Staycation: Armathwaite Hall Hotel, Lake District
by Joely Carey
Joely Carey discovers one of the hidden gems in the north lakes where stunning scenery and a bid of wild swimming makes for a luxurious escape
Where is it?
One of the things people fail to explain about the Lake District is how easy it is to get lost, despite having in-car computers telling me where to go, I was transfixed by the incredible scenery and took so many wrong turns that I stopped counting.
Eventually, I found our destination. Hiding behind huge stone gates and along a twisting driveway is the splendid Armathwaite Hall Hotel – a former stately home that dates back to the 11th century. It was bought by the Graves family in 1976 and has been lovingly transformed into a luxe country house hotel and spa.
What’s the accommodation like?
This isn’t just another country hotel – it’s a jewel in the Lake District crown, with a long-standing reputation of old-fashioned luxury and service that is as faultless as it is discreet.
Everything about this place screams olde worlde glamour, from the imposing stone entrance to the parapets and heavy mullioned windows it is straight out of a period drama – all that’s missing are dashing young things gallivanting around the manicured 400-acre grounds. It does have the cutest Belted Galloway cows grazing out front, though – nicknamed ‘Oreo cows’ for their unusually striped appearance, the breed has a huge following on Insta… Who knew?
Inside it’s all wood panelling, huge fireplaces and enormous sofas dotted around the grand rooms. As for the bedrooms, they’re split into grand and grander – the older part of the hotel is home to luxe tower rooms with traditional fireplaces, moody colours and heavy drapes to keep out the northern winds. Many have parkland or lake views.
In other parts of the hotel, rooms are just as luxe, but with a lighter more contemporary twist to colour schemes. Whatever your mood, they’re sure to have a room to fit the bill.
What did you eat and drink?
Food and drink here is quietly understated and errs towards the traditional, country house-style fayre with a French twist. You can enjoy a light lunch, a cream tea or choose a cocktail or two in the beautiful bar. Decorated in the richest blues and golds, it's an Insta-worthy spot for pre-dinner drinks.
The restaurant menu is old-school with a contemporary take, its dishes thoughtfully devised by head chef Noel Breaks, who originally hails from Halifax in Yorkshire.
For starters, I opted for a heritage beetroot dish served in a Feuille de Brik, a French take on filo pastry served with sorrel, apple and dukkah. Mains are a mix of hearty meats, locally caught fish and vegan options – I went for the pan-roasted cod, elevated to a flaky dish of dreams thanks to a light truffle velouté and some perfect julienne potato. For pudding I dived into a vegan chocolate mousse served with chocolate soil, cherry griottine and sorbet; perfection in the most elegant of surroundings.
What is there to do?
The hotel is nestled on the very edge of Bassenthwaite Lake, offering guests the chance to really immerse themselves in nature. Whether you fancy wild swimming, forest bathing, paddle boarding or archery, the hotel offers a variety of outdoor activities to help you really connect with your wild side.
We were treated to a wild swimming adventure with Alice from Always Wild Swimming, who helped us overcome our fear of being in open water (in November!). My daughter Esme, 26, and I were provided with appropriate wetsuits and a fluorescent float belted around us for extra safety, handy for resting from swimming and providing visibility to other lake users – though on a freezing, rainy November day we didn’t have much competition!
That said, at just 19 metres deep, Bassenthwaite is one of the warmer lakes for novice wild swimmers. As first timers, we still needed to take it slow to acclimatise to the water temperature before going deeper. Was it freezing? Yes. Was it incredible? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely.
For those who prefer dry land, Keswick is just 15 minutes from the hotel. This charming old Cumbrian market town is renowned for inspiring some of the country’s most regarded poets and writers of the past, and today is riddled with independent cafés, olde worlde pubs and local shops, and is the perfect place for some post-walk or post-swim sustenance.
We grabbed a bowl of steamingly good homemade parsnip soup at the super-cute Wild Strawberry café before taste-testing a number of different flavours at Roly’s Fudge Pantry in the market square. Handmade and diet-busting, we bought several bags to take home– our faves were the sea salt and cherry bakewell, though the vegan chocolate orange was a strong contender. Better still, they felt guilt-free thanks to our wild swim earlier.
What do I need to pack?
Although you don’t have to bring walking boots to the Lake District, it’s a good idea – you’ll want to do at least one wander off the beaten track to really get a sense of the place.
It has to be wild swimming in the northern Lake District in November. Being out in open water and swimming with a backdrop of misty mountains in your view was an amazing experience. We were freezing, but a good boozy hot chocolate afterwards warmed us back up again.
Sainsbury’s magazine insider tip
The location of this luxe hotel is the jewel in its already well-adorned crown, so take advantage of it. Opt for a lake view room and make sure you get down early to breakfast so you can bag a window table. The sunnier guest lounge is a beautiful suntrap for those brighter days, while the grand hall, with its roaring fires, is a perfect spot for a cosy winter’s afternoon.
How to book
Prices start from £285pn B&B for a basic Club Double/Twin room, and £515pn B&B for Studio Suite tower rooms, based on two people sharing. The hotel offers a range of adventure and wellness activities and has its own spa. Dogs are welcome, but this will restrict some of the spaces you can access. Visit armathwaite-hall.com for more information.