Running a Lake District Hotel

Published on 21 August 2019

Ever dreamed of giving it all up and starting again? Tony Guthrie and James Wilkinson didn’t just dream. They did it! Their story takes them from the corporate world to the beautiful Lake District, and a complete change of lifestyle.

It’s hard to think of a bigger life change than the one they have made from the world of corporate business and London, to a genteel 19th century Lakeland pub and hotel hidden down a Little Langdale lane.

Making the leap
They bought the Three Shires Inn, on the market for £2.1m, last year never having worked in hospitality before.

The Cumberland’s senior business lending manager Grant Seaton helped them make the leap. James, who has set up and run businesses before, said:

‘Grant brought local knowledge and experience of the sector from a finance perspective. He has a vast experience working in this sector and that comes over very well. The Cumberland was very supportive.’

Settling into a new lifestyle

In their previous life Tony was Head of Secretariat for Sainsbury’s and James was, and remains, in a senior role with a data management company. They lived in Hampshire.

But Tony, who grew up on a farm in Swaziland, always had a hankering for something different – ‘when I was 19 or 20, right after my national service, I wanted to go into hotel management,’ he says.

The Three Shires Inn has 10 rooms, and a pub serving food, real ales and more than 50 whiskies. It is popular with walkers who can explore the hills and meadows of Little Langdale from the door, many coming back year after year.

It lies on the route which twists and turns up to the notorious and glorious Wrynose Pass. Travel is slow and internet connections can be tricky.

James, who grew up in Lamplugh in west Cumbria and attended Keswick School, is General Manager UK of data management company VIQTOR DAVIS GROUP. ‘It has 300 people and a turnover of £30m and is based in the Netherlands,’ he says. ‘I still do the job full time – I do a lot of chasing around the world playing with data for people; and running a business which is fairly substantial – as long as the internet is working...’

He laughs: ‘Yes, I have been sitting in the car at the bottom of the hill on numerous occasions!’

Tony was the driving force behind their move. He chose to make the leap, at the top of his career. As Head of Secretariat for Sainsbury’s, based in central London, he was in demand from FTSE 100 companies wanting him to work for them.

‘I was a bit tired of the corporate world. The commuting was a bit much. But I was too young to retire,’ he says. ‘And I was always customer focussed. I always get a buzz when people are happy and really appreciate what you do and are leaving wanting to come back again.

‘I suppose I was thinking, what am I going to do with my life?’

Developing the business

Since purchasing the Three Shires, Tony and James have put a lot of hard work into understanding and developing the business and finding the right staff.

They have undertaken a programme of sympathetic redecoration and have installed a new £50,000 kitchen – and appointed a new head chef, Ross Bowman, who they hope will put the Three Shires on the map as a food destination, showcasing local produce and fresh ingredients.

‘We have decided on one menu for the pub and the evening, with a mix of traditional pub dishes and some fine dining, without being stuffy,’ says Tony.

Raising the finance

The Cumberland was able to help Tony and James to realise their dream.

‘From the perspective of funding the business I think The Cumberland is great,’ says James. ‘They are flexible and understand the market, and the business. There’s a personal touch which is important. And we want to support local business.’

A moment of reflection

‘I’m glad we have done it,’ says Tony. ‘There have been times when I’ve said to James, what have I done? But we love the area. You have to be in love with something you are going to buy and try to sell to other people. Three Shires is so tranquil and gorgeous.

‘And I think, if there is something you want to do in life, you should just do it. ‘If you don’t, you might always be there thinking what if…what if…’