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Doing the timewarp
A visit to the most northerly of Relais & Châteaux’ English hotels was like being in a timewarp — a most enjoyable timewarp though.
We found Farlam Hall Hotel nestled in the Cumbrian countryside, just outside Brampton, about 20 miles from Carlisle. It had been a long slog up the interminable M6, though we had broken the journey with a pub lunch, and we were looking forward to visiting an area we had never been to before, the main attraction being Hadrian’s Wall, the English frontier of the Roman empire, which is now a World Heritage Site.
We were wilting on arrival but were perked up by the warm welcome from Helen Stevenson, one of the five family members who own and run this genteel little hotel, and she soon had us settled in our room with a very welcome pot of tea accompanied by home-made biscuits.
On its website, Farlam promises ‘the perfect place to escape from the real world and enjoy the elegance of a past era combined with the best of modern life’, a boast that, I am happy to say, it lived up to entirely.
The hotel industry is hugely competitive and, in an effort to keep up, more and more traditional hotels are choosing to forgo their roots to provide guests with, what is perceived, they want. But do we want identical trendy bedrooms with no atmosphere at all in preference to characterful places to rest our head and be pampered. Yes, I think everyone expects comfortable beds, decent showers and central heating, but there is still a place for old-fashioned furniture and decor, with similarly old-fashioned service and standards to go with it.
All that is best about ‘old-fashioned’ Farlam Hall is an example of all that is best about ‘old-fashioned’, as illustrated by their membership of the exclusive Relais & Châteaux group.
Helen’s family bought the hotel 35 years ago and turned it into the refined establishment it is today. There are 12 very individual bedrooms in this lovely old house, and there’s a wonderfully cosy feel to the place that is totally in keeping with its Victorian past. Even the bits that really could do with a bit of an update, such as the ladies cloakroom, add to the charm of the place.
Our large bedroom at the front of the house featured a window-seat, overlooking the tranquil lake and gardens — the perfect spot to relax with a glass of something chilled, and a good book.
We went down to dinner later, and it was perfect. The Stevensons have loyal and long-serving staff — some have been there since the family took over. It was rather quaint, but lovely, to be served by middle-aged ladies in long navy dresses.
We sipped (huge!) Champagne cocktails in the lounge before enjoying a delicious meal. The wonderful food is a feature of Farlam, with an emphasis on fresh local produce.
My husband loved his scallops starter, while I went for the lighter option of cream of carrot and lettuce soup.
He continued in hearty style with a sizeable medallion of Cumbrian beef fillet while I tucked into a delicate pearl-white fillet of halibut.
He polished off a creme brulee and I tried something new, an iced creme chiboust with rhubarb. All excellent. We relaxed over coffees and dessert wine in front of the roaring log fire in the lounge and, tired out and replete, it was time for bed.
After a delicious full English breakfast we got out and about the next morning fairly early, saying a fond farewell to Farlam Hall.
We spent the day at various sections of Hadrian’s Wall, which is impressive. Birdoswalk Roman Fort is a must — you can see the remains of the fort, turret and milecastle, and there’s breathtaking views in all directions. The great wall, which is still in a good state of repair here, trails away into the distance. There’s a nice tea room too, for post-walk refreshments.
The stark fells around this far-flung part of Cumbria make a brooding backdrop for the Emperor Hadrian’s greatest creation. The 150-mile wall spanning England from South Shields to Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast, is the best-known frontier in the entire Roman Empire and stands as a reminder of one of the world’s greatest civilisations.