Mind Your Manor
Posted On Aug 11, 2016
Elevated spa sensibilities meet British polish at Armathwaite Hall, a sophisticated country manor in the English Lake District where the mind is soothed and the body is transformed.
By HENDRIK COETZEE
In the early 1900s, novelist Hugh Walpole, wrote: “… is there anything more romantic than Armathwaite Hall,” with “the trees that guard it and the history that inhabits it, and the lake that stretches before it.” Armathwaite Ha l l Country House & Spa (armathwaite-hall. com)—situated in the north of the Lake District in Cumbria, England—is all Walpole suggests. In a word: Irresistible. Yet it’s more than romantic majesty that draws guests to this storied manor. Spa lovers know it to be a destination for rejuvenation and transformation. According to Colin Farndon, the property’s spa director, Armathwaite puts a high premium on a time-tested approach to healing transformation—exercise, diet, rest, and renewal. “We’ve found that ‘wellness’ often gets associated with alternative therapies, colonic irrigation, and other curative type remedies,” says Farndon. “It’s our view that wellness is about a balanced lifestyle.”
Farndon has incorporated those four elements— exercise, diet, rest, and, the body’s largest organ, skin—into their LIFE Regimen program. It’s been his goal from the start to blend together all facets of spa culture, not just the pampering but the health benefits, too. “Wellness is our ambition and goal,” he says. “We believe in what we do.” He and I are sitting in centuries-old wingbacked chairs beside a fireplace in the oak-paneled living room, discussing the spa’s philosophy. A sense of old fashioned civility and Downton Abbey luxury washes over me. We agree that the time has come for me to test this theory.
My first session is the Just Be Elemental treatment, one of the spa’s signature offerings. Farndon, who worked in the Dead Sea for a number of years, explains that, while there, he noticed this beloved treatment combination consisted of a salt scrub and a mud wrap, then a massage—an effective combination based on the cleansing via exfoliation, the nutrients extracted from the mud, and a “massage to finish everything off.” The therapist begins by rubbing my skin with coarse salt (finer or more coarse salt can be selected beforehand). Then warm oil is poured over my body before I am put in a cocoon of mineral-rich Scottish peat, treated with aromatic eucalyptus oil. While relaxing in this warm blanket, my face and scalp are gently worked over. The peat is washed off and additional oils are massaged into my thirsty skin. The Scottish peat has numerous benefits, according to the spa, including moisture retention and improved skin elasticity. I feel soft all over, and the stiffness I’ve accumulated during travel evaporates.
Up next is the much sought after Man Space Performance Facial, one I simply have to try. The spa’s skin ethos is dedicated to combatting the signs of aging, and has been developed with the Italian luxury spa skin-care company Comfort Zone. The focus is on hydration and deep cleansing. Different lotions are massaged into my face, sloughed off, and massaged in once again. The existing tension in my forehead has dissipated and my face feels damp and relaxed. Afterwards, the therapist offers an assessment of my skin. I’m told that it’s generally good yet needs proper hydration. (My shaving habits have parched my skin, it seems.) She recommends an array of products to treat my skin while advising me to keep well hydrated.
It’s suggested that I refrain from coffee and alcohol for the day in order for the treatment to be effective. Afterwards, I’m taken over to the Hush Room where some water, a shot of mango smoothie, and a sweet nut treat are offered. I proceed to relax and read there in leisure. All the stresses and excesses of the season are fading, slowly but surely. The long walks around Bassenthwaite Lake while breathing in the fresh country air make me feel refreshed and alive. I spend a lovely day in the countryside and head back for a relaxing moment in front of a roaring fire, with some freshly brewed, sublime tea.
Unwinding at its best
With the help of Armathwaite’s caring staff, I begin to understand how a good balanced diet plays a vital role. Their diet philosophy is Mediterranean in nature; no short-term, punitive approach to food here. “It’s not about going on some juice diet, or anything that isn’t going to work,” says Farndon. Rather, he and his staff encourage a diet that can last a lifetime. “Our approach to healthy eating is about making you more vital as a person, giving you the energy levels by recognizing what exercises you are doing.” The spa provides customized nutritional advice, taking into account your existing lifestyle and exercise regimen. Under the program your meals are tailored based on feedback from the staff nutritionist. The five-course dinner in the Lake View restaurant is traditional English fare, with fresh, locally produced ingredients from the neighboring farms. The carrot soup is so good, I wish for a second ladling.
