Gilpin Lake House and I have very different definitions of ‘putting the cat out’. At mine, this usually consists of standing by the back door, fruitlessly shouting “for the love of god Seamus, if you want to go out, just go”. At Gilpin, a boutique hotel set in 100 acres of private grounds in the Lake District, the cat does what it’s told. 

With just six bedrooms sharing a boat house, spa treatment room, hot tubs, saunas, and a swimming pool, the Lake House, not far from Windermere, feels like an exclusive celebrity hangout, provided those sleb guests comprised royalty, A-listers, and the odd supermodel (are supermodels still a thing?). The cats, meanwhile, are of the cuddly toy variety and bear the name of each room. Guests wishing not to be disturbed need only put the cat outside their door for privacy.

During my stay at the Lake House, Harriet and I remained friends, mostly because I was too busy being fed and pampered to spend much time in my room, not that being confined to barracks would have been a hardship. With a bathroom the size of my first apartment, a bed big enough for me and a glaring of cats, and a wall of glass affording a breathtaking view of the private lake, ‘Harriet’ rivalled the likes of Edinburgh’s Caledonian hotel for the whole package. But does Scotland’s Princes Street offer a bijou boat house and a snuggly blanket? No, it does not.

And relax…

Meanwhile, a perusal of the Jetty Spa Trail itinerary augured well: cream tea and fruit platter by the lake, treatment, swim, and hydro tub. As someone whose final task before leaving home was changing the cat litter, it seemed too good to be true. 

Cocooned in the boat house, listening to the wind dashing through the trees while smearing jam and cream onto mini scones, I laughed out loud, hardly able to believe where I was. Then it was onto an hour-long massage, a blissful experience only rendered vaguely alarming by another wall of glass affording a view of a woodland path. As I heaved myself onto the masseur’s table, I prayed that only the swifts in the tree opposite could glimpse my pasty behind. 

No such problems in the pool, set aside for a solo hour-long swim and sauna. Is this how rich people feel all the time, I wondered during my leisurely breast-stroke? Is this how the other half live? My question was swiftly answered when I was led to the outdoor hydro tub, accompanied by a waitress with a single glass of champagne on a silver tray. Left alone in splendid isolation and immersed in the bubbles, I drank in the green canopy above and wondered at the peaks of the Lake District, framed like a peephole through the branches of the towering trees.

And so to dinner

Something had to go wrong. You know how you always leave one thing behind when you go away? Your toothbrush or a spare towel? Well, when I came to dress for dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, I discovered, to my horror, that I’d forgotten my trousers. Yes, I had my supermarket-bought sweatpants, but my proper pants? No, they were lying on my bed at home, no doubt providing a comfortable spot for a cat and a mountain of fur. All I could do was hope to be mistaken for a wealthy type who dresses like they shop at Oxfam. 

HRiSHi, situated in the main hotel a mile up the road, awaited – and there was no need for an Uber. Lake House guests are ferried to and from Gilpin via an on-demand chauffeur (yes, really). And, like everyone else I met during my stay – waiting staff, front of house, managers – my driver was friendly, unpretentious and put me at my ease. And so it was with Vassilia, who guided me through the tasting menu, along with Jack, the impossibly youthful sommelier whose obvious love for his job and emphatic descriptions of the wine had me repeatedly reaching for my glass. 

Under the auspices of chef Hrishikesh Desai, HRiSHi has made a name for itself in Cumbria although, for some reason, it’s less well known nationally than Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, some 40 minutes away. It can’t be due to a lesser menu. On the night I visited, I ran out of superlatives (there are only so many times you can say “this is great” without sounding like a moron).

As a pescatarian, I enjoyed a happy marriage of the main tasting dishes and their plant-based alternatives, joyously switching from croustade of spring peas tartar and black garlic ketchup, spiced pickled aubergine cornetto, and semi-dehydrated Isle of Wight tomatoes to poached lobster tail glazed with red pepper paint, Jerusalem artichoke velouté, and desiree potato risotto. 

In the same way that a theatre review singles out the most impressive performances in a five-star production, so I shine the spotlight on the tomato sorbet, the South Indian Samber sauce, and the teeny tiny amuse-bouche cornetto. By the time the desserts made their appearance, I had run out of adjectives (but still made room for the passion fruit mousse).

The wine flight was not without its surprises, not least a delicate 2019 Lebanese Massaya Rosé and a 2018 Guisbourne Rosé from Sussex. As with the meal, the wine choices stood up, said hello, and made their unexpected appearances most welcome.

The morning after

After a bracing walk round the lake the following morning and a serving of Welsh rarebit so good it deserved a pat on the back, it was on to Gilpin Spice for lunch. It seems churlish to say I was still full when visiting a restaurant with two AA Rosettes but, thankfully, the dishes at this laid-back open kitchen serving tapas-style pan-Asian dishes were lighter than air but infinitely more tasty.

The chalk stream trout tartare with yuzu gel and English wasabi may be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth while the chilli paneer would make my local Indian takeaway hang its head in shame. And, once again, the service was beyond reproach. 

As I made my way home, back to a pair of trousers covered in cat hair, I had just one minor grievance. When arriving at Gilpin and negotiating the gravel driveway, it’s easy to miss the small check-in hut. I sailed right past it and, after a number of three-point turns, ended up accosting a man with a strimmer who pointed back down the meandering path. But perhaps that’s deliberate? After all, aren’t all the best places hard to find?

By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul

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For more information about the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, click here. 

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