Review of Lowthwaite B&B, Lake District
Lucy Symons stays in a beautifully converted farmhouse and barn Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the Lake District.
>> For availability and booking see our full listing for Lowthwaite B&B.
Arriving in the Fells (Northern for “mountain”) with dramatic peaks and lakes replacing the relentless wild countryside of the moors, it appears the useable land is largely given over to farming, some of the sheep grazing on what seems impossible slopes. Wordsworth wandered as lonely as a cloud here, and so it seems do a lot of the livestock – with lambs positively exploding out of their fields and ambling unannounced freely on the road: it can be a little disconcerting.
This is an area of contradictions: mountains and lakes, bleak wildness becoming chocolate box villagey cuteness. On the banks of Ullswater is Aira Force – the most astonishing waterfall, a very gentle walk, it is a National Trust property neatly marshalled and guided with clearly delineated hard standing paths. Hoards of like-minded tourists elbowed for space to focus their camera to take the money shot. Juxtaposed against a walk up Little Mell Fell a few miles away where all there is for company are sheep, rabbits and birds and the paths, although marked, are easy to misplace. (Take a compass… and a map, and quite possibly a hip flask.)
Lowthwaite B & B is a converted traditional Bank Barn – half in the ground for support and stability but also originally to enable the traditional loading of the hay from ground level. Run by Tine and Jim, it has been totally excavated at the back to allow for more living space, creating an upper floor which is open and light and a ground floor that is snug and more intimate.
The whole project took years whilst Jim and Tine were living in Tanzania. Imagining how to furnish this new project, they met and commissioned an Australian named Nicola Swynnerton who recycles Dhows (fishing boats indigenous to Tanzania, largely abandoned on the shores when no longer useful) salvaging the historical teak, mahogany, and other exotic African hardwoods and crafting bespoke furniture. In doing so Nicola helps to conserve forests and enables Africans to acquire new jobs and skills.
With several trips “home” to measure up and oversee the transformation of the bank barn as it became both a B&B and a residence, many other pieces of the puzzle were falling in to place: the beams in the old barn were found to have come from trees felled locally but they were paired with non-indigenous cedar which (according to a local historian and expert) must have come from ships wrecked on the coast which had been originally commissioned in America; the slate in the house originated from Penrith and the sandstone was from a local quarry (able to supply more as additional flooring). The whole project is a total labour of love for Tine and Jim – love of their time abroad and love of the environment here they are supporting through their creative recycling.
Tine is a keen amateur cook –passionate about her ingredients she explains about the local mill (The Watermill at Salkeld) she supports by using their flour. “I can feel the difference in my hands when I knead the bread.” she said in her very understated Danish way. Enjoying cooking for her guests, having only four rooms, the ensuing meal feels like an intimate dinner party. Her choices are creative, calling on both her Danish background and also her travels, frequently three courses, using only locally produced organic produce where possible. She obviously thinks long and hard about what she is putting on the table. “I cook this way for my own family,” she said honestly, “it is little effort to extend that to our guests.”
"We live to show our guests that this is a choice they can make too, we don’t force it on anyone, but if they come here and see us living in a sustainable manner, with everything thought through and see the effort we take with the things in our lives that are important, it might affect the way they live at home.” She added as an after thought, “Many people tell me they try the things I do at home… that makes me happy…” At breakfast I heard several guests enthusiastically ask her about the home-made jams – there were four different kinds and two home made compotes, whilst Tine spread maps out and advised on their day’s climbing schedule. All bacon comes from Cranstons, a local butcher in Penrith; beef and venison from Deer 'n Dexter who use Brackenfell Rare Breed pork farmed in Hutton-in-the-Forest.
Tine takes her ability to provide for her guests very seriously: one night she had eight guests with 6 different dietary requirements and she managed to provide a meal for them all: “The bread would have broken your foot if you had dropped it.” She laughed. But she is very capable and her enjoyment and hard work show in everything she does. The kitchen is the very centre of the barn and guests all sit together in the dining room for evening meals although staggered for breakfast to enable the grill to manage all the organic bacon! Packed lunches are available for those keen to get out for a touring day.
You can't really come to the Lake District without your walking boots, so spread your map out and let Tine and Jim know how serious you are about taking the mountains on. (Tine said she will climb all of the 214 Wainwrights (fells) before she turns 60. Having already got 50 under her belt and looking incredibly youthful and fit - I believe her) They can advise about child friendly treks as well as more challenging jaunts. There's Aira Force very close by (see above - National Trust picturesque waterfall) and many other perfect tourist style attractions. The RSPB is very active with an eagle as its top atrraction and local resident; you may choose to visit the local mill or organic farms and reaquaint yourself with the genesis of happily farmed agriculture and livestock.
What energy required that cannot be harnessed (from solar or photo voltaic cells at the B&B) is provided by Ecotricity wind farms; a Biomass boiler is in the offing and two wood burners use only byproducts or wood felled through husbandry. All food served is homemade, locally sourced and fair trade where possible (genuinely! - see 'food' section above for examples). All water is from their own spring and sewage treatment plant, taken directly from the source and treated after use before being discharged, potable, back into the stream. There are two red squirrels living in the woods behind the B&B, the last house that is still inhabited in the hamlet of Lowthwaite – they had three kittens this past year and deserve to be protected. The couple, also keen to fund raise to protect the Fells, will suggest that you make a donation towards both these projects as you leave.
How to get there using Public Transport
Instead of driving here the train is a possibility. Penrith has relatively good connections, both from the South and North. A train journey from London Euston to Penrith is just over 3 hours, and more relaxing than the motorway. From Penrith you can get a taxi, hire a car or jump on your bike (Electric or "normal") and start pedalling. Once you are at Lowthwaite B&B you really don’t need a car if you are interested in walking as you are so close to Ullswater and an entire blanket crocheted out of paths for fell walking.
Tine and Jim say that children are welcome, and they mean it. Their own two daughters are very visible and love to interact with the guests and are encouraged to take an active role in the business. Bagsie the room at the front of the barn – Blencathra room – it has stunning views and its own private upstairs erie.
“Sustainable and comfort can now co-exist,” explained Jim, “I don’t want people to feel that they have to compromise on luxury because of the way we have chosen to live and run our business.” The attention to detail is microscopic, their passion is almost overwhelming, their hard work is inspirational.
>> For availability and booking information, see our full listing for Lowthwaite B&B.
See the photos from Lucy's visit on our Pinterest board for Lowthwaite B&B