Holbeck Ghyll - exploring the history of the luxury Lake District hotel
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 July 2019
This outstanding Arts & Crafts house-turned-hotel once provided a playground for one of Britain’s most fascinating aristocrats.
I haven't stayed in a Lake District hotel that doesn't have a claim to fame. You know the sort of thing - Beatrix Potter had her toenails painted in what is now the hydro-spa or it was here that Arthur Ransome's pipe set fire to Canon Rawnsley's beard during a bad-tempered debate over the last piece of Grasmere gingerbread.
Anything to stand out from the crowd. At the Holbeck Ghyll that's not really necessary - the place is chock full of history, mainly down to an interesting cove called Lord Lonsdale.
This Windermere country house hotel found fame as the hunting lodge for guests of 'Lordy' as he was known by the great unwashed. They adored his extravagant lifestyle while the straight-laced upper crust of the Victorian and Edwardian eras found him vulgar in the extreme.
After running away to join the circus in the US, he obtained the title in the most unlikely circumstances and with it came what seemed like virtually all of Westmorland and Cumberland. This provided him with an income, in today's money, of around £20 million a year and he set about spending it with considerable gusto.
When not hunting actresses, he could be found tracking down and killing the local wildlife. Holbeck Ghyll was the go-to place where he and some of the crowned heads of Europe indulged in a little recreational slaughter.
He became known as the Yellow Earl because of his obsession with the colour and he even had a fleet of carriages liveried in it. This Mr Toad-like character later founded the Automobile Association which still uses yellow as part of its emblem.
You suspect there are fewer rampant earls and saucy actresses at Holbeck Ghyll these days, although Renee Zellweger did make an appearance there while filming Miss Potter.
Whatever the change to the clientele, the atmosphere of this outstanding house remains very much intact. If first appearances are important, then the hotel and its 18 acres tick the box. It emerges at the end of a winding lane high over the lake providing some of the finest views in the north.
The exterior, complete with tower, is a fine example of sturdy English architecture.
From the ornately carved front door to the beautifully crafted dining chairs, Holbeck Ghyll is an Arts & Crafts dream. Oak panelling, moulded ceilings, beaten brass and big, squashy chairs make you almost feel like one of the Yellow Earl's house guests, itching to go out and kill something.
That's completely unnecessary because someone has already done that for you and the kitchen team cooks it in fine fashion. With three AA Rosettes, they produce four and seven course dinner menus.
Highlights included some unctuous pig's cheeks with parsnip and vanilla and a dish of salt aged beef, a spectacularly well-cooked piece of meat with a great support act of oxtail and swede. Afternoon teas are also popular and if you want a break from the formal dining room, you can eat in the lounge.
It was all served with considerably jollity by an international team eager to please.
In fact, everyone on the Holbeck team made you feel at home - so much so that while we were there one guest decided to stay an extra night.
The bedrooms, in the house and suites outside, are all individually styled but, to be frank, I didn't take much notice of ours - it had ceiling to floor views over Windermere providing a mesmerising vista that required most of your attention from the comfort of an armchair.
I do recall an extremely comfortable bed, stylish furnishings and a top of the range bathroom.
The next morning, breakfasts were everything you'd desire before going off on a hike.
And on return, there is a spa with two private treatment rooms, sauna, steam room and an outdoor hot tub.
If he could see the facilities at Holbeck today, I'm sure Lord Lonsdale would hang up his gun and join Beatrix for some toe-nail painting…in yellow, of course.