The Queen’s Head, Troutbeck, Lake District: hotel review | Travel
The Queen’s Head does not seem to have much luck. In June 2014, the 17th-century coaching inn was gutted by fire. It reopened in March, after a £2m refit by its owner, Stockport-based Robinsons brewery, which is pushing the pub’s foodie credentials. Yet I arrive to find the pub suddenly between head chefs. Two agency lads are holding the fort, I am told, under the watchful eye of Robinsons’ overall executive chef. Outside, a rainbow arcs over Troutbeck valley. It is a magnificent sight. But under the circumstances it feels ironic.
The Queen’s Head claims to serve “homely, classic pub food with a Cumbrian flair”. In reality, that means a menu of safe pub dishes (mussels, scampi, sausage and mash), that utilise a few regional ingredients, such as Lakeland beef and Cumberland sausages. My fishcake starter (£6.70) is light and only tastes residually of the advertised smoked haddock. For £13, a dense, old-school steak burger is robustly chargrilled – good bacon and sound brioche, too – but it tastes most obviously of sweet raisin chutney (a curious addition). Breakfast (a solid 7/10 eggs Benedict) is far better, but, overall, this is steadfastly ordinary food. A new head chef has started since my visit – so, fingers crossed, things may have improved.
In many ways, the pub and its 10 en suite bedrooms cannot escape their corporate origins – Robinsons has 280 tenanted and managed pubs across Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and north Wales. From the officious wifi log-in page (it stops just short of asking for a DNA sample), to the 10am checkout (it’s £15 to leave later), the Queen’s Head lacks the intimate charm of smaller, owner-operated properties. In the bedrooms, the toiletries are from France, bottled water from Wales and biscuits from Cafe Bronte catering packs.
However, the Queen’s Head has many redeeming features. Troutbeck, a hamlet that commands awesome views of Garburn pass, is a peach of a location. A few questionable designer flourishes aside (incongruously modish lighting, OTT wallpapers), the refurb has been executed with sensitivity and the atmosphere is welcoming. Real fires crackle away in most rooms, where acres of oak and sober grey plasterwork give way to sections of exposed stone and slate. Remarkably, many original features survived the fire: ancient, iron-clad doors; gnarled beams now sandblasted back to life; the extraordinary pub bar constructed from an Elizabethan four-poster bed, originally from Appleby Castle.
A sense of polished, handsome solidity – good fabrics, heavy furniture, chic, unfussy bathrooms – continues in the bedrooms. Named after Cumbrian fells (is that a legal obligation in the Lakes?), they make the most of their natural assets: epic views, exposed beams, architectural quirks. Four miles out from tourist-mobbed Windermere, and – given the inflated prices locally – these are large and well-appointed rooms for £110-£160.
The friendly staff are a further positive, as is the lengthy craft gin menu and the decent, rotating range of cask ales (notably, Troutbeck’s other pub, the Mortal Man, offers 12 real ciders). Meanwhile, walkers can set out from the door on routes via Troutbeck Tongue or over to Ambleside, where those who crave some on-point pub food should lunch at the Drunken Duck. Now that is a Lakes pub of genuine gastronomic merit.
• Accommodation was provided by the Queen’s Head (doubles from £110 B&B, 015394 32404, robinsonsbrewery.com)
Ask a local
James Cross, chef-owner, Lake Road Kitchen, Ambleside
You can walk from Troutbeck to Ambleside via Skelghyll woods and the viewpoint at Jenkin crag. Alternatively, from Troutbeck continue up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn, a pub so isolated it generates its own electricity using wind turbines. From there, you can drop down to Ullswater then walk to Aira Force waterfall.
After your walk, refuel at the Old Stamp House in Ambleside. It’s run by brothers Ryan and Craig Blackburn, who regularly win awards for their Cumbrian-inspired cuisine.
Treat yourself to new outdoor gear at the Mountain Factor shop in Ambleside. I do a lot walking and foraging for edible plants locally, and it stocks a massive range of our favourite brand, Fjallraven.