DAVE FLETT goes Walking with Wolves in the Cumbrian countryside

DESPITE being extinct in England since the 14th century, the wolf has never really shrugged off its “big, bad” reputation on these shores.

Our kids continue to be raised with that stereotype in mind, as the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairytales prove enduringly ageless.

Rather than gobbling up your grandma or blowing your house down, however, the Cumbria-based Predator Experience demonstrates that this most misunderstood of canine breeds is willing to welcome human visitors into their pack.

Situated just two miles away from Humphrey Head where the last wild wolf in this country was killed back in 1390, co-directors Dee and Daniel Ashman are providing a unique attraction amid the Lake District countryside.

For £95 per person, you can enjoy this country’s only Walking with Wolves experience and spend an hour with hybrid brothers Maska and Kajika to gain a fascinating insight into how our habitat would have differed more than 600 years ago.

John Craven – another staple of this author’s childhood – is a big fan and his meeting with the wolves in 2016 was subsequently voted Countryfile’s Best Magic Moment on the BBC show’s 30th-year anniversary.

Described as “80 per cent wolf”, Maska and Kajika are, legally, the nearest in DNA to their ancestors permitted in our nation outside of a zoo.

While their image might have been demonised in an exaggerated manner, though, the wolf remains an apex predator commanding a place at the top of the food chain, alongside lions and man and, on my visit, I witnessed a live kill when the scent of a mouse was impressively detected between the narrow crack in a wall.

There is, therefore, an over-16s policy for Walking with Wolves and a set of guidelines that need to be followed during the experience.

Initial introductions to the pair are made behind bars following their arrival in the back of a van and you are encouraged to hold up your hand to gain their trust.

Thereafter, direct eye contact must be avoided, they cannot be stooped over and, if they raise their heads, you must lower the palm of your hand towards them and give them a friendly stroke.

But, if all these instructions are followed, you will make an immediate and thrilling connection with these beautiful animals.

The experience sees the wolves accept you into their territory for a stroll while handlers Dee and Daniel answer all questions and provide a mine of information on subjects such as evolution, physiology, social structure and conservation.

It transpires that the wolf plays a vital role in preserving our fragile eco-system, although a return to the wild in England would never be possible due to the densely-populated nature of our country in the 21st century.

After they indulged in a little bout of play fighting, I was given Maska and Kajika’s leads – an exhilarating moment and fantastic photo opportunity.

What followed then was truly magical, as I was encouraged to join in a howling session, which provided an amazing insight into pack culture, social ranking and canine communication, with one wolf not participating until I made my noise.

Attracting visitors from as far afield as Australia, booking is essential for the experience and gift vouchers are available too.

Dee and Daniel have also recently won a long battle for planning permission to expand their business, with the intention of building a visitors’ centre next year and a habitat for the wolves that will be more suitable than where they are currently housed – in the partners’ back garden!

Two more wolves are set to be welcomed into the pack, meanwhile, and the additional fox, eagle and hawk encounters will benefit from the new facilities too.

And, for anybody desiring a bird’s eye view of the Lakes, the Zip Trekking Adventure at Grizedale Forest’s Go Ape centre, near Hawkshead, comes highly recommended.

Mixing an adrenalin-pumped activity with stunning scenery, participants from the age of 13 can enjoy eight sets of ziplines and, with two at every platform, it’s a great opportunity for competitive couples and families alike to race each other.

If you aim for the first session at 9.30am or the last of the afternoon, you are also likely to avoid the big groups – the maximum party is 14 – resulting in a more tranquil experience.

We opted for the former and, with only three people in our group, it gave us the chance to get to know each other and our friendly guides Dave and Will, who completed the whole course alongside us and were always on top of safety issues.

Driving 15 minutes uphill to the first platforms, the forest was so quiet and peaceful on our arrival, it felt much earlier than our actual starting time.

You’ll never have felt more awake, however, than when the smell of the trees is invading your nostrils as you soar 100 feet in the air at 48mph, hitting your top speed in 2.5 seconds!

The last zipline also offers an amazing view of the valley if you can remember to glance over your left shoulder.

With my jealous, dare-devil, ten-year-old daughter too young to join in, she nevertheless really enjoyed the Treetop Adventure Plus trail with her mum that included its own two ziplines and was suitable for children aged six and above.

Both agreed it was a good workout and finished their activity full of excitement.

The forest itself is a perfect setting, meanwhile, to spend the whole day and worth sticking around for the cafe, a segway ride or to burn off more energy with a woodland walk or a visit to the playground.

During our three-night Cumbrian break, we stayed in a Coppermines Lakes Cottages’ property and felt like we had struck gold.

Our Fisherbeck Fold holiday home formed one half of a converted, quaint 17th century farmhouse and was situated on the eastern side of Coniston Water, sleeping up to four people in a deceptively-spacious, ground-floor apartment.

Maintaining its period charm with low ceilings, wooden beams and a slate fireplace, the cottage has also been tastefully renovated and modernised with a very efficient, easy-to-use central-heating system, which is perfect for cosy nights in on the comfy sofa with substantial DVD and book collections to suit all ages and tastes.

My daughter’s favourite feature, meanwhile, was the living room window seat with its wonderful views of the lake and The Old Man of Coniston fell.

She quickly commandeered it for the whole weekend and sat there for hours reading, writing and playing on her iPad.

It was big enough for her to stretch out and rest her head and of sufficient size for adult lounging potential too.

The cottage is an idyllic, secluded hideaway with a garden that’s perfect for barbecues, but still lies just half a mile from Coniston village with its mixture of cafes, pubs, bakeries, ice-cream parlours and outdoor pursuits shops, which genuinely offers guests the best of both worlds.

Fact file

For further information on the Predator Experience’s Walking with Wolves offering visit predatorexperience.co.uk/walking-with-wolves/

Booking for Grizedale’s Go Ape activities is available at: goape.co.uk/locations/grizedale

Full details of Coppermines Lakes Cottages’ properties, including Fisherbeck Fold, can be found at: coppermines.co.uk