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Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
@philhopkinsuk
12:00 AM 8th June 2024
travel

A Golden Host The Daffodil!

 
To former Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth, Grasmere in the Lake District was probably the best kept secret in the land, however, mention that to Joanne Hunter and a wry smile will spread across her face: she has a better one and it’s been kept for 170 years!

That’s because Joanne, co-director of Grasmere Gingerbread, serving discerning tourists and members of the locality for nigh on two centuries, is now custodian of a ‘secret recipe’ that has stood the test of time since it was first concocted by founder Sarah Nelson in 1854.

Founder, Sarah Nelson's sweet smell success nearly two centuries on
Founder, Sarah Nelson's sweet smell success nearly two centuries on
“She was not only illegitimate,” says Joanne, third generation of her family to take the helm at one of the Lake District’s highest profile businesses, “but she was a woman ahead of her time, not only working in Victorian England but in a man’s world where females struggled to be heard.”

However, this amazing, uneducated woman, buried in the graveyard at Grasmere Parish Church, next to the former schoolroom from which the business now operates, fearlessly set up her sweet-smelling emporium, registered the trademark ‘Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread’ and put her now famous recipe in a bank vault!

And there it has stayed with Joanne Hunter and her co-director husband, Andrew, now its 21st century custodians.

Grasmere Gingerbread: celebrating its 170th birthday
Grasmere Gingerbread: celebrating its 170th birthday
“Everyone knows about our ingredients but the recipe? Certainly not!” All staff have to sign a non-disclosure agreement lest they are tempted to utter Grasmere’s best-kept secret!

“We have done so much research on this fascinating lady,” adds Joanne, “to the point that we discovered that she had familial links to America’s early settlers, including those who crossed the US, settled in Utah and even helped establish the Mormon Church. The story is like something straight out of a TV mini-series!”

I was in Grasmere at the invite of the Daffodil Hotel & Spa, one of many properties and businesses in the vicinity that borrow part of their name from the Wordsworth legacy, fairly you might conclude considering that Dove Cottage, the poet’s home for many years, is just opposite this beautiful 78-bedroom hotel, operating under various guises since the 1880’s.

A golden host the Daffodil (Hotel & Spa!)
A golden host the Daffodil (Hotel & Spa!)
And quite the golden host is the daffodil!

Contemporary on the inside it oozes tradition on the outside and, like so many other properties in the area, is built from blue Lakeland slate, silently inviting the region’s inclement weather to ‘shift me if you can’.

But it has stood the test of time for three centuries and, these days, is a stopping post for regulars and new visitors alike.

“We’ve just been on Skye for five days,” said one couple in the steam room, “but we are on our way back to Chester.

"The hotels in Scotland aren’t always the best,” said the Welsh couple, “but neither are they the cheapest! We’ve been to the Daffodil before and it has excellent facilities and represents value for money.

A swim before dinner?
A swim before dinner?
“So, after a mediocre two nights in Oban we decided to relax here before heading home!” they said.

The lake view restaurant offers a good range of options, whilst the thermal pool, sauna, steam room and spa treatments invite visitors to chill and relax after a day’s walking, or simply as a great way to escape any inclement weather outside.
It didn’t take us long to find another gem just off one the narrow roads in the middle of the village, Allan Bank, where Wordsworth and his family moved to after Dove Cottage.

Allan Bank - despised and loved by Wordsworth in equal measure
Allan Bank - despised and loved by Wordsworth in equal measure
This rather bland looking house, substantially extended over the years, was built in 1805 by wealthy Liverpool merchant John Gregory Crump.

“Wordsworth hated the place,” said our guide Gary, “but then went on to become its first tenant! He used to think it was an eyesore and, since he did a lot of tree planting in the area, I like to think that he probably saw living there as an opportunity to hide the very place he despised!”

Set in beautiful surrounds, and boasting its own kitchen garden, enthusiastically tended by volunteers, Allan Bank is a peaceful haven where you can read or buy a book, make your own cuppa and…..well, just relax in some strategically placed chairs where you can admire views to die for.

The view from Allan Bank's dining room
The view from Allan Bank's dining room
“I am not sure he was the perfect man,” added Gary, “but Wordsworth loved the Lakes and we have him to thank for making sure the train stopped at Windermere and that the Lake Disrict, as we know it, was preserved for posterity.”

Walking back to the hotel we decided to take in Wordsworth Grasmere and Dove Cottage where the later to be Poet Laureate, William, sister Dorothy and later his wife, Mary, and family, were able to live comfortably for many years thanks to a couple of substantial inheritances.

Fully transformed and re-modelled in 2018 thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, the Wordsworth Grasmere has a wonderful Reading Room comprising 68,000 manuscripts, artworks and objects, and must be the UK’s most complete research centre for students of the Romantic poet, so closely associated with his beloved Lake District.

“We have first editions,” said our amiable guide, “and so many famous people came here from Lord Byron to Mary Shelley. In fact, we have a first edition of Frankenstein!” I was impressed!

Mr and Mrs H rediscovering Wordsworth Grasmere's first edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!
Mr and Mrs H rediscovering Wordsworth Grasmere's first edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!
Back at the hotel, it was time for a spot of dinner.

With lake views as far as the eyes can see, the Dining Room, Lounge and Lakeside Terrace offer a stylish, contemporary, yet relaxed dining experience, and there’s a city chic Lobby Bar for a coffee, cocktails or Champagne.

“We’re from Torquay,” said a young couple, “just got married at the weekend and everyone said we should drive six and a half hours north to this amazing place called the Lake District. Never been. Fantastic!”

He produced his mobile phone to reveal photographs of sheep, spectacular views and a video of a waterfall!

And in the middle of it all is the Daffodil Hotel and Spa, a 10-minute walk from the main village and just a hop and a jump from the Wordworth Grasmere.
Satisfied with our day’s achievements and full of fine fodder, we went to bed in our comfortable, well-equipped room.

A room with a (stunning) view
A room with a (stunning) view
Beautifully appointed by Interior Designer Paul Sawford, each one is inspired by Fibonacci design and features indulgent colours and bespoke carpets.

Stunning bathrooms – ours was large enough to host a small pop concert - complete with Molton Brown toiletries, along with huge beds and a multimedia panel for the technology savvy, bring the best in contemporary comfort to the heart of the countryside.

The following morning after breakfast and checkout I bade my farewell to the pleasant receptionist.....

Welcome!
Welcome!
....looked to the sky and mused: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…….’.

The Heavens opened and I didn’t have time, or inspiration, to capture the downpour as Iambic Pentameter, so we jumped in our car and headed for home. After all, it had been a bit overcast and we were in the Lake District. No point getting wet!

Prices / More Details:
Prices for a double room, with breakfast for two people, start at £170 in winter, rising to £230 in summer.

Daffodil Hotel & Spa, Grasmere, LA22 9PR. Tel: 015394 63550. Web: www.daffodilhotel.co.uk.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund
All attractions visited are all part of Cumbria Tourism’s Culture campaign. The Let’s Go Culture project is funded by the UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity fund (UKSPF) and is supported by Westmorland & Furness Council.

The UKSPf is a central pillar of the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda and provides £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025. #UKSPF