Pair of photos showing a man walking on a trail in England's Lake District, and a dish of beets, eel and goat curd from Henpeck restaurant

Ravishing Landscapes, Ambitious Restaurants, and a Stylish New Hotel in England's Lake District

Spend a weekend exploring the fells, valleys, and literary landmarks of North West England.

The air smelled different than in London, sweetened by the armies of pine gathered on the hillside. I tightened my scarf as the last of the evening sun fired the skies, and watched the clouds' underbellies turn peach. The famous fells of Cumbria, the county in northwestern England, tapered toward the horizon. At their base, Lake Windermere shifted quietly, its surface like molten lava in the autumn light. Thirty years ago I had sailed here, a badly behaved eight-year-old throwing Kendal Mint Cake to the swans. As a barn owl shrieked in the treetops, I wondered why I had taken so long to return.

Three and a half hours by train from London, Lake District National Park is known for having some of England's most beautiful walking and cycling routes. In summer, the air is warm with honeysuckle, the vales flushed with green. With one of the country's lowest levels of light pollution, the park is perfect for stargazing.

But on this trip, it was a different kind of stargazing that piqued my interest. Twenty years ago, Cumbrian dining meant pubs with big fires serving Sunday roasts to walkers in wellies with muddy dogs in tow. That changed in 2002, when chef Simon Rogan opened his now legendary L'Enclume (tasting menu $240) in the riverside village of Cartmel. He focused on harvesting British produce in its prime, earning the restaurant two Michelin stars and igniting a gastronomic revolution.

Since then, restaurants have popped up like mushrooms in the woods, with other Michelin-starred entries like Hrishi (tasting menu $130), Allium (tasting menu $117), and Forest Side (tasting menus from $62) inspiring hungry pilgrims to travel here. Growing competition has kept Rogan on his toes, prompting him to open Rogan & Co. (entrées $33–$39) — a more relaxed version of its elder sibling, also in Cartmel — followed by Aulis at L'Enclume (tasting menu $222), an exclusive chef's table adjacent to the original restaurant.

The exterior of Linthwaite House hotel
Linthwaite House, a new hotel near Windermere, sits on 14 acres of private gardens and woodland. Kira Turnbull

However, it was Linthwaite House (doubles from $290), the site of Rogan's latest venture, that finally brought me back. The country house was purchased in 2016 by the Leeu Collection, known for its South African wine-country resorts, and debuted after a full renovation two years later. The opening sparked a rivalry with the other luxury spots in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere, not least because of Rogan's much-anticipated restaurant, Henrock (entrées $36–$39), which opened in late 2019.

On the train, I rewatched an episode of The Trip, the cult BBC comedy series starring Steve Coogan. Sent to review L'Enclume, among other restaurants, he drags along his friend, the comedian Rob Brydon. My "Rob" for the weekend was my friend Heather. Having spent months recovering after chemotherapy — not to mention isolating during a global pandemic — she was thrilled at the prospect of great food and fresh air, and we arranged to meet at the hotel.

Built on a slope surrounded by woodland, with an extraordinary view of Windermere and the fells beyond, Linthwaite is a luxury cottage that feels like the home of a cool aunt and uncle who never had kids. With upholstered walls, bold prints, and a velvet sofa, our jolly yellow bedroom invited us to dive under the duvets and order room service. But we had a reservation at L'Enclume, where the wait list often stretches for more than six months, so we dumped our bags and hopped straight into a taxi.

Giddy with excitement — which will happen after months indoors and no one else cooking your meals — Heather and I prepared for a show. The staff handed us a scroll containing the "script" they learn for each dish. Seaweed custard gleamed beneath the spotlights, sealed with a wobble of bone marrow and a dollop of caviar shining like a ripe blackberry. A crisp green-pea wafer layered with daisy purée and purple borage flowers melted at first bite and was followed by sweet chunks of steamed lobster. The word experimental suggests trial and error, but there were zero missteps in the confetti-thin disks of truffle on plump scallops or the diamond sparkles of salt on hot pink lamb. Two hours and 14 courses later, it was time for the curtain call.

Pair of photos showing a dish at L'Enclume restaurant and the greenery covered exterior of the Beatrix Potter house called Hill Top
From left: Aged John Dory is served with shrimp butter, tomato molasses, and freshly brewed fennel tea at L’Enclume, in Cartmel; Hill Top, the former home of Beatrix Potter, who dedicated much of her later life to land conservation in the Lake District, eventually handing over more than 4,000 acres to the National Trust. Kira Turnbull

The next morning, I was watching guests playing croquet on the Linthwaite House lawn when a duo of fat brown rabbits lolloped into view. Little surprise that it was in this region that Beatrix Potter — like Wordsworth and Keats before her — found inspiration for her writing. As a child, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was a bedtime staple, and I now read it to my own two daughters. Heather and I set off into town to the World of Beatrix Potter, a walk-through homage to the author's wildlife creations that's plenty of fun for adults, too. The exhibition includes paintings, letters, and photographs, plus a garden with plants that have been identified from her illustrations — and, of course, Peter Rabbit's famous blue jacket on a pole.

Sudden showers are the norm in the Lake District — 200 wet days a year, on average. In the middle of a downpour we hotfooted it to lunch at the Old Stamp House (tasting menu $105), in Ambleside, the former workplace of William Wordsworth, who, before his wandering days, was a postmaster and distributor of stamps. (The region celebrated his 250th birthday last year.) Brothers Ryan and Craig Blackburn, who own the Michelin-starred restaurant, preserved the building's original flagstone flooring and white stone walls, which are now hung with sketches of stags and native Herdwick sheep.

The space is small and dark, but the cooking is a wonder: rounds of crisp black pudding, Cumbrian crab with avocado ice cream and a cracker made with crab stock. Each serving was a miniature woodland scene with upturned parsnips or locally foraged morels, accompanied by warm bread and butter made, we were told, "by Jeremy."

Pair of photos showing a rowboat in a pond, and a sunlit hotel interior with a painting of a horse
From left: Linthwaite House guests can take a rowboat out on the pond; the lounge at the hotel. Kira Turnbull

It was too wet to walk, so we drove to Hill Top, the house where Potter wrote and illustrated most of her books. Originally a Londoner, she began vacationing at the Lakes in 1882 and bought Hill Top in 1905 with money from her writing. The house became a museum for her collection of china, furniture, door knockers, spears, and spinning wheels.

Back at Linthwaite House that evening, I watched the rain wriggle down the windows, then turned to find Heather wearing pajamas and a smirk. I called downstairs to Henrock and arranged for our dinner to be brought to the room. Then I got in my own pj's, and waited for the knock at the door. Sitting in bed together, we devoured proper comfort food inspired by Rogan's travels: ham-hock Scotch eggs, beef short ribs with spiced dates, and forkfuls of savory cabbage cooked in miso and bone-marrow emulsion. It was utterly perfect. I threw open the window and leaned out to watch the storm above the fells, the sky flashing pink.

A version of this story first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Of Fells and Valleys.

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