Adrian Mourby

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When the England’s pandemic restrictions were eased in the summer of 2020 the Lake District filled up overnight. I was fortunate to have a trip already arranged that I could take up at short notice but everywhere my wife and I drove there were No Vacancies signs on every pub, hotel and guest house.

Today the Lake District is one of the most popular places to stay in the whole of Britain. And yet back in the eighteenth century travellers were wary of crossing this landscape, populated almost entirely by farmers, sheep and itinerant traders. When Daniel Defoe made his way through in 1724 he described the landscape “the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself”.  By the end of the eighteenth century, however, dramatic landscapes were becoming fashionable. In 1778 Thomas West produced his Guide to the Lakes, which ushered in an era of modern tourism. 

Eleven years later, in 1799 the poet William Wordsworth arrived on the shores of Grasmere in search of inspiring -but also calming- landscapes far away from crowds. Wordsworth did much to promote the Lakes as a destination for the discerning tourist with his own guidebook of 1810. Then in 1847 the Kendal and Windermere Railway opened up the area to mass tourism and the Lakes really took off. Windermere was always the most popular lake amongst visitors. Today it boasts the highest concentration of hotels outside of Britain’s seaside resorts. At over 11 miles long, it is also the largest natural lake in England. 

To the north of Windermere lies Grasmere with its much-vaunted Wordsworth connection.  And to the west is Coniston Water, which was the home of the great Victorian art critic, John Ruskin and where Arthur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons, learned to sail as a boy. 
During the nineteenth century there was a proliferation of mansion-building around all the lakes as wealthy northerners from both Yorkshire and Lancashire created holiday homes, especially on the shores of Windermere. Many of these were subsequently converted into hotels during the twentieth century. Some purpose-built hotels were constructed too, and some coaching inns were upgraded from a purely functional place to change horses to residential retreats, far away from the pollution of wealth-generating cities like Manchester and Liverpool. Beatrix Potter’s family lived in London but from 1882 onwards they holidayed for several months every year on the shores of Windermere and the author eventually bought two houses, one for her mother on the east side of the lake and another for herself on the west.

Today the Lake District is remarkable for its lack of modern hotels. Many of these historic buildings have been modernised, but the lake’s shoreline retains a picturesque late nineteenth/early twentieth-century Arts and Crafts feel and there is no shortage of places to stay if you’re looking for a complete escape from modern life, providing you book in time.

Here below are ten hotels I’d recommend – all very different but all equally delightful. They’ll be popular this summer so start planning now!

Gilpin is an extraordinary Lake District success story, the transformation of a family’s second home to top of the range luxury hotel in pretty much one generation.

The original Gilpin Lodge was built in 1901 in a style influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. Joseph and Harriet Cunliffe bought it in 1919 to escape the smog of Manchester.  Their grandson John - the man who was to create the modern Gilpin phenomenon - grew up visiting his grandmother at Gilpin Lodge and staying at the nearby lake house (which was also a family home). The lodge was sold in 1961 after Harriet Cunliffe’s death.

John went on to a long career as a hotelier, including London stints at Browns Hotel and the Café Royal.  He also worked for a company who catered major banquets. In 1987 John’s wife Chris saw that Gilpin Lodge was for sale she urged him to buy it, given that Gilpin was in his blood.  Thereafter John and Chris and their two sons poured a great deal of love, money and flair into developing Gilpin, aided by their Michelin-starred executive chef, Hrishikesh Desai. Desai only recently left Gilpin after eight very successful years.

Today John’s son Barney and his wife, Zoë, continue to run the Gilpin, while architect son Ben is responsible for the design of the hotel’s many extensions. Gilpin Hotel itself consists of 28 rooms, twelve of which had private hot tubs. There are also Spa Lodges with hot tubs and saunas, and five new Spa Suites each of which has a hot tub, sauna and spa-room You’ll also find quite a lot of llamas sauntering round the grounds. A new Spa Space has recently opened at the hotel alongside which sit two of the property’s restaurants, Gilpin Spice under chef Aakash Ohol and the Michelin-starred, SOURCE which is run today by Ollie Bridgwater who joined from Heston Blumenthal’s Fact Duck in Bray.

A mile away within this 100 acre estate sits the six-bedroom Lake House where up to 12 guests can enjoy a private lake, swimming pool and spa, as well as the Knipe Grill at Gilpin Lake House under chef Tom “Westy” Westland.

