Coloured wellies, arranged tidily by size, are the first things you see in the entrance porch of Linthwaite House. These essential accessories might suggest other less attractive features associated with country house hotels are present: chinz décor, antiquated furnishings, indifferent food and stuffy service.
This is far from being the case at Linthwaite, an established gem of a country house hotel in the Lake District. It has adapted to the demands of a discerning clientelle who look for fashionable design, contemporary furnishings, high quality food and welcoming service that allow them to enjoy the facilities in comfort and ease. At the same time, other traditional country house features have been retained, such as carved wood fireplaces with real log fires, a cosy bar and a choice of lounges.
Located on the Crook Road above Bowness, Linthwaite House is set in 14 acres of gardens and woodland, the grounds enclosing a private tarn – a small lake. The Edwardian half timbered gabled building, originally a family home, maintains its domestic proportions which are part of the hotel’s attraction. Converted to a country house hotel in 1969, it was purchased by Mike Bevans in 1990. Subsequent years have seen the addition of 19 extra rooms from the original 11, and a major refurbishment which included a new wing and kitchen.
The most attractive public room is the spacious, well lit conservatory lounge, which looks onto the terrace and commands panoramic views of Lake Windermere. Complete with fireplace, sofa, chesterfields and a variety of armchairs it has a distinct lived in, relaxed feel. Here, and in the adjoining smaller lounge, guests can enjoy pre-prandial drinks, or, as an alternative to the restaurant, eat more casually from the Terrace menu, which includes the appropriately named “Unstuffy Burger.”
Although they lack views of the lake, unlike some other hotel dining rooms in the area, the three refurbished dining rooms – one of which is small enough for private dining – have decorative mirrors, prints, semi abstract landscape photos and antiques to gain the attention of diners. In the Billiards Dining room colours, textures and patterns are inspired by nature in a style described as “Raffles-meets-Ralph-Lauren. Green, pearl and taupe are the predominant colours balancing the fumed oak and solid wood floors. Banquette and contemporary dining chairs, in a variety of fabrics and patterns are supremely comfortable. Lighting varies from spotlights on tables, to bespoke large pendant lamps giving a background glow at a high level.
The 30 well maintained and frequently refurbished rooms and suites benefit from a soothing Ralph Lauren style, often with smart stripes and patterned wallpaper. Regardless of size, they are well appointed, giving a relaxed, luxurious feel. There are five lake view rooms which take advantage of the hotel’s superb location.
For very special occasions, guests might book the luxury Lake View Room with hot tub or the new Loft suite which is open plan with a retractable roof, a free standing double ended Italian bath, walk in shower for two, twin hand basins and multi media entertainment.
Like other rooms, Room 24 where we stayed had bespoke hand made furniture. Decorated in a cream and yellow palette, with patterned wallpaper behind the head boards, it had a light and airy feel. The seating area had a high, comfortable two seater settee, flat screen television and an arch style hanging standard lamp. Thankfully, the twin beds were not heaped with a mountain of extraneous cushions. The stylish full tiled and brightly lit washroom had bath, separate shower, stream free mirrors, fluffy towels, waffle bathrobes and Mouton Brown toiletries.
The service throughout our stay, whether in the dining room, lounge (below) or elsewhere, was informative, welcoming, helpful and relaxed and still thoroughly professional.
I was able to chat to Andy Nicholson who has been Operations Manager since 2004. Once head chef at Linthwaite, he still gives help if the kitchen is short staffed. This reflects his hands on, multi tasked management style which he describes as “unstuffy.” Proud of his team of 39, three quarters of whom are British, he stresses the importance of constantly observing and analysing the quality of service in order to improve it. This involves being respectful to all staff members and adapting his approach to individuals according to their age and experience. Certainly, this has paid dividends with an average of 20-30% of staff staying for over two years, which is high for the hotel trade. Some have far exceeded this such as John, the kitchen porter with 13 years, Margaret the Housekeeper with 10, her assistant Elaine with 9 and Kate, the wedding coordinator with 6. Capping them all is Colin the gardener with 17.
With the help of his senior team comprising his deputy, two assistant managers, and a restaurant supervisor, Andy has produced a hotel whose high quality accommodation, comfortable facilities and seamless service are worthy of 4 AA red stars, with 2 AA rosettes for the restaurant. This is not to mention the host of other awards and good ratings in the food guides it has received. Given the consistently high standards, rates for return guests average at an unsurprising high of 70%. Occupancy rates can be as high as 85%, as they were with special promotions in January and February, but Andy was realistic about the limited amount of revenue they generated.
One of his priorities is to gain three AA rosettes for the restaurant. Regarding a Michelin star, he would obviously welcome one, but will not direct all his resources solely to achieving it; his main aim is to please his guests, especially his regulars, rather than Michelin.
Andy accepts the recession has influenced consumer behaviour. Whilst not unduly losing guests, he notices they are more selective in their choices and look especially for value for money. This has not depressed him or led to a relaxation of his efforts. Nor as it caused him to lose his sense of humour: he suggests wellie throwing as an alternative sport for guests staying during Olympics!