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Marion Ainge enjoys an elegant, tranquil stay in Near Sawrey
An oh so English country house with only the sound of silence
Beatrix Potter and her family stayed at the Ees Wyke Country House, Near Sawrey, in the late 1800s, long before this tranquil venue was acclaimed for its traditional Lakeland breakfast. A shame for them, as today, the 'lavish' breakfast, which boasts AA Rosette awards and includes locally-made sausages and dry cured bacon, is lovingly prepared, along with all meals, by owner, head chef, cook and bottlewasher, Richard Lee.
Richard, 67, who has travelled extensively, often in France, says he "watched, tasted, listened and learned how to cook". The former director of a large hotel group, Richard and his late wife, Margaret, ran a guest house in Ambleside before taking up the helm at the Ees Wyke 15 years ago. The huge dining room windows afford landscaped views of the fells, fields and woodland overlooking Esthwaite Water, shielded by Coniston Old Man which leads the eye round to the Langdale Pikes.
Ees Wyke, which translates from old Norse as eastern shore, is a Georgian country house, built as a Lancashire mill owner's retreat 1742. It is quintessentially English, elegant, cosy and comfortable with two lounges, eight bedrooms, chintzy fabrics, chaises longues and window seats. We arrived on a damp day to a warm welcome and tea presented in a flowered china teapot and matching tea set. No background music or loud voices....just the ticking of a grandfather clock.
Refreshed, we picked up Richard's illustrated leaflet which guides walkers around the nearby Moss Eccles Tarn. It was late afternoon when we ambled along the muddy route in still silence, apart from the odd bleat and moo from residents of neighbouring pastures. Beatrix Potter often fished at Moss Eccles Tarn when nearby Hill Top Farm was her home. The water lilies which surface the tarn in the summer are said to have inspired the author's creation, Jeremy Fisher. Beatrix bought the tarn in 1913, when she married local solicitor William Heelis. It was bequeathed to the National Trust on her death.
Set on high ground overlooking Esthwaite Water, Ees Wyke is ideally situated with easy access to lake cruises via Windermere Cruises and Coniston Launch plus many other nearby attractions. Ees Wyke's assistant manager, Caroline, 32, lives with her boatbuilder husband and two children, near Ulverston. Caroline greets guests, lays and clears tables, serves in the dining room and looks after the bedrooms. Caroline took us up to our second floor, twin bedroom with adjoining private bathroom. There are plans to convert this into an en suite. Many bedrooms have deep, wide windows and spectacular countryside views.
We happily quaffed the complimentary sherry from the glass decanter as an aperitif before we tackled the AA rosette-awarded dinner which also gets a mention in the Good Hotel Guide. German-born Karola, who lives with her family on a nearby farm, serves diners in the evening. White tablecloths and napkins, silverware and fresh flowers set the scene. The perfectly-cooked, seared scallops were declared a triumph and the succulent, tender noisettes of Herdwick lamb served with a wine jus, mint and a hint of garlic received the highest praise. The sharp berry sweetness of my summer pudding was complemented by Cointreau-infused whipped, double cream. Heavenly! Such indulgent fare was surely not enjoyed by basket and rush-seated chairmaker,'Chairy' Rigg, his wife and six children, who lived at Bridge House, Ambleside, in the 1850s, just two miles from our base. Apparently, some slept head to toe on the floor with the rest strung up above them in hammocks.The much-visited, one up, one down, National Trust-owned dwelling which spans Stock Beck,is reputed to be the most-photographed building in the Lake District.
Ambleside's Armitt Museum, founded in 1909, displays donations of books and paintings which Beatrix Potter made in her lifetime. The museum also covers local and natural history of the Ambleside area and the wider Lake District. It is an important resource for information on notable people connected with the area, such as museum founder, Mary Louisa Armitt; William Wordsworth; John Ruskin; National Trust founder, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley plus German refugee and pop artist, Kurt Schwitters.
By car from Near Sawrey, to Hawkshead, is just over two miles. It's easy to wander around this pedestrianised, ancient, tiny market town of cobbled streets and jumble of small cottages, arches and squares, which features tea parlours, inns, guests houses and gift shops. The ground floor classroom of the Old Grammar School,founded in 1585, retains many old desks used by the boys, who included William Wordsworth and his brother John. Upstairs is the headmasterís study and a classroom containing an exhibition relating to the school's history, founder and William Wordsworth.
The National Trust-owned Beatrix Potter Gallery highlights original drawings and illustrations. This 17th century building was once the office of Beatrix's husband, William Heelis. It has remained largely unaltered since his day. The same can't be said of the late 18th century/early 19th century, Cuckoo Brow Inn in Far Sawrey, which has been successfully extended over the years with stable and courtyard conversions. Located in Far Sawrey, near Hawkshead, Beatrix Potter's Hilltop, and Lake Windermere, it has 14 en suite bedrooms and is family and dog friendly. Unpretentious and inviting with an eclectic mix of furnishings, comfy couches and a central, log burner, Cuckoo Brow Inn is renowned for good pub food. It's clear that the owners and staff want to keep guests happy. Hikers with hearty appetites are sated here. We can recommend the chunky, moist, duck confit terrine, accompanied with a tangy, Hawkshead relish, pear and date chutney. There's always a 'pie of the day' on the menu and the suet pastry-topped, meaty steak pie with its rich, flavoursome gravy, pickled cabbage and golden, handcut chips, was tasty and satisfying. My chosen dessert was seasonal crumble, fruit-crammed and with a crunchy topping. Delicious.
After three courses and a shared bottle of very reasonably-priced Chilean Sauvignon Blanc we wondered, could we tackle the Ees Wyke's lavish Lakeland breakfast the following morning before we set off for home?
We could and we did!
Ees Wyke Country House, Near Sawrey www.eeswyke.co.uk
DBB from £174 per room; B&B November-March £99 per room (two nights direct bookings).
Bridge House, Ambleside www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ambleside/features/bridge-house
Armitt Museum, Ambleside www.armitt.com
Windermere Cruises www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk/
Coniston Launch www.conistonlaunch.co.uk
Cuckoo Brow Inn, Far Sawrey www.cuckoobrow.co.uk
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