Today the five-star Gilpin dedicates itself to friendly luxury. It takes no conference, wedding or exclusive use bookings. Neither does it take children under age 7. Gilpin is an example of that remarkable British phenomenon that can be seen with hotels like Portmeirion, Llangoed Hall and Burgh Island, and in restaurants like Outlaw’s in Cornwall and Rick Stein’s Padstow empire.  If your location is good and you believe passionately in what you’re doing - and never stop making the guest experience even better - then people will drive hundreds of miles to enjoy it with you.

Half a mile from Dove Cottage - now a museum to William and Dorothy Wordsworth – there stands a hotel named in honour of the famous poet. Wordsworth lived on the shores of Grasmere for eight years arriving in 1799 in search of inspiration and a calmer life. Here he wrote some of his best early poems. The cottage had been a pub known as the Dove and Olive Branch until just before Wordsworth and his sister arrived. In their day you could see the lake from the cottage’s bedroom but that view was later obstructed by some tenements and the Wordsworths moved to a bigger house, south down the lake.

Today literary pilgrims and visitors to Grasmere stay in the village at hotels like The Wordsworth. It was actually built in 1854 as a shooting lodge for the Earl of Cadogan and redeveloped in 1874 as the Rothay Hotel, named after the river that runs nearby. In the 1890s it used to advertise itself as “the nearest hotel to the resting place of William Wordsworth in Grasmere Churchyard”. 

The recently refurbished Wordsworth is owned by the Inn Collection, a group of 32 hotels across North Wales and the North of England including The Swallow Falls in Betws-y-Coed, the magnificent Midland in Morecombe Bay and the romantic Swan Inn, also in Grasmere – in fact just half a mile from The Wordsworth. The hotel has been considerably extended with a spa, large car park and two conservatories. One of these lies off the warm, cozy bar with its deep red leather sofas. The other runs across the front of the hotel and contains its fine-dining restaurant, Signature. The hotel uses William Wordsworth’s signature as its logo. The second conservatory runs across the front of the hotel and contains William’s Bar which serves locally produced ales and traditional pub food. 

There are a few pieces of nineteenth-century art in the corridors and on the staircase. Bedrooms are not large, but that is to be expected of a rural hotel of this era. There is however a more spacious Woodrow Wilson Suite to the rear of the property, named after the American president who was a huge fan of the Lake District. Wilson’s mother was born in Carlisle and he visited the north end of the lakes six times between 1896 and 1919. On two occasions he stayed here at what was then the Rothay Hotel. In 1903 the visit was for six nights in the company of his wife, on her first trip to Cumberland. Wilson also stayed at the Rothay in 1908 when he returned to the Lake District on his own.  

Grasmere is such an attractive town with a lovely Wordsworth Visitor Centre to visit – and hotels like the Wordsworth to relax in after a day wandering this dramatic landscape.

Caroline and Jonathan Kaye run this colourful boutique hotel across the road from St Mary’s Church on the outskirts of Windermere village. It was built in 1854 as a private residence for the vicar, Reverend Addison and boasts ornate neo-gothic ogee windows. The architect, J.S. Crowther also designed the sturdy slate church opposite.

The house was sold a number of times in the twentieth century as its large cedar tree on the lawn grew ever bigger. It was turned into a B&B in the 1960s and now has 10 bedrooms and suites.

Jonathan and Caroline took over Cedar Manor in 2007 and began refurbishing, using sustainable materials and their own funky sense of design. The couple are committed to making Cedar Manor a very green hotel but their rooms have made a vibrant use of every other colour too. There are playful references to the medieval pointed windows in the shapes of mirrors, headboards and shelves behind the bar. This is style with fun. The Coach House, a two-storey suite in the grounds is one of the most luxurious in the Lake District.

Cedar Manor doesn’t offer dinner but rather a substantial afternoon tea that can knock the unwary traveller sideways. It is served from 1.30 pm so is in effect the kind of lunch that will leave you not needing any supper: finger sandwiches, warmed fruit and plain scones, clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam, plus a selection of homemade desserts and cakes.  To top off the experience, Jonathan and Caroline have chosen a local supplier, Penningtons, to provide their loose-leaf tea and filter coffee. Everything is presented on a bone china tea service from Royal Crown Derby, using a range unique to Cedar Manor.  

Like the old Rothay Hotel in Ambleside (now The Wordsworth), this nineteenth-century country house takes its name from the River Rothay which runs close by. When it was built in the 1820s it actually stood far south of the town of Ambleside. Although the old town has encroached and a lot of traffic passes by these days along the A593, Rothay Manor still feels as if it is out in countryside.  

