For a Londoner like me, even before lockdown, that first gulp of garden air during a country house hotel getaway was always bliss. That pampered, pristine scent of the English tundra; the heavy collision of outdoor scented candles and old trees. Then along came face masks. So, needless to say, after four-and-a-half hours inhaling the hospital fragrance of a medical-grade face nappy on a train to Cumbria, my first breath of freedom at Storrs Hall seemed like the sweetest of all – in this case, the cindery warmth of the lobby fireplace crackling across the freshly clipped front lawn.
That’s not to say that the Georgian pile on the banks of Windermere is a place of strictly simple pleasures. Storrs Hall may be a quintessential old manor – Wordsworth once recited “Daffodils” in the drawing room, and Churchill was reportedly a fan – but it now offers high-voltage hipster luxury after the £1 million refurbishment of its six slick lakeside cabins. These high-end suites are aimed squarely at Lord and Lady of the Manor 2.0, who prefer Bluetooth televisions in the bathrooms to scented drawer liners in their antique commodes. When checking into my pad for the night, I almost felt like I was stepping into a Shoreditch penthouse, all copper-brushed light fixtures and mirrors lined with leather belts. But once I was settled in my room – fluffy robe on and complimentary mini-bar prosecco in hand – it was the Zen-like serenity that really drew me in.
Think watercolour-printed cushions propped on the beds, white orchids poised on the tables, and driftwood footstools wafting on graphite-patterned rugs. Glass walls framed by ancient oaks gaze out to Windermere’s aquamarine waters; the fabulous outdoor hot tubs are impossible to raise yourself out off once you’ve got the sun on your back and a craft beer from the fridge. My cool, expansive slate-grey bathroom channelled Japanese ryokan vibes; rainshower with shower head the size of my living room window (in this case a swimming cap might be more useful than the plastic disposables on offer!), and a Japanese tub gazing out to the forests (glass walls can be shaded by blinds for privacy at the touch of a button).
If you can drag yourself away from your cutting-edge slice of lakeside paradise, the main house is also a feast for the eyes. Intimate and cosy as Storrs Hall may be, with its quicksand carpets and comfy sofas, it is also unapologetically imposing, with grand pianos lurking in corners and giant taxidermy looming high on the walls. Wallpapered cabinets are stuffed with magnificent model ships, antique clocks and 1940s photos of the hotel’s first rooms (a sink in the bedroom and a single regal chair placed slightly threateningly at the foot of the beds).
There isn’t a spa, but really, who needs to be cooped up in a sauna when you’ve got the calming lapping waters of the Lake District to calm your lockdown-rattled nerves. The hotel can arrange private self-driving boat trips, which are the ideal way to get out on to the water and discover its foliage-frazzled islands and exciting wildlife – from otters to peregrine falcons – without having to distance from other tourists. Or saunter along the hotel’s water banks, before taking up a pew in the conservatory to watch paddleborders sweat it in the distance, over a spot of afternoon tea.
I half expected Coronation Street’s Betty the barmaid to ask me if I’d like some hot pot when I rolled into the bar, which is more like an old-fashioned local, with its wood-cladded bar carved with coats of arms – were it not, perhaps, for the fine display of pink gins and collectors whiskeys. I had a Lakes gin and elderflower tonic before heading to the restaurant.
Currently, because of Covid-19, both the pub kitchen and the main dining room are offering the same, slightly limited menu, but dinner here remains a pleasure none the less. It was decent, delicate English fayre – heritage beetroots flecked with morsels of goat’s cheese and oozing red raspberries to start, followed by Cumbrian lamb best end served with a crispy swirl of lamb shoulder, confettied with beetle-black olives and sprayed with rosemary jus. My nightcap was worthy of Downton Abbey: a little port in a drawing room running off the stained-glass atrium with its Grecian busts, and the sunset streaming through.
But as a modernity-loving millennial, to be honest it felt good to be back to the future when I eventually retired to my lakeside cabin. I curled up by the snazzy electric fireplace and gazed out from my glass pod at the waves winking like black sequins. Playing lady of the country house has never felt so hip.
Lakeside Suites from £605 per night on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis, with a two-night minimum stay.