Old-school glamour in the Lake District

Sharrow Bay, Lake Ullswater
Sharrow Bay, Lake Ullswater

THERE is something calming about the gentle lapping of water against a shore.

One of the appeals of the Lake District is the feeling of getting away from it all.

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Lake Ullswater might only be a couple of hours away, but sitting overlooking the water, it feels like a million miles.

Which is exactly what Francis Coulson thought when he bought the old fisherman’s lodge in 1948 after spotting it advertised in the Manchester Guardian newspaper as a “a mansion on the edge of Ullswater with 12 acres of grounds and formal gardens”.

At the time he had very little cash and no experience but a great deal of faith that he could turn it into a successful country house hotel.

With the help of some friends, who were mainly unpaid, he created four bedrooms and opened the house as Sharrow Bay.

The Lake District wasn’t considered fashionable at the time but 64 years later the hotel has more rooms, is still going strong and has held a Michelin star for its restaurant since 1997.

Driving up the the hotel, through narrow country roads and onto a private driveway, you begin to get a sense of how secluded Sharrow Bay is.

Once at the house itself, you realise it’s location is stunning. Sitting on the eastern banks of Ullswater, it has a breathtaking view across the lake and towards the Lakeland fells.

Inside the building, my girlfriend and I were greeted by extremely friendly staff who made us feel at home instantly.

We were staying in one of the ‘garden rooms’ – which, as you’d expect, overlook the hotel’s outstanding 12-acre gardens.

Head gardener Robert Hawkins has worked at Sharrow Bay since 1968 – when there were no gardens at all.

What he has created in the intervening years is a fantastic collection of shrubs, plants and flowers which has won a host of awards.

Our room was something of a surprise, not only was there a bedroom with huge bay window and a bathroom – there was a living room upstairs as well, with yet more stunning views.

The decor was luxurious, in keeping with the hotel’s history.

While there were no mod cons that you get in so-called boutique hotels, there was a real old-school glamour to the place.

When we went to the main house for dinner, we found that glamour carried on there as well.

It was extravagantly decorated and very ornate.

The dinner was excellently done. Much of the food comes from the grounds and surrounding woodland.

We opted for a guinea fowl, pork and spring onion terrine and scallops to start. Both were fantastic – good ingredients coming together to result in good food.

Next up was a plaice fillet with braised leeks and truffle, which again was perfect. The fish was cooked brilliantly and the leek and the accompaniment worked well.

We both had a shot of fruit sorbet next, designed to cleanse the palette before the main course.

I went for fillet steak – which was up there with the best I’ve eaten – with wild mushroom ravioli, vegetables and wine sauce while the other half went for venison – when the waiter pointed over the lake to where it was come from, she couldn’t resist.

After all that, we still had room for desserts. Sharrow Bay lays claim to being the inventor of the sticky toffee pudding, so there was one choice sorted. I went for a chocolate mousse with coconut sorbet.

Despite its awards, this is not snobby, pretentious food. It is the type of place my parents would be comfortable eating in, which is in no way to its detriment.

My last review was of nearby L’Enclume. A restaurant which couldn’t be more different. Whereas there, the food is inventive and perhaps intimidating, at Sharrow Bay it was homely and comforting.

It is not a hotel for the jet-set, in fact I’d imagine it caters for an audience much older than my 30 years.

What it is however, is a traditional English getaway, serving lovely food in an outstanding setting. And for a weekend break, that does it for me.

Bed and breakfast at Sharrow Bay starts at £100 (based on two sharing).

Three-course lunches start from £35 per person. Dinner starts at £75 per person for six courses. A £95-per-head, 10-course taster menu is also available.

For more information, call 01768 486301 or visit www.sharrowbay.co.uk