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Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
@philhopkinsuk
1:00 AM 1st June 2024
travel
Weekend

A Pane In The Glass & Opportunity Knocks!

 
The mobile phone rang. Me and Mrs Hopkins had already begun our drive north to the Lakes and were well on our way to Keswick.

"I am sooooo sorry," said a stressed PR lady at the end of the line. "The 18th century hotel you were due to review has had an 'incident' (pause)...a window in the room you were due to stay in has fallen through and taken some of the masonry with it! Pull in for a coffee and give me half an hour!"

Unruffled, we swung a hard right and found ourselves in the warm sunshine of Clapham in North Yorkshire and, minutes later, sipping coffee in St James’ Church where an exhibition entitled Cry of the Curlew was attracting some considerable interest.

St James Church, Clapham - Alan Bennett's never far away!
St James Church, Clapham - Alan Bennett's never far away!
Outside, still sipping, we got talking to a lady walking her dog. "This was where Alan Bennett's family moved to after selling their Leeds butchers shop," she said.

Not in a position to challenge the statement I gladly accepted her revelation as fact. 'Don't let the facts spoil the story': my news editor’s words flashed into my head.

"In fact, he's here this weekend celebrating his 90th birthday,” she continued. “They rang out a quarter peal on the church bells in his honour yesterday. It was such a lovely day, his eyes were filled with tears,” she concluded wistfully before continuing her doggy dawdle.

We strolled back to our car, eagerly looking out for Mr Bennett lest he peered out of an unsuspecting window, but to no avail, only departing after purchasing two sandwiches from Niki and Jo at the village store.

Niki and Jo's domain!
Niki and Jo's domain!
The phone rang for a second time. It was our PR friend again. "I have a solution," she said triumphantly, "but you'll be staying at two properties instead of one:The North Lakes Hotel & Spa at Penrith followed by a night at Ambleside’s Langdale Chase. I’m sure you’ll love them both.” And off she went.

Before long we found ourselves pulling into the first of our stays.

The North Lakes Hotel & Spa was certainly a happy accident, proving itself to be little more than ‘average’ on the outside but well above average within, where the elegant interior displayed all the signs of a recent refurb.

Penrith's North Lakes Hotel & Spa - plain on the outside, sophisticated on the inside!
Penrith's North Lakes Hotel & Spa - plain on the outside, sophisticated on the inside!
Located within a 5-minute drive of Rheged and Brougham Castle, this upscale 84 guestroom hotel with spa and 24-hour room service, is also a couple of miles from Penrith Castle

We’d spotted a makeshift parking sign outside entitled ‘Quick Quack Parking’. Minutes later a section of the car park was full of leather clad bikers: had I just arrived at Sherburn in Elmet’s famous biker café?

Minutes later the very same, clean cut, well-spoken individuals were checking in, lightly packed pannier bags in tow.

“Oh, don’t worry about them,” said Sharon our lovely breakfast host the following morning. “They’re all doctors and medics who ride bikes, hence the name of their club, The Quick Quacks!

Classy interior design
Classy interior design
“The hotel’s so well located for not only the M6, but Penrith itself, that we get a lot of conference traffic as well as visitors to the Lakes,” she explained.

As always, we were eternally polite to all ‘colleagues’: they have a job to do. Our reward? Another Sharon gem: “When you leave the hotel to have a look around Penrith, take a right, go through the housing estate until you come to Sainsbury’s and there you can get three hours free parking. It’s right in the centre of town!”

She was right of course.

Never really having ‘done’ Penrith before, I was delighted to sample the pleasures of Jane & John Graham’s, purveyors of groceries and the like since 1880…..
…..the beautiful St Andrew’s Church – rebuilt in 1720 – with its galleried interior. Two brass chandeliers in the nave were the gift of the Duke of Portland to the people of Penrith for their loyalty during the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

The elegant Georgian houses that overlook St Andrew’s reveal how prosperous Penrith was 250 years ago. Look out for the Tudor House. Once the home of Dame Birkett’s School it also played host to her most famous pupil, the poet William Wordsworth!

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a splendid dinner but were even more impressed by the ‘fresh milk’ dispensing machines in each hallway! Much better than the small plastic sachets found in so many up-market hotels.


Scallop fine dining
Scallop fine dining
Checking out after an equally splendid breakfast me and Mrs H headed for Keswick, determined to visit a place that had escaped us for so long: the Derwent Pencil Museum where we were presented with a quiz and the opportunity to win….you’ve guessed it, pencils!

The Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick
The Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick
More intriguing than anything was learning about Charles Fraser-Smith, the real-life Q as featured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond movies, and the man charged by Churchill with devising a range of devices for ‘spies’ either infiltrating enemy lines or escaping from the Nazis.

In 1942 he arrived in Keswick under the pretext of working for the Ministry of Supply Clothing and Textile Department. Could they help him produce a pencil in which the graphite lead could be substituted for a nylon map featuring all of Europe’s key escape routes? Of course! And the rest, as they say, is history.

All this excitement required rest so, with no more ado, we pushed on to the Langdale Chase Hotel which sits neatly between Ambleside and Windermere on the Ambleside Road at Ecclerigg.

Rarely do you find such a ‘service’ orientated hotel so far from London and, whilst you’ll pay for the privilege, there’s no doubt that this five-star lakeside retreat is exceptional and a place where old-fashioned service has been given a modern twist.

Brollies in reception, polite, attentive staff who genuinely seem interested in ‘who’ you are and ‘where’ you’ve come from – rare, trust me! – luggage taken to your room but, more than that, an accompanying lady on hand to talk you through all the controls in your suite!

A suite ending!
A suite ending!
How many times have you fiddled with the air conditioning control with no idea how to turn it on, off, up or down? No such problem at Langdale Chase where ‘detail’ is the new by word.

Not forgetting of course, the electronic, ‘self-washing’ toilet! Exit the pot too soon and you are in danger of having a jet of water shooting across the suite!

The nouvelle cuisine is exquisite….

Fine dining at the Langdale Chase
Fine dining at the Langdale Chase
…..the grounds are magnificent, there are views to die for, a small cinema, with snacks, in which to enjoy Top Gun or one of the latest movies on offer…..

…..electric blinds in your room, a ‘tea’ collection that would intrigue a seasoned punkah waller and even an Italian marble bathroom suite for good measure.

And lovely staff: the North Korean lady serving at breakfast told of the joy of making her own kimchi, the young man who had abandoned a career with the Department of Work and Pensions to join The Langdale Chase so that he could become an experienced hotelier and eventually travel the world, and the young Ukrainian dinner host fleeing her war-torn country.

All lovely people. All with their own, fascinating story.

The Langdale Chase Hotel is for the well-heeled, the thick of wallet or for those looking to celebrate something special in life but, no doubt about it, it IS beautiful and if there’s one thing you should never forget in life it is this: few would want to die the richest person in the world with only a handful of memories.

Money buys memories and The Langdale Chase is an investment you’ll never forget!

FAST FACTS
The North Lakes Hotel & Spa:
B&B starts at £115.
www.northlakeshotel.co.uk/
Langdale Chase:
B&B starts at £390.
www.langdalechase.co.uk/