Forest Side opened in February 2016. Within two months, this renovated hotel set back from the A591 Windermere to Keswick road and overlooking Grasmere was awarded: Best Newcomer in Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards, 2016
Ruth Davies for Fine Dining Guide gives her impressions of Andrew Wildsmith ‘s third and most stylish hotel.
Forest Side is a triumph. Set back from the road and built on the first rise of a hill below Alcock Tarn, it detaches itself from the bustle of Grasmere, and offers a truly luxurious haven for the traveller. Initially, the grey slate roofed exterior gives a rather reserved impression and reflects its history as a hunting retreat built in the mid-19th Century for the Earl of Lonsdale. In more recent times it has seen service as a walkers’ hostel, but this year extensive refurbishment driven by the vision of its new owner, Andrew Wildsmith, has completely elevated its status to new and exciting heights.
Passing through the front door, the atmosphere changes seamlessly from bordering on the austere to understated contemporary elegance. With polished wooden flooring and willow baskets in reception, and the green Pendle Tweed livery of the staff, the hotel’s Lake District country house-party origins are cleverly referenced, creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
On the ground floor and leading off from the entrance hall is the bar. Comfortable plush sofas surround an open fire whilst the stunning wall paper featuring all manner of humming birds, parakeets and birds of paradise creates an exotic atmosphere in which to enjoy a pre dinner cocktail.
Next to the bar is the sitting room, a public space of inspired modern stylishness. Wall paper simulating pewter tiles, a variety of sofas and wing backed armchairs upholstered in grey fabric, together with refined dark wood occasional tables all cleverly support the two foci of the room. These are the extraordinarily beautiful mirror over the fireplace which I instantly coveted, and of course, the magnificent Lake District views from the two huge floor to ceiling windows, one of which opens onto a newly refurbished sheltered terraced area. Champagne here in the summer is a must! It is not until one is leaving the sitting room that one notices the unobtrusive partition doors which on special occasions open to reveal the dining room.
The dining room in contrast provides a cleverly pared down backdrop to showcase Kevin Tickle’s wonderful food. It is full of light, informal yet chic, decorated as it is in natural shades. Reflecting the countryside which can be seen from the large bay window, there are arboreal references throughout. The ivory wall covering has a subtle design depicting slender stems, accentuated by the white woven willow wall panels and on the central table stands an impressive arrangement of horse chestnut branches. The dining tables themselves are a particularly interesting feature of this room, crafted from polished recycled floor boards and left bare, perfectly complementing the informal variety of stoneware tableware. Open to view, the service area completes this very appealing contemporary interpretation of a traditional dining room.
Commitment to the Lake District is also evident in the use of wool from local Herdwick sheep in the carpets of the main staircase. The bedrooms, not numbered but named after trees, are individually styled in delicate muted shades and offer restful luxury for the tired traveller. The windows are dressed with both blinds and heavy sumptuous curtains whose fabric design is echoed in both the wall coverings and the signature canopies over the very comfortable, locally made beds. The bathrooms are superb. Push button showers, large deep baths and high quantity luxurious toiletries are guaranteed to revive weary spirits. The attention to detail, from the stag motif on the draw liners to the tray of refreshments on theside table, is remarkable, and indicative of the ethos of the whole establishment.
An amble round the kitchen gardens is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in ‘growing your own’. The greenhouse provides the micro leaves and herbs for the kitchen. Its benches are laden with trays of a large variety of seedlings at various at ages of development, whilst to one side a line of large tomato plants soaks up the warmth of the sun. Baskets of oxalis hang from the roof and in the floor trays of more mature seedlings await planting out. Outside raised beds offer everything from soft fruits to herbs, and deep grow-bags of potatoes are lined up against the retaining walls. The care and enthusiasm of head gardener Catherine, ably assisted by Adam, is unmistakable, and are of critical support to the kitchen. However, no garden is exhaustive, and there are also opportunities aplenty for additional foraging in the surrounding 40 plus acres of forested hotel grounds.
Forest Side is a venture of which Andrew Wildsmith and his team can be justly proud. The commitment of the staff is evident everywhere and this, together with such elegant surroundings and the wonderful food of Kevin Tickle, make a visit a must.