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Short break - The Cottage in the Wood, Magic Hill, near Keswick

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 August 2015 | UPDATED: 18:58 23 March 2016

Cottage in the Wood

Cottage in the Wood

Not Archant

Cottage in the Wood is a hidden gem in several respects, as Roger Borrell discovered when he ventured into the forest

The magazine that tumbled from the newspaper urged me to discover ‘how to tone the dad bod and lose inches from your waist.’

I spent a few moment translating this into English and decided that losing inches from this particular granddad bod would simply mean my trousers falling down and I’d be required to buy new ones.

Dismissing this as a plan, I threw the magazine to one side and instead turned to the tasting menu at a place called The Cottage in the Wood, a 17th century coaching inn deep in the Whinlatter Forest but not too far from Keswick.

It perches on the side of a steep road called Magic Hill and that’s an entirely appropriate address as the standard of hospitality they conjure up is as good as anything I’ve experienced in the Lakes. Situated in what is, apparently, England’s only true mountain forest, this place is a hidden gem in several respects.

Former university lecturer Kath Berney and her husband, Liam, a chef turned teacher, took it over in 2002 when, as Liam says, it was ‘a bit of nightmare...an embarrassment.’ Run down and in need of a new roof, they concentrated on providing great food and genuinely warm hospitality and, with the help of a good builder, managed to reinvent the place.

Today, you might call it a boutique hotel with eight rooms and a garden suite, all of them recently refurbished. The Berneys avowed aim was to create something special but not so overwhelmingly upmarket it became exclusive and prohibitively expensive. I like it when a plan comes together.

The public rooms are chic without being ostentatious and the dining room has terrific views across the hotel’s three acres of fellside gardens towards the mighty Skiddaw. Here, overlooking a terrace, you can sit and become mesmerised by the wealth of bird life and, if you’re really lucky spot a red squirrel or deer.

However, bird watching gets interrupted when the well-tutored waiting staff bring you things to eat as they did in a relaxed but regular fashion when we tried this tasting menu.

It has been created by Chris Archer, a 27-year-old who has been gaining a reputation as a bit of a kitchen wunderkind. He started cooking in his teens and he says he’s never bettered the batch of scones he made when he was a lad. They must have been very good.

Chris, pictured above, has a dazzling CV. He completed a three year apprenticeship at two Michelin-starred Winteringham Fields under chef Germaine Shwab before joining chef Daniel Clifford as the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House. Most recently, he worked at The Yorke Arms near Harrogate, another Michelin-rated establishment.

This is his first post in charge of the kitchen. Owner Liam started his working life as a chef and was at the Midland Hotel in Manchester before moving into teaching, eventually becoming an Ofsted inspector. He admits there is little he can teach Chris about cooking but is educating him in the dark arts of management.

After eating dinner prepared by Chris, I know what Liam means. His modern take on a prawn cocktail with Scottish langoustines, avocado and tomato was an exceptional curtain-raiser while the Whitehaven turbot and brown shrimps with wild garlic was a lesson in how to cook this premium fish. His Cumbrian ribeye was transformed by an accompanying bolognaise while the simply named dessert of strawberries and cream and another chocolate and cherry concoction called BFG, masked complex dishes full of wit and wisdom.

Breakfast, overseen with friendly efficiency by Kath, was superb. How many places have you stayed where they have a breakfast special? This one was scrambled duck eggs and mushrooms on sour dough.

In between eating, we stayed in the garden room which is sophisticated and well equipped with a movie star bathroom.

Getting ready the next morning, it struck me that perhaps I would need some new trousers after all. w

The Cottage in the Wood, a runner-up in the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards in 2011, is at Magic Hill, Whinlatter Forest, Braithwaite, near Keswick, CA12 5TW. 017687 78409.

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