PICTURES hanging on the walls of the Castle Inn at Bassenthwaite demonstrate how far the venue has come.

From a small village pub around 100 years ago, it is now a 45-bedroom hotel, 100-cover restaurant and leisure venue, with pictures from across the years in the bar showing the steady transformation.

And the kitchen and its team of six are kept busy all day, from serving breakfast, to lunch, afternoon teas and dinner.

Head chef Dave Wilson is known to everyone as ‘Ginge’. He arrived last year, and has already changed the menu, while at present he is also looking ahead to producing the summer menu.

“We have visitors but we aim to keep locals happy as well,” said Ginge. “We offer simple, pub grub, but if people want something a bit special we have that option”

The Castle Inn – being the size it is – has those options by being able to serve pub grub in the bar, but also having a separate dining room.

Ginge is from Glasgow originally, and spent six years working at St Andrew’s, working at the Rocca restaurant, which was tagged the 7th best restaurant in Scotland!

Heading south, although he originally arrived at the Castle Inn by accident. “I went to an agency and this was the first place they sent me! The Lakes reminds me of the west coast of Scotland, with the wind and rain!”

Already he has changed the starters on the menu. Recognising that many diners avoid starters so they don’t fill up on two courses before the desert, he changed them to ‘nibbles’ which have been going down well.

A spin off of that, is the nibbles also prove popular in the bar with a pint! The hotel attracts a lot of walkers and cyclists, due to its location, and many people after a walk or cycle like to enjoy a drink or two and a ‘nibble’.

For the main courses, lemon sole has been a popular choice recently.

Other popular choices include chicken stuffed with apricot, fondant potato, roast veg; or duck with mashed potato, broccoli, prunes and red white sauce.

As I spoke to Ginge, he was carefully preparing two dishes, making sure they looked perfect. He told me a head chef he worked with when he was younger insisted that the plates should tell a story!

Aside from the carefully prepared courses for diners, Ginge said that afternoon teas are currently enjoying a surge in popularity, and he is looking at widening the selection on offer by creating more savoury offerings to go with the cakes.

General manager Peter Wells, whose family own the Castle Inn, said the head chef is one of the reasons behind the surge in popularity.

“Before Ginge came we did a few but since he has been here we are really seeing a significant uplift in afternoon teas. It is about taking time out with family and friends. People can go out for dinner or lunch, but afternoon tea takes a couple of hours, when people can talk,” he said.

The Castle Inn even provided an afternoon tea for 20 children attending a birthday party.

Ginge is also happy to see the hotel developing its own staff. Jack Hopkins started there as a waiter, but recently was promoted to commis chef in the kitchen, where he is learning the trade.

Produce is sourced – as much as possible – from Cumbria. Real ale comes from the Hesket Newmarket brewery.

“We keep it local as much as possible,” said Peter. “That is what people want. They come to the Lake District and they want to see the Lake District, and they want the food as well.”

The Castle Inn is also planning a special celebration for the VE Day anniversary in May, including an afternoon tea themed around 1945.

Last year the hotel received a shock when Allerdale council gave it a zero rating for hygiene. Yet in a matter of months the hotel was awarded five stars as it bounced back in style. At the time, the hotel put the turnaround down to the appointment of Ginge as head chef, and said he had developed a series of new initiatives at the hotel including new team, training and ongoing investments.

“We have invested over £2 million in the property since we have had it 15 years ago,” said Peter, adding that the hotel has also had cyclist Bradley Wiggins staying twice when the Tour of Britain passed through Cumbria, including making its way past the hotel.