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Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
@philhopkinsuk
12:00 AM 6th July 2024
travel

When A Lakeland Legend Endorses Your Hotel!

 
When you have no other than Lake District ‘guru’ Alfred Wainwright in your corner, then it shouldn’t require too much more to ensure that discerning customers come flocking to your country house hotel.

But, add to that, a seven-figure refurbishment and you are probably set for an illustrious future that had its origins as far back as Victorian England.

However, dig a bit further and you will also discover that the Borrowdale Gates Hotel in Grange-in-Borrowdale, just outside Keswick, has a fascinating past that not only embraced a wealthy benefactor from London, but even a 1928 court case that resulted in one of the region’s most famous hangings at Manchester’s Strangeways.

Here is a hotel of tall tales!

But, first, a word from the great man himself, Alfred Wainwright, best known for his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells – seven volumes to be precise – which described the natural features of England’s most famous national park.

Of the Borrowdale Gates Hotel he said that it was probably located in the loveliest square mile in all of Lakeland. Praise indeed! But what are the modern and ancient tales of this beautiful property?
Me and Mrs Hopkins were hoping for good weather as we set out from Leeds on the A65. Fortunately, fate was on our side and we were blessed with two days of glorious Lake District sunshine.

Winding our way towards our hotel for the night, our first mistake was to stop at The Borrowdale where a polite young man informed us that they didn’t have a note of our name and that we were probably destined to stay at The Borrowdale Gates Hotel a little further down the road. “Continue to the bridge, turn right, cross the Derwent and follow the road round.” He was right of course.

Last year, the Borrowdale Gates, run by Providence Hotels, was the scene of a major refurb that saw all 32 of its rooms and suites, as well as central areas, fully renovated.

The four silver star retreat, which also has two AA Rosettes for its restaurant, is located in the jaws of the Borrowdale Valley, perfectly situated to offer an idyllic retreat for those seeking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and tranquillity of Grange-in-Borrowdale.

However, it began life as someone’s home.

Borrowdale Gates was built by London philanthropist and vicar’s daughter, Mrs Margaret Heathcote, as her private residence in the mid 1800’s along with her own nearby chapel – Holy Trinity Church - and schoolroom for local children.

A frequent visitor and, obviously, a lady of some considerable opinion, wealth and conviction, she was said to have loved the area more than the church’s clergy: she went through seven curates in 11 years!

Eventually, The Borrowdale Gates opened as a hotel in 1866 and still maintains the lovely, homely atmosphere of a genuine country house. Carefully modernised, it has a fresh and airy look inspired by its outdoors environment.

We were staying in the Skiddaw Superior room where it quickly became apparent that Albert Wainwright was correct: the views were to die for and probably some of the best I have ever witnessed from a Juliet balcony!

Bedroom views to die for!
Bedroom views to die for!
The beautiful room was well equipped with all the amenities a guest may need during their stay along with relaxation chairs and a lovely bathroom.

The Skiddaw Superior Room
The Skiddaw Superior Room
“Shall we have a run into Keswick?” said Mrs H after a hearty breakfast the following morning.

First stop was Keswick Brewery, a fascinating little place that was established in 2006 by former staff nurse Sue Jefferson.

These days The Old Brewery heats up its kit three times a week to produce more than 8,000 pints for discerning Cumbrian drinkers.

A two-minute walk away in Packhorse Court former primary school teacher, Hayley Peacock is the lady behind the counter at the Keswick Cheese Deli where you can indulge your fromage fantasies all day long!

A long-time visitor to the area, she decided to quit the classroom to purchase the 15-year-old business just six years ago. These days tastings rather than tests are the order of the day and she has become a regular fixture in the town.
Back at The Borrowdale Gates we sat down for a sumptuous dinner.

Sue Willan, General Manager, told us that the hotel’s food was what they wanted to be remembered for and that head chef since 2009, Chris Standhaven was the man leading the charge. She wasn’t wrong.

Food glorious food!
Food glorious food!
It really was excellent and, I have to say, the fodder went hand in hand with a bit of old-fashioned quality service: manners, attentiveness and politeness, long since dead in many places!

