Going Wild in the Lakes; Alex Hibbert enjoys a visit to Cumbria that's full of delights of all kinds... including a 17-course Michelin-starred taster menu.
Byline: Alex Hibbert
IAM hunched forwards and I cannot take a breath. Against my shoulder rests the dead weight of a 12-gauge shotgun, and as I stare along its barrel and through the fluttering distraction of falling leaves I can see my quarry is quickly making its escape.
I relax, breathe out, take aim and fire. Before me a shower of exploding fragments fountain through the air, like the first flakes falling at Christmas.
This is the Lake District, and more specifically the shooting grounds of The Wild Boar Inn in Windermere.
But, unfortunately, it is not my shot that has honed in on a fleeing clay shot, but that of my female companion, who is now grinning widely in my direction.
We're here to enjoy a weekend at The Wild Boar Inn, which, in all honesty, is an odd little thing.
A pub greets you when you walk in, there's a gorgeous restaurant adjoining it, and to get to your room you need to traverse a narrow set of stairs and corridors that force you to shift to one side whenever anyone passes by.
But don't let its idiosyncratic nature put you off. In fact, it makes it well worth paying a visit.
And despite the claustrophobic corridors, after arriving at our room any worries about space quickly disappear.
What a room! We're greeted by the sight of a gigantic bed, a roll-topped, claw-footed copper bath and two chairs where I imagine I'd be quite happy bedding down.
It is magnificent, and although I am not one for sitting around my accommodation when I travel anywhere, I can't help feel that leaving is going to be difficult.
The Scratch beneath the classic surface and the Boar really does offer an assortment of treasures.
There's the micro-brewery, tucked around the corner of the pub area.
Having started producing their own beer in April 2013, now they're regularly making two brews a week - about 800 litres in all.
Behind the hotel you'll find the Boar's new smokehouse, rebuilt recently after a guest - who obviously misunderstood the meaning - deposited a wayward fag in it and burned down the old one.
Boar'style Conveniently, there are also acres of land at the back of the hotel which you can explore, as well as take part in a range of activities such as archery and shooting. The Inn also offers courses in smoking your own meat or, if you're more happy indoors, to learn about whisky during a tasting session (using the Boar's vast range of malts and brews).
If you're staying make sure you eat at its restaurant, which offers a proper taste of Cumbria - black pudding, sticky toffee pudding - and a mouth-watering array of steaks straight from its smoker.
If you're looking for somewhere else to dine, then try The Punch Bowl Inn and Restaurant in the delightfully unspoiled Lyth Valley at Crosthwaite.
Here everything is done finely, a starter of Stornoway black pudding, bubble and squeak, hen's egg and apple caramel is one of the best things we eat all weekend, and its light and airy rooms, leather chairs warmed by its stone fireplaces and local, seasonal produce mean it is well worth a visit.
At this point I will admit that I am not a religious man, I don't go to church or follow any sort of messiah.
So I think if someone were to ask what my version of making a pilgrimage to Mecca would be, I would say it has already happened.
That's because on the Sunday afternoon we head off to the L'Enclume, Simon Rogan's two Michelin-starred restaurant in Cartmel, about an hour's drive south of the Wild Boar.
The experience is unforgettable, 17 courses of food which inspire wonderment, befuddlement and, above all, awe.
My advice is if you haven't been, go; everyone should visit at least once.
While there we meet a couple who have saved for a year for their meal, and it's money well spent. And if you have been, don't rule out a return.
At the outset you can read an envelope that's handed over to find out exactly what you're going to be served up. But we keep ours closed, and so don't spoil the surprise of what's coming: a riot of textures and flavours.
After a marathon four and a half hours, and sitting through a theatrical gourmet experience worthy of the gods, we head back home after a weekend we will always remember.
FACTFILE | THE Wild Boar offers a two-night B&B package with afternoon tea from PS160. See englishlakes.co.uk For a bespoke shooting lesson in the Boar's grounds contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Punch Bowl Inn & Restaurant offers a two-night stay from PS259 per room including a three-course meal. (www.the-punchbowl.co.uk).
L'Enclume offers a two-day package staying two nights in a superior room with dinner from its full tasting menu, and one evening at Rogan & Co, its sister restaurant, with three courses from the a la carte menu. The offer includes breakfast on both mornings and costs PS595 per couple. See www.lenclume.co.uk
One of the beautiful bathrooms at the Wild Boar Inn
Plenty of room in this bedroom at the inn, left, and some of the mouth-watering steaks on offer, right
THE Wild Boar's classic pub STYLE