Fancy a getaway vacation amidst the tranquil English Lake District complete with wonderful spa treatments and delicious food?
The Gilpin Lake House, owned and run by the Cunliffe family, may be just the place.
Boasting two separate accommodation areas, this luxury property is set in 100 acres of grounds reached along a series of rolling country roads threading through elfin woodlands and undulating pastures broken by winding streams. Slate-roofed with a stone facade upon which ivy clings in curlicues, the lake house option in which we stayed complemented perfectly its rustic, natural surroundings, so much so that Beatrix Potter’s wonderful tales of rural England came immediately to mind. Set in a hollow in a leafy glade, a vegetable plot, garden shed, decorative pond and a wooden bench stood out front inviting one to forget any lingering sense of urban angst (London is just 2.5 hours away).
Inside, the sense of gentile civility is enhanced by gracious furnishings in the hallway and drawing rooms beyond, including a collection of straw hats. A varnished wooden staircase leads to six bedrooms. Our room displayed that particular brand of English gentility that is so eye pleasing – sand-colored wallpaper featuring a white floral motif, soft carpeting, classic period furnishings included a chest of drawers, double dressing table, a tall cupboard, standing lamps throughout the room and shelves filled with books. Delicate crystal and porcelain ornaments stood alongside framed sepia and black-and-white photos of family members from earlier generations. There was an espresso and tea-maker, as well as an old-style wireless set. The room even came equipped with a sturdy pair of binoculars in a leather case (through which, early one morning, I enjoyed watching a family of rabbits at innocent play). A large enclosed area behind twin doors offered plenty of space for discreet storage of luggage.
Separate shower and bath facilities feature a range of ‘Jetty’ toiletries, all blended on-site. The body wash, for example, was a mix of lime, peppermint and lemon grass.
A highlight of any stay at the Gilpin Lake House, is its comprehensive, ‘multi-stage’ spa treatments. Enjoyment begins with a ‘scent experience,’ in which guests, in private consultation in a room near the house, select base, middle and top notes for the oil to be used by the masseuse (guests also receive a house-gift of an oil, a body cream and scrubbing salts of their chosen mix).
As there are short indoor and outdoor walks between each stage of the spa treatment, decorative Wellington boots with comfortable socks are provided for guests during inclement weather. For the first stage, one is brought to a building, adjoining the house, to enjoy the indoor, heated swimming pool and sauna there, the latter furnished with comfortable chairs not simply wooden benches. A chilled cocktail and special sea-salts for body scrubbing add to the overall sense of well-being. The next stage of pampering is a massage or facial in a cozy, airy room erected on stilts with wonderful views through floor-to-ceiling windows on to the property’s own tarn (lake) and a forest of oak, beech and pine. With an interior of whitewashed wood, the ample-size room (large enough for simultaneous twin massages) is furnished with two cast-iron wood stoves sitting opposite each other; two central ceiling lamps in the shape of white rose petals; wall lamps with decorative ‘unicorn’ horns hanging from them; twin mirrors framed in a floral motif with birds and acorns; and coat-hangers amusingly shaped as dogs backsides.
After the massage, guests are guided to an intimate, renovated boathouse where a delicious assortment of scones and cakes with a choice of coffee, tea or hot chocolate is served. A session in a nearby, open-air, cedar wood hot tub follows that, with a flute of chilled champagne as accompaniment. One can then retire to seats right at the edge of the lake for further relaxation.
Another highlight of the Gilpin Lake house, opened in September 2010, is undoubtedly its food.
Breakfast for those staying at the lake-house accommodation – as opposed to guests at the 21-room hotel adjacent to the Gilpin’s main restaurant a short drive away – takes place in a cozy conservatory with natural light pouring in. Furnishings include a beige, marble-faced glass-fronted fireplace, caramel-colored wallpaper, a petite bar with funky high-chairs with antler arm-rests and twin comfy sofas opposite each other. Cutlery is the Sheffield-based Warriss brand and plates are the Sophie Conran for Portmeirion collection. Breakfast offers plenty of choice including pink grapefruit served grilled, fresh fruit salad, eggs Benedict with Scottish smoked salmon or Cumbrian ham and a vegetarian option. Room service is also available for breakfasts and afternoon tea can be taken wherever guests prefer.
Dinner at the Gilpin Lake House is an experience to be treasured, beginning with chauffeur-driven transport of about one mile to the restaurant. This lovely feeling of pampering is further enhanced upon being seated on deep, soft sofas in the restaurant’s two adjoining sitting rooms surrounded by ceiling-high, shelf-filled books, a lighted century-old writing desk and an eclectic potpourri of artifacts including alabaster busts, a wood or bronze sculptured horse, Oriental spice jars and an intricately designed silver platter.
Much thought has gone into creating a relaxing lighting ambiance; leaving one with the impression that sunset has quietly entered the room. The pre-dinner drink menu is comprehensive including some fine cocktails such as eldersour – a mix of gin, vodka, elderflower cordial, lime juice, all topped off with soda water. The restaurant features a devilled white ceiling; magnolia ochre and green floral wallpaper; a hanging chandelier and a narrow, elongated central varnished table that divides the room into separate intimate spaces where guests can eat and converse discreetly.
Chef Gordon Cartwright prides himself on what he terms the “British Culinary Heritage,” creating “simple stunning flavors from timeless mountains and forests, our constantly evolving coastline and rivers, and particularly from the hedgerows and gardens across the British Isles.”
A diverse dinner menu at Gilpin reflects that philosophy with starters alone ranging from potted shrimp from Morecambe Bay in Lancashire soused with white cabbage to tender, stem broccoli and cod cheeks with blue a fine cheese from Stichleton, Nottinghamshire. Mains cover the whole gamut from surf to turf, with the former category including grilled hake with crispy squid; smoked haddock with champ and crunchy panetta; and grilled Dover sole with white asparagus. The turf variety includes roasted two-year-old Cumbrian Hogget (lamb) with black garlic and chateaubriand of Buccleuch beef with ox heart tomato, wild mushrooms and béarnaise sauce. Desserts range from Tomlinson’s rhubarb to parfait and sherry trifle.
Aside from its spa and food offer, the Gilpin Lake House, set within such a large expanse of land, presents other options for relaxation. The viewpoint ‘Cat’s Crag’ offers a 360-degree Lakeland views with a herd of wild deer living nearby. Alternatively, there is also a simple walk around the lake and the gardens. For the energetic, there are jogging and biking trails, coarse fishing, swimming in the lake or short expeditions on the property’s own rowing boats.
For the even more energetic, there are challenging walks within a ten minute drive of the property, up and down the scenic hills and dales. In addition, no far away, one can enjoy a trip into the countryside on the classic, narrow gauge steam train on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway; or, if you prefer water, wonderful cruises on boats operated by the Ullswater ‘Steamers’ Company on England’s second largest lake.
Ultimately, the atmospheric Gilpin Lake House provides everything one would expect of such a beautiful area of England, combining excellent service, fine food, wonderful spa treatments and diverse leisure activities, all within a tranquil, rustic setting.