Lucy Tomlinson finds her bliss in the Lakes
By now, we all know the restorative power of nature. In Manchester, we are lucky to have so many rural gems on our doorstep. Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire all serve up the goods when it comes to beautiful scenery, cosy pubs and some fantastic places to eat.
First up is a go on the swing. Yes, that's right, the garden boasts a large swing to enjoy the sweep of the lake and the fells.
Cumbria, while ticking all those boxes and more, feels just that little bit more difficult to get to, a secluded enclave. This is doubly true for the non-driver, or just anyone who wants to leave their car behind in the city.
So I was delighted to find that you can access this pocket of heaven by train. Specifically, the direct train from Manchester Piccadilly to Windermere, home to some of the Lake District’s most famous attractions. I managed to drag editor Kelly away from hard grafting in the content mines with the promise of good food, good wine and all the sublime scenery our tired eyes could devour.
The beauty of Windermere
Linthwaite House in Windermere has been welcoming travellers, weary urbanites and all, for years but was acquired in 2016 by the Leeu Collection, a South African-based group that concentrates on bringing the good things in life – wine, food and art – to stunning locations.
Windermere itself is a ribbon lake – a long, blue finger of fresh water that extends from honeypot Ambleside in the north to just tickle the pretty village of Newby Bridge in the south.
The lake, which is the longest and largest in England, is studded with islands and surrounded by the foothills of the Lake District. Folded into the fells is a clutch of grand country house hotels, one of which is our destination.
Bowness-in-Windermere is perhaps the most popular town on the lake, always busy with visitors (though given a very good run for its money by Ambleside in the north). We pass through on our ten-minute taxi drive from Windermere station and look with longing at some of the pretty little cafes on its street. It's been at least two hours since our last coffee.
Linthwaite House hotel
All thoughts of a cosy drink are soon forgotten as we sweep up the drive to a grand Edwardian house resting on a picnic blanket of striped lawn. Beyond is that beautiful blue ribbon, weaving round fells and forests. Manchester might be only two hours away but it mentally, it feels much, much further.
Linthwaite House is set in 14 acres of manicured grounds, home to an eye-opening and eclectic collection of modern art, from a lethal-looking tiger on the prowl to abstract loops of cool marble with a sci-fi edge. The owner of the Leeu Collection, Analjit Singh, is a passionate art collector and each one of the hotels in the group boasts an impressive range of works, many from South African artists.
When we disembark first thing editor Kel and I are struck by is the air. It’s like inhaling newly washed silk – fine and cold. Then, the views. The hotel itself is perched high above Windermere, and is as near as anywhere to Wordsworth’s famous fictional cloud from which the valleys of the Lake District radiate like spokes of a wheel. Well, you might not be able to see all the valleys but the outlook is indeed tremendous.
The main house has had an upgrade since the change in ownership, and while the interiors are sleeker, it has kept its country house feel, with the carved staircase and traditional Delft fireplaces being particularly charming features. The main house bedrooms are cosy and welcoming, with plump patterned cushions and headboards, while you could get lost in the acres of curtains if you were so intrepid as to try and draw them.
We are staying in the more restrained Lake Suites, purpose-built cabins (if that is not too mundane a word) nestled between the trees. These magnificent suites comprise six units, two of which are interconnected, and all of which offer huge windows (all the better to view the lake with, my dear), generous but cosy bedrooms with king-sized beds, and en-suite bathrooms with a bath and walk-in shower, all done in shades of stone, oat and milky tea. The best is out the back though, as the hot tub burbles away contentedly.
Leaving Kelly to send a last few emails at a chic little office desk in the suite, I set off to explore the grounds. Windermere (along with nearby Coniston) is well-known as the inspiration behind Swallows and Amazons, a favourite of mine when I was younger. While camping and pemmican are distinctly not on the agenda today, I think I can harness a little bit of that spirit of adventure, albeit in a much more sedate and sophisticated way.
First up is a go on the swing. Yes, that's right, the garden boasts a large swing to enjoy the sweep of the lake and the fells. Then a nosy around the artworks hidden in the grounds, including a sylvan nymph and a rampant lion.
There is also plenty of interesting art strewn around the inside of the hotel. While not every artwork will be to everyone's taste (and wouldn't it be boring if it was) I found it refreshing to see a real collection that reflects someone's soul rather than just safe, by-the-yard hotel art.
Despite being on England's largest lake, Linthwaite House has contrived to have its own private tarn. As you do. It is completely peaceful as I stroll around, apart from the attentions of a few ducks. I consider having a quick go in the boat but decide that being intrepid has its limits, and falling into the lake is not the adventure I'm after.
Cocktails at sunset
After my explorations, a treat is in order. The heart of the hotel is the stunning orangery, a cut-glass jewel box which opens out onto a sweeping terrace, from which to enjoy the view. The palette of slate blue and bronze reflects the natural vistas beyond the windows, while punches of emerald green and leopard print nod towards the South African connection.
Nestling in a deep, low sofa, I ordered a Japanese-inspired Mizumi No Hinode cocktail (roughly translating as “sunrise at the lake”), a concoction of Roku gin, Yuki No Busha sake, kaffir lime leaf syrup and yuzu bitters. Served in an old-fashioned Japanese tetsubin teapot, it manages to combine the tradition of Linthwaite House with its newer international influences all in one drink. It tastes fabulous too.
As the sun sets, I realise I could probably stay here for another few hours, savouring the grown-up pleasures of beautiful surroundings, interesting conversation and a cracking cocktail. However, dinner beckons so it's back to the suite for a freshen up.
