Review by Fiona Duncan, published 28th May 2006.
It wasn’t a great start. The turning to The Samling is an abrupt one, veering steeply uphill from the beastly A591 that hugs Lake Windermere, and, after a tiring journey, we overshot more than once before finding the twisting drive. High on the hillside stood our goal, the prettily gabled 18th century house to which Wordsworth would walk to pay his rent.
We parked the car and found our companions Julian and Julia, clad in frighteningly efficient outdoor wear (this was a walking break) already installed on the terrace for a midday drink. “Wow, look at that view”, we said, gazing at the distant sheep-flecked hills and the lake shining below. “Yes, and look at the terrace”, they responded. “Seems like a rugby team came through last night.” Strewn across the paving was a healthy crop of fag ends; empty beer glasses stood on the low stone wall. Pulling on our boots we wondered what more The Samling would reveal on our return, "Apart from a huge bill" muttered Julian.
The first thing it revealed was a young Pole with a minimal grasp of English who was left to check us in as best he could (no sign of a manager) and escort us to our rooms, in an adjacent converted cottage. They turned out to be comfortable, spacious and harmonious, and so they should at a whacking £405 per night. These are London prices; in fact I can think of more memorable bedrooms in central London that cost much less money, with many more facilities from bars to spas. This is a small Lakeland house: its prices don't match. Still, our room was fine, on three levels: handsome black slate bathroom at the bottom, bedroom at the top, with sofa, cosy fireplace and stunning views in between.
Back in The Samling itself for drinks before dinner, we were unmoved by the decoration in ‘one of those houses you wish was yours’ as the brochure says. I didn’t (wish it were mine). We found a cold hall of faux stone blocks, chipped faux panelling in the drawing room and a bland, if airy, dining room. Dinner (the hotel has lost its Michelin star) was pricey, minimalist and unmemorable. Very much better was the elegantly presented white-clothed breakfast tray brought to our room next morning, with home-baked breads and excellent bacon and black pudding. It kept us dawdling in our room far longer than we ought.
Have I been too negative? In fact, I think that The Samling could very easily be a delightful hotel, hindered by an inflated idea of its own importance and a hands-off management. Its owner, businessman Tom Maxfield (who also owns Seaham Hall in Northumberland) has stayed, so the literature assures us, in the world’s best hotels. They ‘exposed him to new ideas about the real meaning of hospitality’ and got him thinking ‘about a different, unpretentious way of doing things that took the point of view of the customer, not the operator’.
Oh yes? Then why was there no bottle of wine under £25? Why were we not welcomed properly? Why didn’t someone sweep the terrace? It’s time Mr Maxfield was exposed to The Samling. “They’re having a laugh”, said Julian, as we left.
Ambleside Road, Windermere, Cumbria (015394 31922; www.thesamling.com). Doubles from £195 to £425 including breakfast.