24-Hour Room Service: The Swan Hotel and Spa, Cumbria
After the flood: the hotel that rose again
Saturday 20 November 2010
The River Leven looks calm and clear, mirroring clouds as it flowg peacefully past the elegant terrace at the Swan Hotel. "It wasn't like that at the back end of last November," Jon Cowley, house manager at this 17th-century alehouse tells me, with a wry chuckle.
He may smile about it now, but scenes of this week's flooding in Cornwall will remind the staff of the devastation across southern Lake District exactly a year ago. "I was wearing waders in the restaurant and the water was up to my thighs," Jon says. "The floods came through the floorboards and poured in through both the front and back doors. Everything on the ground floor was ruined – we couldn't salvage a thing." With the water table rising, water from the swimming pool was pushed up and spilled out into reception and throughout the lounges and pub, mingling with the floods as guests were evacuated to the upper levels.
Today, after a £4m refurbishment, things are very different. Before the floods, the Swan was a curious combination of traditional English lakeside hotel with a contemporary, somewhat stark, bar and restaurant; perhaps the floods were a timely, if expensive, blessing in disguise. The decision was taken to renovate the entire hotel. It closed for six months.
Now, there's a reassuring air of calm amid the chic Designers Guild soft furnishings in reception. Guests lounge on squashy Chesterfield sofas with faded Union Jacks on the cushions. And a mosaic of a swan wavers from the bottom of the indoor swimming pool next to reception, as if inviting me in for a dip.
Newby Bridge is a quiet place, with just two hotels, a steam train halt and the historic bridge itself, built in 1651 – a good base for a pretty walk overlooking the Southern Lakes' gentle hills. Conveniently, the hotel provides a sketch map for a three-mile circular wander from its front door through woodland to Finsthwaite village. It's the perfect distance to develop a thirst for a beer on our return at the Swan Inn – this is the hotel's rather pricey bar, which in September won the Great British Pub Award for the UK's best cellar.
No beer connoisseur, I try a half of Dickie Doodle, intrigued by its name as much as by its flavour. My partner, who's more familiar with real ale, "researches" all three on offer, the others being Langdale and Loweswater Gold. All are brewed in the Lake District, and each earns his seal of approval.
For a 17th-century coaching inn, there's little other than crackling log fires that's olde worlde about the Swan. Instead, it has a fresh, modern décor: church chairs painted white mix with contemporary floral seats and lime green velvet barstools, and the adjoining River Room restaurant is painted a sugary lilac, like fondant icing, with similarly coloured leather seating.
The executive chef is Steve Darvill, formerly of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. He focuses on local, seasonal ingredients. My crab and king prawns starter with crème fraiche, lime and coriander was tangy and more-ish and my partner's stuffed mushrooms and sourdough toast deliciously robust. Main courses included succulent Barnsley chop and red wine jus and a rich smoked haddock risotto. We shared a treacle tart dessert – always a bad move with that embarrassing clash of cutlery as you fight over the last morsel, but it was well worth battling over. With a bottle of Lamura Nero d'Avola, our meal came to a reasonable £75.
If you're here for a pampering weekend, an ESPA treatment at the Vu Spa will complete the indulgence. Children can burn off their energy in the gardens, with an adventure playground and nature trail. Bearing in mind that little rascals and romance rarely mix, if you fancy a cosy twosome here, it's advisable to avoid the school holidays.
The nearest station is Grange-over-Sands, seven miles away; a taxi costs £20. Newby Bridge is a few minutes' drive from the southern tip of Lake Windermere, with lakeside steamers and walks around Windermere and Ambleside easily accessible.
All 52 rooms have been refurbished using Designers Guild, Ralph Lauren and Nina Campbell designs and accessories, with patterns of bold flowers and elegant stripes. Our Junior Suite, Ruskin, overlooked the river and had a separate lounge area with one of two plasma TVs. The bathroom had slate flooring, a powerful walk-in shower and bath. Deluxe and standard rooms are smaller but equally as stylish, the only difference between them being that the standard overlooks the gardens instead of the river. The Potter Suite, in homage to local author Beatrix, is ideal for families, with interconnecting bedrooms and a PlayStation.
The Swan Hotel and Spa, Newby Bridge, Cumbria LA12 8NB (01539 531681; swanhotel.com)
Doubles start at £99, including breakfast.
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