The jewel in Linthwaite House's already heavy crown is the in-house restaurant, Henrock. It's under the direction of Simon Rogan, whose L'Enclume recently won three Michelin stars and is one of the most influential chefs in the country. He is also in the kitchen tonight, so it's an event not to be missed.
Though the suites are not far from the main house, attentive staff are quick to offer a ride in a golf buggy as they are situated up a slope. Later, when wearing heels for dinner, I am eternally grateful for this option.
The best of the best at Henrock
The menu at Henrock is described as “informally elegant” and, like Rogan’s other restaurants, dictated to by the seasons and local produce including ingredients from Rogan’s Our Farm. Unlike L’Enclume et al, the traditional three-course meal is the order of the day over the more experimental tasting menu, and Asian influences are strong.
Under ahead chef Brian Limoges a typical dish at Henrock might be new season lamb sweetbreads with kelp custard, miso aubergine or grilled fillet of pollock with lacquered smoked eel. While many of the ideas, ingredients and flavour profiles share common themes with other Rogan restaurants, there definitely seems to be a more playful element at work.
However, we visited during Simon Rogan’s 20th-anniversary celebration and instead the menu is a showreel of highlights from the best of his career. Normally I’ve chosen what I want to eat before I sit down (studying the menu online beforehand) but here it’s an agonising, in-depth discussion with Kelly as we tried to pick between what is essentially the best of the best.
Somehow, we managed. For my own starter, I dove into the caramelised potato with smoked eel, buttermilk and dill, while Kelly tried the roasted sea scallops with oyster fritter, fennel and truffle.
Valley game with braised onion tart and celeriac show a darker side of the chef’s repertoire – his usual farm and orchard flavours replaced with a peek inside a gentleman’s club. The game is sourced from the Cartmel Valley, where Rogan has his other Cumbrian restaurants. Kelly went with Roasted Goosnargh guinea hen served with rillette of the leg, and the earthy flavours of trompette mushroom, leek and artichoke.
I loved the chamomile cake with anise hyssop, pear and honey; a masterclass in the delicate, meadow flavours Rogan favours for sweeter dishes. Kelly decided on the puckering key lime pie.
The wine list is also hugely varied and intelligently designed. We have matched wine with dinner, each one expertly chosen, but I've been having a love affair with Greek wine recently, so lounge manager Andreas picks me out a glass of mineral-rich white from his home country that is a real treat in the bar beforehand.
The next morning, with heads only slightly foggy from sampling the wine list, we have a simple breakfast in the main dining room and decide a quick dip in the hot tub is exactly what is needed to send us on our way back to real life.
In my wildest fantasies, I would book a longer stay at Linthwaite House and use it as base for more food and drink-based adventures, a grown-up version of those Arthur Ransome stories (Swallows and Aliments, maybe?). Cumbria, after all, has if not a galaxy then definitely a large constellation of Michelin stars to explore (if this appeals see our Confidential Guides for more ideas).
What Linthwaite House aims to do is bring restoration and rejuvenation through aesthetic pleasure. A kind of meditation exercise in sheer loveliness. After our homes often became our workplaces, workout places, education centres and socialising hubs, we are discovering something we may have previously taken for granted. That getting away from it all - really getting away, mentally, physically and even spiritually - is the best tonic of all.
Linthwaite House, Crook Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3JA, 015394 88600. Classic rooms start from £215 per night.
More to do in Windermere
It seems unlikely, but if sipping cocktails in the orangery ever gets old, the area round Linthwaite House is a cornucopia of classic Lake District activities.
If you don't want to stray too far from home base, reception staff will provide maps and directions for walkers of all abilities. You can even borrow wellies on a muddy day though if you are doing anything challenging, walking boots are a better bet.
One thing Linthwaite House is less focused on is the wellness aspect. For yoga addicts, Lakes Yoga runs classes and workshops that make the most of the stunning surrounding while hotel staff will help arrange a massage if needed.
The nearest town - Bowness on Windermere - is a honeypot of charming cafes and shops. It's also a good place to pick up equipment for walking or other outdoor pursuits. Beatrix Potter World, a very sweet museum that is aimed at families, is here. For a more mature look at how Beatrix Potter lived and wrote, National Trust-owned Hill Top Farm is across the lake. You can get there by getting the lake ferry from Bowness to the village of Near Sawrey.
In the north, Ambleside is also a magnet for walkers and tourists. Zefferelli's has been going for about 40 years and its pizza and film nights (there is an independent cinema attached) are eternally popular. Lucy's On a Plate is an institution and especially noted for its puddings. If you are on a gastro-tour, The Old Stamp House has been getting raves for its food, not least from our reviewer, and it's sister restaurant Kysty is also well worth a visit. The Lakes Kitchen is another one to watch.
Dove Cottage near Grasmere is a must for fans of romanticism, poetry and gingerbread. The cottage was home to William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy - he composing many of his most famous poems and she writing her journals which provide an invaluable insight into the Romantic movement and life in the Lake District.
The village of Cartmel is a bit further south of Windermere but worth the trip if you are collecting Rogan points - it's home to L'Enclume, Rogan & Co and Aulis Cartmel, plus the Rogan shop. If you can push a bit further south you hit Grange over Sands, a pretty resort town on the coast. On the way, you might want to stop off at Heft in High Newton, Kevin Tickle's rejuvenated 17-century coaching inn, for wonderful food.
The town of Windermere also has some great places for breakfast or coffee, including Homeground Coffee + Kitchen, if you fancy picking up something before the train home.
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