Rothay Manor — The Lake District as it should be: fresh air, breathtaking views, hearty food and a good night’s sleep

Octavia Pollock checks into Rothay Manor in Ambleside, Cumbria.

Torrents of water were pouring off the fells as I wound my way through the Lake District towards Ambleside, crashing through the ancient stone walls and pooling on the road. Lake, mere, tarn and burn was full and the rain kept falling. All of which only made the sight of Rothay Manor, clean white walls and dark-grey shutters gleaming, the more welcoming. 

One of the bedrooms in the new Pavilion development

Rothay Manor had sheltered travellers for decades before Jamie and Jenna Shail took over in 2016. Originally from Essex, the energetic pair ran a chalet together in the Alps and, on moving back to England, chose the mountains of Cumbria as their new home and project. They revived the interiors with the help of Dynargh Design (‘very much on our wavelength’), whose involvement is continuing with The Pavilion, an eight-suite extension built by Ben Cunliffe Architects, that opens this spring.

However, the Shails’ first action was to extend the traditional welcome to dogs, soggy or not, an innovation that has proved a triumph. Being owners of two exuberant spaniels (whose welcome letter to my poodle puppy, Tiffin, was much appreciated), they understand what dogs and their owners need — a wash room, drying robes, comfortable beds and delicious treats. Tiffin is notoriously picky when it comes to food, but he wolfed down the chicken and black-pudding treats by Hugo & Co.

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The human food is, quite simply, sensational. There are two halves to the restaurant, one, the Brathay Room, more casual and dog-friendly, the other as fine as any gourmet could wish and the recipient of three AA rosettes. Chef Daniel McGeorge was crowned Champion of Champions on the BBC’s The Great British Menu in 2021 and brings a touch of Japanese and Scandinavian flavours to local ingredients. My starter of Wagyu beef and smoked eel was mouthwatering, as was the main of venison and a chocolate pudding with, of all things, Jerusalem artichoke. The laden cheese trolley was expertly elucidated by our waitress, who also poured a flight of four Ports so silky smooth and warming that all thoughts of the weather were banished. 

Breakfast was equally imaginative, with a perfectly poached egg atop haddock and delicately spiced rice to form a modern kedgeree. A few hours following the Lunesdale fell hounds up and down the wild Howgill Fells proved necessary to work up an appetite for afternoon tea, a feast of superb ham, salmon and beef sandwiches, pork pies, scones and cake. Only the quality of the steak and chips meant we could fit in dinner in the Brathay Room, but there’s no place for abstention in a place like this.

Holidays in the Lake District should be simple: fresh air, breathtaking views, hearty food and a good night’s sleep. There is no better place to relax than Rothay Manor, recently — and deservedly — added to the roster of Small Luxury Hotels, with its roll-top tubs, fragrant bath salts and soft pillows in the bedrooms and fire-side armchairs, shelves of Wainwright books and attentive staff downstairs. Tiffin and I are both eager to return.

Rooms from £450 per night in The Pavilion

Best time to go

Pack for rain at any time of year, but even in winter gloom the Lakes are majestic and Rothay’s log fires are cosy. To avoid queuing on the fells, eschew summer holidays.

While you’re there

  • The pier for the Windermere ferry is an easy 15-minute walk away, for the most relaxing way to explore the Lake District’s largest body of water. Stop at Bowness to explore the town and make the effort to visit the Windermere Jetty Museum; the signposting is non-existent, but it’s worth seeking it out for its superb collection of Lakeland boats, from Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat to hydroplane Miss Windermere IV, and conservation workshop
  • The hotel can organise foraging walks with local forager David Winnard, with wild garlic galore in spring and fungi in autumn, as well as walks with guide Pip Line, who will take you far from the well-trodden routes to explore hidden delights