Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th February 2007.
There’s only a handful for which it would be worth making a special journey, were it not for the spectacular scenery and, this year, the renewed interest in Beatrix Potter and her world, thanks to the film Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger and Euan MacGregor (go to www.visitmisspotter.com for specific Potter-related information from the Cumbrian Tourist Board).
However, exceptional Lakeland boltholes do exist. The following suggestions include gracious waterside houses in glorious grounds, as well as simple, remote inns, perfect for walkers, plus a few fresh and contemporary newcomers. Those former icons of the British hotel industry, Sharrow Bay and Miller Howe, may be past their prime, but there’s still memorable food and accommodation on offer in the Lake District, in some of the most beautiful locations in the entire country.
Lindeth Howe, Windermere (015394 45759; www.lindeth-how.co.uk; doubles from £150 to £230 per night including breakfast).
Die-hard Beatrix Potter fans should look no further than Lindeth Howe, where the author spent several holidays before buying the house for her mother in 1915. Here she illustrated two of her books: Pigling Bland and Timmy Tiptoes. The smartly refurbished country house hotel is a useful base from which to visit Potter’s farm, Hill Top, across Lake Windermere (you can travel on Muriel 4, a replica of the boat she used herself) as well as the refurbished World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness (www.hop-skip-jump.com) and Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. Return to the hotel for a swim and a sauna, and a comfortable night.
Gilpin Lodge, Windermere (015394 88818; www.gilpinlodge.co.uk; dinner, bed and breakfast from £120 per person per night).
Definitely one of the most sybaritic places to stay in the Lakes, the deep-pile comfort and Michelin-starred kitchen of this family-run Relais & Châteaux hotel close to the shores of Windermere make it another excellent base for the Potter trail (walks and driving tours can be organized). Opt for a new Garden Suite and you’ll have your own garden and hot tub, sitting room and sensual bathroom. Owner John Cunliffe’s grandmother moved to Gilpin Lodge four years before Beatrice Potter took up residence in Hill Top Farm three miles away, and family diaries and photographs conjure the pre-First World War era.
Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere (015394 32375; www.holbeckghyll.com; doubles from £100 including breakfast).
Another fine hotel, in a classic Lakeland house, also with a Michelin-starred kitchen. It’s where Renée Zellweger , Lloyd Owen, directors and producers stayed while filming Miss Potter and you can stay in the luxurious new suite, with large private balcony and hot tub, that bears her character’s name. Normally it’s £470 for dinner, bed an breakfast for two, but special rates apply Sundays to Thursdays in January and February.
Linthwaite House, Windermere (015394 88600; www.linthwaite.com; dinner, bed & breakfast from £87 per person per night).
With superb views across landscaped grounds to Lake Windermere and the Old Man of Coniston beyond, Michael Beavans’ personally-run hotel stands out among Windermere contenders for its high standards, from the always satisfying food to the spotless, comfortable bedrooms. The welcoming public rooms are Edwardian in style, enhanced by a new enclosed veranda with lake views. Service manages to be crisp and amiable at the same time: you are made to feel that you are on holiday and not on parade.
Yew Tree Farm, Coniston (015394 41433; www.yewtree-farm.com; from £22 to £30 per person per night, including breakfast).
If farmhouse bed-and-breakfast is more to your liking, consider picture-perfect Yew Tree Farm, which, with its distinctive ‘spinning gallery’ is one of the most photographed farms in the Lake District, and was used in Miss Potter as the location for her own home, Hill Top. Potter, or Mrs Heelis as she was known in the district, knew Yew Tree well, having purchased it as part of Monk Coniston Estate, which she bequeathed to the National Trust. She helped the tenants to set up a tea room for visitors to the area, furnishing it with her own possessions. Tearoom and furnishings are still intact, and now the current owners, Jon and Caroline Watson, offer b&b in three just-refurbished bedrooms (from April), as well as their own Herdwick and Belted Galloway lamb and beef.
