In the highly competitive market of luxury Lake District hotels, an embarrassment of choice awaits the first time visitor. With most establishments boasting lake views, fine gardens, superior accommodation and gourmet cuisine, the decision of where to stay is, indeed, fraught with difficulty.
That said, no one would regret choosing Storr’s Hall, a member of the Exclusive Hotels Group. Standing in 17 acres of grounds and woodlands on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere – note actually on the shore and not some distant hillside with a glimpse of the lake – it is undergoing a comprehensive room renovation. At the same time its gastronomic credentials have been raised by the arrival of Connor Toomey as head chef.
Unlike many other properties in the area, Storrs Hall has the advantage of historical and architectural interest. Now a Grade II listed Georgian villa, it was built in the mid 1790s for Sir John Legard then transformed on the profits of the slave trade by architect Joseph Gandy for John Bolton in 1808-9. A private family home to a succession of wealthy owners until 1892, its heyday witnessed guests from the worlds of literature – Wordsworth recited his famous “Daffodils” poem here – politics, industry and the military. From 1892, when Storrs Hall converted to a “Grand Hotel”, it changed hands three times, with the present owner, Les Hindle, investing heavily in the hotel’s extensive renovation.
One building within the grounds which has not been altered and is worth visiting is the National Trust owned folly, “Storrs Temple” reached at the end of a stone jetty. Built by Sir John Legard, it honours four naval heroes of the 18th/19th centuries: admirals Duncan, Nelson, Howe and St Vincent.
Externally and internally, Storrs Hall retains many of its original classical features. Guests are able to drive up and park next to the main entrance, admiring the entrance loggia with Greek Doric colonnade. Internal decoration and fittings of the highest quality, including inventive, luxuriant plasterwork and chimney pieces, are a testament to the excellent design and craftsmanship of the period.
Exploring the main public areas the Georgian interpretation of classical forms is clearly evident. The entrance hall, with a segmental-arched opening, leads to the central rotunda. This circular hall, with niches containing classical busts on the ground floor and a balustraded gallery on the first, is capped by a domed lantern in blue, orange and yellow. This rises from an entablature with a scalloped, fluted frieze. Equally impressive is the cantilevered staircase with decorative brass balustrade lit by an oval dome. At first-floor level the detailing is in the Composite order of architecture. The portraits and large tapestry evoke a past in which the rich merchant class unashamedly displayed their wealth.
The spacious, well lit dining room facing the lake has access to a verandah which links the two wings of the original building.
Fortunately, levels of comfort at Storrs Hall are not of Georgian standards. Decorated in pastel shades, public and private bedrooms ooze luxury and sophistication. In the Drawing Room and Study, a variety of clubby armchairs and settees, in a range of sumptuous materials, offer guests an ideal place to relax.
Many of the 30 bedrooms, consisting of Traditional and Deluxe guest rooms as well as Traditional, Deluxe and Exclusive Junior suites, have benefited from renovation in both traditional and contemporary designs which respect the building’s historical legacy. This was true of our twin aspect De-Luxe Junior Suite decorated in a bold arborial motif in brown and cream. Period mahogany furniture – desk, dressing table, bedside tables, chest of drawers and coffee table – were in sympathy with the spacious, sash windowed, high ceilinged room. A two seater settee and Queen Anne armchair offered comfortable seating. The beds, with padded leather headboards and dressed in the fine linen, gave a blissful night’s sleep. Modern additions included a large flat screen television, free internet access, designer chrome standard lamps, bedside reading spotlights – a particularly thoughtful touch – a Nespresso maker – perhaps essential for this level of room – and tea and coffee making facilities.
The bathroom had been totally modernised with twin white bowl sinks, separate bath with a built in waterproof television encouraging a long, relaxing soak. More stimulating for the senses was the walk in monsoon shower with side jets. Fluffy towels and bath robes side jets added to the sense of luxury.
However, whilst the clean white lines of the bathroom were aesthetically pleasing, the practicalities of using the facilities raised issues. The bath and shower would have benefited with hand rails for safety and instructions for use – it’s amazing how many different ways are invented for turning on a bath tap, plugging the tub or operating a shower! The lack of a soap dispenser, a range of quality toiletries and a box of tissues seemed particularly odd given accommodation of this quality. These, however, are minor blemishes which can easily be rectified and did not spoil what was a most comfortable stay.
Finally, the quality of management and service can make or break a hotel, regardless of how attractive the venue and modern the facilities. In this respect Storrs Hall is in safe hands. Derek MacDonald, ex The Vineyard in Berkshire, has recently taken over as General Manager. He is supported by an able team of over 30 including the charming and helpful Assistant Manager Sarah Nelson who chatted with us over dinner and chose the wines. As a graduate of the 10/10 scheme, she has trained in all aspects of hotel life at such prestigious hotels as Cliveden, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the Chester Grosvenor. Clearly, this will stand her in good stead for a successful career at Storrs Hall. Restaurant assistants, especially Frederick Milando, and reception staff were polite, welcoming and attentive. Overall, the hotel runs efficiently and effectively, putting its guests’ needs first.
From check-in to departure, staying at Storrs Hall was a most pleasurable and memorable experience, exceeding our already high expectations. The idyllic setting – the hotel is inevitably popular for weddings – combined with high standards of accommodation, cuisine and service mean it can easily hold its own, and see off, much of the competition in the area.