For the last few weeks I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, working hard to meet client deadlines for the end of the financial year which have had to include multiple strategic approaches for the potential outcomes of Brexit. I think we all knew it was going to be a rocky road didn’t we so, when I was invited to review The Wordsworth Hotel back in December, I deliberately asked if I could schedule it for now.
A Lake District Midlife Lately
Living where we do, we often pass these places and wonder what it would be like to stay there. In fact when we arrived, Mr MC and I remembered one particularly wet camping weekend when the boys were little. We’d packed the tent up early because the rain was so bad and headed for Grasmere to try to spin the afternoon out a bit before admitting defeat and driving home. We walked past The Wordsworth Hotel and said to each other through gritted teeth that one day our weekends in the Lakes would be very different… and so they are.. and yes I’m now nostalgic for those camping trips, they were fun really.
So here’s the hotel – not a current picture because it’s covered in scaffolding.
And this is what the weather was like when we arrived – not quite the spring sunshine that I’d imagined but atmospheric nonetheless.
We’d been to a meeting en route so I was dressed for work and in fact this weekend gave me the chance to do this month’s Boden road test. This time I was invited to choose both a work and weekend outfit. Work was easy. With the familiarity of an old friend I headed straight for the ponte dresses that I used to love so much but stopped wearing when hemlines got longer and looser.
I did have to play around with this one. I ordered my usual regular length because the reviews concurred but when I tried it, it was short and tight. In last month’s comments, a few of you mentioned that you’ve struggled with fit over the past couple of years and I could see why. I did a quick calculation of cakes eaten over the last couple of weeks and knew it shouldn’t be a problem but I was worried. Anyway I reordered it in the long and it was perfect – the rainbow band was slightly lower and not as tight, it was the length I wanted and it skimmed rather than clinging. I don’t think I’ve ever needed to order a long in Boden before so I’m going to keep an eye on sizing as we go forward over the next few months.
Once I had the right size though, I loved it and all day long Mr MC kept telling me how much he liked it – he’s never been one for a floaty midi. He has a theory about clothing enhancing rather than disguising the form (for males as well as females). I’ve told him that it’s not a very ‘woke’ point of view. You can probably imagine his response.
Dress (gifted, now in the sale); everything else past season
Anyway, as you can imagine we were glad to get out of the rain and check in to the hotel. So let’s talk about first impressions. There’s a particular problem that besets hoteliers up here – we’re familiar with it because we work with a few but as a visitor you might not be. It pertains to flooring. As you know it rains a lot and walkers expect to be universally welcomed in muddy boots with equally muddy dogs. So, a chic, pale carpet is instantly ruined and a wooden floor needs to be mopped constantly. The best solution is to use a series of patterned rugs with wooden floors but a lot of hotels and pubs opt for dark swirly carpets which really impacts the look and The Wordsworth Hotel is no exception.
This wouldn’t be an honest review if I didn’t say that at first we felt a bit disappointed. In addition to the patterned carpets, quite a few of the public areas needed refurbishment with ageing conservatory extensions that are in need of TLC. However, when we were taken up the staircase to our room, things improved.
We’d been given a large room with daffodils dancing on the windowsill…
… a giftbag containing Grasmere’s famous gingerbread…
… steps leading up to a private balcony…
… which would be the perfect place to sit on a sunny day as you have views across the village and the gardens.
It was good to have a sofa in the room (although this one really needs replacing) but at least it meant we could sit and catch up with the last emails of the week in comfort. There were a few little idiosyncrasies such as a DVD player and an iPod dock. I mentioned them to the youngest when I gave him a call and he said ‘a DVD player – is that one of those things you put those big boxes of tape into?’ One of those moments when the passage of time hits you between the eyes.
Grasmere by night
As we logged off, Mr MC decided that it was our duty to review not only the hotel but the village in general… and with it being Friday evening, he felt it needed to include the pubs. I’m not a big pub fan, the only reason being that even though I’ve tried hard, I just don’t like beer and up here, beer is the focus. When we first started seeing each other Mr MC and I used to go out after work in London, usually heading from Selfridges to Soho. One of our first relationship learnings was that the only way to keep each other happy was to alternate a pub with a wine bar.
Anyway, Tweedies Bar and Lodge is across the road from The Wordsworth Hotel in Grasmere. From the outside it appears to be another lovely, white painted venue so I tripped along happily in my heels when in the blink of an eye, Mr MC headed off round the back like a truffle pig. Somehow he’d identified that there was a walkers’ bar, filled with dripping wet hikers and their steaming dogs.