I am torn between the Cumbrian beef and the roast lamb from the farm. I opt for the latter, succulent and served with locally sourced side vegetables that taste just-plucked and wholesome. For guests in the LIFE Regimen program, there are a number of meat and vegetarian options as well as customized main selections. The desserts are delicious, and the wine list is extensive, with quite a good selection from around the world. After dinner, there are various lounges where guests can retire and receive their coffee or tea.
Considering the location of Armathwaite, the spa offers a range of customized exercise programs. After a body composition analysis, a trainer sets up a program based on needs and ability. The spa boasts a woodland gym, used for outdoor classes. One such class includes breathing techniques with a yoga instructor out on the grounds. Another— part of the Wilderness Weekend Therapy pack age—finds you out one night on the property, learning survivalist techniques in the woods, then another in the spa relaxing. Meanwhile, there are many paths for hiking, biking, and mountain range exploration. After a full day of exploring the countryside, head back to the manor for a leg and foot massage and relax in the late afternoon.
Armathwaite is one of the great destination spas within England’s Lake District, and is very much undiscovered on an international level. It’s run by Farndon and tended to by a staff of 25. The therapists, who work from 10 treatment rooms, have a mix of experience ranging up to 19 years and the spa has a strong link with local educational facilities. The al fresco hot tub is especially nice as a pairing to the spa treatments—breathing in the fresh country air, gazing at the trees, and enjoying all the indulgences afforded the body here. The products and treatments at the spa, called Just Be, are developed by Gail Bryden. Bryden hails from Scotland and runs a small spa cottage industry. Farndon and Bryden are constantly working on new ideas for Armathwaite.
“I come up with an idea for a treatment or a particular method, then Gail will go away to research it and come back with a proposal,” he says. “We then work through it with the therapy team and finalize the protocols. Then have a new treatment.” A poultice treatment offered by the spa has roots in Asia; however, Farndon discovered a number of years ago its European heritage. “Heated poultices were used throughout Europe as healing techniques for fevers and other ailments such as reducing bruises.” He asked Bryden to develop a United Kingdom poultice massage that looks and feels like the Asian tradition, yet incorporates the local healing herbs and natural products found within the Lake District area.
A touch of history: Armathwaite Hall dates back to the eleventh century with remodeling and extensions done in the 1800s. The original hall and surrounding land was owned by Allan, the Second Lord of Allerdale, and left to his illegitimate brother, Gospatrick, who took the name de Bassenthwaite. The hall was then passed through various families from 1500s to the 1800s. In 1880, Thomas Hartley, a local mine owner, bought the hall, remodeling and extending it into a country gentleman’s residence— the main hotel as it stands today. I feel cozy sitting in an armchair in the oak-paneled living room, as the smell of burning wood permeates the air. The adjoining Lake View lounge is lovely, particularly midday as I gaze out on the majestic Bassenthwaite Lake.
While the entrance hall and surrounding former stately rooms all have the look and feel of a formal country house (very Gosford Park), the long corridor to my room morphs into something more contemporary. My guest suite resides in the more modern area of the hotel, adjacent to the spa—clean and comfortable, and a contrast to the old charms of the original country house. I would suggest that guests interested in immersing themselves in the stately feel of Armathwaite reserve rooms with lake-adjacent views, within the original parts of the hotel.
My few days in this beautiful part of England remind me of the simple things in life. The healing of the LIFE Regimen program at Armathwaite Hall has reinforced it. The spa’s facilities and adept therapists have done wonders with my outer shell. I see and feel evidence of those basic elements Farndon mentioned. It’s indeed a beautiful sort of lifestyle—one I can imagine sticking with in the long term.