Odd or Quaint? We weren’t sure as we somewhat hesitantly booked our accommodation in the Lake District. I’d been intrigued by an article I’d found online in the The telegraph that had made reference to staying at the Howtown Hotel. How odd or quaint, I thought. Reservations are made in writing and by that they meant by post, a real letter with a stamp.
The hotel is pretty much all there is in Howtown. Once through Pooley Bridge, it’s a sharp right hand turn onto a narrow windy road for what seems an eternity, about 4 miles. Our drive is not made any easier by the torrential rain, making viability poor and the road in many places covered with water. We’d been told to expect rain in the Lake District and the day we arrived there was about 4 inches!
As we drive taking the track to the hotel we note that unlike Scotland there don’t appear to be designated passing places on the roads, necessitating our having to back up more than once on our drive to the hotel. We also note that the drivers in England seem much less gracious than their Scottish neighbors when it comes to allowing on coming traffic pass.
After a drive along a narrow windy and often flooded road we arrive.
Our greeting at the hotel is pretty low key. The proprietor greets us with a quizzical “Good Afternoon” and brief welcome. She arranges for one of the staff to show us our room and that’s it, we’re registered. No id required, no credit card imprint, nothing more than our brief introduction and confirmation of name. Our room has as well as no wifi ( we knew this before we booked), no TV, no coffee or tea making facilities, no toiletries other than a bar of Imperial Leather soap and no room key! What it does have is great views to Ullsawater.
The staff member who showed us to our room tells us that guests need to be downstairs at 6.30 to look at the dinner menu for orders to be taken. There is only one sitting. Breakfast is at 9am and a pot of tea will be delivered to our room at 8 am we are told. There will be no early starts here! With that she leaves us to settle in and I’m still none the wiser as to whether this hotel is quaint or odd?
Our room is comfortable and although it has no shower there is a bath with hand held shower and a shower room down the hall. It also has lovely sitting rooms dotted around. Each has comfortable chairs, books , magazines, jigsaw puzzles and the occasional dog.
Shortly after arriving the cloud lifts and the magic of Ullsawater starts to reveal itself. It easy to understand what Turner, Constable, the poets and Beatrix Potter saw in the Lake District.
With my favourite person still suffering from a cold and the weather forecast ordinary, our planned walks are somewhat curtailed.
We do decide to take advantage of a break in the weather and drive in the late afternoon to Aira Force. The falls are thundering as a result of the torrential rain that had thankfully retreated for now. The views across the lake stunning but unfortunately the weather closes in again and it’s back to the car for the drive back to the hotel.
Dinner we understand is quite formal, requiring us to “dress for dinner” before we head downstairs to the bar – jeans and a t-shirt aren’t in we gather. Our orders for a 4 course meal, along with those of the other guests are taken at just after 6.30. Quite confused we ask another couple “how it works”. With a laugh they tell us that when it’s time to go into the dining room, a gong is rung and we all move in to the dining room. This is the first of a number of chats with this lovely retired couple over the next couple of days. As we are seated, I ask another nearby couple whether there is another gong to let diners know it’s time to leave the table – they tell me, “No” we can eat at leisure. My question as it had before dinner leads to a conversations that crosses desert, coffee in the sitting room and for the remainder of our stay.
Perhaps this is the charm of the place. Wherever we look people are all chatting away, even though they’ve never met before. We are asked more than once how we’d discovered this place? It seems very much that it’s a bit of a secret amongst people who frequent the Lake District on a regular basis. I think we are the only guests not based in England and with one other couple much the youngest.
Country House hotels are always a little bit of a step back in time but this takes us back 100 years or more. As I reflect, I’m surprised a horse and cart or the steamer hadn’t been the method of transport from Pooley Bridge to the hotel.
All that said it makes our trip to The Lake District all the more enjoyable, but I’m still grappling whether it’s odd or quaint?
Our second day in the Lake District starts with a knock on the door just after 8am and our tea tray is delivered. No tea bags in this tea I can assure you!
At 9am we join the other hotel guests at breakfast. As had been the case with dinner the previous night seating is set and it provides an opportunity to continue conversations from the previous evening, as well as providing insights on places to visit walks etc. I note one of the couples who we’d been chatting with the previous night are absent – my mind immediately turns to Agatha Christie!
Breakfast is just as enjoyable as dinner and as we turn our minds to the days activities, we are asked if we’d like a lunch hamper. Even with a full day’s walking it’s hard to imagine needing anything more than a snack at lunchtime.
With my favourite person not keen on any long walks, due to her cold we decide on driving across to Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s home. It’s quite a drive and along the way our Navigation App (Sygic) pipes up with “we’ve found a faster route” and for some unknown reason I decide to follow. It’s a goat track, which apparently is faster, but unfortunately takes us to the wrong Hill Top. I reload our desired location and about 30 minutes later we are at Hill Top. Our Australian National Trust membership gets us in for free and as we’d found in other locations gets us a warmer than usual welcome.
Hill Top is busy and visitors are given timed entry tickets, ours is about 20 minutes after we arrive which gives us time to look at the garden. The house is as Beatrix Potter left it and in each room there is one of her books or a picture linking the location to one of her stories. Even for big kids like us that makes the visit more enjoyable.
After our visit to Hill Top we decide to drive onto our ten Claife Viewing Station. The views are truly spectacular but I find it hard to believe that people actually fainted at their sight as suggested on the information board.
We decided that we needed a bit of culture and thought we might head across to Dovecot Cottage, but our GPS got confused decided a horse track would be good option. With that we set sail for put hotel via a short stop for a cup of tea and walk around Ambleside.
On our return route, we take the turn off to The Struggles a route with sharp turns, steep gradients and unbelievable views. The roads are painted with names of cyclists with the ” Go Cav” suggesting it’s a road used in professional racing. The 20 percent gradients would make it some ride.
Our late afternoon return allowed me to take a walk along part of the Ullsawater trail. It’s easy to understand why people come back to the Lake District over and over again, the light makes every turn different no matter how often you look.
With a walk under my ever increasing belt, I’m ready for another amazing dining experience. The food is good but the experience is better. On this evening we talk with two ladies who tell us they visit twice a year, once in Spring to see the daffodils and the other in Autumn to see the leaves.
We wake for our last morning to pouring rain and it doesn’t look like it will let up. So, we leave just as we arrive in pouring rain, but very much of the view that we will be back and quite probably like so many of the guests of Howtown Hotel , we will return to the Howtown Hotel, because it isn’t odd, its quaint and definitely exceptional.
Travel tip – it’s not the cheapest place to stay but it’s worth every penny.
Posted as a contribution to The WordPress Daily Post – Atmospheric