The man who built this elegant black and white villa was Joseph Crossfield, a successful Warrington soap manufacturer and merchant who wanted somewhere healthy to lodge his family during holidays. Crossfield and his wife Elizabeth had a home near their Warrington soap-works called Mersey Bank so they named their new home at the north end of Windermere Rothay Bank. An unusual but charming original feature was a cast-iron balcony running the full length of the front of the house at first-floor level which can still be seen today.

Later the veranda underneath the balcony enclosed into the house and the balcony itself was lengthened. Today Rothay Manor’s best six rooms have access on to this balcony which has been divided up into six private terraces. 

Joseph died in 1844 after a short illness when he was aged 51. Eventually, in 1936 the house was sold to become an unlicensed hotel with “garage accommodation”. At that time it changed its name to Rothay Manor. Today it is owned by the Shail family and run by the youthful Peter Sinclair. Working with chef Daniel McGeorge, Peter has been raising the profile of Rothay Manor as a fine-dining hotel. A three-course a la carte is offered nightly in the 3 AA rosette restaurant.

Pre-prandial drinks are served in two maroon lounges either side of the main entrance. Both have working fireplaces for the winter months. Dinner and breakfast take place in two interlinked dining rooms decorated with Lake District prints and large modern chandeliers.

The style of Rothay Manor is relaxed, the service excellent and the food a good reason to drive all this way. OK, “garage accommodation” is now just a large car park for 35 vehicles - and charging points for five - but the hotel runs to nineteen rooms these days and, post lockdown there is a new Pavilion Building in the grounds with eight junior suites, four of which have private gardens. Recently the old Gun Room – a single bedroom on the ground floor - has been converted into a boot room, drying area and dog shower for those who intend to make the most of the imposing scenery around Rothay Manor.

Broadoaks is a small, oak-panelled Edwardian house surrounded by green fields. It’s found up in the hills, somewhere between Windermere and Troutbeck.  Broadoaks was built in 1836 by Colonel John Hutchinson who is responsible for planting that enormous sequoia tree on the front lawn.

After Colonel Hutchinson’s death his nephew, Henry Ormerod Hutchinson inherited the house. He in turn sold it to William Grimble Groves in 1899 and in 1900 Groves let it to Mr C H Slingsby. Slingsby was responsible for many of the improvements to the house that we see today, including the music room of 1904. This long barrel-vaulted lounge with its delicate plaster relief work in the style of William Morris still houses a Bechstein baby grand piano that was actually commissioned for the room.

The house was sold on a number of occasions during the twentieth century before passing to Charles and Joan Pavelyn in 1990. They were responsible for turning Broadoaks into a hotel, which was bought in 2007 by its current owners, Tracey Robinson and Jo Harbottle.

Tracey has filled the music room with old family portraits and the bar with signed photos of famous people who have not necessarily stayed at Broadoaks (eg Robert Redford) and those who have (Mary Berry).

All twenty ensuite bedrooms are very different from each other.  Two of them have working fireplaces and three have reclaimed lavatory seats, including one that belonged to the Victorian actor, Forbes Robertson. The hotel is proud of the fact that there is every reason to   believe that it would have been used by the eminent actress Ellen Terry, great aunt of John Gielgud. (The provenance of the other lavatories is less august.)  

The hotel has a lovely policy of serving its afternoon tea in vintage bone china teacups and saucers donated by members of the public. For every cup received by Broadoaks’ Tea-Cycle programme the hotel makes a donation to the Lake District Foundation charity.

Today guests are welcome to play the Broadoaks piano and sometimes the hotel provides a pianist during pre-prandial drinks. There is also a dedicated dog-walking field and the hotel has won two national awards in recent years for its dog-friendliness. This is a pleasant, fun hotel to stay in, particularly if you are a dog-lover because so is Tracey. All rates at Broadoaks are DDBB (Doggie, Dinner, Bed and Breakfast) and there are kennels at the rear of the hotel for those who want to dine (for example) without their furry friend.

The hotel’s restaurant, Oaks Brasserie prides itself on Cumbrian produce with a French twist under executive chef Sharon Elders. As she herself puts it, “Modern French fine dining classics combined with our own Cumbrian favourites.”

The Old England Hotel is a Lake District institution. It sits in a prime position above Bowness Bay half-way down Windermere with the Royal Windermere Yacht Club nearby.

The hotel takes its names from a Georgian mansion that stood here in the former fishing village of Bowness. In 1847 a railway line to the Lake District was established with the Windermere station on higher ground to the north of Bowness (the villagers didn’t want trains actually pulling into Bowness itself). Lucrative tourism was now a real possibility and so in 1869 a man with a name like a typographical error, Thomas Vllok bought the Old England mansion and demolished it to create a substantial hotel built out of the dark local slate. The front door faced into town and St Martin’s Church while its gardens ran down to the lake.  A pony and trap ferried railway passengers the one and a half miles to the hotel’s door.

