A dream come true for the design minded and adventurous epicures, The Forest Side hotel will convince even the most unwavering urbanites to slow down and stay a night (or three) in the Lake District. The draw? A thoughtful renovation of a gorgeous Gothic pile, during which original Victorian fireplaces were saved and once robust gardens were restored. Fluffy Herdwick sheep graze on the grounds, the restaurant serves some of the best food in the Lake District, and the interiors are just right for the countryside setting—all without a spot of chintz.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £159.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
A full-English breakfast is included in the room rate.
In a nod to the estate’s past, the wooden dining-room floorboards were recycled as dining-room tables, Victorian fireplaces were salvaged, and many of the original garden details were uncovered and resurrected.
At the hotel
Forty-three acres of grounds and gardens, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, work desk, kettle and teas, coffee-making service, custom-crafted beds and Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Designer James Mackie perfected the contemporary country look throughout, but for a room with a postcard-perfect view, the Superb is, well, just that. Coveting the cushy Wools of Cumbria carpet as you pad around the room? Admire the source as you gaze out at the Herdwick sheep roaming in the meadow.
Bring a composition notebook for writing verse as the Lake poets did.
A room designed for guests with mobility issues and their assistance dogs is available on request. Also, the restaurant, bar and guest lounge are all wheelchair accessible.
Up to two well-behaved pups can stay in each of the six designated rooms in the north wing for £25 each, which includes dog treats, a bed, blanket and towels. Just let the hotel know when booking. Dogs are not allowed in the lounge areas or restaurants. See more pet-friendly hotels in Lake District.
This boutique getaway is best for adults and older children; it's suited to nature-loving over-12s keen on outdoor exploration. Please note: it's over-eights only in the restaurant. Rollaway beds and cots are available on request.
Opt for a spot in front of the large bay windows for a front-row seat of the the forest bank, garden and surrounding hills.
Aim for a contemporary play on cashmere and tweed.
Helmed by chef Paul Leonard, the hotel's restaurant is known as one of the finest in the Lake District. Making the most of Cumbria's natural bounty, Leonard makes liberal use of the hotel's kitchen garden and nearby farms, where lovingly-grown vegetables and first-rate meat can be found. The resulting menu is creative, original and rooted in the Cumbrian countryside. Loosen belts for one of the tasting menus offered at dinner — either the six-course 'the L'al Un' and ten-course 'the Grand Un'.
Order a signature English martini – gin, chamomile-infused English vermouth and chartreuse – and allow yourself to be sucked into one of the deep velvet couches in front of the wood-burning stove.
Breakfast is available 8am to 10am daily; lunch (noon–2pm) and dinner (7pm–9pm) are served Wednesdays to Sundays; the restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The bar is open daily until 11.30pm.
The Forest Side is scenically set in the village of Grasmere, smack dab in the middle of the Lake District National Park.
Manchester and Leeds Bradford Airports are both within two hours drive from the hotel.
The nearest train station is Oxenholme, approximately 45 minutes away.
If you’re planning to cruise around the surrounding countryside, a car is a must. The drive from London is roughly five hours via the M40 and M6, and onsite parking is free.
There’s no proper helipad, but skilled pilots can land at their own risk in the field below the Forest Side (just mind the deer).
Worth getting out of bed for
One could happily fill the hours ambling the 43 acres of woodland surrounding the Forest Side. Putter around in the kitchen garden and just try to name all 25 of the herbs and 100 plus vegetables planted there. Or search the fellside and spot roe deer and red squirrels. If venturing off the grounds, the village of Grasmere is just a 20-minute walk along the Old Coffin Trail. Pop by Dove Cottage, the former home of poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, for a guided tour and a peek into life at the turn of the 19th century. Afterwards, sample something sweet at Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread. Taste for yourself if the spicy-sweet treat created in 1854 is truly the world’s best gingerbread. For a different view of Wordworth’s beloved countryside, set sail with Windermere Lake Cruises; the famed body of water is just a 15-minute drive south of the Forest Side.
If you liked the ale on tap at the Forest Side, take a trip to the source: Hawkshead Brewery in the village of Staveley a 30-minute drive away. Stop in the beer hall for a small-batch IPA or malty red ale paired with a snack from the beer tapas menu, or go in for the table-tipping Brewer’s lunch or herb-crusted confit duck leg. You can also go behind the scenes on a 45-minute brewery tour offered each day at 1pm. On the other end of the dining spectrum is the Samling, an elegant restaurant just a 15‑minute drive south. Indulge in a knock-out tasting menu with an equally spectacular setting. One hour away, check out the dining room at Hipping Hall, one of Forest Side founder Andrew Wildsmith’s three boutique hotels. Here you’ll feast on rustic classics with a modern twist from Lancashire-native chef Oli Martin.
