Levens Hall and the Lakes Chilli Festival

This week’s guest post is from Quirky Traveller Zoë Dawes.

Do you know the Lake District, Cumbria UK? If so, you probably think of mountains, lakes, poets – and possibly a drop of rain! Well, there is a whole lot more to it than that, and you can experience the full-on quirkiness that the area can offer at Cumbria’s annual Chilli Fest

Levens Hall Chilli Fest, photo/Zoë Dawes

It takes place in August within the grounds of historic Levens Hall, just outside Kendal. Levens Hall is famous for one of the oldest Topiary Gardens in the world. This Grade I-listed garden dates from 1694, surviving in its original design. The topiary is some of the oldest in the world and justifiably famous. This historic garden also incorporates a small orchard of apple trees and medlars, a nuttery, herb garden and croquet lawn – all very English.

Last year I went along with my son Alex, 12 and his mate Charlie. We met up with some friends, including Hugo over from Mexico. They were really intrigued with the idea of Chilli Festival in Cumbria …

Alex & Chilli, photo/Zoë Dawes

One of our favourite attractions was Chilli Roulette - Spin the wheel and have a 1-in-6 chance of getting a chilli choc instead of a milk choc. Alex was first up – and guess what … his expression says it all!

There were loads of great stalls selling every kind of chilli flavoured produce you could imagine, including jams, chutneys, crisps, nuts, and, of course, mind-boggling hot sauces. We all had great fun tasting different ones and I bought a bottle of yummy Smoky Chipotle Sauce from the lovely guys at the ‘Trees Can’t Dance’ stand. There were plenty of other attractions including Salsa dancing, a Mexican band, Puppet show, Cookery Demos and talks about the House & Grounds.

Trees Can Dance, photo/Zoë Dawes

We had our lunch in the Topiary Garden and enjoyed a great view of the Hall, imagining ourselves back in Stuart times. There is a children’s adventure playground, which is suitable for younger ones and the most beautiful walks where you can admire the really creative planting and colour schemes. Chris Crowder, Head Gardener, said that they aim to keep colour and form throughout the year, using a simple color palette and lots of plants with strong structure for variety.

Levens topiary, photo/Zoë Dawes

In the afternoon I left the others to have a quick look round the house. The medieval pele tower was incorporated into a beautiful gentleman’s residence in the 1590s. The Hall has some really interesting things to look at: I especially enjoyed the quirky cabinets full of unusual objects, including a lot of Wellington memorabilia, Coronation robes for George IV and the earliest English patchwork quilt, old clocks and – the Bleeding Chair … you’ll have to visit to find out what that is!

We went home with lots of spicy sauces, a sombrero (now why did we buy that?) and a desire for some chilli con carne and a cold beer …

Topiary elephant with sombrero, photo/Zoë Dawes

The Chilli Fest happens annually and Levens Hall is open from Spring until October each year.


Zoë Dawes is a travel writer and speaker, sharing her stories of quirky adventures around the globe. Based in NW England, her favorite place on the planet is the Lake District, Cumbria. She has a popular travel blog The Quirky Traveller and runs Travel Writing Workshops around the UK. Zoë recently won Britain’s Best Travel Blogger Award 2011. Follow her on Twitter.



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6 Responses to “Levens Hall and the Lakes Chilli Festival”

  1. Jeremy B
    May 4, 2019 at 2:52 pm #

    Love the horticultural art (I forgot what it is called) but the chilis are a bit too hot for me!

    • Zoe Dawes
      May 4, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

      There are some really tasty cool ones Jeremy ;-) Come up to Cumbria - we grow some great ones here too!

      • Steve Collins
        May 4, 2019 at 9:16 pm #

        Let’s all go! I’m up for a Cumbrian party. Besides I want to explore all that fabulous Celtic history and lovely Lake Country!

  2. Elspeth Wrigley
    May 5, 2019 at 12:29 am #

    Zoe I am embarrassed to say that I never been to Levens Hall. Talk about missing what is on your own doorstep! How on earth did that happen. I have walked many times in the lovely grounds opposite the Hall, along the river, but to think that I had missed the topiary and delights of Levens Hall takes a lot of admitting to!

    I’m going to try and make the Chilli festival there this year as I love spicy food - and chocolate - hope they still have the roulette there when I visit!

    Maybe I could be forgiven overlooking this great Cumbrian residence if I were to share a favourite chilli recipe of mine?

    Simply tip out a tub of philadelphia cheese (low fat works great). Pour over a runny chilli sauce - as hot as you like - one with the seeds in like the Thai Chilli sauce/ Thai sweet chilli sauce works very well - but I bet you can find a great one on the stalls at the Levens Hall Chilli Fest. Serve with your favourite crackers or Nachos as a great dip to go with beer or chilled aperitif.

    (The chilli sauce needs to be the kind you would use for dipping spring rolls rather than say a tabasco style sauce - unless you have an asbestos mouth!)

    Thanks for sharing…I go humbly and look forward to visiting Levens Hall in August!

    • Billie Frank
      May 5, 2019 at 7:01 am #

      Thanks for posting that comment and sharing your recipe. In New Mexico, we call it chile and love it hot. In our Food Thoughts post Were chiles always in New Mexico, Steve Collins shares a great Green Chile Apple Pie recipe. http://www.santafetravelers.com/food-thoughts/were-chiles-always-in-new-mexico/ Try it!

    • Zoe Dawes
      May 29, 2019 at 4:22 am #

      Maybe see you there this August Elspeth. Levens is a great palce to visit any time of the year. The gardens look beautiful and the topiary is stunning with a welcoming and somewhat quirky house inside.

      Am going to try that chilli treat this weekend!!

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