Review: North Lakes Hotel & Spa, Penrith
A relaxing weekend just a stone's throw from Ullswater was made even better thanks to stunning sunshine, a superb spa, and food grilled on dancing flames
After arriving in Penrith in Cumbria’s Eden Valley and browsing a few of the town’s shops, we take the snacks we picked up at Mainsgill Farm Shop in Richmond (where we stopped to say hello to their resident camels) to Penrith Castle and learn more about Ralph Neville, who played a key role in defending this area against the Scots. History lesson over, we’re excited to check in to our room for the night at North Lakes Hotel & Spa.
We’re surprised to find the hotel is less than a mile away, walking distance from Penrith’s station, shops and pubs. Check-in is easy; our bags are taken to our room and we’re offered a glass of water (maybe because we’re looking a little red in the face from the sun). We sit in the comfortable lobby area and admire the wooden beams and sizeable fire (which we imagine looks magical in winter), and my partner says the hotel reminds him of a ski lodge.
We can already smell the barbecue taking place in the grounds, and we’re told families are enjoying a game of mini golf while there’s a games room indoors too. There’s been no rain in Penrith for a month, which sadly means North Lakes’ new wildflower meadow isn’t thriving as planned. We’ll take a look for ourselves once we’ve freshened up.
We’re staying on the third floor in a double room and my artistic side takes a liking to the interiors. The ceilings and carpets leading from the lift to our room have patterns reminiscent of the Cumbrian hills, one wall has a painted map with QR codes to scan to find the best walks in the surrounding area (the hotel are happy to equip you with everything you need for a hike), and there’s even a fabulous framed piece of art depicting Penrith Castle on the wall in our room. It’s clear a lot of thought has been put into these details, and that’s appreciated.
Sweet treats have been plated up for us in our room and two glasses of Carlisle Gin and tonic are awaiting, with ice. There’s also a mini fridge and, in a good attempt to avoid plastic, there a two bottles (one for water, and one for fresh milk) inside, which can be topped up at any time at the filling stations along the corridors. While we could do with a lie down (and the bed does look inviting), we’re keen to explore so we head outside into the grounds where there’s a fire pit, the mini golf we were told about earlier, bug hotels and beehives. Sure, the wildflower meadow isn’t yet in bloom, but seeing so many bees and plenty of rabbits hopping around in the distance, the hotel is clearly already offering a haven for wildlife (which isn’t easy given its location just off the M6).
It’s time for a quick change as we head off to try out the spa facilities before dinner. It’s around 4.30pm and the spa is somewhat busy but still relaxing. We time it well as a guest is just leaving and offers up two rattan loungers to myself and my partner before we plunge into the swimming pool. The pool takes up much of the spa and it’s clear that this hotel takes fitness seriously – we regret not checking out their gym but that’s just not my idea of relaxation. Instead, we make the most of the steam room. Sadly, the jacuzzi is just a little too busy so we give it a miss.
After making good use of the complimentary White Company toiletries back in the room, we head down for our 7.30pm reservation in the hotel’s FYR Grill restaurant. We’re seated in perfect position to see all the action at the open grill while our waitress brings us water and I mull over whether I fancy an Argentinan Malbec or a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. The Malbec wins and my partner opts for a spiced rum and coke. Eager to see the grill in action, I order the FYR roasted Padron peppers with chipotle mayonnaise, while my partner is reluctant to share his pulled lamb bon bon with spiced ragu, coriander and surmac. My chipotle mayonnaise is going down a treat so we sneak it to the side as they take our plates away and we await our mains – wild garlic and herb-pressed pork belly with new season potato hash, cabbage, burnt apple and mustard cream for me, and the FYR signature steak marinated in garlic and herbs, served medium rare for him.
I’ve been watching the talented chef by the fire (or FYR) grilling everything from kebabs to king prawns, and I’ve stopped listening to my partner’s ramblings as I watch his steak being cooked. The star of the show are the goose fat chips it’s paired with though – I blinked and my chipotle mayonnaise was gone. It’s hard to believe we had any room for dessert, considering my partner also ordered a generous side of mac and cheese, but I’m a sucker for a sticky toffee pudding and the butterscotch sauce served with this is to die for. The seasonal cheesecake was mixed berry, something which catches my partner’s eye, and I steal a scoop of the white chocolate ice-cream it’s served with.
As we sip the last of our drinks, we debate heading out into Penrith but when we see the roaring firepits in the grounds, we’re persuaded to stay put. My partner heads to the bar and orders a spiced rum and an espresso martini which are brought to us as we join the couples huddled around the fire. The sun sets while we chat and before heading back to our room we catch a glimpse of the Strawberry Moon.
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After a comfortable night’s sleep, I wake up early and head straight for the spa. It’s far quieter this time and I get the jacuzzi to myself for 15 minutes before it’s time for breakfast. It’s table service and we decorate our table with apple juice, Taylor’s Yorkshire Tea, speciality Italian cappuccino, pain au chocolat, toast, apple, cinnamon and golden raisin porridge, eggs Benedict and the continental board (fresh baked mini focaccia, olive oil, raw tomato marinara, chorizo, salami, prosciutto, brie and Emmental cheese) – and my partner thinks we need the loaded hash brown puffs with smoked paprika mayo. Talk about overindulging. It’s worth mentioning you can also order breakfast cocktails or a glass of Champagne, but we figure that would be taking things too far!
Check out is at 11am and we head off to Pooley Bridge, our next stop before we head home. It’s far too hot for a hike so we park up just before the bridge, take a leisurely stroll by Ullswater, see the steamer and a couple of swans, pop into the shops, sup a few pints in The Sun Inn (when a queue of more than 20 tractors pass by), find some new reads inside Verey Books (a lovely independent bookshop), and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine on The Crown Inn’s terrace, then sit and gaze out across the water before we head home.
A perfect base from which to explore The Lake District, or simply to enjoy a luxurious spa break, we’re positive we’ll be heading back to North Lakes Hotel & Spa soon.