"Brewing is a craft, the product of good ingredients and good practice."
It sounds like a dream summer trip: a scenic train journey that incorporates short walks in the Cumbrian fells, accompanied by foaming pints of local ale. Arthur Ransome or Beatrix Potter, who both wrote tales of idyllic summers in the Lake District, could have invented it.
But it's real. Real Ale by Rail, a rail trail backed by First TransPennine Express, sets out to showcase local brewers, while supporting sustainable travel. The seven-mile trail runs along the glorious Lakes Line, a rural branch line from the mainline train hub of Oxenholme to Windermere at the end of the line.
Cumbria has a rich heritage of artisan brewing since the 1830 Beerhouse Act first gave rise to a proliferation of local brew houses. Today, there are some 840 independent brewers in the UK, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, and, of these, 30 or so are based in Cumbria.
My first stop is the Hawkshead Brewery, one of the new breeds of Cumbrian craft breweries, which relocated to the picture-postcard village of Staveley in 2006. The brewery produces a range of permanent and seasonal beers.
'We're doing our best to change the image of real ale. We now stage two beer festivals per year and it's not all beards and bellies. About half the drinkers are female,' enthuses brewer Alex Brodie, supping a pint of the award-winning Windermere Pale. I join him on the leather sofas in the cavernous tasting hall with a pint of dark, malty Brodie's Prime and a plate of Welsh rarebit from the next-door café, Wilf's.
'There are now lots of microbrewers playing around with hops to produce fruity, hoppy beers,' he adds. 'In the same way that New World wine producers took the fear away from wine by talking about the grape, we're now talking about hops.'
My taste buds suitably teased, I continue exploring the hop-flavoured trail. There are nine featured pubs along the route, all but one within a short walk of the stations, and some attached to specialist microbreweries. Each one has its own unique appeal - from a swift lunchtime half of Jennings Cumberland at the Station Inn in Oxenholme, to a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord at The Elleray in Windermere.
A particular revelation is the Watermill Inn, nestled in the bucolic village of Ings. It's a bit further to walk than the others, but worth it. The cottage-industry microbrewery was founded in 2006 as an add-on to the family pub, and won the Good Pub Guide Beer Pub of the Year in 2011. It now produces an eight-beer portfolio and serves another eight beers on tap from other brewers.
'Brewing is a craft, the product of good ingredients and good practice,' explains the softly spoken brewer Brian Coulthwaite as we sit on the outdoor terrace with pints of Collie Wobbles and views across the rolling, sheep-grazing fields to Windermere.
A place to stay
A good base is the Riverside Hotel, a recently refurbished hotel overlooking the banks of the River Kent and just a short walk into Kendal. The Sanctuary Bar serves Cumberland sausage and mash washed down with Hawkshead Bitter, while the terrace is great for a summer evening sundowner. Alternatively, Beech House is a contemporary but homely five-room B&B with lots of nice touches, such as tea trays with Kendal mint cake in each room. The sign down the road at the old Beast Banks Post Office commemorates Postman Pat, Cumbria's favourite postie and cat lover, who was born here in 1978 in the house where the author John Cunliffe lived. And, while you're in town, check out what's on at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. It's a great place to round off the evening with some live music, a film or dinner before catching the train home.
There's loads going on in the Lakes this summer - here's our pick of the best events…
On the Night Shift
A free event from the annual Lakes Alive programme, staged at Bowness-on-Windermere following the arrival of the Olympic Torch earlier in the evening, and part of the London 2012 Festival.
When: 21 June
Cumbria's ever-expanding rock and indie-music festival this year features Dizzee Rascal, James and Maxïmo Park, among others.
When: 27-29 July
Another Lakes Alive production, the UK's first street arts festival with camping comes to the Lakeland village of Cartmel. Expect fireworks, festivities and frolics.
When: 17-19 August