Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st June 2009.
Hurrah. Hipping Hall is that rare thing: an old favourite whose retiring owners found, by some miracle, a buyer who has not just kept it on as a small hotel rather than reverting to a private house, but revived and improved it.
Under its previous owners, Hipping Hall was a traditional, cosy guesthouse where guests gathered around a wood-burning stove in the lofty Great Hall, which acted as sitting room. Now the Great Hall is an elegant restaurant, with an open fire in the hearth, logs piled high beside it and a calm, gentle and genuinely welcoming atmosphere.
In short, it's a soothing place to stay, and the small miracle that has made it so is its young, softly spoken proprietor, Andrew Wildsmith. He's an unlikely hotelier, but he's also a very natural one. After completing a four-year PhD in chemistry at Cambridge, he was destined for a career with Glaxo, but baulked at the thought. Then he saw that Hipping Hall, near his childhood home in Lancaster was for sale, and his fate was sealed.
First he renovated the 15th-century Great Hall, originally a blacksmith's workshop, and the pretty stone-faced gentleman's residence that went up beside it in the 17th century when the then blacksmith married money.
The interior design style Wildsmith has opted for is what I call Obvious Contemporary, and the effect, while very acceptable, is somewhat impersonal; fresh flowers and some books would be nice, rather than lines of magazines, which conjure the dentist's waiting room.
A surprise lies upstairs in the six bedrooms (there are a further three in an adjoining building). They are all white – white walls, white bed linen, white furniture and armchairs, white curtains, dainty white canopies over the beds. "Cripes," we thought, "we'd better be careful in here."
Wasn't Wildsmith mad to choose such an impractical colour scheme? "Surprisingly not," he tells us. "We get very little damage because people, just like you, decide to take extra care." He must have worked that out scientifically.
But there's more to Hipping Hall than attractive bedrooms (and natural-slate bathrooms). Wildsmith's first concern was the food, and his chef, Michael Wilson, is highly accomplished. Nothing we ate was short of divine, from the glass of foaming butternut squash and Parmesan among the canapés to the perfect eggs Benedict at breakfast by way of a dinner that was simple yet full of punchy flavours. There's no Michelin star here, for some unaccountable reason, "but we really don't mind", says the chef. "It means that people come without expectations and leave agreeably surprised." Exactly so.
Hipping Hall is within easy reach of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. Take Wildsmith's tip though: head for the nearby Howgill Fells, empty, rounded and subtly coloured; you will be agreeably surprised by them, too.
Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale (015242 71187; www.hippinghall.com) Doubles from £165 per night, including breakfast. For information on the Lake District visit www.golakes.co.uk; for trains, www.virgintrains.co.uk