Review by Fiona Duncan, published 6th August 2006.
There's a moment, about half an hour before finally reaching Wasdale Head, a slog of a drive, when it's all suddenly worth it. Twisting, climbing and swooping through wild and remote Lakeland scenery, you turn a corner and find the view suddenly filled by the mountains of Pillar, Great Gable and Scafell Pike. From then on the approach is thrilling, especially at sunset, with the road snaking alongside Wastwater, England's deepest, most mysterious and dramatic lake.
I'm a sucker for places that provide warmth and shelter in the wilderness, though I haven't just climbed Scafell Pike, or hiked to Wasdale Head. I've driven in comfort with the CD player on, in thrall to the sat-nav man as he orders me hither and thither across the fells.
Will Ritson, huntsman, wrestler and raconteur, was the inn's first landlord 150 years ago, when gentlemen in tweed suits discovered the joys of climbing and modestly left their handkerchiefs on newly conquered peaks. For the past 10 years it's been in the hands of Howard Christie, who is also on the mountain rescue team, and a band of mainly local staff. He has been careful to preserve the inn's sense of history, with memorabilia and a rare collection of old mountaineering photographs on the dark, panelled walls.
For hotel guests (the place also does a busy food trade for passing walkers and climbers) there's a cosy residents' sitting room and the choice of dining room or Ritson's Bar, where you can sample the house beer. During the bleak, ruinous days of foot and mouth, Howard and his barman Giles Holiday began a brewery ("we got bored, you see") and now produce eight award-winning real ales on site.
I dine in the restaurant, where the cooking comes as an unexpected surprise. Head chef Will Weightman is just 22 and began here washing up. He's self-taught, still learning, full of enthusiasm and should go far. And at £25 for four courses his menu is a bargain. My seared scallops with endive and pesto were good, my fillet of beef with red wine reduction delicious. Dinner is served between 7 and 8pm, no messing; the room may be alarmingly quiet.
Howard doesn't know what to do about the small, outdated bedrooms. The vast majority of his faithful clientele tell him not to change a thing. I could quibble, not least about the preponderance of pine, and there are other cosmetic changes that I think should be made, but I'm a pampered townie so I don't really count. I sleep well and when I wake in the morning, I feel warm and cosy, and the view from my little window seat is majestic.
Breakfast, served between 8 and 9am - again, no messing - is designed for mountain conquerers, with the option of traditional Scottish porridge or "haddie and ham" in vast portions before the 10-choice fry-up. Eat that, and even the sedentary will want to go for a walk.
Gosforth, Cumbria (019467 26229; www.wasdale.com). Doubles from £108 per night, including breakfast.