WHO WENT Katie O’Malley, 34, husband Austin, 35, their children Darcy, 4, and Cerys, 10 months, and relatives
WHERE WE WENT Beech House Holidays, a threshing barn in Stockdalewath, near Dalston, Cumbria
A car is essential to reach remote Stockdalewath and enjoy all that Cumbria and the north Lakes have to offer. We test drove a Vauxhall Meriva for the weekend and were impressed by the boot space for a family of four. I was also a fan of the rearward opening back doors – it made it much easier to get the children in and out of car seats – while Darcy and Cerys loved looking up through the panoramic sun roof during the easy 90 minute drive up the M6 from our home in Preston.
My brother Jordan was catching us up by train and Dalston station was only four miles away, making it easy to collect him, while there was plenty of parking for my cousin and her husband, who joined from London.
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Pulling through the electric gates at Beech House, we were amazed by the amount of green space surrounding the place. This 18th Century threshing barn sits alongside the home of owner Anna Aston, plus her stable of horses and lots of fields. As we unpacked the car, a few chickens toddled by, as did the family Shetland Pony, Polo. Darcy was beyond excited.
While the barn retains all it’s period charm, it has been renovated to a chic hotel standard. There are three double or twin bedrooms on the ground floor (The Tool Room, The Grain Store and The Pig Sty), and another (The Engine Room) on the first, each with their own unique bathroom, luxurious beds and flatscreen TV. Darcy and Jordan’s rooms opened out onto a secure courtyard – a safe place for children to run around if you don't want them to stray far from sight. Upstairs there is a spectacular open plan family room, complete a wood burning stove, side room with TV, comfy sofas, docking station with preloaded iPod, and a kitchen to die for, with two ovens, all the cooking equipment you might need, and dishwasher. And a little but fabulous thing - a boiling water tap instead of a kettle, making it a dream to prepare bottles for Cerys. The whole place is high spec but homely, an inviting mix of thick fabrics in tartans and warm patterns, goose down duvets and rolltop baths. The kind of place I wish I lived!
While luxurious, the barn is incredibly family friendly. As a mum-of-two, Anna knew all the little things we needed to make our stay stress free. She’d set up a travel cot for Cerys, installed stairgates, left out a highchair and monitor, Emma Bridgewater children’s dinner sets, a box of age appropriate toys and even some rubber ducks beside the bath in Darcy’s room. Potties and steps are also available. But the icing on the cake for me were the Phil & Teds all-terrain buggy and Vaude back carrier – it much such a difference knowing we could leave ours behind (although we still had a car boot full!). The attention to detail made us all feel incredible special and right at home.
Anna told us she was inspired by ski chalets the family had visited. She wanted to create a place that was both relaxed but homely so that families could return from a day walking in the Lakes or sightseeing and relax in comfort but with the option of a meal prepared for them.
WHAT WE ATE
With a top of the range kitchen and plenty of shops a short drive away, it’s easy to cater for yourself. However, Anna offers various catering options for parents wanting to relax – which can be booked for your full stay or simply parts of it, so you can just have a couple of mornings or nights off. We tried out both the Simple Suppers and B&B service. The first included a couple of hearty pre-prepared dishes that we simply needed to warm through, plus veggies, wine and a cheese board. The beef stew and fish pie were big hits, my cousin’s husband Thom (a real foodie) declaring the latter to be better than his mum’s.
The breakfasts were a real treat – with Anna and her chef arrived at a prearranged time to cook and serve cereals, yoghurt and fruit, followed by a full English made with local produce. And best of all, they cleared up afterwards. While some people may find it a little intrusive to have strangers in their kitchen first thing, they were both so warm and friendly, making a fuss of the kids, that they felt like friends – so much so that most of us sat down on our second morning in the barn’s complimentary dressing gowns! A personal chef to cook evening meals can also be arranged – we vowed to treat ourselves on our next visit.
THINGS TO DO
With secure green space all around, we were happy to let Darcy run around outside and he quickly made friends with Anna’s children, happily bouncing on their trampoline and making friends with the horses.Each bedroom contains an information booklet about local amenities and attractions, although we found Anna to be our best source of knowledge. With the weather bright and dry, we decided to borrow the back carrier and go for a walk. She directed us to a favourite spot on the edge of the Lake District National Park, handing us a map, route ready highlighted, and recommending a pub for the way home. When my brother Jordan asked about her dogs, she insisted we take cocker spaniel Ollie on our stroll, handing us a bag of biscuits to ensure she didn’t ever stray too far. The walk was idyllic, with views for miles and lots of lovely fresh air. Cerys was cosy in the carrier and Darcy put his wellies to good use in the streams, while Ollie was a perfectly behaved companion.
As advised, we stopped off in picturesque Hesket Newmarket for a half of the local Helvellyn Gold in The Old Crown, the country’s first community run pub. Our fellow drinkers were a Citroen CV rally so Darcy loved looking at all the brightly coloured cars lined up outside. Back at the barn, we made use of the enormous bathtubs, before drinking wine as we watched the sun set and the birds swoop. The kids slept like logs and so did we. Saying goodbye the next day, Anna’s son urged us to come back at Christmas – we’d love to, if only it wasn’t fully booked! Seems we’re not the only family charmed by this place and its owners.
STAYING LONGER THAN A WEEKEND?
There's plenty of activities in the area if you want to make a longer break of it...
* Border city Carlisle is less than 10 miles away for shopping, Cumbria’s only cathedral and a walk on Hadrian’s Wall. Or take a half an hour ride south to quaint market town of Keswick, for independent shops and the Pencil Museum, which combines exhibits with a craft studio and is free for under 5s.
* Walby Farms Park offers indoor and outdoor play areas, mini-quad racing, go-karts, a JCB digger, and a host of animals to befriend, whatever the weather. Try you hand at sheep racing, pony grooming, hand feeding and more. £7.95 or £30 for a family ticket. Walbyfarmpark.co.uk
* Rookin House Activity Centre offer outdoor pursuits such as pony trekking, go-karting, fishing and JCB driving, with many activities suitable for children from age 2. Prices vary for activities and ages. Rookinhouse.co.uk
Beech House Holidays from £200 per night self-catering, extra for B&B, Simple Suppers and personal chef options. The Threshing Barn sleeps up to eight people and is available on an exclusive use basis only. Beechhouseholidays.co.uk
Vauxhall Meriva SE 1.4i 16v VVT Turbo from £20,000. Vauxhall.co.uk