An oh-so English country house with only the sound of silence
Beatrix Potter and her family stayed at the Ees Wyke Country House, near Sawrey, in the late 1800s, long before this tranquil venue was acclaimed for its traditional Lakeland breakfast.
Such a shame for them, for today, the award-winning ‘lavish’ Lakeland breakfast, which includes locally-made sausages and dry cured bacon, is prepared, along with all meals, by owner and self-described ‘head chef, cook and bottlewasher’, Richard Lee.
Richard, who has travelled extensively, often in France, says he “watched, tasted, listened and learned how to cook”.
The former director of a small hotel group, Richard, and his late wife, Margaret, ran a guest house in Ambleside before taking up the helm at Ees Wyke 18 years ago. Ees Wyke has an AA rosette rating and is named Editor’s Choice in the Good Hotel Guide 2021.
Ees Wyke, which translates from old Norse as eastern shore, is a Georgian country house, built as a Lancashire mill owner’s retreat in 1742.
Quintessentially English, it is elegant, cosy and comfortable with two lounges, nine bedrooms, tasteful decor, chaises longues and window seats.
Ees Wyke attacts many returning ‘upper age group’ visitors and is becoming popular with a younger age group, who also enjoy the peaceful ambience and, of course, the wonderful food. In the warm weather, quite often, after their evening meal, diners sit together at the large table on the verandah to enjoy the views, a coffee and a convivial chat.
We arrive on a hot day to a warm welcome and tea presented in Villeroy & Boch china on a tray. No background music or loud voices, just the ticking of a grandfather clock. Refreshed, we pick up Richard’s illustrated leaflet which guides walkers around the nearby Moss Eccles Tarn. It is late afternoon when we amble along the three-mile route in still silence, apart from the odd bleat and moo from residents of neighbouring pastures.
In the late 1800s, Beatrix Potter’s parents often rented Ees Wyke for the summer. Here she edited her Peter Rabbit stories and painted some of her animal characters. When nearby Hill Top Farm was her home, Beatrix often fished at Moss Eccles Tarn. The water lilies which surface the tarn in the summer are said to have inspired her creation, Jeremy Fisher. Beatrix bought the tarn in 1913, when she married local solicitor, William Heelis. They had a boat on the tarn, later bequeathed to the National Trust.
Set on high ground overlooking Esthwaite Water, Ees Wyke is ideally situated with easy access to lake cruises via Windermere Cruises and Coniston Launch plus many other nearby attractions. Our bedroom boasts deep, wide windows affording spectacular countryside views. On a bedside table, complimentary sherry in a twinkling cut glass decanter serves as a welcome, evening aperitif. Very Downton Abbey.
The huge, deep, double aspect dining room windows afford breathtaking, landscaped views of the fields and woodland down to Esthwaite Water, shielded by Coniston Old Man which leads the eye round to the Langdale Pikes. Pristine, snow-white tablecloths and napkins, silverware and fresh flowers set the scene. The dinner menu changes daily.
Salmon and beetroot gravadlax with a horseradish and beetroot chutney is declared a triumph and the tender, pot-roasted corn-fed chicken breast with shallot, pancetta, pan juices and white wine receives the highest praise. The sharp berry sweetness of my summer pudding complemented by Cointreau-infused, whipped double cream is divine. After the meal, owner, Richard, dressed in his chef’s whites, visits each table to chat to guests and to make sure they have enjoyed their dinner.
Such indulgent fare was surely not enjoyed by basket and rush-seated chairmaker, ‘Chairy’ Rigg, his wife and six children, who lived at Bridge House, Ambleside, in the 1850s, just eight miles from our base. Apparently, some slept head to toe on the floor, the rest strung up above them in hammocks. The much-visited, one up, one down, National Trust-owned dwelling which spans Stock Beck, is reputedly the most-photographed building in the Lake District.
Ambleside’s Armitt Museum, founded in 1909, displays books and paintings donated by Beatrix Potter in her lifetime. The museum also covers local and natural history of the Ambleside area and the wider Lake District. It is important for information on notable people connected with the area such as museum founder, Mary Louisa Armitt; William Wordsworth; John Ruskin; National Trust founder, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley plus German refugee and pop artist, Kurt Schwitters.
Near Sawrey to Hawkshead is just over two miles by car. It’s easy to wander around this pedestrianised, ancient, tiny market town of cobbled streets and jumble of small cottages, arches and squares with tea parlours, inns, guest houses and gift shops. The ground floor classroom of the Old Grammar School, founded in 1585, retains many old desks used by the boys, who included William Wordsworth and brother, John. Upstairs is the headmaster’s study and a classroom exhibition of the school’s history and founder, William Wordsworth.
The National Trust-owned Beatrix Potter Gallery highlights original drawings and illustrations. This 17th century building was once the office of Beatrix’s husband, William Heelis. It has remained largely unaltered since his day.
Beatrix Potter’s charming Hill Top home, full of nostalgia, original furniture and personal items, is a mere stroll from the Ees Wyke in Near Sawrey. She bought the farmhouse and working farm in 1905, the first of her many properties in the Lake District.
Here, Beatrix wrote many of her well-known tales of world-wide renown.
In the half-acre cottage garden, I think I spot Peter Rabbit being chased by Mr McGregor, or maybe it was Hill Top’s official gardener.
I imagine mischievous Tom Kitten and Tabitha Twitchit peeping out from the petunia patch.
Then, I see Jemima Puddle-Duck, clad in poke bonnet and shawl, waddling around, trying to find a place to hide her eggs – not the first or last female to be seduced by a foxy gent, believe me!
www.eeswyke.co.uk – B&B from £199 per room