Howtown Hotel, Ullswater (01768 486514; dinner bed and breakfast £70 per person).
What the Lake District is really all about: an extremely simple, warmly welcoming, delightfully old fashioned guest house far away towards the end of a narrow lane on the remote eastern shore of Ullswater. In the same family for over 100 years, and run for nearly half of them by Jacqui Baldry, with her son David, Howtown is a truly well-kept secret where you step, gratefully, back in time. There are few frills (no phone or TV in rooms, no website, no computer in the office, even) but sensible bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, hearty traditional dinners and packed lunches, antiques, cut flowers, beds turned down at night, an attractive garden from which to gaze at the surrounding fells, and a lovely, quiet setting. Opens 30th March.
Augill Castle, Kirkby Stephen (01768 341937; www.stayinacastle.co.uk; doubles from £140 per night including breakfast; dinner on request £34).
Stunningly set in the beautiful Eden Valley on the edge of the Pennines, this eccentric mid-Victorian folly-castle is equidistant between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales and makes a memorable and refreshingly different base for exploring the region. Simon and Wendy Bennett, who saved Augill Castle from ruin ten years ago, are warm hosts in an eclectic home stuffed with antiques and curios, four posters and roll top baths. Dinner is eaten around a huge oak table under a stunning ceiling and in the morning the leisurely, and copious, breakfast rarely starts before nine. The Bennetts have two children and a smiling Labrador called Holly, and so children of all ages, and dogs, are warmly welcomed, and able to roam the 15 acres of wild garden, with pond and tennis court.
Hipping Hall, Kirby Lonsdale (015242 71187; www.hippinghall.com; £190 per person for dinner, bed & breakfast).
All change at Hipping Hall, on the edge of the Lake District. Long a cosy small hotel of mine, it’s undergone a complete, and successful transformation under new ownership. The much praised restaurant, set in the beamed Great Hall, with minstrels’ gallery, is at the heart of the operation, under former young chef of the year, Jason Birkbeck, but there are also six cool white and cream bedrooms that contrast with the bolder design of the sitting rooms. One to watch.
Punchbowl Inn, Crosthwaite (01539 568237; www.the-punchbowl.co.uk; doubles £110 to £280 per night including breakfast).
If the metropolitan-style gastropub is more to your taste, then the Punchbowl, younger sibling of the well-known Drunken Duck in Ambleside, will suit you too. The 300-year old hostelry in the Lyth valley has become a smartly informal brasserie-style restaurant with nine bedrooms (excellent beds, flat screen TVs, Roberts radios, roll top baths; downstairs: slate and wooden floors, leather sofas, muted colours, blackboard menus and excellent ales in the bar). Prices are city style, but that hasn’t stopped the owners from opening a post office at reception to help the local community.
The Cottage in the Wood, Whinlatter Forest, Keswick (017687 78409; thecottageinthewood.co.uk; doubles from £79 per night including breakfast; dinner from £24 per person).
Two features especially are praised at this former 17th century coaching inn situated in England’s only mountain forest, with magnificent views over Skiddaw and Derwentwater: the warmth of welcome from owners Kath (an ex-nurse) and Liam (ex-Savoy) Berney; and Liam’s hugely enjoyed cooking. Rooms are, as you might expect, cottagey and comfortable, and in the evening fellow guests, many of them walkers, soon start chatting or playing Scrabble in front of the fire in the cosy sitting room. Open from mid-February.
Swinside Lodge, Newlands, Keswick (017687 72948; www.swinsidelodge-hotel.co.uk; dinner, bed and breakfast from £88 per person).
Down in the Newlands valley, far below The Cottage in the Wood at the foot of Cat Bells, this attractive Georgian house occupies a magical setting just a five-minute stroll from Derwentwater. In the capable hands of Eric and Irene Fell, the interior is fresh and elegant, with pastel colours, cut flowers, piles of books, maps for walkers, seven charming bedrooms and excellent food in the deep red, candlelit dining room.