Soak up the scenery

From fine dining to the inevitable downpour, Sarah Freeman finds one of the Lake District’s hidden gems.

It is easy to spot those who have headed to Holbeck Gill to follow in the footsteps of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

The hotel and restaurant on top of a steep hill was one of the five which featured in The Trip, a series which quietly became a hit a couple of years ago. Travelling around the Lake District, and a little bit of North Yorkshire, the pair spent some of the time sampling the area’s best restaurants – the premise was Coogan had been commissioned by the Observer to write food reviews – but most of it trying to outdo each other with impressions of Sean Connery and Michael Caine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was a middle-aged road trip as Coogan as tried to prove he wasn’t bitter about having never quite replicated the success of his alter-ego Alan Partridge and Brydon rubbed sea salt flakes into old wounds.

When the show went out on the BBC, the phone at Holbeck Ghyll didn’t stop ringing and occupancy went up by 12 per cent. The interest has died a little since then, but at dinner it’s still possible to detect hushed muttering about which table the pair sat at and occasionally someone is unable to resist standing on the the lawn with its impressive views over Windermere and shouting “A-ha!” in their best Partridge voice.

The Trip might have brought many new visitors to Holbeck Ghyll, but it’s the hotel and the Michelin star food which keeps them coming back.

Just a short drive to both the tourist Meccas of Windermere and Ambleside, its location means it feels miles away from both and while our 10-year-old Ford Fiesta looked a little out of place alongside the Aston Martin which was parked outside, Holbeck Ghyll is a refreshingly unstuffy sort of place.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Even the spa, while offering all the usual treatments, smacks of homely relaxation and the nearest the restaurant gets to a dress code is politely asking guests if they wouldn’t mind not wearing walking boots and T-shirts.

If they are sitting down for the gourmet menu (six courses for £78 not including wine) they should probably advise them to wear elasticated trousers. It goes without saying chef David McLaughlin uses local ingredients, even the salmon, while Scottish, is smoked down the road in Cartmel, and to keep regulars from getting bored the menu changes regularly. Current dishes include roasted wild turbot with crisp boneless oxtail and beetroot foam and rilette of rabbit with crostini and truffle cream vinaigrette and don’t be putt off by the occasional Heston Blumenthal flourish – this is complex food simply done and the cheese trolley is to die for.

To be honest, we’d have happily eaten our way through the entire weekend, but we had a sailing lesson booked. This being the Lake District, as soon as we had manoeuvred our way into waterproofs, a task which in itself burnt up a few hundred calories, the skies inevitably darkened and the rain began to fall.

For first timers on the water, Lowood Watersports Centre is not a bad place to start. It offers everything from canoeing and kayaking to water skiing and wake boarding and all abilities are catered for.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When the instructor was unable to resist pointing out that my husband had put his waterproofs on back to front, we were clearly in the beginners group, but two hours on the water learning how to sail (or at least not fall out of) a dinghy was no less enjoyable. By the end we weren’t exactly masters of the lakes, but we had managed to turn the thing around a couple of times.

By the time we returned to shore, the rain had set in for the day, so we decided to see the rest of the Lakes in the comfort of the car. However, the decision to drive over the Wrynose to Hardknott Pass proved more of an adrenalin rush than the sailing. The single-track road is one of the steepest in England and, while on a dry day it’s worth stopping off to see the Roman remains or just admire the views – which have to be some of the best in the country – the only thing I saw clearly was my life flashing before my eyes.

Another dinner at Holbeck Ghyll and calm was restored and while the forecast for the following day looked even worse, a guided morning walk with local Mark Eddy seemed a more sensible prospect.

As is the way with the Lake District, an area which must infuriate the Met Office, we woke up to blue skies and spring-like temperatures. The hotel offers dedicated walking weekends, but Mark is also available for individual guided walks and it’s well worth a few hours in his company.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rather than driving to some other part of the Lakes we decided to make the most of the sunshine and headed up the fells at the back of the hotel. Thanks to Mark, we learnt more about the area, saw the tracks where farmers would have once driven their cattle to market, were soon able to identify every mountain on the horizon and with a third person for once it meant we didn’t have to resort to taking each other’s photo.

It was time to say goodbye, but as we pulled out of the drive in our trusted Fiesta we promised to return. We probably still won’t have an Aston Martin, but when the stay is as good as it is at Holbeck Ghyll, who needs a flash car?

Holbeck Ghyll offers weekend breaks from £270 per room, per night and midweek breaks cost from £216 per room per night. The restaurant is open to non-residents and for full menu details call 01539 432375 or online at