The Champagne corks pop, the canapés are glistening and we’re dressed for dinner, playing grown-ups in our Very Big House.
Dressed code may be flowery shirts rather than dinner suits for the chaps but the ladies have made the effort to do justice to the guest of honour – Underley.
The beautiful property close to the Cumbria market town of Kirby Lonsdale is star of the show. A family home, it is gracious, elegant and just the right side of grand as not to be austere or remote – or draughty.
It’s very warm – and unexpectedly cosy. The heat blasts out from amazingly efficient heating – all given a soporific edge with real log fires throughout, which you do expect, and enjoy.
The house, and a cluster of properties on the Underley estate, belong to the Pease family and all are available for rent. The other properties are newly renovated and more contemporary in style.
Underley Grange is the jewel in this crown and perfect for family gatherings, weddings and shoots. It was called a Victorian farmhouse – we’ll use that word loosely. Today it has been extended to provide a house with five rooms downstairs, eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms.
We guests gather from different parts of the country to weekend in stately style, a cluster of grown-ups, a smattering of excited boys and girls and Ruby the chocolate Labrador who, frankly, thinks she has found her spiritual home once she sees the amazing landscape from the back door.
The humans find excitement just travelling along the drive. “Are we there yet?” is replaced by the wonderment of, “we’re staying THERE!?”
It is a beautiful house, perfectly proportioned and elegant but also so lovely are the fell-side surroundings. The drama of the big skies scenery around is breath-taking and ever-changing.
Once inside and there is no chance of squabbles for rooms. Underley has room for 16 people with doubles, suites, singles and twins. The kids bunk up and then head off to explore a huge games room with full size snooker table, sofas, darts and a music system. In a little while they throw themselves into the hot tub and shrivel for a while. This becomes their pattern of weekend fun and inevitably we really don’t see much of them for the next few days.
We meet at the Aga for breakfast and the well-equipped kitchen (one of three) becomes the hub of the house for chats over coffee, newspaper-reading and the arduous task of deciding where to walk today.
There are soft, sink-in sofas everywhere as well as family photographs, memorabilia, games and books to peruse. So many rooms so little time.
We love the library room with plenty of space and light from huge windows – to frame the gaze-on views. The dimensions of the house are huge – you have to plan a visit to the bedroom a while in advance and forgetting you’ve left a coat or pair of shoes in your room necessitates a bracing walk to find them. Still, keeps you fit…or makes you yearn for a manservant.
Kirby Lonsdale is the next town. What’s lovely is that we can get the wellies on and just head off from Underley towards the riverbank and journey into the town.
The walk is good. The landscape is dramatic and the river wide and rocky. Our happy band of boys has a whale of a time skimming stones, wading through water and having a good old poke about when they find the remains of a sheep. It is a blissful and adventurous world away from games consoles (of which we have none all weekend).
The walk to Kirby Lonsdale is about four miles and when we arrive in the town we find an absolute gem of a place. None of us have visited before and the girls’ eyes light up at the abundance of very cool shops selling great shoes, handbags, jewellery, gifts… that kind of thing. A mini Acorn Road for those of you familiar with Jesmond or not unlike Helmsley in North Yorkshire on the chic-o-meter.
Interspersed with quality food shops scattered with quirky restaurants.
A walk through the town directs us through the churchyard towards a point called Ruskin’s View. History lesson time. This view from of the Lune Valley from the brow is renowned for its natural beauty which inspired artists and thinkers like Professor John Ruskin and J.M.W. Turner.
Ruskin was an art critic and social thinker of the Victorian and Edwardian era. Turner painted the view circa 1818.
A great spot, it is also usefully close to another place for thinkers and philosophers of a different kind – The Sun Inn.
If you were going to tick some boxes in terms of describing the perfect country pub then this is a get-your-pencil-out kind of place.
Rustic stone-hewn walls, a vast range fire with side seats. Brilliant snacks such as pork and damson pie or ‘naughty’ chips and dip in a bap on the all-day menu, wine by the glass, newspapers a plenty and cask beer. Result.
We thawed out in here and enjoyed the unhurried atmosphere of the place enough to book for Sunday lunch the following day. A story itself. Who should be sitting there munching on his plate of Yorkshires as we depart after our own hearty lunch. None other than Bryan Ferry. A tick for the celeb-spotting box too Sun Inn. Nice. We will be back, not for the celebrity fix but for more of some fine Cumbrian hospitality.
We find ourselves wishing that Underley could be our home for far, far longer. It really is comfortable and user-friendly and is a great place for gatherings and celebrations. A friend had her wedding at Underley, filling it with friends and transforming it into a flower-filled palace – there’s a function room too – for a huge wedding breakfast. Her friends stayed in properties on the estate and the party went on for days. She wept when she had to leave and you can understand why. It is a special place.
When we depart they’re expecting a shooting party – there’s masses of fishing, golfing and shooting opportunities on the estate and in-the-know people to organise it for you.
Our people are sad to go too – especially Ruby. The grown-ups have enjoyed restful nights’ of sleep after being filled with fresh air and that fizz.
I’ve had a bath with one of the best views imaginable – soaps suds and the Cumbrian Fells a fine combination.
The kids have revelled in outdoorsy freedom and mud-splattered madness, knowing no-one is going to shout about their muddy boots – oh that we all had a boot room at home. And we’ve discovered a new and lovely part of the world just an hour and a half from home. Lucky us.
For details of shooting and fishing call 01524 272669.
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