Since then the Old England has hosted Kaiser Wilhelm II, David Lloyd George, the Sultan of Zanzibar, the Emir of Afghanistan, Prince Philip (in 1966) and Prince Charles (1997). It also witnessed the landings and take-offs of Britain’s first hydro-plane, which in the 1920s used to be moored just 100 yards from the hotel.

Today the hotel has 106 rooms, berths for 12 boats, a spa, swimming pool and a more modern Lakeside Wing. Although the best of the public rooms is the lofty bar and lounge in the oldest part of the hotel, the uninterrupted view of Windermere from these new Lakeside rooms is priceless.  

Perched on a high hill overlooking Windermere, Linthwaite House was built in 1900 as a private home by the Pattinson family. It was originally named Burns House, possibly because of the stream (burn) that ran down from the tarn, a small lake above the house. The Pattinsons spent nearly twenty happy summer holidays here. As so often happened in the Lake District in the 1930s, Linthwaite House eventually became a hotel.

Extra rooms were added on sympathetically behind the main building, although this did result in an unusually elongated house, lengthened even further at the front by a conservatory that overlooked the lake below.  This last extension was added by Mike Bevans who bought Linthwaite House in 1990, having admitted that he fell in love with the hotel on first sight. 

In April 2016, Linthwaite House, by now a 30-room country retreat set in 14 acres of grounds, was bought by Analjit Singh to become the fourth property in his Leeu Hotel Collection.

The Leeu group owns five-star boutique properties in the Cape Winelands of South Africa.  They’ve done a great job refurbishing Linthwaite’s interior, filling the hotel with contemporary South African art from Everard Read Franschhoek Gallery. 

Because of its arresting artwork, the hotel feels more like an art gallery and gourmet dining experience with superb views thrown in.  A walk around the grounds takes in a lot of sculpture. There are statues of lions absolutely everywhere (Leeu is Afrikaans for lion) but also springboks, a tiger and few nudes for good measure. The level of investment is impressive. Walking up to the tarn, which used to be a rather boggy experience, now brings guests to a jetty with two rowing boats and the Tarn Cabin, where you can sit and watch people row up and down the lake or play noughts and crosses on a big wooden tray.

Dining in Linthwaite is at Henrock, a stylish room with modern chandeliers.  The quality of service and food are both impressive. Altogether Leeu have made an excellent job of its first European property. 

Storrs Hall is something of a Lake District anomaly. It’s a Grade II listed neo-classical Georgian mansion with 17 acres of grounds right on the shores of Windermere. As such, this is one of the few eighteenth-century “gentry” houses built beside a lake that was soon to be colonised by the Victorians a few decades later.
The house was constructed in the 1790s to the south of Bowness for John, 6th Baronet Legard. 

According to hotel legend, the poets William Wordsworth and Robert Southey, and the novelist Sir Walter Scott were early guests of Sir John. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were particularly manipulative of the connection – as many writers often are – getting the Legard estate to give them feed for their horses and other provisions. In return, it is said that Wordsworth recited his poem ‘Daffodils’ in the drawing room of Storrs Hall. 

This is a fine room with large rectangular glass windows on to the lake and, just off it a beautiful circular lobby lined with stained glass. No wonder Wordsworth thought Sir John could afford to subsidise his Lakeland sojourn.

Storrs Hall is also home to a National Trust-owned folly, called “The Temple", situated on the end of a stone jetty jutting out into Windermere. On its four of its eight sides Sir John commemorated four great British admirals: Nelson, Howe, Duncan and St. Vincent.

After 14 years of owning Storrs Hall Sir John became increasingly crippled by gout, and eventually sold the house in 1804. The next owner was Colonel John Bolton who greatly beautified the hall but who has been under a reputational cloud recently because of owning slave plantations in the West Indies. In the twentieth century Storrs Hall was used as a girls' school and as a youth hostel as well as hosting the staff and pupils of a boys’ school who were evacuated to Windermere during World War II.

Today however the hall is a 30-bedroom hotel with six modern Lakeside Suites and a recently refurbished boathouse. This stone retreat has its own outdoor hot tub, steam room, private terrace, and fire-pit. 

