The bucolic delights of the Cottage in the Wood
If there’s a restaurant with rooms that can offer a better Lakeland view than the Cottage in the Wood, then I’d like to know about it. Sitting on a terrace surrounded by trees, with a glass of Champagne and the mighty Skiddaw in the distance is my idea of perfection. At dusk, tranquillity. Evening birdsong, the tinkling of a stream below us and the murmured conversation over dinner. A Red Squirrel watches shyly from a nearby branch. Gradually, the mountains assume a pinkish hue in the setting sun before becoming silhouettes against the skyline.
It’s summer at The Cottage in the Wood, a seventeenth-century former Coaching Inn about five miles north of Keswick in the Lake District. It’s halfway up the Whinlatter Pass, at the aptly titled Magic Hill. It sits alone in Whinlatter forest, although the brilliant Whinlatter Visitor Centre is only half a mile away. Those looking to enjoy the great outdoors should start there, with activities such as walking, cycling and Go Ape.
We’re here of course for bucolic accommodation and fine dining. However, we’ve also come to see some very rare wildlife close-up. A pair of Ospreys nests at nearby Dodd, on the far side of Bassenthwaite Lake. Moreover, the Whinlatter forest that surrounds us is a Red Squirrel stronghold. Liam and Kath Berney took over this property in June 2002. Savoy-trained Liam does the cooking, while Kath provides a warm welcome and effortless hospitality. There are nine chi-chi double bedrooms. Ours was tastefully appointed and impeccably clean, with the stunning view thrown in for good measure.
The restaurant is cleverly designed, the old inn bar extends into an airy conservatory that, in turn, opens onto the terrace. The terrace is ideal for alfresco dining on long summer evenings. Spend bright days here, and when the weather closes in, choose to hunker down by the cosy log fire.
The thoughtful dinner menu uses only high-quality ingredients; fresh and seasonal, with meat, fish and vegetables sourced locally wherever possible. It offers exciting choices for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Previous outings have seen such dishes as grilled langoustines in garlic with jersey royals and saffron aioli, and a roasted loin of Galloway beef. Because it is a seasonal menu, wild mushrooms, damsons, blackberries, bilberries, nettles and wild garlic are all possibilities at different times. The wine list is well-chosen, providing interest and food matching choices while keeping things good value. Personally, I’d be happy to see a few more wines added, but you’d expect me to say that!
For the first course, we shared Scottish scallops and Penrith pepperpot sausage with a sweet pepper sauce. Mouthwatering, full of intensity and artfully presented. For the main course, there was an impeccably fresh fillet of Sea Bass served à point on a bed of mash with a fennel bulb. It also comes with a vierge sauce made from chopped basil and tomato, olive oil and lemon juice. The sauce was a lovely foil to the delicate and subtle flavour of the fish, while the fennel bulb added a little bite. A modern classic.
The wine recommended was McHenry Hohnen’s 3 Amigos a white blend of Marsanne, Chardonnay and Roussanne from the creator of Cloudy Bay. An inspired match – a modern Australian wine, with enough acid bite yet silken, and with no oak flavours to get in the way.
Choosing between the desserts is hard because they are all superb. This time, Roasted Yorkshire rhubarb with green tea and Lemongrass Panna Cotta pushed one way while chocolate bread and butter pudding pulled another. Unable to choose, I opted instead for a platter of local Lake District cheeses. Coffee and a glass of Lagavulin in the bar made for an ideal finale.
Breakfast offers a choice of kippers, kedgeree or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon as well as the traditional full English. That set us up for a day’s walking, starting from the Cottage’s front door.
And yes, we saw the Ospreys. Part of the bill contains a voluntary donation to help these endangered species. What a splendid idea.
The Cottage in the Wood
Cumbria, CA12 5TW
Updates: I’ve now been here several times since in different seasons. It’s always a treat!
2019: Congratulations are in order – they’ve received their first Michelin star!
The northern Lake District has many gems to stay at. Try Ravenstone Lodge.