By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
There are lots of things we associate with England: cups of tea, football, the royal family, pop music and theatre, for example. But rarely do we consider the nature of the British Islands, and that’s a shame, because there’s plenty of it.
That’s especially true in the magical region of Cumbria.
This is a mainly rural area, best known for its Lake District National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its velvety green valleys, vast lakes and melange of historical buildings, it is considered one of England’s finest areas of natural beauty, and has long served as an inspiration for artists.
Much of the region is mountainous, and it contains every peak in England over 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level, with Scafell Pike at 3,209 feet (978 m) being the highest point in England. But it’s not all about nature: Cumbria also has a rich history, characterised mainly by invasions, battles and skirmishes between the English and the Scots. Notable historic sites in Cumbria include Carlisle Castle, Furness Abbey, the Hardknott Roman Fort, Brough Castle and of course, Hadrian’s Wall (which is also a World Heritage Site).
There is also a splendid historical mansion-turned-luxury-hotel called Armathwaite Hall. Here, I was enchanted by the charm of nature, since this English countryside residence is set in a secluded and beguiling 400 acres area of deer park and woodland. It’s all framed by the mesmerising Bassenthwaite Lake and the awe-inspiring Skiddaw mountain.
An Historical Transformation
I had a desire to delve into the origins of this magnificent estate, which can easily be compared to the sumptuousness of Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle. Today, the Hall is named after the village of Armathwaite — the birthplace of the English poet John Skelton, who was also known as the tutor to King Henry VIII and as the creator of Tumbling Verse.
While chatting with the staff at Armathwaite Hall, I discovered that the estate dates back to around 1500 and was originally called Bassenthwaite. It passed through the hands of a number of Lords, until Thomas Hartley, a local mine owner, bought the place in 1880. He added the rooms that are now the Hall Lounge, Lake Room and Cocktail Bar, and part of the Lake View Restaurant.
Through the decades, the ownership of this majestic mansion changed once again, and today it belongs to the Graves family, who run this outstanding luxury hotel composed of 44 luxury bedrooms, an award winning spa, 2 AA Rosette lakeside restaurant and stylish Brasserie. This all makes it the perfect romantic getaway and wedding location, but it also has a number of dog friendly rooms available, meaning you can visit this charming destination without leaving your four-legged friend behind.
A Splendid Spa
A few centuries ago, water therapies were reserved to the aristocracy alone. But today, everyone has the chance to benefit from the health effects of hydrotherapy, and I was lucky enough to indulge in this at Armathwaite Hall.
Their state-of-the-art spa was launched within these ancient walls in 2009, and it is a vision to behold. It comprises an outdoor hot tub — ideal to watch the stars at night from, with your significant other — along with a 16 metre infinity pool, a whirlpool bath, and an aroma room, steam room, sauna, hydrotherapy pool and ‘tropical’ and ‘rain dance’ experience showers.
The Spa is also equipped with 10 treatment rooms, personal training at the gym, and a spectacular terrace overlooking the stunning views of the enchanting woodland. All treatments use award winning, ethically accredited Made for Life Organics products, that are infused with natural botanicals.
I began my day of relaxation with a Drift Away treatment by Lulù, who gently massaged me with aromatherapy oils. I could still feel the wondrous effects while loosening up in the ‘Hush’ relaxation lounge. Later, I slipped into the whirlpool and aroma room before retiring to my bed for the deepest sleep ever.
Cream of the Crop Cuisine
At Armathwaite Hall you have plenty of choices when it comes to eating. Formal fine dining is offered in the traditional Lake View Restaurant, whilst The Courtyard Brasserie offers a contemporary menu with a relaxed atmosphere. I tried them both, and was delighted by the fresh flavours of local and seasonal produce, along with Cumbrian specialties.
You could say the dishes were mainly deeply European, as they drew inspiration from both traditional English fayre and classical French cuisine, refined to reflect today’s lighter, healthier lifestyles. Those who relish a good drink, will love the newly refurbished bar, offering hand-crafted cocktails, mocktails and individually sourced whiskeys and gins.
I’m more of a tea-time girl and, I was thrilled by the full Afternoon Tea here, served in the traditional manner. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland rejoicing in a tea party, overindulging in a wide selection of savoury and sweet treats, including cucumber sandwiches, filled mini brioche rolls, quiches, homemade cakes, biscuits and of course, scones with cream and strawberries!
Into the Wild Activities
Given the chimerical surroundings here, many visitors choose explore the great outdoors on foot or by bike, and can even ask the Chef to pack them some Cumbrian specialities for a picnic. Unfortunately for me, it rained the whole time I was here, but had the sun popped out even for a moment, I would have opted for some of the canoeing, kayaking, or archery on offer. There’s even a walk where you can pet the local alpacas, who work hard to keep the grass trim.
Despite the windy and damp weather, I did venture out for a walk to the nearby conservation centre for fauna, and encountered some rare creatures I had never seen before in real life, such as capybaras, greater rheas, lemurs and meerkats. This place is also owned by the Graves family, and shares a deep concern for animal conservation with Armathwaite Hall. It’s also a sanctuary for native wildlife such as otters, barn owls, roe deer and hares, and is part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, which provides educational courses for local schools.
On this trip, not only did I get acquainted with the magic of Cumbria and the Lake District, but I had the chance to get to know the real England – not the one we all see in the movies or hear about on TV, but the England whose heart lies in the splendor of its own native flora, fauna and natural scenery.
Stays at Armathwaite Hall start at around £220.