Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Howtown Hotel - Review: Off the Beaten Track, but Perhaps my Favorite Small Hotel ... Ever.

Earlier in the spring, I wrote a post regarding the booking process for the Howtown Hotel, in Howtown, Cumbria: Booking the Old Fashioned Way. This was the first time I'd booked by mail, and I hoped that the hotel itself would live up to it's retro booking process.

Let me say that I was definitely not disappointed. The Howtown Hotel easily ranks near the top of my list of the favorite places I've ever stayed. The accommodations were quite old-fashioned, but then so am I in many ways! So let's get on with the review.

Howtown is a hamlet (not even a village!) on the eastern shore of Ullswater in the Lake District. There are two ways to get there: 1) down a very narrow B road that runs along the Ullswater, or 2) via the Ullswater "Steamers", a boat service that runs between Pooley Bridge, Glennridding, Aira Force (a National Park), and Howtown.

Since we were in a rental car, we took the road after being stuck behind a very unlovely truck for a couple of miles:

Frankly, if I'm going to get stuck behind a truck in England, I'd much rather it be one like this:

The most wonderful lorry in England, found at the Chelsea Flower Show... but more on that later.

Still, we were rewarded for our patience by arriving at the very, very lovely Howtown Hotel:

This is a long review, I'm afraid, as I found little clear information about the hotel online. Accordingly, I wanted my review to be very thorough. A full review follows after the break...

The Howtown Hotel is run by the Baldry family, as it has been for many decades. Mrs. Baldry is still active in the management, though she has lately given up doing all of cooking. (UPDATE: Since writing this review, I've learned that the new chef is Colin Akrigg, formerly of the Sharrow Bay Hotel, just up the road from Howtown.) The clientele is mostly, shall we say, of a distinguished vintage. My wife and I were the youngest guests by far (Ed: I'm in my forties, I have absolutely no idea how old Mrs. Points Ninja is, 29 perhaps?). If it's nightlife or a late night crowd you're looking for, this isn't the place for you. But if a lovely little country hotel with good food, friendly service, and an unsurpassed setting sounds good, be sure to consider a trip to Howtown.

The hotel sits in a little dell near the shore and is surrounded by the fells. The views in every direction are absolutely stunning.

Looking from the Hause towards the Howtown Hotel in the foreground, with Pooley Bridge to the North.
Once you arrive, you'll step in the front door:
Our room, Room 2, is the half-open window just above the front door.
And register at the desk just outside the bar:

Note the gong in the photo above. Every evening, at the chap of seven, the gong sounds for dinner, summoning everyone into the dining room. The stairs to the left lead up to the guest rooms, which are situated along a single hall. All of the guest rooms in the main building are situated on the lake side of the hall.

To start, let me emphasize that there is nothing "modern" about this little place. There is precisely one television, in a downstairs sitting room. I don't believe I ever saw it on during our stay:

There is also one telephone (cell phone service is iffy, at best) in a call box next to reception:

The hotel also boasts some delightful anachronisms, like the functioning bells in each room that trigger a slightly-updated version of Downton Abbey's famous "bell board."

Unfortunately, Carson was not available at Howtown.

What the hotel is, though, is relentlessly cozy. The rooms themselves are quite comfortable, in the style of your well-to-do English grandmother's guest room. What? You don't have a well-to-do English grandmother? Well, then you should visit Howtown and pretend. We had room 2, which is located just above the entrance and next door to the upstairs lounge. In researching the Howtown Hotel, I found very little in the way of interior pictures of the rooms. I always like to have some idea of what I'm getting into before booking a hotel, but we were flying blind on this one. Not to leave you in the same boat, dear reader, here are some pictures of our rooms at the Howtown Hotel:

Room 2 at the Howtown Hotel

The view from Room 2.
 Room 2 is not en-suite, though there is spacious a private bath across the hall:

Over the years, I've become used to seeing very high-end amenities in hotels: Agraria, Penhaligons, Gilchrist & Soames, Shanghai Tang, etc. Let's see what the Howtown Hotel has to offer, shall we?

Look closer:

Yes, that's good, old Imperial Leather, a British bar soap that dates back to the 30's. For what it's worth, it was perfectly good soap, but don't count on finding fripperies like shampoo or conditioner at the Howtown Hotel! Instead, you'll find that even your bathroom has a nice view of the garden:

If you do need a shower (and the hand-held shower nozzle isn't sufficient), there's a shared shower room down the hall:

We had family along for the trip, and they stayed in Room 8, which is one of the en-suite bedrooms:

Room 8 at the Howtown Hotel

The private, if a bit cramped, bath.
Looking out at Hallin Fell from Room 8.
The hotel's public spaces are also quite charming. There are four sitting rooms, one upstairs and three down.The upstairs room was a nice place for a quiet drink after dinner.

I should also note that the hotel is pet friendly and that several (very well behaved) small dogs seemed to have the run of the place. On our first evening, one of them joined me in the upstairs lounge shortly after I sat down to enjoy a glass of whiskey.

There are also three sitting rooms downstairs, including the TV lounge pictured earlier:

All bookings are "half-board," meaning that breakfast and dinner are included in the room price. Each evening, around 6:30, menus are distributed to the guests, most of whom are very sensibly enjoying a cocktail on the spacious and well-kept lawn:

For a sample, here's our first evening's menu:

Some of the reviews I read before staying indicated that the food was a bit stodgy, I found it to anything but. Perhaps that's due to the fact that the kitchen is now being run by a professional chef, where formerly it was all up to Mrs. Baldry. In any regard, I found the food to be well presented and delicious. All meals are served in the hotel dining room:

And you'll never find yourself without the right knife or fork to use:

The meals themselves? Here are a few examples:
An excellent scallop and asparagus starter.
The saddle of venison
The braised pork cheek starter
The Stilton souffle.
The fillet steak.
The desserts are also quite nice, particularly the trifle:
Mrs. Baldry's sherry trifle - delicious!
Bread and butter pudding
There's also a reasonably priced wine list (that spanned several pages not pictured):

In the morning, breakfast is served in the dining room at 9:00. That's a bit late for me, and I'd prefer an earlier option. There's a spread of fruits, cereal, yogurt, etc.

You can also order a cooked breakfast:

The hotel does offer an earlier tea service, that I opted for one morning, but it's hardly substantial:

and at £8.80, it's not particularly economical, either.

If your plans for the day include a ramble amongst the hills, the hotel will prepare a packed lunch for modest £8.50. Lunches are ordered at breakfast, and left by the front door to pick up when you head out for the day. The packed lunch includes some simple, but tasty, sandwiches (with the crusts cut of, natch), an apple, and a few other treats:

I could go on, and on about this lovely little hotel, but I think I've covered the high points. At a fairly reasonable rate of £98 per person, per night, I'll definitely return to this little slice of paradise:
Looking down on the Howtown Hotel from Hallin Fell on a misty morning.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I want to go right now. Great story telling.

    Tom M.