“Camping in the Lake District, in February?”
“It’s freezing! You must be mad,” said plenty of people.
“Aha!” said I, “but it’s not exactly camping. We’re staying in a Hobbit Hole.”
“A Hobbit Hole?”
These grass covered, insulated, wood panneled spaces exist at The Quiet Site near Ullswater, “one of the coolest places to stay” according to The Times.
Getting away from it all is becoming increasingly essential in this overworked, overstretched, breakneck speed existence so many of us now call life.
So it’s just as well that for those prepared to pack their camping gear (minus the tent) in the middle of winter, and head up into the mountains, some kind of heaven awaits.
Family camping in the Lake District is becoming an all year round affair, even in freezing temperatures.
Although you can’t really call four walls, under floor heating, a toilet and washbasin, a lockable front door and USB plug sockets “camping”, it kind of feels that way when you’re trying to cook a beef chilli on a camping stove in minus five degrees under a clear, black, star strewn sky.
The Quiet Site at Watermillock, near Pooley Bridge, has nailed it when it comes to all weather camping.
Overlooking the beautiful Ullswater and the slopes of High Street, the site has recently built a row of several “Hobbit Holes”, which are nestled below the 550m mound of Little Mell Fell.
Helpfully, given the recent snow, the site emailed me the day before we arrived to say the road was clear.
On arrival, a map, a key, and a guide - to Hobbit Hole No 9 - very Lord of The Ringsy - apart from the guide, who was driving an electric golf buggy.
Small, softly lit steps lead up to each unit, which are fronted by a covered seating area with picnic table and outside tap for muddy boots.
Two round windows, and centrally place door reveal a surprisingly large space inside, around the size of four standard camping pods.
There’s a raised wooden platform covered with sleeping mats which fills the back third of the space, with a bench to the right.
There is also an enclosed toilet, sink with warm water, mirror and shelf through a door to the left, while in the main space there are ample hooks for coats and bags, shelves for food and clothing, and plenty of space underneath the bed for storage.
The helpful member of staff showed us the central heating, and an extra heater if needed.
There are plenty of plug and USB sockets, and plenty of spot lights, so you can adjust how you light the space.
Our two children loved it, and the bed space - recommended for no more than two adults and four children - soon became a nest of blankets and pillows.
We’d brought our own kettle, but the site said it planned to introduce a microwave and kettle to each Hobbit Hole by the end of March.
The Quiet Site is a mixture of statics and caravans, some touring, and even one or two tents were dotted about!
Camping! In February!
There’s also a small shop in the reception, a shower and washing area, fridge, microwave, and a bar, where we headed down to after our evening meal of pre-made curry reheated on the camping stove.
The Quiet Site bar is nothing if not unique.
Situated in a large renovated barn, there’s a huge old fireplace, looking more like a furnace, surrounded by barrel shaped seats and...an anvil.
On the walls are mounted animal heads with varying lengths of horn and skull size and shape, the smallest is what I assume to be a Cumbrian ram, and the largest - a Chinese Water Bufallo.
Wagon wheels, barrels, animal skins - including a brown bear - pots, bottles, traps, horseshoes, stuffed birds and foxes, and what looks to be a keystone set into the bar draw the eye this way and that into all the little nooks and crannies of the space.
One set of steps leads up to a mezzannine with more seating, which in turns leads into a pool room with sofas and comfy chairs.
Another staircase above the bar reveals even more seating, and an alternative aspect to this wonderfully cosy and detailed bar area.
The barman told us when the new owners took over the site in the 1960s, it was filled with even more skulls and skins, which had to be removed to make space for the bar.
They usually serve Tiril Brewery’s The Quiet Pint on cask behind the bar, but given the season, this only came in bottles, which was fine by me.
The toilets are outside, and in the bar foyer there is a ball pool area for little ones, as well as pin ball and air hockey tables for the less little ones.
A map of the Ullswater area fills an entire wall, giving a sense of place, and there’s a handy coffee/tea/hot chocolate machine there for £2 a brew.
An early night and surprisingly uninterrupted sleep given there were four of us in the bed gave way to a quick breakfast and layer up of pretty much every item of clothing we had, before we ventured out into the stunning, freezing, 9am sunrise.
It was a bit hairy getting off the site given the icy conditions, but we soon made it to Pooley Bridge where we parked up and grabbed excellent bacon sandwiches from Granny Dowbekins Tearooms, and then popped in to Chestnut House, an independent off license, food, drink and outdoor clothing store.
It had barely scraped 10am, but we didn’t say no to a few nips of specialist gin - the range of which has got to be seen (and sampled) to be believed - to warm our toes up for the walk.
Ullswater is known as The Lake District’s most beautiful lake, and it’s plain to see why.
We walked the roughly four mile route to Howtown along footpaths, shore, and roads, past ropeswings, swans, and llamas, and via the lower slopes of High Street and the Ullswater Way paths.
Snow capped peaks filled our line of sight, and the views really are spectacular as you get onto higher ground away from the lake.
Unfortunately I had misread the Ullswater Steamer departure times, and what I thought was our connection back to Pooley Bridge from Howtown actually went to Patterdale, in the opposite direction.
My son and I set off to walk back to get the car, but lucked out with hitching a lift with a couple from Pooley Bridge, which saved our legs, as well as admonishments from my wife and daughter.
We returned, tired, to The Quiet Site, where we pretty much repeated the night before.
Sitting outside again, wearing everything we had, we gazed at the stars inbetween stories and sips of Bourbon, prior to another excellent sleep inside the warm and cosy Hobbit Hole.
A lovely, unique, experience in a beautiful spot which reveals the slopes of High Street as the sun rises over the Shap fells in the distance.
You can book a Hobbit Hole, as well as other forms of accommodation supplied at The Quiet Site, via www.thequietsite.co.uk