I have discovered the perfect hygge (as the Danes have it) environment. So, you have a log fire of your own (in the room!), comfy sofas with rugs for added cosiness, a massive bed and a “secret bath” with doors that open so you can gaze at the fire while you soak. All this and it’s in a wood. It’s like a very cool version of Narnia.
Welcome to Brimstone, a beyond-boutique hotel in Chapel Stile in Cumbria. It consists of just 16 vast suites with a touch of the loft about them – double height ceilings and you go upstairs to bed on the mezzanine. There’s no reception here. Instead, a host shows you the Boot Room (wet-proofs and walking boots provided) and the Reading Room, where at any time you can collect a coffee and cake or a glass of wine and some nibbles to take back to your own cosy space. This is all so hygge, you probably won’t want to move from it but there is more to see.
Brimstone is on the 35-acre Langdale Estate and used to be a gunpowder factory (hence the name). Before that it was mill. All the buildings are slate and huge glass walls set in a forest, the various buildings dotted through it and linked by pathways. So Stove, the restaurant, is down one such path, opposite the original mill waterwheel. Inside it’s super-contemporary with handmade tables made from local wood and its own riverside smokehouse (lobster a speciality). Down another path is the spa. While a five minute walk up the road is their casual pub-cum-restaurant, Wainwright’s Inn. It’s more like a village than a hotel.
Back in the room when I wake up next morning (almost a lie-in for this insomniac because it’s so wonderfully light-proof) I discover it’s a room which is not only relaxing, it interacts with you. So my new bestie lets me choose the lighting – sexy, lazy, perky – offers a fridge full of champagne, plus some local gin and whisky, a cocktail shaker and some recipes. Curtains re-arrange themselves at the touch of a button. There’s not only a hair dryer but some hair straighteners. When the service trolley comes along in the morning to change the towels, it is accompanied by the log trolley and your host will come and light the fire for you and deliver wood as needed, as well as taking food and drink orders, advising you on places to visit and recommending local walks.
After a lazy breakfast in my room (eggs Benedict, my favourite), I somehow tear myself away and head, with the Major, for Brimstone’s spa and its spa-within-a-spa, the Bubble, a private space for two people. Now, spas aren’t the Major’s natural environment but after prolonged work-stress even he has to admit there’s nothing quite like this as a way to unwind.
So, we were met by Katie and Abbie (local Kendal girls) who explained how it all worked. After the Bubble we could use the extensive main thermal spa but before that we had our own space – a massive two-person Jacuzzi, a lovely citrus scented steam room with a built-in shower plus another shower for cooling off between all these heat treatments. The hot-cold alternating thing relaxes and stimulates at the same time. The relaxing effects of heat are obvious but by alternating it with cold it stimulates the immune system, persuades muscles to release toxins and prevents illness. So quite a result.
After we’d had an hour or so of this, Katie and Abbie would give us our treatments on the side-by-side beds in the Bubble. What would we like? Katie explained the possibilities. There was a Himalayan salt scrub with a little bit of oil, Turkish bubbles, shea butter, birch twigs (what?). OK, I said, could we have a little bit of everything.
So we started off with the Turkish bubbles cleansing, massaging and oiling the skin, then the salt with more oil and lots of exfoliation. Both of these added a certain coolness which after the heat of the Jacuzzi and the steam was a shock but rather a pleasant one. Then came the real coolness of the birch (known, it seems, as venik). I did have an image in my mind of being beaten with twigs that didn’t sound very appealing but Katie assured me it wasn’t like this at all. So the leaves are still on the branches – they’ve been dried and rehydrated.
They are dipped in water and rolled or laid on the body and they leave behind a residue (and the odd leaf) that leaves the skin feeling very soft in a way that doesn’t come from creams and oils. Also the hot-cold thing has an effect on the mind. So where normally you’d feel very relaxed, probably sleepy with lots of heat and massage, here you still feel very relaxed but at the same time energised and sparky. It finishes up with heated volcanic clay with oils and salt that you take with you back into the steam and eventually shower off before the girls return and massage in shea butter.
Would I recommend it? The place is magical and I absolutely loved it. When can I move in, please?