Discovering the District

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Discovering the District

Following the BBC drama 'The Windermere Children', Louisa Walters finds beauty and emotive history in Cumbria

Louisa Walters is a features writer

Beautiful views at The Samling Hotel in Windermere 
Beautiful views at The Samling Hotel in Windermere 

This week’s BBC drama The Windermere Children shed new light on the kindness of the people and the beauty of a region that provided a safe haven for 300 children who were rescued from the Holocaust.

This story adds a new poignancy to a trip we made to Cumbria before the film, arriving in in Sedbergh on a day when the wind was whipping the steady drizzle into a chilly mist that made the view of Howgill Fells most atmospheric.

A cosy pub with a fire was called for, and The Black Bull, owned and renovated by Nina and James, could not have been more ideal. Nina’s German-Japanese heritage explains the blend of traditional pub features with clean-line minimalism.

Downstairs is full of stone and timber, with a wood-burning stove; upstairs are modern rooms with homemade biscuits hanging in a welcome pouch on the door. Huge comfy beds, painted panelling and wool throws are the backdrop to magnificent views of the fells. James is the pub landlord, while Nina works wonders in the kitchen, sending out dishes such as wild sea bass with butternut and corn, Hereford Tomahawk to share, plus the regional speciality dessert, sticky toffee pudding.

The next day, in springlike – sunny but chilly – weather, we set off for
The Cottage in the Wood, tucked deep in the Whinlatter mountain forest. A spectacular drive took us past Lake Windermere to the 17th century restaurant with rooms, which won a Michelin star just after our visit.

Louisa and her husband outside The Black Bull in Sedbergh

If you’re a hiker, cyclist or nature lover, this is a great spot and, if you’re a foodie, your dreams come true with the seven-course Taste Cumbria menu (£70) which is a culinary tour of the landscape, through Stream (trout), Hedgerow (sweet herbs), Woodland, Coast, Fells and Forest. Every dish was brilliantly thought out, beautifully presented and well explained. As night fell over Skiddaw, we retreated to the cosy lounge for tea, petit fours and a nose through the well-stocked bookshelves. You are guaranteed a good nights’ sleep in the comfortable rooms – other than the occasional owl hoot, there is nothing to disturb your slumber deep in the forest. This is truly a special treat.

A windy autumnal evening brought heavy rain that stopped just as we arrived for dinner at Gilpin Spice at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House near Windermere. Here, we were transported into another world.

A luxurious room at The Black Bull

Gilpin Spice has the buzz of a London brasserie, the decor of a Firmdale hotel, and the menu of Trishna, Roka and The Good Earth rolled into one.

A whole new concept for this part of the world, it is truly fitting as Cumbria has a fascinating history as a centre of the spice trade. Standout dishes include a velvety masala veloute with a crispy samosa to balance out the smoothness, and kachori chaat – fried puff pastry filled with potato, yoghurt and wild garlic chutney.

Kachori chaat at Gilpin Spice

The £25 set lunch at The Samling Hotel in Windermere  has the best food and views in the best surroundings with the best service you could ask for at that price. The hotel has been beautifully refurbished with a huge glass-walled restaurant added on to make the most of the setting and spectacular scenery. The best sourdough comes with a beautiful whipped herb butter that you can’t help but pile it on thick! Courgette flowers and a truffle and mushroom risotto were followed by a beautiful piece of cod atop creamed leeks with mildly curried cream sauce. Desserts were a revelation, especially the decadent chocolate millefeuille.

With new revelations about the Lake District providing a home for Jewish refugee children, there is more than one reason to embrace the area’s multifaceted beauty and humanity.

Places to visit

Windermere Library

From Auschwitz to Ambleside is an exhibition of photos and documents about the Windermere children.

Westwood books, Sedbergh

Home to 70,000 second-hand, antiquarian and new books.

Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere Grade I listed Arts & Crafts house designed as a holiday home for Sir Edward Holt and later used as a school. Stunning interiors and interesting history about life and décor in Victorian times.

Westwood Books

Levens Hall, Kendal

Elizabethan House with 10 acres of magnificent gardens, including one of the oldest and most spectacular topiary gardens in England. It has
a fabulous new café.

Windermere Jetty, Windermere

Magnificent new modern museum on the shores of Windermere charting the history of life on the lake. A must for maritime enthusiasts.

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