Macdonald Leeming House Hotel, Ullswater
As of July 2017, the Lake District national park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In so doing it became the 31st UK site, a “cultural landscape reflecting the combined works of nature and man”. The beauty of the landscape plus thousands of years of agriculture and industry has inspired generations of artists, poets and writers. It also birthed the conservation movement. What better way to celebrate this than with a stay at one of its best Country House hotels? Consequently, we were eager to visit the Macdonald Leeming House Hotel, on the west shoreline of Ullswater.
Leeming House dates from 1811; a country house owned and extended by several wealthy families. Set in 22 acres of gardens and woodlands, it has majestic views of the lake and the fells beyond. Once, this location must have been relatively inaccessible. Today it’s just fifteen minutes from the M6. It became a hotel in 1969 and part of the Macdonald group in 2002. Originally with just eleven bedrooms, an East Wing was added in 1990, bringing the capacity up to 40. It is to the architects’ credit that this extension matches the style of the original house. Hence the entire building still sits naturally and discreetly in a beautiful and unspoiled landscape.
We arrived by car at lunchtime, though there is a Helipad for more adventurous types. So we were in time to take a light bite in the delightful Library and Drawing room. The excellent steak ciabatta and Caesar chicken were substantial enough to get us through to dinner. Meanwhile, others were enjoying traditional Afternoon Tea.
Time to unpack. Our bedroom in the East Wing was typical; generously proportioned, with a balcony affording a spectacular view. Large picture windows mean that the rooms are bright and airy. Those on the ground floor have a private patio instead of a balcony.
All the rooms take their stylish inspiration from the Regency period. There’s soft and elegant furnishings, floor-to-ceiling drapes, and dark wood fixtures and fittings. All rooms are en suite and have the usual mod cons, so it’s extremely comfortable too. It’s tempting to set up a “Do Not Disturb” sign and kickback. But that would be to miss the gardens, grounds and the restaurant.
The grounds and gardens
The gardens slope down to the Ullswater shore. Stroll through the Italianate landscaped garden to the lawn. One of the previous owners created a miniature Kew Gardens full of rare trees. Red Squirrels rove in the woods along the shoreline. Down by the lakeside; the views are breathtaking. It’s a tranquil place for contemplation. And perhaps gently working up an appetite.
The Regency restaurant
The Regency restaurant has AA two rosette dining and is an essential part of any visit. The large elegant dining room is charming, again with stunning views from the panoramic windows. The cookery is mainly British and European, with a reputation for sourcing the freshest local and seasonal ingredients. It even makes the bread and pastries. Service is friendly and warm, and this puts diners at ease, indicated by plenty of conversation. No polite silences here, thankfully. Meanwhile, the dinner menu contains all kind of mouthwatering suggestions.
The dining experience
Given the home-made bread, we started with bread plates. I was delighted to see a trolley arrive laden with many different types! The Focaccia was particularly good, especially when dipped into balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.
We then chose Fish Soup and Carpaccio of Beef. The soup was Provençal style; saffron-coloured, lush and poured over scallops. The carpaccio was stunning, the raw beef melting in the mouth, with Dijon mustard the perfect foil. It was evident that the quality of the meat and ingredients used was extremely high. Both dishes were nicely presented but not fussy.
Deciding on the main courses had been difficult given the choices on offer. We finally settled for Roast Cod and a Trio of Pork. That meant we needed one bottle of wine to match fish and white meats, which can be tricky. Fortunately, the extensive and well-chosen wine list had just the ticket. I recognised a South African barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc by Stellenrust. That proved a luscious match with both dishes. The soft lemony acidity had hints of botrytis and oak adding complexity.
The roast cod had excellent flavour. It was stacked high on a black plate with mash, broccoli, cauliflower and a hint of vanilla foam. Meanwhile, the Pork was exquisite and texturally perfect. Both were beautifully presented too, making for happy eating.
For desserts, I chose a classic favourite, vanilla pannacotta. Intense vanilla flavour and with just the right amount of jiggle. Meanwhile, Strawberry meringue came with basil sorbet, zingy and herbaceous to offset the sweetness. Bravo!
Over coffee, our verdict was that this is a place that just makes life better.
Things to do
Leeming House is in seclusion, but it’s more than just a romantic retreat with fine dining.
It’s also a perfect base to enjoy all that the English Lakes has to offer. Nearby Aira Force is a spectacular waterfall, while Glencoyne Bay is the site of Wordsworth’s famous daffodils during spring. Indeed, you may choose to wander lonely as a cloud. Alternatively, take the lake steamer for a cruise, hopping on and off to explore Pooley Bridge, Howtown, and Glenridding. To the north, visit Rheged heritage centre or Dalemain, now internationally famous for its Marmalade.
Alternatively, drive south down the lake before ascending Kirkstone Pass. As Lakeland’s highest pass, there are spectacular views. Then drop down to visit Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness. Walkers love the local mountains and fells, including the mighty Helvellyn. Alternatively, hire a bike or a boat. This area isn’t short of things to do whatever the weather has in store.
Leeming House also makes for an excellent wedding venue too. Indeed, I found out that a colleague of mine was married there last June. His description was that it’s a fabulous place. That sums up the Macdonald Leeming House Hotel rather nicely. Indeed, in leaving this lakeside location, you’ll feel on top of the world. That’s regardless of whether you’ve climbed any of the mountains.
Macdonald Leeming House Hotel
More Lake District hotel reviews can be found starting here.