Short Break - Merewood Country House Hotel and Restaurant, Windermere
PUBLISHED: 20:27 13 April 2014
Set in 20 acres of land overlooking Lake Windermere, the Merewood Country House Hotel is grand and yet very inviting
So there we were, ten miles into a supposed five-mile walk, drizzle-damp, footsore, frustrated and flipping well lost.
It had started out so well: a ‘fairly easy’ walk of 4.8miles selected from the internet, a short drive from Windermere to Elterwater, a gentle stroll through woodland beside the water, marvelling at the gushing tumult of Skelwith Force.
After Skelwith Bridge, we sauntered through more woodland to gaze at an even more impressive waterfall, Colwith Force. Then, one or two wrong turns and a trepidatious excursion through a boggy field full of bulls later, we were forced to yomp back to Elterwater by such a circuitous route that we had at least doubled our intended walk.
All of which is a long way of saying that we arrived for dinner in Merewood Country House Hotel hungry enough to gnaw the hind leg off a horse.
The restaurant at Merewood is a happy place for the hungry, and happier still for the discerning, for this is fine dining with heart, short on fuss and faff but long on flavour. On our two nights there, the menu was reassuringly concise. Better to do few things well than many only moderately.
A starter of a pressing of ham hocks came with pineapple relish, mustard dressing and a tiny quail’s egg. A main of roast crown of Cumbrian beef with creamed potatoes, roast carrot, braised ox cheek and red wine sauce was exceptionally tender, mouth-wateringly beefy and a classic example of how an ancient combination of typically English flavours can still come up seeming new and delightful. Across the table, the other weary walker enjoyed pan-fried fillet of mackerel with red pepper tart and onion marmalade, pronouncing it fresh and lovely. A main of Herdwick lamb and Anna potatoes, tomato confit, black olive puree, spinach and rosemary sauce was as heartily delicious as the beef.
Working further through the same menu the next night, we tried a goats’ cheese panna cotta starter with artichoke puree and minted oil and a main of honey-glazed breast of duck with kale and a Madeira sauce. On both nights, there was a sublime soup course - one a fresh and silky celeriac and honey with shredded mint, the other an earthy and creamy Jerusalem artichoke with truffle essence.
Among the desserts, a toffee cake with caramel gel, coconut popcorn and maple ice cream was a bit of a star, and a vanilla rice pudding with almond foam and plum compote raised a school dinner staple to top of the class.
Merewood has just turned 200. The original house was built in 1812 for the son of William Lowther, the first Earl of Lonsdale. Also called William, the 2nd Earl served for many years as an MP, and was Postmaster General under Sir Robert Peel. He must have rattled around in Merewood’s seven bedrooms and extensive woodland, though, as he never married and had no children.
Merewood remained a family home until the 1980s, when it became a hotel, and was extended to 20 bedrooms, with the addition of the Lonsdale Suite for functions.
It still has very much the air of a grand country house. In the reception hall, a real fire burns invitingly - at least it does in winter. The drawing room and the library are stately spaces in which to kick back and gaze across Victorian gardens to the lake below. The best bedrooms also enjoy that view (ours didn’t sadly) and the consensus on websites such as TripAdvisor is that they are well worth the extra.
With such extensive, picturesque grounds and such grand dining rooms, Merewood is a natural choice for weddings, and it is licensed for not just the reception but the ceremony to take place there if required.
I just hope no newly-weds begin married life by following our muddy footprints into that field of bulls.
Merewood Country House Hotel and Restaurant is at Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1LH, 015394 46484, see www.lakedistrictcountryhotels.co.uk