You know when a flock of sheep walk past the breakfast room of a luxury hotel that you're staying somewhere unique. And when it comes to the Gilpin Lodge in Windermere, unique is an understatement.
The hotel consists of the main hotel- the Lodge, and a smaller suite-based site - the Lakehouse, a mile away and it was awarded last year's Best Small Hotel Award.
The Gilpin is the quintessence of a family-run operation. We were welcomed with a pot of tea and homemade biscuits by daughter-in-law Zoe; stayed on the first night in the Lakehouse, designed by son Ben and greeted at dinner back at the Lodge by Zoe's husband and older son of the clan, Barney.
Mum and dad, John and Christine, who were away when we visited make up the rest of the impressively hospitable Cunliffe brood – the family who proudly run this most cordial of bucolic retreats. Other hotels may have an architectural or culinary USP – for the Gilpin it's most definitely the Cunliffes and their equally welcoming and smiley "nothing's too much trouble" staff.
The Gilpin might not yet have the five stars it so deserves, but after being explained the socio-economic history of the particular wine region your fish course bottle comes from by Lithuanian sommelier Ziggy Grinberg, you do wonder why. The Gilpin exudes an affable, unobtrusive luxury sometimes missing in larger five-star establishments.
Thanks to the high speed Virgin train link to the Lake District – two and a half hours from London grime to verdant sublime, the area is increasingly a refuge for burnt-out urban types.
A masseuse is available to come to your room and if you're looking to hike all that tension out, the rolling hills of the Lakes await (umbrellas thankfully provided by your gracious hosts).