinscale footbridge. It’s a cooler day – atmospheric with mist partly obscuring the fells, though Catbells, the first mountain that Keswick children climb, seems frequently with us.

Further on is 16th century Crosthwaite Parish Church, dedicated to a familiar name – St Kentigern, also known as St Mungo. It’s thought that Glasgow Cathedral was built on the site of his burial.

One of our group collects sheep wool and stuffs it into her rucksack, to take home and wash, card and hand spin into thin rope to use in her garden. I talk to a lady from near Edinburgh – it’s her first HF holiday and she’s complimentary, as are others.

There’s a wild garlic scent and smatterings of periwinkles and other wildflowers. The bees in the hives nearby must produce yummy honey. We pass a sign warning, ‘Slow down, red squirrels’, and hope to see some.

Our group navigates and eventually separates out along the well-maintained footpath to Latrigg summit. It’s a gentle slope, but could still prove challenging, as the weather’s turning – colder, windy, and raining gently. Time for waterproofs. Up top, a fell runner throws his arms out in a celebratory pose. Although the views, including Keswick town and Derwent Bank are magnificent, our guide decides we can’t linger longer.

Back at Derwent Bank, it’s time to refresh in the walk-in shower and rest in our spacious bedroom, with its comfy bed, easy chairs and extensive storage. With muscles pleasantly achy, after a day of walking and exploring, it’s a joy to enjoy these 4-star comforts.

And, there’s a bottle of delicious Caledonian sparkling water to quench us before dinner. No nouvelle cuisine at Derwent Bank – portions are hearty and substantial to replace lost calories.

Our final walking day choice is also Option One – Swinside Circuit, a gentle walk in the Newlands Valley. Guide Brian leads 13 of us. It’s a day of spectacular scenery, as we cross the valley to Catbells’ lower slopes. Famous once for mining, even gold, it’s a quiet valley of buttercups, cuckooflowers, forget-me-nots, ragged-robins, bridges, forestry and Beatrix Potter prompts. We coo over alpacas, lambs and llamas.

From within the valley, the fells adopt a gentle, other-worldly appearance.

Brian selects an idyllic, lunch stop, on verdant grass, facing Catbells, an easily identifiable fell – I’ve given up trying to identify the others.

The next treat is Newlands Church, Littletown, which inspired William Wordsworth to write, ‘To May’. A group member recites part of his poem opposite the church.

Another literary giant, Beatrix Potter, who travelled with her pet hedgehog, drew inspiration for ‘The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’ from the splendid Derwentwater area, and dedicated her book to Lucie Carr, the daughter of the vicar of Newlands Church.

Ron and I are awed by the Northern Lakes’ area and Derwent Bank. Sadly, it’s soon time to leave, just as we’re getting to know people.

Although we chose three easy options, we could have selected any combination of grades. Medium and hard ones included Applethwaite to Dodd, Skiddaw, and Causey Pike. HF has an extensive pool of walks for its holidays.

Reluctantly, we check out of Derwent Bank and spend a day in Keswick. First stop is Derwent Pencil Museum, popular with HF Holidays’ art course participants.

We’re handed a twenty-question quiz, with the lure of a prize. Searching for answers teaches us about pencil production, and cabinets full of pencils take us back to schooldays. A pleasant distraction, dominating the room is one of the largest colour pencils in the world, at almost eight metres long.

A highlight is a Second World War secret pencil with a hidden map and compass. Another one’s the shop – a cornucopia of Derwent products and accessories, so leave enough time to browse and buy.

Standing like a sentry in Keswick is Moot Hall, dated 1813, once used as a market and a courthouse. Peer upwards to see the one-handed clock, marking the hours.

Keswick’s full of outdoor clothing and equipment shops, but also has restaurants, cafes, galleries, gift shops, a market and a supermarket. You may hear a busker belting out a tune in a tunnel. Beyond Theatre by the Lake, you can take a cruise or hire your own boat on Derwentwater.

From Day One, we wanted to stay longer at Derwent Bank but it was full. We’re not surprised. Alas, we’ll have to wait for more tiptoeing.



New Tread Lightly Guided Walking

Transport-free guided walking breaks

Pricing: 3 nights from £289pp, 4 nights from £384pp, and 7 nights from £645pp

For all the latest holidays and prices visit: https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/walking-holidays/uk-guided-walking/tread-lightly