If you’re looking for hotels in Cumbria read our bed and breakfast review of The Pentonbridge Inn in Penton, Cumbria…
What is the hotel’s USP?
It was slim pickings in this patch of Cumbria before the tired coaching inn in the little hamlet of Penton was given a much-needed makeover and a couple of high-flying chefs shipped in. The Pentonbridge Inn is now a gourmet pub with rooms nudging up against the Scottish border – the River Esk, the natural dividing line, is about half a mile to the north.
Chefs Jake (from the north of England) and Cassie White (Australian) are now at the helm, a dynamic young husband and wife team, who, until recently, were Head Chef and Pastry Chef, respectively, at Marcus at The Berkeley. They have a stellar pedigree: Cassie also spent time at Hélène Darroze’s eponymous two Michelin Star restaurant at The Connaught and they both worked together at Tom Aikens. ***The Whites left in September 2018 and Gary McDermott is the new head chef***
The pub’s owners, Gerald and Margo Smith, live at Netherby Hall five miles down a hedgerow-trimmed lane and are also renovating the Victorian walled kitchen garden on the estate to supply the inn’s kitchen with fruit and veg, micro-greens and herbs – a real field to fork enterprise.
And the general vibe?
Warm and welcoming. There’s not one but two wood-burners blazing, water bowls for dogs and local foodies sinking pints by the fire. The modern country pub interiors reflect the border location, slate floors strewn with rugs, leather banquettes, tweed and spindle-back chairs. There’s exposed stonework and pastel-painted panelling, contemporary landscapes and old oils on the walls. The natural palette mirrors the Cumbrian fells with a splash of tartan giving a nod to the neighbours.
Which room should I book at The Pentonbridge Inn?
The nine rooms, all different shapes and sizes, are named after famous Border Reivers families, marauding raiders who rampaged around here, robbing local landowners from the 14th -17th century. There are six rooms upstairs in the main pub and three on the ground floor in the adjacent barn extension. I was staying in Grayme, upstairs looking out over flat fields. On a table by the dove-grey sash window was a copy of the ‘Steel Bonnets’ by George MacDonald Fraser the story of the Anglo Scottish Border Reivers – a nice touch – as were the woollen-covered hot water bottles.
Design-wise think whitewashed walls, contemporary cream wooden furniture, vintage-style radiators, tweed headboard and chairs and a cheery tartan throw. The huge bathroom had a tub and separate shower with giant rain showerhead. Gourmet touches included a coffee machine and a little bag of Australian Anzac cookies (ginger and oat) from the chefs.
All the rooms are individually designed: Story is one of the smallest and quirkiest, with a view over the car park out towards the gently rolling Scottish hills. The barn rooms are dog-friendly with wooden floors, soaring ceilings and rafters but don’t have the views of the upstairs rooms as they open onto the car park.
What’s good to drink?
Sip a pint of Great Corby in the cosy bar or Magic Number, a smooth beer with sweet caramel notes from the Carlisle Brewing Company. There’s also a range of northern gins from the Lakes Distillery, Cuckoo from Lancashire and Hepple from Northumberland.
What’s the food like at The Pentonbridge Inn?
A special shout out goes to the warm, freshly baked sourdough bread and salted butter. I was almost defeated by the five-course tasting menu (portions are generous) with highlights including a meaty Orkney island scallop with earthy onion dashi, preserved Meyer lemon, rye and Monk’s beard. The veal from Andrew Barraclough with vibrant green wild garlic rice, morels, alexanders and radish was meltingly tender. For dessert: a wickedly unctuous rum baba with creamy mascarpone and pungent fig.
Both restaurant and pub menus feature local ingredients sourced from nearby producers on both sides of the border: the venison from Millbank Parkland, Lockerbie, the lamb and beef from Lake District Farmers, Tebay, organic flour for the freshly baked bread from Little Salkeld Watermill in Penrith and the butter, fresh curd and artisan cheeses from Winter Tarn Farm.
What’s the breakfast like at The Pentonbridge Inn?
Breakfast is served in the conservatory – overlooking the car park and hills beyond. I tucked into homemade granola topped with fresh berries, washed down with freshly squeezed blood orange juice. I was tempted by the porridge with rhubarb and ginger compote but was swayed by the bacon (salty and thick) with fried eggs and ripe sliced avocado.
Any other food experiences I shouldn’t miss?
Take a tour of the restored Victorian walled garden. The gardens were created by the Graham family, which owned the estate for four hundred years (it’s said that Sir Walter Scott wrote his famous poem ‘Young Lochinvar at Netherby in 1802).
Head gardener, Mark Jeffery, has spent the last two years restoring the overgrown one-and-a-half acre kitchen garden. New Victorian-style glasshouses, heated by a biomass boiler, are due to be erected along one wall. Mark has been working with Jake and Cassie to fine tune the varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit grown for the inn’s kitchen. This year they’ve planted raspberry, blackcurrant, white currant and apple, pear and plum trees. There are also plans to create a foragers garden in the woodland where the chefs can collect wild garlic, elderberries and mushrooms.
Is The Pentonbridge Inn family-friendly?
It’s not particularly geared towards kids – more foodies on a short break and walkers but it’s very relaxed and children are welcome.
What can I do in the local area?
Lace up your walking boots and work up an appetite along the local waymarked footpaths nearby, or head to the Kielder Water and Forest Park, a 45-minute drive away, home to the largest manmade lake in England, the country’s largest working forest and an observatory (visitkielder.com). Or how about a spot of fishing on the River Esk? In one direction you’ve got the Lake District, in another Scotland’s Borders towns and the Common Ridings events held each summer, commemorating the times when local folk would ride out to the boundaries to protect their land from marauders.
The concierge says…
The last Wednesday of each month you can book afternoon tea at Netherby Hall.
You’ll soon be able to stay in a renovated cottage attached to the walled kitchen garden at Netherby Hall – and there are plans to ferry guests to the pub in a horse-drawn cart.
Double rooms at Pentonbridge Inn start from £150 b&b. For the best deals on rooms at the Pentonbridge Inn, click here
Words by Lucy Gillmore
Photographs by Lucy Gillmore