Deanna Thomas checks into one of Cumbria’s grandest boutique hotels
It’s almost twenty years since Cumbria bore the brunt of the UK’s outbreak of foot and mouth disease and the dramatically picturesque county has battled bouts of misfortune since, including devastating floods in 2009 and 2015.
But Cumbrians will not be felled and the area has reinvented itself over the past few years as an ideal destination for food tourists. As soon as you cross the county border you pick up signs pointing to farm shops, independent breweries and artisan producers. It also has its fair share of Michelin starred and guide-recommended restaurants and is renowned for being the birthplace of many nationally famous foodstuffs from sausages to ginger bread and sticky toffee pudding.
The hotel is all welcoming – towards children, dogs or tired grown-ups in need of some rejuvenating country air
Cumbria is also home to a number of highly regarded country hotel restaurants, making it an ideal weekend destination for people from all over the north west wanting to get the most out of a short break.
We were invited to visit Holbeck Ghyll Country House Hotel, a well established and highly acclaimed former hunting lodge with impressive views over Lake Windermere. It was originally bought in 1888 by one of the richest men in the country, Lord Lonsdale (first president of the Automobile Association), who is rumoured to have lost it in a bet.
Holbeck Ghyll was converted into a hotel in 1973, and subsequent owners have made a series of enhancements to the 18-acre estate by incorporating some of the adjacent buildings and converting them into additional suites. They have also added a luxury spa with a sauna, steam room, and a relaxation room alongside an outdoor hot tub. The hotel’s driveway (between Windermere and Ambleside) meanders through the boutique hotel’s ancient woodland, winding its way up to the more formal country gardens. The hotel is all welcoming – towards children, dogs or tired grown-ups in need of some rejuvenating country air and well-earned relaxation.
The wood-panelled reception features a few cosy nooks and a fireplace perfect for sitting by with a newspaper or a good book if the weather isn’t as warm as the welcome. We were lucky enough to arrive on a sunny afternoon where all our previously good intentions of going on a walk were abandoned in favour of spending a couple of hours on the expansive terrace chatting, relaxing and watching the sailboats bob along in the distance.
We sat there long enough for our hot cups of afternoon tea to be replaced by chilled glasses of early evening fizz while the tensions of the past week blew away with the breeze. When it was time to get ready for dinner, we were shown to our suite in one of the neighbouring properties.
Buttermere opens onto a central lounge area, which could be accessed by the neighbouring room for larger parties or groups. It also housed the base for a Sonos multi-room control system that allows guests to listen to pre-programmed music in the bedroom or the bathroom.
All the comforts you’d hope for in a luxury suite were there including fluffy white bathrobes, an enormous super king sized bed and a Nespresso machine, as well as a few very pleasant surprises such as a monogrammed bottle of sloe gin, home baked shortbread and a mirror over the spa bath which turned out to be a television. The rear glass doors even opened onto a private terraced area. If we hadn’t been booked into that night’s very special Louis Roederer Champagne dinner – we might have been tempted to simply stay there.
Guests all gathered in the hotel bar for a glass of Brut Premier Champagne and a trio of canapés, while the hotel’s highly accommodating general manager Elia Shreiber introduced the evening’s guest host, wine expert Charlotte Cotterill from Maisons Marque et Domaines.
The seven course wine-matching dinner was held in one of the hotel’s two dining rooms (you may well recognise the other from an episode of The Trip where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon eat their way through the Lake District’s best hotels.)
Dishes included skate wing with anchovy ketchup and tempura capers, salt aged duck with parsley quinoa, craupadine beetroot and Madeira, an excellent selection of cheese, and a chocolate delice with beetroot and yoghurt washed down with a glass of fine Ramos Pinto Port. It was a joy to only have to waddle a short distance back to our suite after dinner.
Occasionally Holbeck Ghyll host special seasonal dinners, usually in partnership with one of their highly regarded wine producers, but places get snapped up quite quickly, so it might be worth signing up to their mailing list. On regular evenings, hotel guests can indulge in a seven course taster menu (with optional matching wine flight) or a four course gourmet menu of classic seasonal dishes created by their talented head chef – which is also available on weekend lunchtimes.
Holbeck Ghyll’s website also tells of a private chef’s table within the hotel’s kitchen and a hidden BBQ and fire pit area on a hidden pergola within site of the lodge. We didn’t experience either of those on our recent visit, but, along with the walk we never got round to, it just gives us more than one excuse to return.
Holbeck Ghyll, Holbeck Lane, Windermere, LA23 1LU
Prices start from £150 per room per night based on 2 people sharing on a B&B basis