And so here we are, I suspect that they have no intention of encouraging wine drinkers because this must have been one of the most expensive glasses of wine I’ve ever had in the Lakes. Mr MC’s chocolate stout on the other hand was fairly priced and made a weary man smile on a Friday night.
We didn’t have long before our dinner reservation but he was determined to do things properly and so next stop was The Inn at Grasmere which didn’t have chocolate stout but did have more reasonably priced wine.
Dress (gifted, now in the sale); everything else past season
There was one more pub across the road, ‘The Little Inn” but it hadn’t opened up for the season so to my delight, it was time to go back to the hotel bar for a glass of champagne. You see me in my absolute comfort zone. Just as an aside, the dress did a good desk to dinner job – I switched over to bare legs with pink heels and was ready in a flash.
Fine dining at The Signature Restaurant
The hotel has two eating options – The Signature Restaurant and the Dove Bistro. For the first evening we were booked into The Signature which is fine dining. Now as you can see, this is one of the areas that requires refurbishment. It was rather gloomy in the evening because the lighting was a bit bleak. If we hadn’t been invited as guests of the hotel, it might have put us off as so often the attention that has been paid to the decor of a place parallels the care that is taken over the food. However, we were interested to see what laid ahead.
This was an amuse bouche – a chilled white bean velouté and it was absolutely delicious.
Then came my starter, a kombu and shitake broth, I had to add the spoon to give you an idea of scale and the slightly hysterical reaction that Mr MC had when it arrived. Shitake and samphire are two ingredients that I particularly love but unfortunately this lacked flavour.
Mr MC was tucking into walnut crusted brie with apple crisps. The brie was ok, the apple crips were fabulous.
When my main course of slow braised beef brisket arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I can only say that it was quite honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. The whole thing fell apart on the plate and was incredibly tender and beautifully flavoured.
Mr MC also thoroughly enjoyed his slow cooked pork belly with cider jus. Each course came with its own glass of wine which was beautifully paired although I was flagging here – I hadn’t finished the white that came with my starter.
For dessert I had cheesecake which I’d say was averagely good, it might have been better had it not been so icy cold. The cheese board was excellent with cheese served at the right temperature and we washed it all down with vin santo.
I’ve been trying to think how to sum the fine dining up in food critic style. The atmosphere wasn’t great but the service was excellent and I’d go back again for the beef and the wine. I’d certainly choose differently for the starter and dessert, or maybe just skip them because we were really full by the end of it. Unusually it was Mr MC who declined the offer of a digestif in the hotel bar. After a long week that had included working a couple of all-nighters to hit deadlines he was ready to rest his head.
Grasmere by day
We woke up early on Saturday to find that the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to shine through. Breakfast was in The Signature Restaurant and we were delighted to find that there was a wide choice cooked to order rather than stewing buffet style in sweaty tureens. We knew we should probably scale a hill or two to burn off dinner but we looked at each other and knew that neither of us had the energy so we relaxed with the papers for a while before setting off for a stroll around the village. And that is one of the luxuries of travelling without teens isn’t it? Designing your agenda as you go along.
Now I’ve taken you around Grasmere before so let’s just revisit it quickly. It’s one of my favourite places because it hasn’t been over-run with gift shops – there are a few but it’s very much more a working village than somewhere like Bowness that just caters for coach parties. Its biggest focus of course is the fact that Wordsworth spent most of his life living nearby and is buried in the Wordsworth family plot in the graveyard…
… the daffodils were still flowering a few feet away (just)…
…and there are excerpts of his poetry to read by the river.
Just around the corner is my favourite stop, the gingerbread shop…
… we bought industrial quantities to take home for the boys…
… and admired the spoon garden – if you bring a decorated one with you, you can plant it.
There were signs of spring everywhere…
…and I did my best to fit in by wearing spring colours – onto the next part of my Boden review. So many of you raved about the Richmond trousers in last month’s comments that I decided to try them. As you know, I mourn the discontinuation of the Bistro crops but I agree that these are good. Because they have slightly lower elastane content I always assumed they would crease but they don’t which was pleasing. I’m wearing a 12 regular and they’re true to size.
The shoes are new in at Boden too – I find metallic loafers so useful in summer because they go with everything. I looked everywhere for a gold pair last summer but couldn’t find any and these have squared detail that brings them up to date. I’m wearing my usual size, they fit perfectly and despite the pointed toe, I found them comfortable.
