This review of Hipping Hall in Cumbria is taken from our latest guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
This isn’t something I’m proud to admit, but I am completely incapable of being grown?up about bad weather on holiday. A rainy day or an overcast sky, and my mood quickly turns blacker than the darkest thunderstorm. I have cried in Capri, thrown tantrums in Tuscany and wept in Wales. So the prospect of an early April weekend in Lancashire didn’t look promising. For the sake of the long?suffering Mr Smith, Hipping Hall was going to have to be good.
Our carriage pulled out of the train station beneath a sky the colour of over-washed undies, and eventually emerged to a bright and freshly laundered Lancaster. Driving the final 30 minutes to Hipping Hall, our spirits lifted with the clouds as they melted away. A cluster of ivy?clad stone buildings set in three acres of greenery, Hipping Hall is a lovingly restored 17th-century house in a 15th?century hamlet. Nestled in the romantic?sounding Lune Valley, this hotel and restaurant is a mere stone’s throw away from the majesty of Wordsworth’s lakes and the wilderness of the Brontës’ moors, positioned as it is between the Eden Valley, the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales.
Pulling up outside the entrance, we were greeted by the 29?year?old proprietor, Andrew Wildsmith (his real name, not a pseudonym borrowed from a dashing Brontë hero), who swapped a PhD in organic chemistry at Cambridge for the challenge of causing a few reactions with a hotel experiment back home.
We found our room to be both simple and luxurious: no frills or florals to make Mr Smith nervous; and much to please the fussier Mrs Smith – in particular, the magnificent centrepiece of a white?canopied bed. Light pours in through windows overlooking the front garden, with its whispering fountain and well-groomed lawn, and the minimally elegant bathroom is styled in limestone (all Hipping Hall’s bathrooms feature a different natural stone), with a deep, double?ended bath.
In contrast to the soothing neutrals and airy tranquillity of the hotel’s nine bedrooms, the reception room, bar and lounge are strikingly opulent, with just a dash of kitsch – the inspiration of homegrown interior designer James Mackie, whose creative credentials include playing keyboards for Madness and the Selector. The style is country house (flock wallpaper, gilt mirrors, oil paintings) meets Soho House (sofas in clashing colours and patterns, leather armchairs in pillar?box red). This is a rural retreat in which a city girl can feel right at home.
There was just time for a stroll before dinner. Within moments of setting foot outside we were deep in the dales: gentle lanes, a picture?book church, hosts of daffodils and wagging lambs’ tails. And mud. Oh dear – those immaculate white carpets… It just goes to show, you can’t pack too many pairs of shoes for a weekend in the country.
Hipping Hall defines itself as a restaurant with rooms, and the well?informed come from all around just for supper. Lancashire?born Jason ‘Bruno’ Birkbeck is a former Young Chef of the Year, and trained at the hotel’s Lake District boutique neighbour the Samling. From the exotic canapés (chorizo cigarettes, frog’s legs) to the petits fours (a whole chocolate box), his menu is an orgy for foodies.
Dining under the high?vaulted eaves of the 15th?century banqueting hall – the oak beams are from old ships – was an experience in itself: if it doesn’t get your weekend off to a romantic start, nothing will. Although the menu is as extravagant as the surroundings, much of the fresh produce comes from a nearby farm. Pot roast of pig’s head, poussin, tarte tatin... all by firelight.
And still, the highlight of my evening was yet to come, even with Mr Smith already fast asleep. What a bed – fit for a king and queen, with an extra?soft second mattress and cloudy pillows: one firm, one fluffy. I slept like the fabled princess would have if it hadn’t been for that pesky pea. Sunday, the weather was filthy. But let it rain! After a late breakfast, it was straight back to my super?snug bed with the newspapers.
Later, with a little persuasion from Mr Smith, and two huge Hipping Hall golfing brollies, we braved the elements to visit the waterfalls of Ingleton – another fairy?tale place name. It was gratifying to follow up our feasting with an invigorating yomp outdoors, but we were soon drying off in front of the fire, with a pot of tea and home?made cherry cake. As a drippy (in every sense) Andie MacDowell once said to Hugh Grant, ‘Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.’ By the end of our stay, I couldn’t have given a damn what the weather was doing; I now know how to combine contentment with a wet weekend.