Brownber Hall near Kirby Stephen is a blissful little hideaway with loads of heart.
Hugged by hills, the location itself, overlooking the Howgill Fells, offers up instant calm. As soon as your boots crunch on the gravel drive those weary, hunched shoulders release their knots and it’s impossible to do anything but take a deep breath of proper fresh air.
Once inside the sturdy house, eyes are drawn to a glass dome covering homemade cake with a sign demanding, ‘eat me’. Oh, go on then you cheeky banana loaf.
Genial young host Peter comes to say hello. He and wife Amanda have transformed the hall into a restful boutique B&B over the past two years after heading for these hills from London.
They’ve brought with them an eye for a certain kind of style that is very much its own, which becomes obvious once you start to wander the rooms.
Furniture spans the eras, from mid-century to recycled to antique. There are sofas aplenty and welcoming mismatched chairs in the light-flooded sitting rooms where you also find piles of newspapers, shelves of books and towers of board games. You could really hunker down for some time…
Wooden floors and aged rugs bring an informality to the place and we’re soon drawn to the honesty bar which is a gloriously glamorous and kitsch affair complete with gold pineapple ice bucket.
Local beers and gins are waiting as well as organic prosecco and easy-drinking (and very reasonably-priced) wines. Have fun playing bartender then leave a note in the book of what you’ve had. All very civilised and homely.
Brownber Hall is a genuinely nice place to be. It has been painstakingly rescued and revived by Peter and Amanda who have made the most of the many original features of the place – especially lovely are beautiful original Victorian stained glass windows. One of the bedrooms has a dramatic feature window with striking red and blue glass panels and the room’s furnishings gently embrace the colours in a pared-back way with homely wool throws that nod to the tones.
All eight ensuite rooms are packed with character – instead of wardrobes, the owners commissioned a local blacksmith to create useful hanging rails for your clothes. In the bathrooms you find lovely artisan toiletries.
The master suite is front-facing and has a magnificent view over the Howgill Fells. This room also has a comfortable chaise longue, a decadent spot to relax and soak up the view. The rooms have very well-chosen reading material as well as a TV.
One thing Peter and Amanda are very proud of is the Brownber sourdough. It finds its way to the breakfast in its tasty and toasty loaf form and in the evenings the convivial dining room turns pizza parlour – for arguably one of the best pizzas to pass your lips. The neat evening menu features sourdough pizzas as main courses and some triumphant salad and antipasti offerings as starters. These are fresh, well-dressed and light – the perfect prelude to the pizza.
Neopolitan-style pizzas all have great sourdough bases, nicely charred and chewy, topped with whatever takes your fancy from the menu. Anchovy and olive was a fine combo as was another topped with Cumbrian air-dried ham. Genuinely impressive pizzas with which we drank a charming, fruity house red.
You may or may not be able to handle dessert after those pizzas. We managed the ever-faithful affogato pleasure of vanilla ice cream, espresso and biscotti.
Back to the sofas for chat, wine then a big sleep in a sumptuously comfy bed, waking up to those fellside views. And the promise of more sourdough.
Faultless breakfast. A cafetiere of punchy coffee then the irresistible Cumbrian works: splendid local sausages, bacon and the trimmings. Other offerings included homemade granola, muesli, yogurt and fruit compote or waffles and streaky bacon with berries and syrup.
After this your body demands a walk. One of the best things about the location is that you simply step outside of Brownber Hall’s front door to discover a number of outstanding walking routes. They are easy to follow thanks to some expertly prepared print-outs and make the most of the remote and beautiful landscape surrounding the hall.
We hit the tracks for the unmissable easy two-mile stroll along the old disused railway line (it went from Darlington to the Cumbrian coast), until you reach the spectacular Smardale viaduct, which stands at 40 metres high.
The viaduct is home to many rare birds, plants and animals who have made their homes in the hidden valley, which is a nature reserve of internationally recognised significance.
If you’re ready to work up an appetite you can also take the seven-mile route to the lovely village of Ravenstonedale and the very welcoming Black Swan Hotel which is perfect for a post-walk pint.
Rooms at Brownber Hall from £90 (for a double room). Pizzas from £7.