I’ve wanted to visit Mirehouse for a long time, and one beautiful sunny Saturday in July, my gem-hunting companion and I decided we’d risk the busy weekend traffic (which curiously turned out to be almost non-existent that day) and head north to Bassenthwaite.
We thoroughly enjoyed our look around Mirehouse, but the house itself forms just one part of the visitor experience. Here are 10 reasons I would recommend you visit next time you’re looking for something new to explore in the Bassenthwaite area:
1. The Old Sawmill Tearoom
If you’re travelling to Mirehouse by car, you’ll need to park in the Dodd Wood pay-and-display car park, which is on the opposite side of the road to Mirehouse and its grounds.
We arrived late morning, so the first thing we did was to head to the Old Sawmill Tearoom for lunch. The sawmill was built around 1880 and powered by water from a dam to saw larches from Dodd Wood.
There’s an excellent amount of choice on the menu here, and lunch was great value for money. The ingredients used in our meals were of really good quality too. I stuck to something simple and had the bacon sandwich, which was made with lots of thick, tasty bacon (not like the average supermarket rashers!), and the prawn-filled roll and side salad ordered by my companion looked, and apparently tasted, amazing. I was sat near the kitchen, so got to see a number of other tasty looking lunches going out!
The toilet facilities are in a building opposite the tearoom, so it’s best to get comfy before crossing the road to Mirehouse, as it’s quite a long walk back once you start exploring – especially with children!
2. An historic house with literary connections
There are lots of interesting historic houses in the Lake District, and Mirehouse is another great example. Photographs aren’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it! The current house was built in 1666, and has since been extended.
Visitors are free to explore all the downstairs rooms, and you can see the original servants’ bells in the bell passage, attached to their network of wires – very Downton Abbey! There were 25-30 servants and groundsmen in all (you never see the groundsmen in Downton Abbey, do you?), and apparently each bell had a different pitch so that the servants could tell them apart.
Fans of historic houses will be very happy here, and will enjoy learning about Mirehouse’s literary connections. The house was left to John Spedding of Armathwaite Hall in 1802, and Wordsworth, Tennyson, Southey, Thomas Carlyle and John Constable were all friends of the Spedding family.
It’s always the ‘human’ and mundane things that intrigue me though, like the iron marks left on the dining room table by one of the previous occupants of the house! The house is open on selected days of the week in the afternoons, whereas the grounds and gardens are open daily.
3. You can stand in the chimney!
On first entering Mirehouse, you are dared to duck under and stand up in the dark of the hallway fireplace, where you can see a small circle of sky from the chimney above you. Now where else would you expect to stand in a chimney?!
4. The bee garden
The bee garden was the first thing we visited before reaching the house. It’s a large and warm, sheltered walled garden with several areas of interest, and when you walk through to the far side and turn around, you are greeted by the most dramatic backdrop – quite unlike the setting of most other houses I’ve been to.
As the name infers, the garden is largely planted for the benefit of bees, and the recesses in the brick walls are apparently called ‘bee boles’, and skep hives used to be placed in them. The garden was built in 1780 and restored in the 1990s.
5. Walks in the grounds and gardens
The first scene you notice on entering the grounds at Mirehouse is the driveway lined with magnificent Scots pine, which were planted from 1786, and you’ll pass over the trickling water of Skill Beck several times on your visit.
On a sunny day, you can take a peaceful stroll around the Poet’s Walk and take in the scent of the roses, wander down Lovers’ Lane, explore the woodland and adventure playgrounds, and visit the previously mentioned bee garden.
The backdrop to the house is formed by Ullock Pike and Dodd Fell. Dodd Fell, and part of Ullock Pike, both belong to the 3,500 acre estate and were leased to the Forestry Commission for 200 years back in 1921.
6. Rhododendrons in spring
Because of the large number of rhododendrons planted along the walks through the grounds, Mirehouse will look particularly stunning in spring. If you don’t make a visit this year, make sure you add it to your list of things to do at the start of the next visitor season. The meadow is also apparently full of daffodils.
7. The curious rhododendron tunnel
When you visit Mirehouse, you must seek out the rhododendron tunnel, which is a fascinating structure crafted from beautiful aged rhododendron trunks. You can walk right the way through it – tunnels are not just for children to enjoy…!
8. St Bega’s Church
Mirehouse is situated between the fells of Ullock Pike and Dodd, and the lakeside, so leaving the bottom of the grounds, you come across parkland that leads to the tiny St Bega’s Church in a breathtaking location on the side of Bassenthwaite Lake. If you’re a fan of local novels, apparently St Bega is the central character in local author Melvyn Bragg’s novel Credo, and a lot of the action takes place in this immediate area.
Make sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy the walks here to their fullest extent, as an alternative route through the parkland and Catstocks Wood takes you to the lakeside and the Tennyson Theatre and boathouse. You can then return through Crosthwaite Wood.
We didn’t have time to complete this, but it is one-and-a-half miles and the guide tells you that this takes about an hour – or two if, like me, you constantly linger for photos!
10. Four adventure playgrounds
Mirehouse is home to four adventure playgrounds, each suitable for youngsters of different ages. I had chance to visit one designed for younger children, where I found this adorable horse and cart. I promise I didn’t sit on the pony, but he clearly looks frightened at that prospect!
Have you visited Mirehouse for yourself before? Have you any other tips you can share for enjoying a day out here? If so, do let other readers know by leaving a comment below!