A Lakeland Murder Mystery!
“And what about the murder?” I asked. Sue looked tentative. “It won’t put people off will it?” Hardly, it was nearly a century ago!

There was even a laminated card in reception telling people about the infamous ‘Chung’ incident and there’s still a suite called the Mandarin where this locally famous couple stayed. Personally, I’d visit for the story alone!

It all happened in 1928, when Asian tourists were a rare sight in Britain. At the time newly married Chinese couple Mr Chung Yi Miao and his heiress wife, Wai Sheung Sui, stayed at The Borrowdale Gates.

But, soon after their arrival, Wai Sheung Sui was found dead in the vicinity. Her husband denied murdering her but was later convicted and sentenced to hang at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.

He denied his guilt to the end. But, ever since, the story has been part of local folklore.

These days the hotel’s lounge and bar area is adorned with cosy sofas and is a place where you can enjoy a book or refreshment in front of an open fire, along with full-length windows which look out across the hotel’s three acres of wooded grounds, farm animals in the field and the Borrowdale Valley.

Eating in the large, spacious dining room, with its comfortable, well-spaced tables, you can even watch local birds breakfasting from feeders while you eat your own meal.

Superior dining in a superior settin
Superior dining in a superior settin
“The satnav says to turn right as we cross the bridge out of the village and continue for three miles. That should bring us to Seatoller,” said Mrs H. It was day two of our visit and we were dining in the newly reopened The Yew Tree 1628, a building dating back to the 17th century but, until a few weeks ago, little more than a store room!

The gastro pub was heaving and co-manager and 'Cocktail Witch', Holly McClary,23, was dashing around like the proverbial blue a***d fly.

Co-Manager and Chef, Toby King, left, with fellow chef Emil
Co-Manager and Chef, Toby King, left, with fellow chef Emil
Head chef and co-manager,Toby 'The Wizard of Seatoller' King,21, was slaving away in the kitchen with his Polish number two Emil 'The Rocket' Wyszczelski,23, and outside it was chucking it down! Inside everyone was as snug as a bug in a rug and eagerly anticipating the evening’s vittles.

We were joined at table by owner Prentice W-Weir,27 affectionately known as Big Lass. His family own the nearby Honister Slate Mine where brother Piers,24, still plies his trade at the ‘face’.

“Everything in the pub’s made of slate from the bar top to the toilet sinks, table markers and even the pub clock!

Put it on the slate!
Put it on the slate!
“I did lockdown in The Lakes,” said Prentice, “while studying marketing at Manchester University with a year out in the US.

"We lost dad when I was only young so I decided to come home about five years ago to help my mum and brother to sort the mine out. Nicely under control we then decided to re-open our ‘store room’ as The Yew Tree 1628 and we haven’t looked back!”

Owner Prentice W-Weir & Co-Manager, Holly McClary
Owner Prentice W-Weir & Co-Manager, Holly McClary
And what a superb bunch of young people. Make sure you go!

Back at The Borrowdale Gates some were still partaking of classic French cuisine as captivating fell views sat timelessly in the foreground, complementing the evening’s country house cooking.

The words of Danie Bester, Group Facilities Manager at Providence Hotels, came to mind.

Of the hotel’s refurb he said: “This monumental endeavour mark(ed) a significant milestone for the Borrowdale Gates Hotel, reflecting its unwavering commitment to providing an unparalleled guest experience…..offering a destination (guests) can feel truly at home in.”

I pondered a while before concluding that Alfred Wainwright might have agreed!

Fast Facts
The Borrowdale Gates Hotel: www.borrowdale-gates.com
Keswick Cheese Deli: www.keswickcheesedeli.co.uk
Keswick Brewery: www.keswickbrewery.co.uk. Tours & Tastings Available. Please book.
The Yew Tree 1628: Seatoller CA12 5XN. Web: www.theyewtree1628.com

A Note From Cumbria Tourism: www.visitlakedistrict.com/taste
The food and drink element of this feature is part of the Cumberland Food and Drink Campaign.

The Cumberland Food & Drink Programme is funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and is supported by Cumberland Council and Sellafield.

The UK Shared prosperity Fund 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 the fund aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances across the UK investing in communities and place, supporting local business and people and skills.