HolkerHall4

Our most recent expedition has been to the Lake District and the Rothay Manor Hotel. Not for us the hearty breakfast before a day on the fells, but a more leisurely approach of breakfast followed by exploration of the more aesthetic treasures of the district.

Firstly to the eccentric potter Rupert Belfrage, whose studio provided our group with many a talking-point. Next door to him is the fascinating, one might say Dickensian, workshop of Abbeyhorn, www.abbeyhorn.co.uk. who make ingenious and beautiful objects out of horn as they have done since 1749. On from there to the Gothicised splendours of Leighton Hall. This pearl-white mansion glistens in a verdant landscape and is a much-loved home of the Reynolds family descendants of the Gillows of furniture-making fame. Treasures include a fascinating portrait by Edward Seago, of the present owner’s mother. A portrait is something of a rarity in this artist’s work, more famous for his East Anglian skies and seascapes, another most covetable object is the cabinet attributed to André-Charles Boulle. How did this Versailles object arrive in rural Cumbria?

Next day produced two talks, one on the Courtauld family and their transformation from émigré silversmiths to giants of industry and, probably most famously, as philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Graham Kilner of the Armitt Museum threw light on that quintessential Lakeland character, Beatrix Potter. One of those indomitable Victorian ladies who escaping the disapproving family strictures proved themselves, in this case, not just a writer of children’s stories but also their illustrator. Not stopping there she was a scientist with a wide knowledge of fungi which she again painted in immense detail….splendid samples of these at the Armitt….as well as submitting a paper to the Royal Society. Her greatest achievement was the gift to the National Trust of her Lakeland farms which have indubitably “saved” the area. A remarkable, multi-facetted woman.

Two houses followed: Blackwell and Holker. The first an example of the house built by the newly-wealthy Lancashire business man around the shores of Lake Windermere, the second the family home of the Cavendish family who have been here since the 18th century. Blackwell, was built by the architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, and brings the Arts and Crafts movement to the shores of the lake with its light-filled rooms and attention to detail most apparent in its immaculate joinery. Excellent gift shop devoid of tourist “tat” and filled with beautiful ceramics, leatherwork, and books. Holker is a family home built in the reign of Victoria, spacious, comfortable and again, light-filled. Fires burn in the grates, hyacinths scent the air and surely it can only be a minute before the butler (surely there must be one?) brings in the drinks tray? As if this were not enough the gardens, encouraged by the beneficent climate, shelter fascinating trees, rhododendrons and camellias, and feature imaginative, unique details created by the present chatelaine. Spectacular slate sundial in the park by Mark Lennox-Boyd.

So it is not all lakes and mountains in the Lake District.

It is not all sturdy boots, waterproofs and walking sticks, there is much to see for those of a more sedentary nature as our most recent visit has proved, if, indeed, it needed to be proved, for these “Short Breaks for Collectors” have been running at Rothay for over 18 years, and we rarely repeat a destination.

Our next such holiday runs from the 16th November to the 21st November 2014, when amongst other treats are a visit to Muncaster Castle with special emphasis on the textile collection, a talk on etiquette and the art of dining. We shall visit Abbey House one of Edwin Lutyen’s lesser known houses and see Viking Hoard. As varied a menu as that in the Rothay dining room!


Muncaster castle