Sarah Tierney takes a horse-drawn carriage to a Michelin star restaurant on the Scottish border

WHEN I told my husband Al I’d got us a trip on a horse-drawn carriage to a Michelin star restaurant near Carlisle his first question was, how long will that take us? I think he imagined us on the M6, trotting along in the slow lane, our horses refuelling on hay at Tebay while we queue for gourmet sausage rolls. 

Once I clarified that the carriage ride was from a holiday apartment at nearby Netherby Hall where we’d be staying, he looked a lot happier. And two weeks later we were driving through gated parkland just south of the Scottish border, our eyes on the stately home at the end of the snaking driveway.

We hopped in, feeling all Bridgerton, and settled back into a red velvet-lined, open top carriage; an exact replica of one used by the Queen.

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Netherby Hall stands in a 36-acre estate near Carlise Image: Adamedia

In its heyday, guests would have arrived at Netherby Hall by horsepower, and our apartment is named after a horse-drawn coach that regularly stopped here. The Engineer is one of nine luxury self-catering accommodation options at this recently renovated historic hall, and we’re not using the word ‘luxury’ carelessly here - it really is quite special.

Split across two levels, the apartment’s living area has a well-equipped kitchen and dining area, cupboards stocked with just-bought board games, and sofas around a fireplace that was filled with cut flowers from the garden when we visited, and which would make a cosy focal point when lit in the winter. Upstairs is a large bedroom with a deep carpet and hotel-style touches like fluffy dressing gowns, plus an equally generous bathroom with a walk-in shower and a roll-top bath, angled so you can look out at the Cumbrian countryside while you soak.

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Our apartment with fresh flowers from the walled garden Image: Confidentials

The high ceilings are cut across by original oak beams and there are windows on both sides. The light and space makes you instinctively relax - you’ve room to breathe in here and the views from the wide, comfy bed stretch for miles. Your eyes rest on big skies and sunken fields, and in the far distance, steady, slow-turning wind turbines.

If you were looking for somewhere to escape for a few days to reset and relax, or focus on a project (a book, maybe) or drawing or reading or whatever it is you dream of having the time and mental space to do, this apartment would be ideal. It’s quiet with thick walls and sits in empty countryside (apart from during the occasional events they hold here throughout the year). There’s no must-sees on your doorstep demanding you visit; though there’s plenty to see within a short drive: the Solway Coast, Kielder Forest, Hadrian’s Wall, Dumfries and Galloway, the Lake District.

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Oak beams and views from the bed in The Engineer apartment at Netherby Hall Image: Confidentials

Closer to home, rabbits nibble on the lawns and a path leads through buttercups to a summer house tucked underneath an old sycamore tree (another good place for writing or reading). You can hear greater spotted woodpeckers and starlings and chaffinches (I’m not Bill Odie, I’ve just got an app) and not much else, apart from the chime of the clock tower clock in the stable yard.

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Homemade Netherby Hall Gin Image: Confidentials

A tour of the gardens at Netherby Hall

We eat the handmade chocolates from Castle Chocolates in Carlisle (the homemade gin will have to wait till later) then head to reception where we’re met by a friendly team that includes head gardener Lorraine Pearson. She’s going to show us around the walled garden - it’s one of the mix and match activities you can choose from on Netherby Hall’s Summer Experience Package. Other options include a tour of the house, a meet and greet with the handsome black horses in the stables, and of course, dinner at The Pentonbridge Inn.

The hall and inn are owned by Margo and Gerald, a couple of substantial means who have transformed this once derelict and forgotten stately home into a place of beauty. Lorraine explains that while one of the two prefers a wild, natural look, the other likes more formal planting, so the gardens here offer the best of both. We follow a path cut through wildflowers and overlooked by the kind of trees you mainly find in the grounds of landed gentry; giant redwoods, architectural monkey puzzles, ancient beech and lime. (I’m not a tree expert but Lorraine is, and so is Al - he works as an arboricultural surveyor). They have several geeky conversations about mycorrhizal fungi and tree pathogens while I gaze dreamily up at the canopies and breathe in the just-stopped-raining air.

