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Short Breaks.

There are few places left in the UK where you can truly get away from it all.

Even the vast expanse of the Yorkshire Dales can seem overcrowded at times as visitors flock in their thousands to experience its rural tranquility.

But Cumbria's Western Lake District remains unspoiled by the less attractive effects of commercial tourism.

It may feel like you're travelling to the edge of the world (there's only one major road in and out), but as the mile long queues of caravans at Lake Windermere become specks in the rear view mirror you know the effort is worth it.

To many, the Western Lake District is best known as home to the UK's most controversial nuclear power plant - Sellafield.

But don't let that put you off.

It boasts a truly impressive landscape complete with mountain and fens, as well as long sandy beaches perfect for bracing romantic walks or tranquil contemplation.

There's also a delightful selection of places to stay, whether you want boutique style bed and breakfast pampering, town hotels, or a taste of the farm life.

My weekend break included two nights at Muncaster Castle, just a few minutes from picturesque Ravenglass.

Reputedly Britain's most haunted site, our late arrival was in true Scooby Doo style, aided by the eerie hooting of numerous owls housed in the neighbouring owl sanctuary.

But once inside the superbly converted coach house all thoughts of ghosts and ghouls disappeared and morning revealed the castle's red-stoned ancient splendour, beautiful grounds and excellent breakfast.

The Owl Centre, which has the largest collection in the world with more than 50 species, is a great experience, but the avian fun doesn't end there.

A daily spectacle is the feeding of the surrounding Eskdale's heron population, which at times can attract in excess of 40 birds, and of course there are falconry displays. For the kids there's a maze and playground, and of course the castle itself - the home to the Pennington family for more than eight centuries - which is open to the public.

It would have been easy to spend the day at Muncaster, but as a horse owner, frustrated by the lack of open land riding at home, the prospect of riding for miles across sand and turf provided instant appeal.

Our host, Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre, is extremely sensible in its choice of horses, and its professionalism is further reflected in its competent and friendly staff.

The day was slightly overcast and the tide in, which made for some fun cantering through the waves, but the beach part of the ride was instantly memorable.

The second half of the trek saw us slowly climb up into the fells, accompanied by inquisitive sheep and the odd bird of prey.

Even though the heavens opened during our lunch stop, a bit of rain wasn't going to dampen anyone's spirits. And as our guides pointed out it isn't called the Lake District for nothing.

Having had 12 hours rest and recovery, Sunday's planned activities included a trip on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway - affectionately known as La'al Ratty.

England's narrowest gauge railway offers seven glorious miles of steam travel - albeit pulled by a miniature engine.

But there was more to this adventure than sightseeing.

Accompanying us were two mountain bikes, a map, and a mission to bike back from end-of-the-line Dalegarth Station to Ravenglass along the Eskdale Trail.

Having stopped at the excellent station cafe for valuable calories, we set off.

The trail takes you through some of Lakeland's most beautiful countryside, and is a pleasant easy ride on well maintained tracks - until Chapel Hill, which would phase most experienced mountain bikers.

But having reached the summit it was downhill all the way, through Muncaster Castle's gardens and into Ravenglass.

It marked the end to what was a wonderful break. I'm just looking for an excuse to go back.

* Muncaster Castle Coachman's Quarters offers eight twin/double room, six with ensuite facilities. For more information visit www.muncaster.co.uk or call 01229 717614. Our stay would have cost pounds 70 per night.

* Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre caters for all abilities and offers a range of rides from hour-long village treks to a four-hour beach and fell ride (competent riders only), which costs pounds 45 per person. For more information contact www.murthwaitegreen.co.uk or call 01229 770876. Open all year.

* Cycles are for hire at Dalegarth Station throughout the year. Cycle hire costs pounds 9.50 for a full day, pounds 6 for half a day. A helmet and puncture repair kit are provided. Call 019467 23226 or 01229 717171.

* The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is open throughout the year. For more information visit www.ravenglass-railway.co.uk or call 01229 717171.
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Title Annotation:Travel Destinations
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2006
Words:789
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