Askham Hall review in the Telegraph by Fiona Duncan

By 18th February 2014Awards

I’ve always had a problem with pricey Lake District hotels. They’re often too glossy for me, with fancy suites, hot tubs and Champagne bars.

Now, in a lesser known yet no less magnificent corner between the Eden Valley and Ullswater comes this new kid on the block. If you lean towards staying in homes rather than hotels, if you warm to quirky, laid back and unfussy, then head for Askham Hall.

The mighty yet approachable manor house, Grade I-listed and including a defensive pele (or peel) tower that dates back to the 1200s, was the family home of Charlie Lowther and his parents, the Earl, who died in 2006, and Countess of Lonsdale. Charlie, who also breeds champion Shorthorn cattle, has already made a success of the George and Dragon at nearby Clifton and now he and his artist wife Juno have given Askham Hall, with his mother’s blessing, a new lease of life. Its romantic gardens are already open to the public, plus an atmospheric café, perfect for lunch.
For hotel guests, there is a separate entrance; the sign at the gate simply says “Private”. A pair of stone dogs flanks the front door. When you walk in, focus on the large portrait, by Juno, at the top of the stairs depicting a strikingly modern, free spirited and wild haired woman. “It gives two fingers to all the old ancestral portraits that hung there before,” says Charlie. “It’s my mission statement about the new Askham Hall”.
Don’t you just love hotels where things are a bit unexpected and off the wall? Charlie and Juno’s idea of creating a “home from home” is not new, but Askham’s cool, quirky vibe, its reliance on its own produce (superb kitchen garden and surrounding Lowther estate farms) and inventive, intelligent cooking from talented chef Richard Swale, make it feel refreshingly different (particularly as far as Lake District hotels go) but also very much of the moment. Askham Hall may have been created as a labour of love out of limited resources (including a grant from Defra) with minimal staff, but what do we want these days? Excellent beds, contemporary bathrooms, honest, local produce and no formality and fuss. You’ll find that at Askham Hall.
Its 13 individual bedrooms are perhaps best described as country house style, without rules. Ours, the former bedroom of the Earl and Countess, had a vast bed and a wonderfully OTT original pink canopied Seventies bathroom whose matching wallpaper was teamed anarchically with big, busy Balinese prints. Another has a gilded and mirrored door, a glass shower open to view and a table for two in the window. Views, of terrace, topiary and fells beyond, are sublime. There’s also a small discreet spa and outdoor pool, and an honesty bar for drinks. And precious family photograph albums, books and fresh country flowers. And Richard’s pretty, airy bistro style restaurant has gaily patterned Spanish floor tiles and charmingly illustrated menus.
Some professional hoteliers might scoff at Askham Hall as too ‘home’ to be ‘hotel’. But if it remains super relaxed yet at the same time runs on rails, then they would do well to take notice, for this is today’s kind of place. It’s currently open at weekends; fully open from April 10.