A break with tradition
Ever have one of those weeks where work is just one annoying thing after another? That's when you need to get away, and unless you already live in the countryside, a rural escape could be just the job. So it was that Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, near Brampton in Cumbria '“ less than a two-hour drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh '“ proved a much-needed haven of tranquillity for us recently.
The imposing property, set in grounds that are pretty without being over-manicured, began as a fortified farmhouse in the 17th century and grew as coal mining saw the Thompson family prosper in the 19th century. There were further additions in Victorian times and today it’s a listed property with 12 bedrooms – all with their own bathroom – a restaurant seating around 40 and two luxurious lounges. The Quinion family bought the property in 1975 and subsequently acquired the stables, laundry and coach house, which is now available as a self-catering cottage or a two-bedroom suite.
Every room is elegant and exquisite – the touchstone seems to be Regency without the tweeness but with added modcons, which in our deluxe room included a Jacuzzi bath. If, like me, you’ve never had the whirlpool experience, and Lynne Quinion – who runs the hotel with husband Barry and sister-in-law Helen – tells you only a titchy bit of bubble bath is needed if you don’t wish to be swallowed by a foam monster, believe her...
The Quinions provide the warmest of welcomes, revelling in ensuring guests don’t want for anything. For instance, dog lovers can bring along their best friend, there’s a charging point for electric vehicles and vegetarians who give a little notice are guaranteed a menu full of choice.
Talking of dining, Barry is a gourmet chef, so you can be sure the ever-changing menu, based around quality local produce, is as classy as it is hearty. Top dishes on our visit included tenderloin of Cumbrian pork with griddled mashed potato cake, glazed apples and streaky bacon; hot cheese and chive beignet with apple sauce; and a cracking crème brûlée. Add in an appetiser and pre-dessert cheeseboard and you have five courses of gorgeousness. And that’s before you get to those chocolates – dining in Farlam Hall’s gourmet restaurant, which looks out on to an ornamental lake and, beyond that, a field full of lambs, really is food for the soul. And while Barry may be in the kitchen with his talented team of chefs, he’s never far away thanks to a rather handsome portrait gifted by a former guest.
Part of the Relais & Châteaux collection, Farlam Hall is handy for Hadrian’s Wall, the Lake District and Carlisle, so if you can tear yourself away from the luxury accommodation, you’re never going to be bored. Our first day saw us take off for nearby Lanercost Priory, a fine old church with a rather fabulous gift shop next door – their Cumberland take on the humble hot dog is a total treat. We also took in Birdoswald Roman Fort, which includes the longest remaining stretch of wall, spanning as far as the eye can see, the ruins of the Roman fort, a turret and a milecastle.
Next morning, after a scrumptious breakfast, we made for Carlisle, and wound up spending several hours in Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop opposite the cathedral stocking hundreds of thousands of titles on five floors. New books are also on sale, and there’s a swanky cafe too.
Then it was back into the countryside and Lowther Castle near Penrith, a once magnificent structure now reduced to ghostly walls due to death and taxes following the demise of the spendthrift “Yellow Earl”, whose dogs travelled in their own railway carriage and whose affairs appalled Queen Victoria. Today there’s a fascinating exhibition centred on the history of the Lonsdale family, and extensive gardens featuring a “lost castle” for the kids.
Our final day involved another stately home, Hutton in the Forest, where owner-occupier Lord Inglewood was hosting a plant sale. We didn’t have time for a look inside the grand house, but the gardens have to be seen to be believed, with only some over-harsh topiary detracting from the botanical beauty.
And all too soon our visit to Cumbria was over, but Farlam Hall’s combination of countryside, comfort and captivating cuisine ensured we returned utterly refreshed. How soon can we go back? n
Rooms at Farlam Hall start from £155pppn based on two sharing half board, special offers available, contact www.farlamhall.co.uk, 01697 746234, [email protected]; www.hutton-in-the-forest.co.uk; www.lowthercastle.org; www.bookcasecarlisle.co.uk