Hazel Bank Country House stands in a slightly elevated position overlooking the Borrowdale valley basin with dramatic views of the surrounding fells and countryside. The house was the fictional home in which acclaimed writer, Hugh Walpole set his captivating collection of novels, Rogue Herries in.
Francis ‘The Rogue’ Herries led a depraved lifestyle of violence, adultery and murder. He sold his mistress at a county fair and fell in love with a teenage gypsy, much to the despair of his succession of wives.
Current owners, Donna and Gary MacRae live a much more tranquil lifestyle having spent their whole lives in the area.
The isolated nature of Rosthwaite in Borrowdale is its charm. It feels a million miles away from the bustling tourist destinations of Ambleside and Keswick. Feeling more like the Lake District of old, having inspired many a poet and author.
Hazel Bank was built by rich businessman, Thomas Simpson. He established the very first pawn brokers in the whole of New York City. However, he lived a wild and gregarious lifestyle and longed for an escape. He acquainted himself with the Lakes poets, inspired by them he then went on to relocate back to his Borrowdale roots, buying a plot of land on which he built Hazel Bank Country House.
Owner, Gary has a keen interest in history and the area. He’s bursting with interesting tales. The hump bridge on the lane leading up to Hazel Bank was completed. following the house. The beck was originally crossed by a ford, but following a tragic drowning, Thomas Simpson built the little bridge which still holds a plaque in memorial to this present day.
The views from Hazel Bank are nothing short of breathtaking, looking over toward Great Gable, and the jaws of ‘Borrowdale’ (Kings How and Castle Crag) it’s easy to feel in awe of their grand nature. As clouds pass over the valley they create dramatic contrast between light and shade. There’s a sensation of time standing still, allowing you the opportunity to reflect and gather your thoughts.
Gary MacRae who owns Hazel Bank with his wife, Donna, explained: “We appeal to those with fast, mundane lives in the city, Hazel bank is somewhere they come to catch their breath and experience what living is.”
The peaceful and serene landscaped gardens are filled with the gentle and comforting sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze intertwined with cheery birdsong.
Prince Charles has been seen numerous times wandering across the path which borders the estate on one of his many visits to the Borrowdale Valley. Much to the surprise of breakfasting guests, who have been known, on occasion, to spot him through the window. Alongside royalty, there are four friendly red squirrels who accompany guests for breakfast.
After a day roaming the fells, the simple pleasures become the only ones that matter, a warm fire and a homemade meal and a comfortable bed are what appeal the most.
Gary and Donna are passionate about local food and ensuring they know where their ingredients have been sourced.
“Our guests are interested in where our food comes from, if we’d just bought it from the local supermarket there is no story. It has no meaning. But where we’re able to say we sourced lamb from the Borrowdale valley, it’s particularly good this time of year, or the blackberries came from the bramble bush behind Hazel Bank picked by our one-year-old grandson, everything suddenly has its own story and with it meaning.”
“Locally sourced food is undeniably tastier. The Lake District Valley is home to lush green fertile fields, crisp mountain air and fresh spring water. Whatever grows or is reared here will always taste better.”
“Our menu changes daily and we make the most of what is nice at the time of year.”
The two main industries in the Borrowdale valley have always been farming and hospitality. We merge these two together.
Owner, Donna is what’s known as a “Borrowdale Cuckoo” that is someone who was actually born in the valley. One of only a few. She was born at Chapel Farm next to St Andrews Church, the farm was owned by her grandparents, Mr and Mrs Joe Weir. Times were hard and it was much cheaper back then to make everything from scratch yourself.
Which is just what they did, creating a catalogue of perfected recipes. When her grandparents retired as Herdwick Sheep farmers they began entering and winning the same local shows they previously took their sheep to. They became well-known for their soups, stews and cakes in the valley.
When BBC Bake Off 2014 winner, Nancy Birtwistle visited Hazel Bank Guest House she tried Donna’s sticky toffee pudding and signed a recipe book saying it was the best she’d ever tasted. The recipe took many years to perfect, and she took her inspiration from a number of secret sources.
Chef, David Jackson also grew up in the valley. He lives within easy walking distance from Hazel Bank. He comes from a family of foodies and has cooked for Prince Charles on several occasions.
His passion for food came from his mother. Being raised in the seventies she had to be thrifty and inventive, which quickly became a passion in which she passed on to her son.
Last year he cooked a meal at a height of 1800 feet up on Rigg Head for a local farming family. Over the course of three days, he took the ingredients up in backpacks and on the day of the meal, Gary’s son, Adam, joined with the carefully selected wine to prepare a gourmet three-course meal from the highest view in Rosthwaite.
The menu David decided on for his fell top meal was:
starter – turbot, char and sea vegetables
main – fillet of Cumbrian beef, oxtail and heritage vegetables
dessert – fennel cake with damsons and liquorice butterscotch
It went gloriously well: “The weather was one of the most breathtaking days you’ll ever see.” And he raised over two thousand pounds for the British Heart Foundation – a charity which means a lot to David and his family.