The tale of a great lakeland weekend
Last Updated: 3:37PM GMT 13/03/2007
The Lake District is just as enchanting as it looks in the new Miss Potter movie, but its hotels are often disappointing. Fiona Duncan finds a selection that won't break the bank - or the magical spell of the area.
You have to know your hotels in the Lake District: good ones need to be winkled out from the vast array of elderly, overpriced and over-chintzed places that abound in this area, especially around the most popular lakes. There's only a handful for which it would be worth making a special journey, were it not for the spectacular scenery and, this year, the renewed interest in Beatrix Potter and her world, thanks to the film Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.
However, exceptional Lakeland boltholes do exist. The following suggestions include gracious waterside houses in glorious grounds, as well as simple, remote inns, perfect for walkers, plus a few fresh and contemporary newcomers. Those former icons of the British hotel industry, Sharrow Bay and Miller Howe, may be past their prime, but there's still memorable food and accommodation on offer in the Lake District, in some of the most beautiful locations in the country.
The Cumbrian Tourist Board has created an excellent website (www.visitmisspotter.com) for specific film and Potter-related information on the Lake District.
Augill Castle, Kirkby Stephen
(01768 341937; www.stayinacastle.co.uk doubles from £140 per night, including breakfast; dinner on request £34). Stunningly set in the beautiful Eden Valley on the edge of the Pennines, this eccentric mid-Victorian folly-castle is equidistant between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales and makes a memorable and refreshingly different base for exploring the region. Simon and Wendy Bennett, who saved Augill Castle from ruin 10 years ago, are warm hosts in an eclectic home stuffed with antiques and curios, four-posters and roll-top baths. Dinner is eaten around a huge oak table under a stunning ceiling and, in the morning, the leisurely, and copious, breakfast rarely starts before nine. The Bennetts have two children and a Labrador called Holly, and so children of all ages, and dogs, are warmly welcomed, and able to roam the 15 acres of wild garden, with pond and tennis court.
Gilpin Lodge, Windermere
01539 488818; www.gilpinlodge.co.uk dinner, bed and breakfast from £120 per person per night). Definitely one of the most sybaritic places to stay in the Lake District. The deep-pile comfort and Michelin-starred kitchen of this family-run Relais&Châteaux hotel close to the shores of Windermere make it another excellent base for the Potter trail (walks and driving tours can be organised). Opt for a new garden suite and you'll have your own garden and hot tub, sitting room and sensual bathroom. Owner John Cunliffe's grandmother moved to Gilpin Lodge four years before Beatrix Potter took up residence in Hill Top Farm three miles away, and family diaries and photographs conjure the pre-First World War era.
Hipping Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale
(01524 271187; www.hippinghall.com £190 per person for dinner, bed and breakfast). All change at Hipping Hall, on the edge of the Lake District. Long a favourite cosy small hotel of mine, it's undergone a complete and successful transformation under new ownership. The much-praised restaurant, set in the beamed Great Hall is at the heart of the operation, under former young chef of the year Jason Birkbeck, but there are also six white and cream bedrooms, which contrast with the bolder design of the sitting rooms. One to watch.
Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere
(01539 432375; www.holbeckghyll.com doubles from £100, including breakfast). Another fine hotel, in a classic Lakeland house, also with a Michelin-starred kitchen. It's where Renée Zellweger, Lloyd Owen, directors and producers stayed while filming Miss Potter and you can stay in the luxurious new suite, with large private balcony and hot tub, that bears her character's name. Normally it's £470 for dinner, bed and breakfast for two, but special rates apply from Sundays to Thursdays in January and February.
Howtown Hotel, Ullswater
(01768 486514; dinner bed and breakfast £70 per person). What the Lake District is really all about: an extremely simple, warmly welcoming, delightfully old-fashioned guesthouse far away towards the end of a narrow lane on the remote eastern shore of Ullswater. In the same family for more than 100 years, and run for nearly half of them by Jacqui Baldry, with her son David, Howtown is a genuinely well-kept secret, where you step, gratefully, back in time. There are few frills (no phone or TV in rooms, no website, no computer in the office, even) but sensible bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, hearty traditional dinners and packed lunches, antiques, cut flowers, beds turned down at night, an attractive garden from which to gaze at the surrounding fells, and a lovely, quiet setting. Opens March 30.
