Review by Fiona Duncan, published 29th May 2011.
It's not as if I haven't done the journey a few times recently, but the speed of the train to the Lakes these days still takes me by surprise. We southerners tend to think of the West Country as accessible for a weekend, but not the north. Wrong: hardly had we settled down, with laptops, papers, bags and coats scattered about us, than our arrival at Oxenholme was announced, causing us to stumble from our carriage in comic-book chaos, hurling our possessions on to the platform.
Thereafter, a thick blanket of peace descended, and I struggle to find a single negative thing to say about this seductive place to stay. You don't even have to hire a car: one is laid on to take you to and from the station.
There are other spoiling hotels of course, but the fact that Gilpin Lodge is family-run by two generations hand in hand makes it special. Twenty-five years ago, John and Christine Cunliffe bought John's grandmother's former home, and created a six-bedroom hotel. Ten years ago their son, Barney ("the business brain"), and his wife, Zoe, joined them; six wildly popular garden suites with hot tubs were added to the mix of rooms; a Michelin star was won and lost; and a long-awaited grandchild, Zia, was born ("she's only three but she tells us that she plans to marry the chef's little boy and run the hotel, so that's all right").
You breakfast at Lake House, dine at Gilpin Lodge. A chauffeur takes you between the two. It's expensive, but worth every penny for the tranquillity that pervades and the impeccable mix of stylish luxury and private-home intimacy. It has been superbly done and includes an elegant, bookish drawing room leading to an open-plan kitchen and sun-filled conservatory and six unimpeachable bedrooms with good furniture and armchairs, lovely lamps, shelves of books and objects and piles of the latest magazines, plus iPads and iPods and classy televisions.
There are flowers everywhere, charmingly arranged; a homely utility-room-cum-office has stairs to a light-filled indoor pool and sauna, and a terrace by the tarn with hot tub, outdoor heaters, deck chairs and private corners.
Guests can stroll up to Cat Crag, with a 360 degree panorama stretching as far as the Isle of Man, but many simply stay put – they've even been seen rowing on the lake in their dressing gowns. Then, it's time to change for dinner and set off for Gilpin Lodge, as glamorous yet cosy as Lake House. It may take a while for fellow guests to start chatting, but soon everyone, from Geordie diva on six-inch stilettos to roly-poly matriarch in M & S knitwear, melds together, united by the sheer excellence of the place and the sense of peace and luxury.
- Windermere, Lake District (01539 488818; www.gilpinlodge.co.uk). Doubles from £290 (hotel), £490 (Lake House) per night, including dinner and breakfast. Exclusive use available. Access possible for guests with disabilities. For trains to Oxenholme, contact Virgin Trains (0871 977 4222;www.virgintrains.co.uk)
The Lakes are on your doorstep but much of the joy of Lake House is to stay put. Nothing much more relaxing than an in-room massage from the excellent Amanda, with the sun pouring through the windows and the sound of real birdsong instead of pan pipes or other mood music. Or row on the lake or stroll round it or walk up to Cat's Crag or farther afield. You are 10 minutes' drive from the ferry on Windermere and Windermere Golf course, with stunning view, is almost opposite Gilpin Lodge.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
A two-hour walk takes in the Brown Horse, a local pub with great grub, where all the produce comes from its estate, Winster (as does much of the produce at Gilpin Lodge). A day-long walk could take you to the amazing viewpoint from Gummer's How, then to lunch at the excellent Mason's Arms on Strawberry Bank, then back through the Lyth Valley, famed for damsons, to home and a cream tea.