It was over dinner in Grasmere-set luxury hotel Forest Side, in the Lake District, that the Woody Allen quote ‘If only Dionysus were alive! Where would he eat?’ suddenly came to me. It's always struck me as a curious line – if only because Dionysus would surely be more concerned with where he’d drink, non? But back to Grasmere, and the thought which came to me in the hotel's restaurant – an airy, smart-casual place with a controlled-temperature wine cellar and an open kitchen; for dishes made using produce that’s been foraged, pickled, distilled and hunted locally, or grown in the kitchen garden, even Dionysus would have put down his drink.
I love the confidence of an open kitchen (pots gently clattering next to diners), but with chef Paul Leonard in charge – who has worked with Marcus Wareing and Andrew Fairlie, no less – such confidence is understandable. Leonard’s tasting menus – 10 courses or six, both at the distinctly reasonable prices of £85 and £65 respectively – are a things of precision and wonder: allium flowers, small wedges of pork and duck, curds, shaved elderflower and black pudding which you virtually inhale. Is the restaurant the best thing about the Forest Side? It's certainly the thing it's best known for, already having earned a Michelin star and inspiring much chatter from besotted locals, but the hotel's otherwise low-key atmosphere is deceptive. As it turns out, you can have chipper staff at posh hotels. The hotel is not a vehicle for the restaurant; rather, they are perfectly paired.
Forest Side is an imposing, slate-built mansion, originally designed for an industrialist in 1853. It sits on the outskirts of Grasmere, a village famed for its rambling opportunities and gingerbread, up a drive lined with Herdwick sheep. Inside, it's standard luxe – which is not to sniff at it – distinctly unthreatening after a six-hour drive, the mood is calm Poirot-on-holiday. A wide, sweeping staircase sits in the middle of the building with large rooms discreetly shoehorned into corners, so as to minimise noise. Our room, a master suite, is a little heavy on the neutral palette but truly, that’s the only thing to take issue with. The bed is very comfortable (thanks to the custom-made, fleece-stuffed Harrison Spinks beds). The bathroom, with its automatic lighting, push buttons and walk-in shower, is the sort of thing you aspire to install in your own home but likely never will. Even the air-conditioning is perfectly pitched; though the au naturel option (open windows) presents a glorious, glass-fronted balcony for optimum views. The eco-meets-heritage look (Lincrusta walls in the stairwell; crushed-velvet sofas; gold pineapples on the mantelpiece; and tables fashioned from reused floorboards) isn't for everyone; but despite its flashy safeness, you won't tire of it over a weekend.
I should know. I arrive in Cumbria with a cold, which put me to bed for 36 hours. As it transpires, there are worse places to be ill. A view of the darkening sky over ‘the lion and the lamb’ rock outcrops over Helm Crag is certainly better than the tip of the Gherkin when you've a slight fever. Too sick to get dressed, we decide to order room service for breakfast the next morning. These menus are usually truncated. Not here. Our poor waiter lugged up tray after tray of heavy pottery: eggs Benedict, grapefruit, eggy bread, duck egg and soldiers, most of it restaurant-hot, and delivered out of hours, too. And, we should add, with the sort of temperament you simply don't get in London – every single member of staff (a mix of locals and Europeans) has the sort of cheer, patience and benevolence you dream of. Truly, service like that warrants a gold star.
Still, back to my illness: following an early night and the 10-course menu (stellar: I wasn’t too full, nor wanting for anything), I manage to get up for a walk on the last day. The ever-helpful staff are even moreso when it comes to dishing out printed-out maps. I also make it downstairs for breakfast – worth it for the crumpets and juice selection alone – and a potter around the garden, which was damp but flourishing in autumn.
There is more to Forest Side than meets the eye. Granted, landscape-wise, this is quite a meeting: Easdale Tarn rises up behind the gold beech leaves at the back of the mansion; from the back rooms, Helm Crag punches into the sky, and its lion and lamb both rear up over the road – the last thing you see before you draw the blinds. Still, if you are of a Dionysian sensibility and do want a drink, the wines are biodynamic and peerless. One wittily-titled Old Fashioned in the hotel's delightful heritage bar would probably floor any reveller. Even Dionysus…