MID to late November could easily be characterised as the calm before the storm.

That time when we are starting to think about Christmas but the rush of preparations and festivities have not quite kicked in.

It is also the season when many people are looking to take their last few days of annual leave before the year ends which make getaways like this so appealing. We were invited to explore Cumbria with a visit to the grand Lowther Castle in Penrith before a stay at the plush new barn annexe at The Hare and Hounds pub in Levens.

Built at the turn of the 19th century, Lowther Castle has a rich – and at times decadent – history which is detailed in a fascinating exhibition about its owners, the Earls of Lonsdale, before you explore the imposing structure itself. Although its façade and outer walls were preserved, the castle’s interior – which once boasted a room for every day of the year – was demolished in 1957.

It then lied in ruin until 2000 when the Lowther Estate and English Heritage started a project to bring it back to life which eventually led to the creation of Lowther Castle and Gardens Trust in 2007. There has been much change afoot since then. The beautiful castle, which takes on a slightly pink hue as it captures the sun’s rays, is set in more than 4,000 acres of land and still looks stunning on the landscape.

But where once was grounds covered in weeds and thicket are now a range of ambitious features such as the rock garden, Japanese garden and adorable summerhouses. The latest project is the restoration of the rose garden, offering a good excuse to come back and see all the gardens in full bloom.

If you have young kids, Lowther Castle is a must for its adventure playground too. Surrounded by woodland, ‘the Lost Castle’ – made from 18,000m of sustainable timber – is one of the largest outdoor wooden playgrounds in the country and immediately makes an impression.

Our five-year-old Ethan burnt off all his energy charging around the maze of turrets, walkways, ropes and nets before taking on the big slide at the very top over and over again.

We soon forgot the winter chill trying to keep up with Ethan on various assault courses and there are even some sit-in zip-slides which are suitable for younger kids which he also loved. Grinning and worn out from Cumbria Tourism Awards’ Large Visitor Attraction of the Year, we headed to The Hare and Hounds to warm up and for a good feed.

Originally a 16th century coaching inn, The Hare and Hounds in Levens offers the best of both worlds because while it has the charm and cosiness of a historic English pub it also offers a contemporary menu of home-cooked food and sleek accommodation for visitors. It is fair to say the hostelry, a finalist in the Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards 2018, is in a sleepy corner of the world but the service was certainly not reflective of this.

If our Saturday evening was anything to go by the team rarely get a quiet moment at weekends but we were warmly welcomed and nothing was too much trouble. We could see why they were busy when we tried the incredible food. The Hare and Hounds specialises in pizzas with the dough made freshly on site each day. I opted for the ‘charity pizza’ where, in a nice touch, some of the funds go towards the Friends of Levens School group to pay for things like playground equipment.

It featured Jamaican jerk chicken, bacon and mango in a glorious and lively combination of flavours with a light crispy crust.

My wife Sarah was equally impressed by the generously topped butternut squash, caramelised onion, courgette and Garstang blue cheese pizza.

On the side we also had a hearty deli board with courgette fritters, halloumi sticks, artisan breads, chargrilled aubergine and red pepper hummus which was absolutely delicious.

Overnight we stayed in the new barn annexe, a previously disused part of the building lovingly converted into luxury self-catering accommodation.

Immaculately decorated with a contemporary design but with a farmhouse-style kitchen and exposed beams, the room seemed to effortlessly blend old and new and was warm, comfortable and easy to relax in.

A hearty, full breakfast concluded our trip the next day but we are sure to return to both these great places in a charming part of the world just a short drive away.

For more information about Lowther Castle, which is hosting a Christmas market this weekend, visit lowthercastle.org and for The Hare and Hounds go to hareandhoundslevens.co.uk