There are some unusual little shops in Grasmere such as this one claiming to be the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle shop…
… a great art shop…
… do you remember pastels? I used to love drawing with them…
… and lots of lovely places to stop for coffee and just be.
Afternoon tea – Thai style
And then it was time to go back to the hotel for a ‘Thai inspired’ afternoon tea. Instead of the usual sandwiches we enjoyed tempura and spring rolls with dips. There were also banana fritters, sticky green rice pudding…
… and mango scones with lemon curd. It was really, really good…
… as were the cocktails which included amaretto, rum, vodka, lime and coconut.
They were so good I had to have a second one. I changed early for dinner because I realised it would be too dark later to get a shot of the last of my Boden pieces which is this blouse. I’ve managed to ruin my favourite red silk blouse that I bought from Boden 18 months ago. I spilt something down it so soaked it in stain remover and now it’s a faded orange colour, I’m so annoyed with myself. Anyway this is the nearest they had to it. Again it’s new in and unusually for me it’s patterned but it’s quite subtle so I was happy. It’s going to be something I can wear with trousers for work or jeans and heels for a night out and of course it’s in my favourite ‘red pop’ so it works with everything else I have.
The Spa Experience
Swaying slightly from the cocktails, I headed off for a massage in the Aqueous Spa while Mr MC went for a swim and a sauna. Obviously I couldn’t take any photos but it was good. They use Ytsara products which include rare Asian botanicals and I’d booked in for a deep tissue massage which was relaxing. I’d say it was more of an aromatherapy experience than deep tissue because the pressure wasn’t particularly strong but I did feel very calmed afterwards and came away smelling of lemongrass, rosemary and mandarin.
The Dove Bistro
For the evening we were booked into the hotel’s other restaurant, The Dove Bistro and after the extravagant flavours of the night before, we were looking forward to the contrast of a simple menu featuring things like fish and chips and burgers. The main part of the building is cosy as you can see below but unfortunately we were seated in a rather characterless annexe. Maybe it was because we’d had such a lovely afternoon tea but we just didn’t enjoy this meal as much as we expected to. I had garlic mushrooms, a burger with blue cheese and then a brownie. It was all fine and probably just what you’d need if you’d spent a day in the hills but nothing particularly stood out. The service though was excellent again.
We opened all of the windows in our room and had a great night’s sleep, punctuated every so often by the chiming of Wordsworth’s church bells. After another lovely breakfast we checked out and decided to tick off the rest of the Wordsworth circuit on our way home.
The Wordsworth Circuit
First stop was Dove Cottage, his first home in the central Lake District from 1799 – 1808. My mum used to love visiting this place because it reminded her of our family farm but unfortunately it’s closed for refurbishment until late July.
Moving on, we drove further round the edge of Rydal Water until we reached Rydal Mount. Wordsworth moved here in 1813 to accommodate the increasing number of writers and painters who visited and stayed to work alongside him. He lived here with his family until his death in 1850 and it’s still owned by the Wordsworth family who open it to visitors.
It made me smile to read that Wordsworth wasn’t sure that he’d make it as a writer and so his back-up plan was to be a landscape gardener. He was clearly very talented.
This is Dora’s field at the bottom of the garden – Wordsworth and his wife Mary personally planted each one of these daffodils in memory of their daughter Dora who died from tubercolosis.
Here’s an idea of the great man himself that has been recreated from a mask that was made of his face…
… and this is his desk in his writing attic – no wonder he was inspired by nature.
As always, this has gone on far longer than I intended but there’s always so much to say. In summary, The Wordsworth Hotel is particularly good if you’re looking for a Lake District base to explore from. Not only is it at the very centre of the Lakes but it’s also wonderful being located in the heart of a village, something that you don’t often find with Lake District hotels. Most of the food is superb and the wine selection is excellent. The bar is cosy but the other public areas need an update. I hope you’ve enjoyed coming away with me and on that note – thank you to the people who have offered to help organise a Midlifechic event. I just need to get past 31st March and I can give it some thought.
Hush have released their April collection here. As a small brand that’s suddenly growing very, very quickly they’ve geared up and made a lot of behind-the-scenes changes over the last twelve months. I’ll be interested to know if you’ve noticed any differences, positive or not.
The new collection at M&S arrived yesterday – you can plough through it here, there are some gems but I wish they’d segment it better online.
Boden’s sale is on here and includes the dress in this post and the jacket from last month if you’re quick.
Disclosure: A Lake District Midlife Lately is not a sponsored post however our stay and food was provided by The Wordsworth Hotel for the purposes of review. We paid for all wine and other sundries personally.
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