“We are off to the northwest of England this weekend, to the countryside. It’s winter. Some say it’s not the best time to visit the region, that we are tempting fate. But I’m hoping for a romantic Lake District getaway from London with the hubby, lots of cuddling by the fire, looking out over a beautiful landscape, outdoor fun, and delicious meals by inspired chefs.
“We are headed to Sharrow Bay, a famed property that is known not only for being the very first country house hotel, but also for being the inventor of sticky toffee pudding, a rich, gooey cake swimming in warm, liquid toffee. The hotel sits right on Ullswater, a body of water in the northern part of the Lake District National Park, a region known for the most beautiful scenery in all of England.”
I wrote the above while traveling on the train from London to the Lake District on a recent trip. It was a quick ride, just about three hours, and then a 20-minute drive to the hotel. Along the highway and winding country roads, we were surrounded by beauty. I saw quaint, small towns and hills of green covered with sheep and cattle.
Sharrow Bay, with its grey stone facade, has been around since 1840. It started as a private residence and later was converted into high-end accommodations. Today many visitors come back time and time again to feel like they are staying in their own luxurious home away from home equipped with an attentive staff and inspired chef.
The many sitting rooms at the inn have ample space to enjoy an afternoon tea. Depending on the sitting room, you’ll find soft couches and inviting armchairs positioned around low antique tables, fluffy throw pillows of mismatched patterns, wood-burning fireplaces, and windows letting in the lush, green outdoors. The guest rooms are equally as cozy, with spacious modern bathrooms. Each of the rooms is styled uniquely. There are guest rooms in the main house and others around the grounds.
The pride and joy of the rooms at Sharrow Bay is the Lakeside Drawing Room, fit with a large window that looks out onto stunning Ullswater with a view of Helvellyn, the third-tallest mountain in the Lake District and the UK.
In the evenings, dinner at Sharrow Bay is a very special experience. Choosing the prix fixe or the multi-course tasting menu is a romantic event. You start in your drawing room of choice, where drinks and amuse-bouche are served. Then you are led to the dining room: A candlelit, wood-walled den where dish after dish is served with pride. Lamb is a specialty in the Lake District, but you also will find salmon, scallops, and steak on most menus. Come hungry. And don’t forget the sticky toffee pudding for desert. It’s heaven.
Despite gusts of wind, light snow, and a chill in the air, I was impatient to get outside. At 9 a.m., on our first morning, a nice fellow, Luke, from a local outdoor touring company, Reach Beyond Adventure, picked us up for an excursion. We drove around a lake to an area sheltered from the wind, dropped a couple of canoes in the water, and we were off. The green-grey lake was calm and flat. The surrounding slopes were covered in deep green foliage and a rust color due to the bracken, a course weed that, in warmer months, turns an electric green.
Viewfinder Tip: When driving through the northern Lake District, be sure to stop at Tebay Services, a farm-run market with the most delicious local foods and must-have souvenirs.
We were the only ones on the lake, even on a Saturday morning. You have to love off-seasons. After a short period of snow flurries, the sun peeked out from between the clouds. It was magic. I felt an undeniable sense of elation. A smile would not leave my face. Deeply breathing in the cool, fresh air, I thought, “Everyone should to do this!”
Luke led us to a bank on the opposite side of the bay where he taught me to light a fire with kindling and a steel rod. He made us hot chocolate and tea and offered us a delicious, homemade coffee cake.
As I stood there in my black Wellington boots with my feet being lapped by the lake’s small waves, Luke described all the exciting outdoor activities the region has to offer. He mentioned hiking, mountain biking, bouldering, scrambling, and rock climbing, fishing (trout in these waters), camping, canoeing, and kayaking. Tour companies in the area, like his, can take you out for some of these adventures, looking after your safety, teaching technique, and providing the necessary gear. I want to come back to do it all!
After our outdoor fun, it was time to go back to the inn and warm up by the fire. Cuddling and tea were in order. All of my expectations were met and exceeded for this romantic weekend getaway. Now I just can’t wait to go back.
What do you look for in a romantic weekend escape?