In the main building there is no obvious reception, no gym or spa and no lift. Storrs Hall retains the impression of a grand family home. The one marvellously vulgar touch however is the bar, whose counter is a glorious piece of Victoriana taken from the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. It occupies one of the drawing rooms and is fully functioning with ornate stained-glass windows that come down over the counter to be locked at closing time.

Most of the buildings around Windermere date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the Lakes took off as a tourist destination – or indeed a place for the wealthy to build holiday homes. But Lakeside in Newby Bridge at the south end of Windermere began life in the seventeenth century as a coaching inn, a staging post between the busy, northern market town of Penrith and the coastal port of Barrow in Furness to the south of the Lakes. As north-south trade increased with the development of Lancashire’s cotton mills, this inn expanded on shores of Windermere.
It is believed that John Ruskin stayed at the Lakeside Hotel with his parents in 1826. The great art critic was only 7 years old at the time, but the scenery of the Lake District so impressed the precocious child that in later life he bought a house on nearby Coniston Water where he died in 1900 at the age of 80.  Today “Ruskin’s Brasserie & Bar” commemorates his childhood visit.

 When the hotel was sold at auction in 1954 the particulars quoted a landing stage for steamers (still in situ) and a dining room with dance floor for 80.  Today a large modern conservatory wraps around the rear of the hotel and overlooks the gardens. Here drinks and light meals are served all day while open fires, oak panelling and ceiling beams remain as souvenirs of the original seventeenth-century coaching inn.

The stained glass of the hotel’s elaborate front door also recalls earlier times, with the Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club badges on either side of the porch, a reminder of how people toured the Lakes by car between the World Wars. The stained-glass image of a pitcher with the word “Grog” and a fox’s face with the words “Tally-Ho” commemorate the hotel’s role as a centre of the local fox-hunting community in the early twentieth century.

Meanwhile across the car park more up-to-date tourism is represented by the Lakes Aquarium, where you can take a simulated walk under Windermere in a glass tunnel as fish swim overhead.

There are many, many hotels around Windermere but very few actually on the lake’s shoreline. Of those whose grounds run down to the deep dark waters, few are as impressive as towering Langdale Chase. This splendid building has been undergoing a year-long refurbishment and will reopen to guests in Autumn 2023.

Langdale Chase was built in the 1890s as a private home by Mrs Edna Howarth, the widow of a wealthy Manchester businessman. He had died soon after purchasing the land for their Windermere holiday cottage, so Edna decided to build something much grander for herself and her daughter to live in year round. It took a staff of 16 to look after the two ladies in such a huge mansion.

Externally the house nods to the past, with stone casements, a Jacobean roofline and tall Elizabethan chimneys. Inside it goes full historical with dark panelled drawing rooms, lots of old oil paintings and elaborate fireplaces. A portrait of Mrs Howarth painted in Impressionist daubs is displayed in the music room.  This salon also features a Steinway grand piano that was evacuated from London during the Blitz - and never returned.

The illusion of stepping back into the past at Langdale Chase was continued by the next owner of the house. John Bouch Willows was an avid collector. Willows was responsible for installing the old oak fireplace in the entrance hall which bears the date 1662 and the names of a seventeenth-century Earl and Countess of Thanet. He also contributed the china collection on display in the hall today.

In 1930 the Dalzell family - Gertrude Annie Dalzell and her daughter Dorothy - bought the house and converted it to a hotel. After Gertrude’s death in 1954 Dorothy then became the sole proprietor until 1974 when she sold it to the Schaefer family. The Schaefers ran it as a country house hotel until 2017 when it was acquired by the House of Daniel Thwaites. Rather neatly, the original founder of the Thwaites brewery group, Mr Daniel Thwaites left his family’s Lake District farm in the early 1800s to make his fortune as a brewer.         
Daniel Thwaites, a family-owned hotel and pub business has put a great deal of money into ensuring that the original Victorian architecture was restored to its former glory but with contemporary levels of comfort. There will also be a nod to the English house parties of the 1920s in décor by Jane Goff of Goff Associates.

 A spa is currently being developed in the old stable block and the old boat house is being turned into one of the most sought-after hideaways on Windermere. There might even be a new launch commissioned to replace the 50-foot Lily which Mrs Howarth named after her daughter and which subsequently carried Prince Philip across Windermere in 1966 and Prince Charles in 1977.

When Langdale Chase reopens do ask to see the guestbooks from the 1950s and 60s which are available for anyone to peruse. Among the American millionaires and titled English visitors it’s fascinating to see how in the 1960s the hotel started requiring guests to provide the number plate of their motorcars. Up until this point most guests arrived by train and were chauffeured to Langdale Chase.         

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