The Lowther name is everywhere in this part of Cumbria – pubs, village schools, a ruined castle, even a village bears the name. Now, capitalising on its organic estate and gastropub, the Lowther family has turned to hotel-keeping with the opening of Askham Hall. The 12 rooms here have expensive beds and show-off bathrooms but, with discreet staffing (there’s an honesty bar for drinks, no real reception and no morning papers service) and occasional misfires – sachets of UHT milk and instant coffee on tea trays – it’s not a standard hotel. The upside is character – oodles of it. Amid samey design hotels and upmarket chains, Askham Hall stands out. There are secret staircases; its walls play anything but safe with contemporary, avant-garde, paintings; its grade-II-listed garden blooms with established plants, and its views could only be bettered by the National Trust.
A restaurant with some stately rooms might be a more accurate description, because it’s the restaurant that shines. Askham perches tables in a conservatory setting on a floor of colourful encaustic tiles. Food is served on plates made by a potter in the village, and chef Richard Swale packs a lot into the day’s tiny but precision-designed menu. Canapés of pork belly and an elderflower ‘biscuit’ that tastes a bit like a posh Ritz cracker are fun. And, from oxtail tortellini with broccoli, onions and Hawkeshead beer to roasted duck breast with spring greens, chicory tart, turnip and medlar, every dish includes produce from the Lowther estate or kitchen gardens. Best of all is dessert: a paean to rhubarb, with panna cotta, yoghurt sorbet and a side of pistachio cake. askhamhall.co.uk. More info: golakes.co.uk