Lindeth Howe, Windermere
(01539 445759 www.lindeth-howe.co.uk doubles from £150 to £230 per night, including breakfast). Die-hard Beatrix Potter fans should look no farther than Lindeth Howe, where the author spent several holidays before buying the house for her mother in 1915. Here she illustrated two of her books: Pigling Bland and Timmy Tiptoes. The smartly refurbished country house hotel is a useful base from which to visit Potter's farm, Hill Top, across Lake Windermere (you can travel on Muriel 4, a replica of the boat she used herself), as well as the refurbished World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness (www.hop-skip-jump.com) and Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. Return to the hotel for a swim and a sauna, and a comfortable night.
Linthwaite House, Windermere
(01539 488600; www.linthwaite.com dinner, bed and breakfast from £87 per person per night). With superb views across landscaped grounds to Lake Windermere and the Old Man of Coniston beyond, Michael Beavans' personally run hotel stands out among Windermere contenders for its high standards, from the always satisfying food to the spotless, comfortable bedrooms. The welcoming public rooms are Edwardian in style, enhanced by a new enclosed veranda with lake views. Service manages to be crisp and amiable at the same time: you are made to feel that you are on holiday and not on parade.
Punchbowl Inn, Crosthwaite
(01539 568237; www.the-punchbowl.co.uk doubles £110 to £280 per night, including breakfast). If the metropolitan-style gastropub is to your taste, then the Punchbowl, younger sibling of the well-known Drunken Duck in Ambleside, will suit you. The 300-year old pub in the Lyth valley has become a smartly informal brasserie-style restaurant with nine bedrooms (excellent beds, flat-screen TVs; downstairs: slate and wooden floors, leather sofas, muted colours, blackboard menus and excellent ales in the bar). Prices are city-equivalent, but that hasn't stopped the owners from opening a post office at reception to help the local community.
The Cottage in the Wood, Whinlatter Forest, Keswick
(01768 778409; www.thecottageinthewood.co.uk doubles from £79 per night, including breakfast; dinner from £24 per person). Two features, especially, are praised at this former 17th-century coaching inn in England's only mountain forest, with magnificent views over Skiddaw and Derwentwater: the warmth of the welcome from owners Kath and Liam (ex-Savoy) Berney; and Liam's delicious cooking. Rooms are, as you might expect, cottagey and comfortable, and, in the evening, fellow guests, many of them walkers, soon start chatting or playing Scrabble in front of the fire in the cosy sitting room. Open from mid-February.
Swinside Lodge, Newlands, Keswick
(01768 772948; www.swinsidelodge-hotel.co.uk dinner, bed and breakfast from £88 per person). Down in the Newlands valley, far below The Cottage in the Wood at the foot of Cat Bells, this attractive Georgian house occupies a magical setting just a five-minute stroll from Derwentwater. In the capable hands of Eric and Irene Fell, the interior is fresh and elegant, with pastel colours, cut flowers, piles of books, maps for walkers, seven charming bedrooms and excellent food in the deep red, candlelit dining room.
Yew Tree Farm, Coniston
(01539 441433; www.yewtree-farm.com from £22 to £30 per person per night, including breakfast). If farmhouse bed-and-breakfast is to your liking, consider picture-perfect Yew Tree Farm, which, with its distinctive "spinning gallery", is one of the most photographed farms in the Lake District, and was used in Miss Potter as the location for her own home, Hill Top. Potter, or Mrs Heelis as she was known in the district, knew Yew Tree well, having purchased it as part of Monk Coniston Estate, which she bequeathed to the National Trust. She helped the tenants to set up a tearoom for visitors to the area, furnishing it with her own possessions. Tearoom and furnishings are still intact, and now the current owners, Jon and Caroline Watson, offer b&b in three just-refurbished bedrooms (from April), as well as their own Herdwick and Belted Galloway lamb and beef.