Time waits for no man, they say and they (whoever they may be) seem to have it right, which is sometimes a great pity. Especially so when you happen to be privileged to enjoy what surely must be one of England’s most enchanting views from the balcony of one of the UK’s most celebrated country house hotels, Holbeck Ghyll.
Of more anon, however. To trot out another cliche, every great destination merits a notable journey (I might have made that one up). Our journey was from Newcastle with an overnight stay near Harrogate where luckily, and seemingly despite the much talked about recession, we just managed to find a room at the General Tarleton but only after a last minute cancellation. After a superbly relaxing evening, the next day saw us wending our way through part of Yorkshire, a touch of Lancashire and into Cumbria with its spectacular mountain scenery.
Such was our tour, we arrived at Holbeck Ghyll a smidgeon before sunset on a mild late autumn evening. Following a seamless check-in we were shown to our room, which wasn’t in the main hotel but one of several suites in a separate building just above and behind the house. Ushered through our own front door, we were delighted to see a picture perfect view of Lake Windermere through the huge floor to ceiling windows. This was going to be a very special 48 hours.
Furnished in a classic country-house style, the good sized room had two comfortable armchairs from which to take full advantage of the view, and its own private balcony which would definitely come into its own in more clement weather. Further inspection revealed a welcoming bottle of locally-distilled damson gin, delicious handmade chocolates and the all-important tea tray so often missing now from many hotel bedrooms.
Having watched the elegant steamer haul itself up and down the lake from the peace of our balcony, my wife opted for a long hot soak whilst I decided to explore the hotel’s principal rooms and sample the local brew.
The hotel’s interior reflects the Arts and Crafts period, yet striking contemporary photography of the surrounding fells and lakes punctuates the dark panelling to great effect. A hugely welcoming fire greets you as you enter the reception area and, flanked by cosy armchairs, it is clearly a popular place to while away an afternoon with a book or board game, a glass of wine or, as in my case, a bottle of beer from the local brewery. Holbeck Ghyll is the former home of Lord Lonsdale, he of the RAC and ‘belt’ fame. As a world away from motors and the boxing ring it would take some beating.
As I make my way back to our room, beer and glass of wine in hand, darkness has fallen in earnest and I am greeted enthusiastically by my seemingly thirsty wife. We enjoy the moonlight reflecting on the lake below, sipping our respective drinks and enjoying the enveloping peace and quiet.
If Holbeck Ghyll has a remarkable setting, it is also noted for its fine dining, having been the proud owner of a Michelin Star for over a decade. So it is with much anticipation that we return to the main house to enjoy the theatre that accompanies such fine food. We peruse the menu as we enjoy delicate canapes beside the fire in one of the hotel’s two adjoining Drawing Rooms.
There is a choice of menu; the a la carte and a Gourmet Menu of six courses with accompanying wines (luckily we were here for two nights so the decision wasn’t too difficult). Needless to say the food on both evenings was outstanding, amongst the very best we have ever had the opportunity to enjoy, and whilst every dish was faultless it would be rude not to mention the superb cheeseboard. The service was also exemplary and the staff, although predominantly young, were efficient, and knowledgeable too.
Replete, we make our way reluctantly past the roaring log fire to bed, only to make the return journey the following morning for the hotel’s hearty breakfast. The day was sadly grey but we needed exercise prior to a promised spa treatment and after a quick exploration of the hotel’s grounds we headed off ‘up the hill’ which, according to the hotel’s directions, was a brisk two and half mile round trip – just the thing. Bracing and beautiful, the path could not have been simpler to follow. ‘This way,’ my ever-patient and most often correct spouse advised. ‘No, this way’ I countered, ‘and left after the barn’. And yes, of course, I was wrong. After three miles hard slog, scrambling over scree and through woodland we finally ended up in Ambleside, a good two mile hike away from Holbeck Ghyll with just five minutes to make the first spa appointment. Needless to say we missed the appointment. When I say we, I mean my wife did. She kindly let me have the second one and after much apologising to the therapist, I guiltily enjoyed a rather fantastic back massage in the hotel’s spa whilst my wife sipped coffee and no doubt planned a suitable revenge.
Back in our room I was in the dog house, but what a splendid one I have to say. I watched the comings and goings on the lake, scribbled some notes in my diary and read the hotel’s newsletter. The hotel’s Concierge Service is on hand to facilitate your every need, from finding the best picnic spot to arranging all manner of activities for those who like to get out and about; there are opportunities for everything from climbing to horse riding, clay pigeon shooting and golf and the hotel also welcomes children – and dogs.
On our second night, admiring the sheep in front of the fire (you’ll have to go) the fresh flowers, comfy sofas and contemplating dinner created by the talented David McLaughlin, I was at peace. Time temporarily stood still.
Holbeck Ghyll has stood the test of time and its remarkable surroundings, comfortable rooms and relaxed atmosphere are just three reasons to visit. The out-of-this-world dining experience is another. General Manager Andrew McPherson and his team should take a bow – it takes a lot of work to run a hotel of this standard and make it appear effortless. It also takes a lot to make me relax, but you did it. Thank you so much. We will return.