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Head gardener Lorraine takes us on a tour of the gardens Image: Adamedia

We reach a narrow iron gate in a red brick wall bordered with beds of lavender. This is the walled garden - a sign of status and wealth in days gone-by. The thinking went; the wealthier you are, the more bricks you can afford, the higher your walls. The Graham family who owned Netherby before Margo and Gerald bought it in 2014 must have had a fair bit of money because you’d need more than a leg-up to scale these.

Inside we pass bubbling fountains and stone sundials and wander through vine-covered archways where gala apples and ruby-hued pears grow while blackbirds sing their hearts out above. It’s June, the midpoint between the freshness of spring and the abundance of summer and the rain-wet roses look and smell exquisite.

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Lorraine shows us where they grow some of the produce we’ll be eating tonight at The Pentonbridge Inn. Micro herbs are planted twice a week in the restored greenhouses. We take a nibble; they’re by turns lemony and sweet and subtly savoury. With just-picked raw ingredients like this, you get a hint at the gastronomic experience to come. She explains how Chris Archer, the head chef, discusses his menus with her and they plant the vegetable beds accordingly. Growing produce for a Michelin-starred chef must take a whole other level of gardening prowess; you couldn’t get a more demanding customer. The garden also produces cut flowers for the apartments, herbs for the Netherby Hall gin, and there’s talk of supplying Pure Lakes with natural ingredients for the organic soaps and bubblebaths in the guests' bathrooms.       

We move from the garden into the house, which is another delight for the eyes with its warm, bright colours and light-filled rooms. They hold events here throughout the year, including a craft fair and a New Year’s Eve ceilidh in an oak-panelled hall which sounds like a snowy midwinter night’s dream. 

The house leads onto the stables where the horses are being washed down and rested, and the carriage is waiting on the cobblestones.

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The horses in the stable yard at Netherby Hall Image: Adamedia

A horse and carriage ride to The Pentonbridge Inn 

One thing you need to know about horse-drawn carriages - the redoubtable beasts do not like hanging around so make sure you’re ready in good time. We hopped in, feeling all Bridgerton, and settled back into a red velvet-lined, open top carriage; an exact replica of one used by the Queen. Margo and Gerald were in the driving seat - Margo, an experienced equestrian at the reins, Gerald keeping an eye out for approaching cars. 

You’ve never felt truly superior until you’ve ridden in a horse-drawn carriage; peering over hedgerows and garden fences, clip-clopping down country lanes while delivery drivers are forced to slow to a crawl behind you, waving regally at the villagers waiting outside the inn for your arrival.

We stepped off the carriage and back down to earth in the pub car park but didn’t stay there long. We were about to be served the kind of food that takes you into orbit. Chris Archer was awarded his Michelin star in 2023 for his cooking at The Pentonbridge Inn. His eight-course tasting menu takes local ingredients and classic British dishes and distils them down to the absolute essence of what makes them good and right, before he reimagines them with unexpected flavour combinations and presents them like jewels on a plate.

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The experience began with canapés. A beetroot meringue topped with pickled beetroot, trout tartare, nasturtium mayonnaise, and trout roe, is served alongside a caramelised brioche layered with chicken liver parfait and gingerbread crumb. This was followed by an amuse bouche of weirdly silky and light ‘cheddar and beer soup’ with two mini custard-cream style Montgomery cheddar biscuits sandwiched together with cheddar cream, burnt onion powder, and onion chutney.        

Eating these intro courses, we were already eyes-wide and gormlessly astounded. It was like we were high at the all-night garage and everything we ate was suddenly so much tastier and, like, realer and more perfect than it had ever been before.

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The rye bread that came next was served with a rich beef pate topped with beef dripping, and butter from somewhere called Wintertarn Dairy where the cows must be grazing on ambrosia. The first of the fish courses was next: a hand-dived diamond of Orkney scallop in fragrant, curry-like Vadouvan spices and served with a buttery port and ginger sauce, tiny broad beans, and translucent slivers of pickled shallots.

