The Royal Oak in the Lake District’s stunning Borrowdale is putting sustainability at the heart of its mission – but that doesn’t stop it being one of the friendliest places around
Is there a more beautiful place than autumn in the Lake District?
Even New England would struggle to compete with the staggering rainbow of colours and a backdrop of undulating hills and mountains. And if you are lucky enough to get chilly but bright weather for your trip, as we did, then you are in for a treat for the senses. We were staying at the recently-renovated Royal Oak in Rosthwaite, right in the heart of stunning Borrowdale, but just 10 minutes drive from the heart of Keswick and all its attractions.
There are walks from the door here and as we arrived there was a rural show going on in the field opposite and some fell runner completing a race as part of the fun. But if fell-running or sheep judging is not your bag, there are plenty of other attractions nearby. Our first port of call was the Lakes Distillery, near Bassenthwaite, for a tour to see how they make their gin, vodka and whisky. Former farm buildings have been transformed and are now home to award-winning whisky, just a few years after opening.
The sun may not have been past the yard arm but at least one of our party (the non-driver) enjoyed the tasting session at the end of the tour – samples of all three - a whisky, a gin and vodka. The verdict was a big thumbs up, so much so that a bottle of the whisky was bought for another day. From there it was onto the Pencil Museum in Keswick. This was another hit with the non-driver, who has wanted to visit for years and never quite got round to it.
While the museum is clearly aimed at children, who were loving getting hands on with drawing and colouring, there’s plenty for adults too, from the story of how pencils were used to hide maps in the Second World War to the history of graphite in Cumbria. And you can even have your picture taken with the world’s biggest pencil...what’s not to like! Our visits over for the day, it was back to the Royal Oak to wind down.
This lovely inn has put sustainability at the centre of its mission, so everything from heating and bedding to the evening menu, is created with that in mind. For example the pillows are made from recycled bottles fashioned to give the same comfort as feather-filled (they do!), while recycled wooden planks have created stunning tables and some of the original furniture has been upcycled with new upholstery to match traditional with modern.
Most of the food on offer comes from local sources and there is a limited dinner menu to ensure very little waste. This gives the sense of a proper home-cooked meal of three courses plus cheese – soup, roast lamb and lemon pana cotta with homemade shortbread on our first evening - and there was always a vegetarian option. There were free homemade scones available in the afternoons along with as much tea or coffee as you can drink – a nice touch, which encouraged visitors to sit around chatting to each other rather than viewing their phones!
In fact, this is the perfect place to get away from it all and simply enjoy the company of those you are with or the staggering scenery all around. There is wi-fi here, if you just can’t bear to be without it, but no TVs in the public rooms or bedrooms. However there are plenty of games to keep guests occupied and it is great to see the art of conversation being revived here. The bedrooms and en suites are beautifully refurbished and there is also an apartment and bunk rooms for four-six if you are on a budget – a very reasonable £160 for a bunk room for six.
But it was the quality of the staff where the Royal Oak really scored points. They were incredibly friendly, helpful and nothing was too much trouble. Looking for an interesting walk? Out came the maps. Want ideas for places to visit? Local knowledge was top notch. They made sure everyone had a great time and were attentive without being overbearing, so top marks to them. Autumn in Borrowdale is just about as stunning as the Lake District gets, but a trip to the Royal Oak might be just what the soul needs at any time of year.
The Royal Oak
Rooms from £100 for a classic double, £120 for a bunk room for four