Food guide: eating and drinking in England’s “perfect town”

The Kirkgate, , , 8 March 2013–10 March 2013
0 Posted by 20 February 2013
high tea at the Trout Hotel Cumbria

Hungry? Try our gastronomic tour of Lake District town, Cockermouth.

Cockermouth, recently rated by the Guardian as the “perfect town”, isn’t just about Wordsworth, fells, lakes and coast. No, this Georgian gem of a town comes with a clutch of excellent eateries, so it’s entirely possible to go off the usual Lake District tourist track and enjoy food foraged from the nearby fells, sup a pint of local beer and sit inside a handsome, listed building. And on top of a tree-lined Main Street stuffed with Georgian and Victorian buildings, the town boasts a Norman castle which Robert the Bruce bashed about a bit in 1315.

So, a walk along said Main Street and around turns up many attractions for both eye and stomach – Robert Louis Stevenson said as much when he stayed at the Globe Hotel here in 1871. “I might have dodged happily enough all day about the main street and up to the castle and in and out of byways,” he said.  Starting at the Workington end of town, you pass the sash-windowed Trout Hotel. A finalist in the England for Excellence Awards last year, its gardens run along the banks of the River Derwent, making it a remarkably pleasant place to enjoy a drink or two in summer. Inside there’s a choice of restaurants and menus, with the emphasis very much on locally-sourced produce.

Jennings’ ales are made using spring water – which surely means that downing a pint counts as part of a balanced, healthy diet

Next stop is Wordsworth House, a grand Georgian townhouse where its namesake poet was born in 1770. It now belongs to the National Trust and includes a fully working 18th-century kitchen, where food that would have been familiar to the poet is still prepared – expect dishes featuring the vegetables and herbs he once mentioned in verse: “A garden stored with peas, and mint, and thyme, and flowers for posies”. A little further on is The Honest Lawyer, a restaurant cum bistro on the ground floor of the stone-built Old Courthouse. With an outdoor terrace overlooking the River Cocker, and a bias towards both modern fusion and traditional British food, the legacy of the owners’ previous working life at Michelin-starred restaurant, Sharrow Bay, on Ullswater, is evident in every dish.

Cockermouth, which this March hosts a neat-looking “weekender” fronted by Stuart Maconie, does a good line in public houses. The Bush Inn and the Brown Cow are two fine traditional pubs serving real ale in front of real fires; nearby, you’ll find the Fletcher Christian tavern, a watering hole named after Cockermouth’s other famous son, that 18th-century Bounty mutineer whose treacherous deeds were immortalised in film by Clark Gable (and, later, Marlon Brando). Mediterranean food can be had at the Front Room on the Market Place, Italian at Tarantella’s or Indian at the Spice Club, both on Main Street, while 1761 is a tapas bar on the Market Place, almost opposite the Castle Bar, another handsome stucco building.

At the far end of town, on Castlegate, is the Quince & Medlar.  This is a relatively rare (for Cumbria) vegetarian restaurant, and one with a national reputation, having twice won the Vegetarian Society’s “restaurant of the year” award. In a listed Georgian building, it serves organic wines and beers alongside its excellent veggie and vegan menu. Next to the castle, Jennings has been making real ales since 1828, and their hugely popular beers include Sneck Lifter and Cocker Hoop, both made using spring water from the brewery’s own well – which means that downing a pint here must surely count as part of a balanced, healthy diet.  Jennings sits majestically by the confluence of the Cocker and the Derwent; take a tour and finish up with a beer tasting in the brewery’s bar, the Old Cooperage. And if locally-made beer is your thing, try The Bitter End, a pub with its own micro-brewery (and a good line in local food, too: its meat is 100% traceable to Cumbrian farms – there’s no hint of horse here). So the distance between the Trout at one end and the Quince & Medlar at the other may be less than a mile but, as Stevenson rightly observed, Cockermouth is packed with enough to occupy one most enjoyably all day.

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