Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th October 2011.
I'm not fond of Lakeland hotels as a breed – expensive and stodgy – but there are three around Windermere that make fine places to stay. I've already reviewed Holbeck Ghyll and Relais & Châteaux Gilpin Lodge, so now for Linthwaite House, built in 1900 as a private home. If I were choosing for myself, this is probably the one that I would stay in.
But not, I have to say, for the glitzy new Loft Suite or the Hot Tub Suite or the "Raffles-meets-Ralph-Lauren" decoration in the bar and dining room – all shiny wallpapers and embossed velvet banquets – or for the oversized headboards in the bedrooms and the televisions set in bathroom mirrors in the luxury ones. Call me old fashioned, but while I don't want stodgy, I don't need a bathroom telly amid scenery worthy of an ode.
No, what I like about Linthwaite is the carved mahogany fireplace with crackling fire in the hall, the unflashy sitting rooms, the wraparound conservatory with wonderful lake views, the gently sloping grounds. My favourite detail? The original doors on the gents and ladies loos, with their brass vacant/occupied plates. Perhaps I'm the wrong person for this job.
But I do realise only too well that in order to survive and thrive, hotels like these have to move with the times and stretch themselves to reflect the preoccupations of their guests.
They all opened around a quarter of a century ago, in the days when most guests simply looked for peace and quiet, satisfying food and a nice cup of tea, and they have all had to rise to the challenge of today's demands: no hot tub, no show.
OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but people (not me) seem to be looking for some sort of twist: a feeling of glamour, a spa, a cookery demonstration, something to talk about back home. A hot tub. "That was my kitchen, back in the day," general manager Andy Nicholson told me as I surveyed the little bar off the sitting room, exotic fish tank embedded in one wall. "I was head chef here 10 years ago. As you can see, it was tiny."
Not so the new kitchen, which has a wall of windows, so that the first thing you see when you arrive at the hotel is the chefs beavering away at your dinner.
And a very good dinner it is, too. Really, the food in country-house hotels is often superb. Of course it should be – they are expensive – but it's good that I rarely hear complaints, only praise, on that score. It's ambience and service that are more likely to be in question.
Not here. Not the service. Not with Andy and Mike Bevans, owner for the past 21 years, at the helm. Andy knows the names of all his guests and they are beautifully looked after.
"I'm wheat intolerant," one told me. "You wouldn't believe the lengths they have gone to, getting in special products and adapting the menu for me." Vegetarians take note: there is a great veggie menu alongside the main one, with dishes that can be served as starters or main courses. I tried the polenta with herbs, girolles and broad bean fricassée: delicious.
- Crook Road, LA23 3JA (015394 88600; www.linthwaite.com). Doubles from £189 per night, including breakfast. Access is possible for guests with disabilities. Trains to Oxenholme: 0871 977 4222; www.virgintrains.co.uk
- Fiona's Choice
What to do
Walking is an obvious pastime and the hotel has directions for circular walks from the door. You can also visit local markets: the hotel has a list of market days at Ambleside, Barrow-in-Furness, Minthorpe, Sedbergh, Ulverston and other local towns. There are also plenty of farm shops and specialist stores, including Greenlands Farm Village (01524 784184;www.greenlandsfarmvillage.com) near Carnforth, Grasmere Gingerbread Shop and Plumgarths Farm Shop close to the hotel in Crook.
On the water
There are boat trips on Windermere, golfers are catered for at the Lake Windermere Golf Club close to the hotel and fishermen can put up a fly rod on the banks of Linthwaite Tarn, a lovely hidden stretch of water surrounded by graceful trees, with wonderful views across Windermere to the hills beyond.
Where to eat
As for places to eat in the area, a good lunch can be had at the Drunken Duck (Barngates, Ambleside; 015394 36347;www.drunkenduckinn.co.uk), along with excellent beer. Or try the Tower Bank Arms (015394 36334; www.towerbankarms.co.uk) in Near Sawrey, featured in The Tales of Jemima Puddleduck. Beatrix Potter’s former home, Hill Top, owned by the National Trust, is located nearby, and is open to the public.