3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Behind the scenes at Nanny Brow in Ambleside

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 April 2018

Nanny Brow has beautiful Arts & Crafts features  (Picture: Daniel Wildey)

Nanny Brow has beautiful Arts & Crafts features (Picture: Daniel Wildey)

not Archant

Gone are the days of basic bed and breakfasts in the Lake District and leading the way in luxury is Nanny Brow in Ambleside. Emma Mayoh reports

The outstanding view from Nanny Brow (Picture: Daniel Wildey)The outstanding view from Nanny Brow (Picture: Daniel Wildey)

There was once a time when bed and breakfast could involved battleaxe landladies, hair in curlers, telling guests the front door would be locked at 10pm. If you weren’t in, you’d face their wrath and accompanying stern glare. Bathrooms were shared and a cruet cost extra.

How times have changed. Now, many are luxurious boutique places with Egyptian cotton bed sheets, the fluffiest towels and pillows plumped to perfection. You’ll find others with double ended slipper baths the size of a rowing boat, state-of-the-art technology, the finest furnishings and breakfasts full of tasty local produce.

It’s all part of the service people have come to expect, according to Sue Robinson, who runs and owns Nanny Brow with husband, Peter. The couple, who moved from the Cotswolds to the Lake District, have been flying the hospitality flag in Ambleside for almost ten years. Their bed and breakfast, a stunning example of Art & Crafts architecture, has garnered itself a reputation as one of the finest in the country.

They’ve won awards including AA Guest Accommodation of the Year, The LUX UK Hospitality Award and AA 5 Star Guest Accommodation. But Sue and Peter work hard t

Nanny Brow had almost reached the point of no return when the Robinsons bought it (Picture: Leon Daniels)Nanny Brow had almost reached the point of no return when the Robinsons bought it (Picture: Leon Daniels)

o keep ahead in an area that has stiff competition not just from other bed and breakfasts but also great hotels.

‘Hotels are difficult to compete with, particularly when you’re aiming at the customers we are,’ said Sue. ‘We’re cheaper than luxury hotels around here but we are the most expensive bed and breakfast in Ambleside. That’s a challenge for us. It means we have to constantly strive to be the best.

‘But many of our customers don’t want that hotel experience. Some live in hotels for a lot of their working lives and they want to get away from that. They want that personal touch, that interaction with us.

Guests also love the special story behind Nanny Brow. There’s one man who stays with us who spends 360 days a year in a hotel. The remainder are with us. He loves being here.’

Stunning detail was uncovered at Nanny Brow during renovation work  (Picture: Daniel Wildey)Stunning detail was uncovered at Nanny Brow during renovation work (Picture: Daniel Wildey)

Nanny Brow has an enviable history. It was built in 1904 by renowned architect Francis Whitwell, who practiced in London and was a fellow of RIBA. He came to Ambleside to build his family home.

The property, on the solid rock of Nanny Brow Crag overlooking the Brathay Valley, has many features characteristic of the Arts & Crafts movement including motifs of animals and flowers, oak paneling and leaded windows.

Peter and Susan painstakingly worked to restore the grand building for two years, revealing old tiles and fireplaces, intricate carvings and detailing hidden under 100 years worth of paint. They worked through the winter with no heating.

‘That was a crazy time,’ said Sue. ‘We’d work in here for a few hours and they have to go outside to get warm again because it was warmer out there.

Nanny Brow is an award-winning guest house  (Picture: Daniel Wildey)Nanny Brow is an award-winning guest house (Picture: Daniel Wildey)

‘But we loved the place. We had to do it. If we hadn’t, it would have got past repair.

‘It was almost at that point when we took it on. We couldn’t let this beautiful building pass us by.’

Determined to stay true to Nanny Brow’s history, they refused all shortcuts.

It was a labour of love and they worked to old plans showing the original layout. Today, you can see architectural drawings, paintings and photographs on the walls, including a copy of Whitwell’s detailed painting showing the house he wanted to build while he was searching for land.

‘That’s something our guests love hearing about,’ said Sue. ‘We get a lot of people asking about the history and it’s something we’re really proud to pass on. We’ve heard stories from many people who had visited here in the past.

‘Before we came here a lady moved in next door to our holiday cottages in the Cotswolds. It turned out she was the granddaughter of Francis Whitwell.

‘She gave us access to the family albums so we had some lovely pictures from the 1900s and lots of information about the house and the family. We’ve definitely not taken the easy options.

‘There are times we could have cut down on the renovation time period but we wanted stay true to the house.

‘We’re custodians of Nanny Brow. We have a responsibility to look after it for others to enjoy in the future.’

Another thing they have become known for are the delicious homemade cakes put in guests’ rooms each day and Sue’s efforts have even won the attention of television chef Michel Roux.

‘I was absolutely amazed,’ beamed Sue. ‘The cakes are our USP.

‘He stayed with us while he visited one of the wonderful restaurants here. He said he loved my lemon drizzle cake.

‘When I realised he was coming, I was so nervous. We made breakfast for him and he loved it - particularly the bacon.

‘We work really hard but when you hear things like this from any of our customers, it makes it all worthwhile.’


More from Out & About

Friday, September 21, 2018

The first ever National GetOutside Day takes place on Sunday 30 September with the aim of getting 1 million people active outdoors across the UK.

Read more

Meet some of the devilishly successful people who make this glorious Ribble Valley town tick.

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

The site was designated Lancashire’s first ever ‘Local Nature Reserve’ in 1968 and is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Read more
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A striking sculpture attracts John Lenehan to this circular walk through some oustanding scenery.

Read more
Friday, September 7, 2018

This varied selection of walks are all within ten miles of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty.

Read more
Arnside Silverdale
Monday, September 10, 2018

Making a television programme about the Lakes has re-affirmed Paul Rose’s deep affection for the area

Read more
Lake District
Friday, September 7, 2018

A succesful application could see the restoration of the Japanese Gardens and the creation of a water sports centre.

Read more

Is it a village? Is it a town? Who cares when the locals take such a pride in making this such a lovely place to visit

Read more
Thursday, August 30, 2018

A new survey method could unlock the secrets of the bog bush cricket in Lancashire following their discovery on Little Woolden Moss, Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Ellie Sherlock joins the search.

Read more
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Heritage venues across the region – many of them not normally open to the public – will welcome visitors this month

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

It’s officially England’s favourite flower and if you want to see some beautiful examples, follow Linda Viney to Mawdesley

Read more
Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A circular walk which skirts the Lune estuary and takes in the Lancaster Canal and the railway line.

Read more

Behind the ancient sandstone facade of Browsholme Hall is a remarkable ethos of 21st century sustainability and care for the environment.

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Keswick really is a gem of a town – just ask anyone from jeweller Brian Fulton to mountaineering legend Sir Chris Bonington

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Property Search