The Kirkstile Inn was first documented in 1549. Then a farm, it was sold by St Bees Priory of West Cumbria after the dissolution of the monasteries. Today, it’s a pub with low-beamed ceilings and old-fashioned fireplaces popular with locals and tourists alike who stop in for a post-walk meal and a pint from their own brewery.
The inn’s draw is impressive, given that the village in which it is located, Loweswater, named for the nearby lake, is home to only a couple of hundred people. Away from the tourist hotspots, the western side of the Lake District is a much quieter place.
Generally speaking, car parks aren’t known for being great vantage points, but the view from the Kirkstile Inn is impressive. Rising behind the pub, an attractive complex of white farm buildings with turmeric doors, is the majestic Mellbreak Fall. At 512 meters, its profile almost completely visible, Mellbreak is an elegant miniature mountain. It is not connected to any other wasteland; Mellbreak is alone, enjoying splendid isolation.
I went out with my parents one of those days that starts cloudy to surprise you with a sunny afternoon and blue sky. This being rural Cumbria, the easiest way to get to Loweswater is by car. You can also cycle or take a taxi from Cockermouth, eight miles away, or a bus from Keswick to Lanthwaite Farm, a 30-minute walk from Loweswater.
Across from the Kirkstile Inn car park is St. Bartholomew’s Church, a drab edifice built in 1827 and later restored in 1884, although a chapel was built here as early as the 12th century. The cemetery is surrounded by a dry stone wall, and inside this quiet church, a wooden ceiling runs above the nave.
Going to the right, we come across an old road sign at the junction with the Kirkstile Inn. It’s a helpful, if frank, reference point, boldly declaring “NO WAY LEFT” on his left arm and “NO WAY THROUGH” on his right.
We go right, over Church Bridge, past Kirkgate Farm, where the cobbled path leads into a wood. Our ascent, Alfred Wainwright’s preferred route, is steep: through the firebreak in the woods, to a grassy slope that leads straight up the mountain, through a rather twisty section of scree. I don’t think there’s a funny way to climb a scree, so I resort to a slightly flattering crawl, like a drunken Spider-Man, away from my parents so I don’t hit them with the falling rocks.
After the scree, thighs exhausted, I look at the view: the tiled roofs of the Kirkstile Inn and the lake at Loweswater, lingering between the fields. On the horizon is the Solway Firth: a blue-grey expanse, part of the border between England and Scotland, dotted with the curiously beautiful turbines of Robin Rigg, Scotland’s first offshore wind farm.
We continued on, soon reaching the heather-clad north crest of Mellbreak, marked by a small cairn of stones, where we eat our sandwiches while admiring the view of Crummock Water, quietly overlooked by the surrounding moors of Whiteside, Grasmoor and Whiteless Pike.
The north ridge is actually ten feet lower than the south ridge, where we headed next, across a depression two-thirds of a mile long.
Wainwright compares this dip along the Mellbreak ridge to the “keel of an overturned boat”, noting that the mountain’s name has a “long association” with the local hunting group, the “Melbreak Foxhounds” ( spelled with an “l”), as documented in photos on the walls of the Kirkstile Inn, formerly known as Hare and Hounds.
Mellbreak’s name is believed to be derived from the Celtic word moelwhich translates as bare hill, and the Old Norse term brekkawhich means slope of a hill.
The path to the south summit is well defined, albeit swampy in parts, which, by comparison, evokes the muddy chaos of the last day of the music festival. The southern bare top is also marked with a cairn and from here there are views over the other end of Crummock Water and, further south, to Buttermere, where a small boat floats with a red sail.
Our descent begins: continuing south, over a fence and down a grassy slope, we head left along a rocky path with a bend to our right; at one point this converges with the road, so we jump over the steps to cross. We arrive at Crummock Water, the sun now fully out, lapping up the serenity of the dazzling moors, with bright yellow pops of flowering gorse bushes lining the gravel path.
About a third of the way down this road, we stop to rest on the shingle shore of a peninsula called Low Ling Crag, jutting out into the loch, its head circular like the top of a paddle.
This is the final leg of the walk, along the Crummock Water in a northwesterly direction, then through a forest of old oak trees, where we heard a woodpecker somewhere nearby, on a path that leads back to the Kirkstile Inn. This time, we came out on the other side of that old sign. I look back at Mellbreak and the imposing profile of its north face, silently admiring our achievement. As Wainwright said: “There is only one Mellbreak.”
Google map of the route.
Start end: Kirkstile Inn
Distance: 6½ miles
Weather: 4 hours
Overall ascent: 657 meters
Kirkstile Inn has a cozy atmosphere, filled with the cheerful chatter of locals and passers-by, its walls adorned with the medallions of country life: old horseshoes, stirrups and a classic “last orders” bell. Through the pub’s sash windows, there are magnificent views of Mellbreak, and outside is a lively beer garden.
The kitchen, led by Chef Paul Williamson, serves hearty, home-cooked dishes with an emphasis on local ingredients like slow-roasted lamb, battered hake (gluten-free on request), and Lakeland steak, along with vegetarian options like butternut squash risotto and sweet potato curry (both can be made vegan).
I have the Steak and Beer Pie, a Cumbrian classic, which is sumptuous and rich, topped with a crisp shortcrust pastry and thick gravy, plus chunky hand-cut chips. The inn is also famous for its ales, brewed in the pub’s own brewery in Hawkshead, particularly its award-winning Loweswater Gold, a light, fresh ale. On our visit, two of their other beers are on offer, both bitter: Esthwaite and Langdale. For dessert, there are more Cumbrian favourites; I taste the sticky toffee pudding, and the sponge is satisfyingly moist, sitting majestically in a puddle of addictive toffee sauce.
Where to stay
Kirkstile Inn has 10 bedrooms, one with a four poster bed and all with en-suite bathrooms. The rooms were renovated a couple of years ago and the decor includes original wood-beamed ceilings and a pastel color scheme.
Doubles and twins from £145 B&B, kirkstile.com