20 January 2015 by Beth Pipe
Clear blue skies mean perfect picnics, regardless of whether it’s the middle of summer or winter. Granted you’ll need to wrap up a little more in the winter, but that’s still no excuse for not getting out there. There’s nothing quite so splendid as a mug of hot soup in a sheltered spot with spectacular snow-covered fells disappearing into the distance – and, let’s face it, the picnic spots are a lot less crowded in winter.
The best winter picnic spots for me are those that require a bit of effort to get to, but punch well above their weight when it comes to the views. Much as I enjoy a yomp to the top of Helvellyn or High Street in the snow, they’re a bit more of a challenge; a perfect winter picnic spot requires somewhere to sit, a spot for the stove, a bit of shelter and a jaw-dropping panorama. It also needs to be somewhere you can relax a bit, and the top of a high fell in full winter conditions requires you to have your wits about you at all times – great fun with the right gear, but not somewhere to relax.
What to take?
Our winter picnic gear consists of two flasks of hot tea (to be fair our summer picnic gear consists of flasks of hot tea too, there’s just something about tea...), to this we add chocolate, maltloaf, some big slabs of nice fresh bread from the gorgeous bakery down the road, a tin of soup and our funky and fab wee Esbit stove. Having never been much of a camper, my memories of camping stoves go back to what we used at school in the 70’s and 80’s (yes I am that old) so I was somewhat cynical about the idea of taking a stove as opposed to just taking a flask of soup – but the difference is huge.
As much as I love my flasks, you just can’t get away from the slightly tinny taste that pervades everything you put into them. By cooking the soup fresh, it really does taste a lot better. The little Esbit is brilliantly designed, light and easy to carry and uses solid fuel blocks which light as easily as a firelighter. Plus while the soup is cooking you get to warm your hands over the flame. So with all the gear safely in the rucksacks, where do we head to?
As I write this I really am asking myself why I’m telling you about some of my absolutely favourite spots in the Lake District, but views as stunning as these need to be shared and Raven Crag is one of the best. Perched high above the top of Thirlmere, it has a choice of routes: the short sharp, steep one or the longer and rather more gentle one. Both routes keep you wrapped up in forest before popping out onto the crag at the top with views that will take your breath away.
The thing that makes this a perfect picnic spot is the broad, flat grassy area surrounded by a few perfectly positioned rocky outcrops which are ideal to perch on or shelter behind depending on which way the wind is blowing. As you munch your lunch you can admire Thirlmere Reservoir stretching away beneath you and the snowy peaks of Helvellyn and friends to the east – just stunning.
This is a little less secluded but it’s also a lot easier to get to. Gummer’s How sits at the southern end of Windermere and is one of those fells that allows you to drive most of the way up. There’s a free car park and a well marked path to the summit, with a choice of a rocky scramble up the front or a gentle path around the back.
Once you reach the summit there are plenty of rocky outcrops to perch on and, if the weather is a little brisk, drop down to the path along the front of the crags to find a sheltered nook. The best thing about Gummer’s How in the winter is that it’s a great place to catch an inversion on a cold and frosty morning – there’s nothing quite like popping out of the grey and misty valleys to enjoy hot soup in the sunshine with snowy fells all around you.
The Langdales and The Band
This is one of our more recent winter picnic finds and it’s an absolute belter. The Langdale valley is one of my favourite places – steeped in history and gorgeous whether you stroll along the valley floor or hike one of the many fells looming high all around you. We recently decided to climb The Band to get some shots of the Langdale Pikes in the snow for a book we’re writing and were on the lookout for a suitable lunch spot.
We’d passed this bench earlier on the hike but as conditions higher up were increasingly dangerous, we beat a retreat back to the bench for lunch. Honestly, is there a more perfectly positioned bench in the whole of Cumbria? I doubt it. With high sides we could tuck ourselves out of the wind while the soup bubbled away. The only problem was it was so idyllic I forgot about the cold and my feet were blocks of ice by the time we headed back down. It was well worth it though.
Hampsfell sits behind Grange-over-Sands on the south coast of Cumbria and I am so lucky that it is right on my doorstep. Many’s the time I’ve nipped up there for lunch when I’m working from home and it certainly beats an M&S sarnie sat at a desk in an office. The Hospice was built by the Victorians as a shelter so whatever the weather, you can keep warm and dry inside. I’ve had many a flask of tea and a bowl of soup inside the sturdy limestone walls.
When the weather is clear you can climb onto the top of the Hospice for views which stretch from Sca Fell Pike, to Walney Island and down across beautiful Morecambe Bay to Blackpool Tower in the south. I would say my excuse for spending my lunchtimes up there is that the fresh air clears my head, but with views like that I don’t think I really need an excuse…
Beth Pipe is a hiker, blogger and freelance writer who lives in Cumbria. Find out more about Beth.