After checking in and being shown to our comfortable room (noting the jar of homemade flapjacks on the side), we went down to the lovely garden by the small tarn and tucked into a complimentary afternoon tea; warm scones, thick cream and raspberry jam, served with a pot of speciality loose leaf tea.
Then, in an attempt to work up an appetite for dinner, we walked a circuit of Tarn Hows where we spotted a rare "circumzenithal arc" in the sky.
On our return we enjoyed dinner in the contemporary but cosy restaurant where, to begin, we were unexpectedly served a delicious amuse bouche of leek, potato and fennel soup and some lovely crusty bread.
The menu isn't extensive but the choices were interesting and I could happily have eaten anything from it. For starters I was torn between the saltmarsh lamb, crisp sweetbread, courgette and lavender broth or the fillet beef tartare. I eventually went for the latter. Raw fillet of beef, finely chopped and mixed with diced cornichons and capers, the meat was well seasoned and a raw egg yolk sat on top, ready to break and ooze into the meat. It was my first experience of tartare so it's difficult to draw comparisons, but it was everything I expected and tasted divine.
Dave ordered the confit chicken, sage and pine nut ravioli with summer truffle and wild rocket. It was a large pasta parcel with a delicate filling and unmistakable note of truffle from the thinly shaved slices that adorned the plate.
My main was halibut fillet, served with garlic crushed potatoes, curly kale, butter clams, cucumber, lemon and tomato sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, an accomplished dish and totally delicious.
Dave's breast of grouse, duck and grouse sausage, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and bread sauce was equally good; local, seasonal ingredients treated with flair.
I could easily have been tempted by the cheeseboard, which offered a diverse range of British cheeses, each described in detail on the separate menu, but I had to pass. Instead Dave ordered coffee which came with some deliciously delicate and well executed petit fours.
After dinner we retired to the bar with its oak flooring, old beams, open fire and leather armchairs. The bar top itself is a beautiful slab of black slate from a nearby quarry and above it hang bunches of dried hops.
Out in the courtyard at the back of the Inn, they brew their own beers; Barngates Brewery produces a range of 7 or 8 different real ales, several of them named after long-gone pub pets. We enjoyed another excellent pint of Tag Lag, a refreshing fruity golden ale, before retreating to a neatly turned down comfy bed.
Breakfast the next morning was a real treat. Although other options were available, we both had fruit juice and then the full English; a thick herby sausage, crisp rashers of bacon, a softly poached egg, tomato, mushroom and a slab of proper black pudding. It was served with a rack of hot toast, including some fruit bread which was a nice addition.
Service was unobtrusive but prompt and friendly enough throughout our stay.
The only issue we encountered was with the water. We were informed on check in that the water was from their own supply up in the fells and although it does undergo various filtration and purification processes, it is pale peaty in colour with the odd bit of sediment finding its way through. This really wasn't an issue, but the lack of hot water and water pressure in general that we experienced at certain times, was. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" has never been my mantra so I wasn't overly worried for a one night stay, but can see that after a days walking you may be a little disgruntled with the lack of a hot bath.
Overall the Duck is the perfect venue for a quiet, relaxing country retreat. The fantastic food and drink, informal hospitality and gorgeous surroundings all play their part and the understated quality and those special little touches elevate the Duck above the norm.
The Drunken Duck Inn
Barngates, Ambleside, Cumbria. LA22 0NG