If you value pristine nature then you won’t need much to nudge you in the direction of the fell mountains and ribbon lakes of Cumbria. And blending into that natural world are a handful of heartwarming hideaways where you can spend your time soaking up magnificent surrounds (inside and out), and exploring some of the finest locally-sourced menus in the land. You’ll find plenty of enthusiasm for ensuring the preservation of said land, too. So grab those wellies, nature lovers, here’s where to stay in the Lake District…
FOR FIRST-CLASS FARE
Forest Side is steeped in romanticism, in the literary sense of the word. A fairytale gothic mansion dating back to the 19th century, its position is simply perfect: steps from the forest bank and surrounded by rolling hills. It’s set back from (touristy but charming) Grasmere village, and less than half an hour’s drive from Keswick, Ambleside and Lake Windermere.
Honouring its Victorian beginnings, the old wooden dining-room floorboards have been recycled as tables, period fireplaces salvaged, and original garden details uncovered and resurrected to great effect. All rooms have garden views, and thankfully so, given their astonishing beauty. Herdwick sheep (or ‘herdies’ as the locals call them) graze on the 43 acres, while red squirrels and roe deer roam free. Humans have been known to wander the impressive kitchen garden on occasion, challenged to name the 25 herbs and 100+ vegetables painstakingly planted there.
Natural wonders Printed walking trails to the likes of Helm Crag and Loughrigg begin at the hotel door.
Eat your greens Making ample use of two greenhouses and two polytunnels, Forest Side’s chefs are serious about all things seasonal and sustainable. Michelin-starred menus are paired with an exclusive wine list featuring small organic and bio-dynamic wine producers. A typical meal might start with last year’s garden pumpkin and cured-on-site neck ham, followed up with salt-aged Cumbrian duck and local cheeses.
A 20 minute stroll along the Old Coffin Trail will bring you to aforementioned Grasmere, where you’ll find a smattering of brilliantly chintzy tea shops, bakeries and places to make last-minute waterproof boot purchases. For a treat, seek out Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, tucked away behind St Oswald’s Church. Unsurprisingly, exemplary gingerbread is the main draw, but its third-generation owners Andrew and Joanne are a dab hand at homemade rum butter, too.
FOR OTHERWORLDLY VIEWS
Whichever way you turn, you’ll find something to pique your interest at this impeccably designed hotel. Perfectly manicured gardens and 14 acres of land afford an uninterrupted look out over legendary Lake Windemere, but attentions are soon drawn to the owner’s personal collection of imposing artworks, inside and out, and the bold patterns and bright fabrics bringing the interiors a contemporary edge.
Bedrooms have resplendent views of the garden or out across the water but we recommend splashing out on one that features a private hot tub overlooking Windemere or, at the very least, one with a telescope for some world-class stargazing.
Natural wonders The giant outdoor chess board and boules set beckon to be played, but taking to the water is what’s encouraged round these parts, and this is a rather convenient starting point. Windermere Lake Cruises offer relaxing rides in beautiful wooden vessels if you don’t feel much like paddling.
Back on dry land, the endless trails of Grizedale Forest and ancient township Hawkshead are a short drive away (but if the weather’s on the turn, Beatrix Potter’s house is just around the corner).
Eat your greens Local chef and farm-to-fork pioneer Simon Rogan (of L’Enclume fame) ensures a memorable experience at Henrock. Dishes are underpinned by British ingredients, making use of Rogan’s holding in nearby Cartmel Valley, ‘Our Farm’. Gorge on lacquered smoked eel with XO custard and soy mustard dressing, or herb-crusted loin of cod with salsify.
Back at base, locally-sourced ingredients elevate each breakfast dish: gloriously yellow egg yolks and the highest quality grass-fed sausages make for a pretty perfect start to the day.
FOR EASY LIVING
Sat in undulating green pastures, Grade II listed Rothay Manor’s two-acre plot is just steps from the honeypot town of Ambleside – but manages to feel totally remote at the same time. The manor’s large terrace with green garden views was made for summer sundowners, while the surrounding grounds offer something of a life-affirming sunrise jog.
Bedrooms and living areas charm with designer wallpaper, period details, and softly illuminating lights. Bramley products, Egyptian cotton sheets, locally-made coffee pods and roll-top baths count among our favourite features.
Green Small Business certifiers have worked with the hotel to make sure its energy-saving efforts are up to scratch: only LED bulbs are used, and local partners work hard to ensure kitchen food waste is churned into energy.
Natural wonders Do drag yourself away from the Brathay Lounge’s wood-burning stove long enough to complete a bracing hike, cycle or climb (the hotel can arrange all manner of excursions and exertions). Book the garden suite and you can ease sore muscles with a dip in your outdoor jacuzzi under twinkling stars.
Eat your greens With three AA rosettes for culinary excellence, plus a Michelin Plate, it’s fair to say the restaurant here is a draw. Japanese and Scandinavian influences add flair to local produce hand-picked by head chef Dan McGeorge (champion of champions on the BBC’s Great British Menu, no less). Push the boat out with a spoiling nine-course tasting menu featuring Dexter beef, stone bass and oyster. There’s an excellent vegetarian menu, too.
FOR BONUS RAMBLING ROUTES
Ok, we’re playing a bit fast and loose with ‘the Lake District’ as we’re well into North Yorkshire here but a special mention must go to Middleton Lodge for its AAA energy rating and self-sustaining creds. So if you’re craving more nature, plan a detour this way – via Tebay services, of course, the farm shop and kitchen working with 70 producers from within a 30-mile radius, to create a truly refreshing stop-off experience. There’s even a pretty lakeside dog walking path.
But back to the lodge. Built at a time when country estates were mostly self-sufficient, this one is now run by a family company committed to continuing that tradition. All the water on the estate used for showers, flushing loos and washing comes from a borehole. Fresh spring water is bottled at source, and water for underfloor heating, radiators and showers is warmed via a huge wood chip biomass boiler. Impressive.
Natural wonders Over 1,000 trees have been planted here in the last few years alone, making for beautiful leafy walks through the grounds (our favourite being the one from dinner back to your private garden, complete with tin hot tub). Bikes are provided, too, so you can cycle around the woodlands and beyond.
Eat your greens If the food isn’t grown on site, it’s local, seasonal and as free-range as it gets. Much thought has been put into vegan and vegetarian options in the reliably excellent Coach House restaurant. We feasted on glazed heritage carrots with nasturtium pesto and pine nuts, and the chargrilled and tempura’d broccoli with macadamia and basil.