Short Break - Sharrow Bay Country House. Ullswater
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 August 2014
Location, location, location...the Sharrow Bay hotel and restaurant looks out on one of the best views in the Lake District
We are sipping our breakfast coffee looking out across the expanse of Ullswater. A stiff breeze whips the indigo waters into white foamy wave-tips. The bright morning sun on the greens, browns and russets of the fells makes this vista resemble the work of a Victorian watercolourist.
Yachts chatter at their moorings, the Western Belle - one of the Ullswater Steamers fleet - chugs by laden with tourists, and on the jagged horizon is a reminder of the Lake District’s elemental force, as snow clings doggedly to the darker recesses of the peaks even as summer beckons.
We sally forth to walk off our breakfast, along a path carpeted with bluebells, climbing gently through fields of sheep towards Swarth Fell, then walking high above the lake, parallel with the shore, until we reach Howtown. It is this pretty corner of the lake where the Ullswater Steamers stop, and walkers disembark to begin the seven-mile trudge back to Glenridding.
Far from the tourist honeypots, Sharrow Bay is on a road to nowhere-in-particular on the quieter side of one of the Lake District’s quieter lakes. It is an enduringly remarkable feat for the late Francis Coulson to have pitched up at this former fisherman’s house one October night in 1948 with little more than a kettle, a saucepan and big ambitions, then turned it, with the help of partner Brian Sack, into what is regarded as the original country house hotel.
Reminders of Francis Coulson’s influence are everywhere to be seen in Sharrow Bay, and it is still evident in the kitchen. Head chef Colin Akrigg, who began as a 13-year-old kitchen porter in 1968, was a protegé of Coulson.
For 15 years until 2012, Sharrow Bay held a Michelin star. Its loss came amid some turbulent times which included two changes of ownership. Now in calmer waters, the hotel is forging ahead. Following renovations in the main house, an extension to the restaurant is among plans for the near future.
We stayed in one of the garden suites, just a few yards from the main house. At the door we could look up to see swifts twittering in and out of nests beneath the eaves, bringing food for their young.
We strolled through Sharrow’s Bay’s formal gardens, with fountains and sculpted hedges, to find a bench looking out across Ullswater, then sat and marvelled.
That view is Sharrow Bay’s unique selling point. The best tables in the restaurant take advantage of it, and it’s little wonder the hotel is going to make more room for diners to enjoy it. We have stayed at wonderful lakeside hotels in Italy and Austria, but to find a setting of equal beauty just a couple of hours up the M6 somehow makes the experience all the sweeter.
Sharrow Bay is by Ullswater at Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2LZ. Tel 01768 486301 or visit www.sharrowbay.co.uk