It is a truth seldom acknowledged that one can feel slightly on edge in elegant country-house hotels, as if one has to live up to the formal surroundings at all times. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth at the The Lake House and Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District.
Located just a mile away from Gilpin, up a twisting narrow lane, the Lake House stands on the bank of Knipe Tarn. The open front door welcomes you into a large hall overlooked by antlers sporting an impressive collection of hats. Flying stairs lead up to the first floor, flanked by a bare wall of dark-grey Lakeland stone, and the drawing room simply begs you to collapse and enjoy the books that fill the shelves.
We had another treat in store for our first afternoon: a detox seaweed body wrap, which involves being smeared in green gloop before being wrapped up like marinating chickens. We did feel enormously better for it, too, possibly more due to the massage and exfoliation that accompanied the treatment. Amanda, from Body and Sole Therapy, came to our room for the process, and relaxed us further with her matter-of-fact cheerfulness.
Afterwards, we undid any good the detox might have done with freshly made sandwiches of cucumber, smoked salmon and egg, and mouthwatering drop scones, made there and then. A walk up a nearby hill worked off a mouthful or two, and afforded spectacular views of the rocky wilds to the north and rolling green fields to the west and south. London, even the Country Life office with its hay bale in the corner, seemed thousands of miles away.
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Our appetites revived, we were whisked off by our chauffeur to Gilpin Lodge for cocktails and dinner. Local ingredients classically styled combined to produce delicious scallop and cauliflower soup, followed by one of the best plates of duck I have ever had, and coconut pannacotta accompanied by feather-light rum granita. We followed the wine suggestions made by sommelier Ziggy Grinbergs, who described his choices with a complete lack of pretension. Unsurprisingly, as a taste of each other’s wines proved, he was also absolutely right.
The following day, we visited nearby Arts-and-Crafts house Blackwell on Windermere, then meandered round Coniston Water to John Ruskin’s house, Brantwood, which is full of revealing nuggets about the polymath’s life, from his love for Rose de la Touche to his passion for botany.
Seeking more strenouous exercise, we drove up a near-vertical slope to Coniston Tops for hound-trailing, a sport I had read about in Arthur Ransome’s Swallowdale. Dozens of waterproof-clad enthusiasts from the burgeoning Hound Trailing Association had gathered to race their hounds, demonstrably related to foxhounds, but lighter and faster, over an aniseed-scented course. I was delighted to find that, as I had suspected, the sport has its origins in two 19th-century huntsmen in a pub saying ‘my hound is faster than your hound’. Since then, a separate breed has been developed, bred purely for racing. Sadly, the Tops were cloud-bound, so the apparently spectacular views of Coniston Water were hidden, but it is a sport worth trying for a taste of the real Lake District.
A spell in the hot tub later, we were back at Gilpin for more delicious food, this time crab, veal and chocolate. There are several dining rooms at Gilpin, from the airy, green-themed room of our first night to the smaller more intimate surroundings of our second supper. Antler themes run through both Gilpin and the Lake House, but the feel is far from that of a stuffy shooting lodge. Pleasing touches abound, from the bean-bag cat on the beds (if you don’t want to be disturbed, ‘put the cat out’) to the silver water jugs on the dining tables. The Cunliffe family, owners and designers, should be proud.
Dragging ourselves away the following morning, we negotiated another steep hill to Bigland Hall, a stables near Windermere, within a day’s ride of the sands of Morecambe Bay. The views were breathtaking and the horses a cut above the usual trekking plods. Dressage in the classical Spanish and Portuguese tradition is taught at the yard, and longer rides can be arranged, perfect for exploring the Lake District.
The weekend went all too quickly, and the myriad charms of the Lake House are already calling me back.