This was followed by pan-fried halibut as fresh you’d find in a fishing village, served with a single ‘chip’ of potato terrine topped with smoked cod roe emulsion, and a little pea of compressed cucumber.

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We surfaced momentarily to get our bearings on the menu; we were up to what you’d probably call the main course; Cumbrian Herdwick lamb with two deep-green spears of asparagus, a morel mushroom filled with lamb mousse (gulp), the warm spices of a ball of merguez sausage, and creamed potato so smooth you could suck it up through a straw (though not in this establishment).

Next was an optional cheese course - we opted in - where the usual format of strong cheese on mild cracker was reversed. The wedges of mellow Mrs Kirkhams and nutty Lord of Hundreds were the calming influence on a chilli-hot, aniseedy buckwheat cracker, with a velvety rhubarb chutney adding sweetness.  

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Then it was the ‘pre dessert’ (a concept I’m taking home with me) and possibly my favourite course of the night. It was an almond financier, gooey with Netherby Hall honey and elderflower syrup, and encased in a light, golden crisp, while milk ice cream melted into a honeycomb and biscuit crumb. It was the English country garden in pudding form, like our wanderings through the walled flower beds had been transferred onto my plate. The ‘main’ dessert followed the same botanical theme. A pink peppercorn meringue was filled with strawberry fool and topped with rosemary-infused cream, dotted with little strawberry jellies and served alongside a strawberry sorbet. All these strawberries were from Cochrane’s Farm near Carlisle.

It’s a testament to the sensible sizing of each course that by now we were full but not uncomfortably, regretfully so. We still had space for the little treasure chest of petite fours that ended the tasting menu with a flourish. There was a peppermint truffle, a vanilla fudge, a grapefruit jelly and an apricot-filled canele, each one intricate and delightful. The chefs had closed up shop by the time we’d finished savouring each bite so we didn’t get chance to express our admiration. We’d had a pass-side view of them all evening as they plated up each course with precision and perfect teamwork. There was no egos or drama at work there; just calm, controlled excellence and a deserved confidence that their star is still on the rise.

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The next day we walked around the gardens again before leaving. It felt like the ultimate luxury, to have it pretty much to ourselves, just the occasional other guest who was probably, like us, wondering what good deed they’d done to be rewarded with a morning like this in a place like this. I have the feeling it won’t be this quiet at Netherby Hall for long.

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The walled gardens at Netherby Hall Image: Adamedia

Experience Breaks at Netherby Hall and Pentonbridge Inn

Available to book on limited dates this summer, Netherby Hall’s experience breaks include a four-and-a-half mile scenic horse-drawn carriage ride along country roads to dine at the Michelin-starred Pentonbridge Inn, and private tours of the Grade II* listed house and its gardens.

Guests staying at Netherby Hall have the option to choose from a range of experiences to create their perfect break. Prices start from £205 for a one-night stay for two people in one of the luxury apartments, with carriage rides to Pentonbridge Inn or around the 36 acres of private gardens and grounds from £65 per person, and tours of the house and garden from £15 per person. Dinner at the Michelin-starred Pentonbridge Inn costs £230 for two people.

Call 1228 792732 or visit this link to book your break.

Experience breaks available: Wednesday, July 24 to Saturday, July 27, Friday, August 23 to Saturday, August 24, and Thursday, September 12 to Saturday, September 14.

Luxury breaks without experiences are available to book throughout the year. Experience breaks are available via direct bookings only.

Netherby Hall

  • Nine luxury self-catering apartments and cottages
  • 36-acre private estate
  • Dog friendly
  • Michelin-starred dining at nearby Pentonbridge Inn
  • Complimentary EV charging points
  • Free WiFi

Netherby Hall, Longtown, Carlisle, Cumbria CA6 5PR Tel: 01228 792732

Netherby Hall is on Confidential Guides

Recommended by Confidential Guides

The Pentonbridge Inn is on Confidential Guides

Recommended by Confidential Guides

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