Ravenstone Lodge weekend break, Bassenthwaite
Ravenstone Lodge is a small hotel in the northern Lake District on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake, some five miles north of Keswick. Nestling at the foot of the mighty Skiddaw mountain range, this was once a Victorian coach house and occupies five acres of unspoilt countryside. It’s a three-star hotel with an AA Rosette award for its cuisine. When owners Michael and Jane Cornish took over the hotel in December 2007 they wanted to create a hotel that they would enjoy staying at themselves — and they have achieved their aim admirably.
There are nine comfortable en-suite rooms, tastefully furnished. Ours had a four-poster bed and a spectacular view over grounds that fall away towards the lake shore. The country silence was broken only by the chattering of Swifts nesting in the eaves above our window. A great start to the weekend.
Bassenthwaite Lake is perhaps one of the less well known and visited of the Lakes and therein lies its advantage. Away from the tourist bustle, Mother Nature shows her abundance; in stands of old oaks and Scots pine, as a haven for rare red squirrels under the bare magnificence of Skiddaw. Every spring, the Lake District’s only breeding Ospreys fly 7,000 miles to nest just a mile or so away at Dodd Wood. If it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me. The Ospreys are a must see — the RSPB observation post is nearby, so watch them catching fish in the lake, tending their chicks on the nest or in close-up on a live webcam at nearby Whinlatter Forest Park.
If all this scenery and tranquillity isn’t enough to tempt you, then the cooking at Ravenstone Lodge certainly should. Choose between dining in the informal Stables Bar and Bistro or the slightly more formal but no less friendly Coach House Restaurant. We, of course, did both.
The Stables Bar and Bistro are in the original stable block, the stalls and other fittings retained, creating an unusual but relaxed space. The menu here is heartily and honestly British. Beer Battered Haddock vies for your attention alongside Steak and Ale pie or Cumberland sausage. Hits the spot after a day out in the country air.
The cooking is excellent, carefully executed and with generous portions. Neither do vegetarians miss out; the spinach and ricotta tortellini is as good as I’ve eaten. There is a range of starters and daily specials, and a special mention for the delicious homemade bread that comes spiced with saffron, cumin or rosemary. Desserts include generous portions of sticky toffee pudding or local ice cream.
Meanwhile, the well-stocked bar features local ales, or you can choose from around fifty reasonably priced wines — we chose Le Bastide Vermentino/Roussanne, which proved a good match for both fried fish and an excellent Turbot risotto. Afterwards, the huge choice of Single Malt’s will satisfy any Whisky connoisseur while my locally made Langton’s gin came with Fentiman’s tonic.
The Coach House Restaurant offers a deliberately different dining experience for up to twenty covers. You can choose from the bar menu here too, but the restaurant menu is more ambitious for a modest price increase. Whether you bag a window table for a stunning view across the terrace, or take a corner seat and admire the owners’ photographs of the lakes adorning the walls, the ambience is enjoyable.
Starters are excellent and worthy of a far more upscale establishment. The Beetroot Tarte Tatin with goats cheese mousse and a balsamic reduction was deceptively simple yet sophisticated and chic. The sweet potato and pepper soup was deliciously savoury and light. Main courses were generous and artfully presented. My roast breast of duck was mouthwateringly pink, served on a bed of colcannon with a wild mushroom jus. Even better was the asparagus, blue cheese, and wild mushroom Wellington, the pastry leavened by sage cream and boulangère potato.
A raspberry-ish Kiwi pinot noir from Mud House washed these dishes down well. There was still just room for dessert — chocolate delice, served with orange ice cream and raspberry coulis was exceptional and would satisfy any sweet tooth. I preferred the slightly lighter baked meringue with vanilla cream and a berry compote. To round off, we took coffee and digestif out into the airy conservatory and slumped into comfy armchairs. On a warmer summer night, the outside terrace would be a lovely location.
In both the bistro and the restaurant, the seasonal local produce is abundant. On this evidence, promotion to a second Rosette surely isn’t far away.
I also commend the hotel particularly highly for being faultless, friendly and enthusiastic. The other guests I met during our stay agreed – I know, because they told me!
Breakfasts are of equally high quality and designed to set you up for the day ahead. Full English is available of course, but other choices included Eggs Benedict, Kippers, and vegetarian options.
At Ravenstone Lodge there is no need to venture far given the surroundings, the food, and the hospitality. It is perfect for naturalists, photographers and perhaps lovers of poetry. After all, Tennyson was a frequent visitor in these parts. Those looking to slough off the calories could ascend Skiddaw directly from the front door. I preferred a gentler stroll down to the Lake, through fields, trees and bleating lambs. That leads to St. Bega’s, a picturesque Celtic church sat in isolation on the lakeshore.
While skimming stones out across the mirror-surface of Bassenthwaite, I realised that I had found peace at Ravenstone Lodge.