It’s a tourist honeypot all year, but it truly was bumper to bumper when my partner and I ventured down the M6 to Bowness-on-Windermere (though in fairness it was only the last hour of the drive when the caravans and cyclists drew expletives).
Anyway that aside, I’m the first to admit that, once you’re there, it’s so drop-dead gorgeous that it’s all worth it.
We were having a two-night break at the Macdonald Old England Hotel which I’d chosen for its spa and superb location on the Lake. I know Macdonald Hotels of old and the fine quality food, with the accent always on fresh local produce, never disappoints.
This former Georgian mansion house, with 106 luxury bedrooms, enjoys a regal presence, situated on the scenic shores of Lake Windermere. Set amidst beautiful private gardens that lead down to its own jetties, the hotel offers majestic views over Lake Winderemere and the surrounding fells.
With a range of exceptional facilities including a spa, pool and conference suite, the Macdonald Old England is conveniently located for country adventures, and also offers the perfect base for a range of outdoor activities including boat trips on the lake, hill walking and cycling. The Terrace Lounge and Lakeside Restaurant boast a mouth watering seasonal menu comprising fine British cuisine, from a la carte to traditional afternoon tea.
The staff were also helpful to a fault, despite a full house. As it was such a busy time of year it was just as well that I’d pre-booked my spa appointments, and the massage and pedicure at the end of the drive went down a treat.
Back suitably unknotted and tootsies gleaming, it was time to explore the area. Staying in the lovely ‘Old England’ one can hardly miss Windermere lake. At 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep, it’s the largest natural lake in England.
We were just in time for a lunch and a foodie friend had tipped me the wink about a fabulous restaurant in nearby Ambleside, which has just been awarded a Michelin star for 2020.
The Old Stamp House is a real find. Offering a superb four-course tasting menu for £45 a head (with the most delicious amuse bouches), each mouthful is a sensory delight and the use of local rare breed meats and locally foraged goods combine to make this a meal to remember.
Front of house is Craig Blackburn while his brother Ryan performs the culinary magic in the kitchen. At lunch you can expect offerings such as roasted scallop with pumpkin purée, seeds and pickle, parmesan and ham. Next roasted cod with artichoke, sprouts, kale and caviar sauce. For my main I had delicious wild Cumbrian roe deer, with parsnip, endive, hen of the woods and truffle sauce, and to round it all off Cumbrian gingerbread cheesecake, with mango and pineapple.
They use the iconic herdwick sheep that roam the local fells, and also draw inspiration from the fresh fish and seafood landed on Cumbria’s coast at Ravenglass, Maryport and Whitehaven, sourcing as much local produce as possible. The end result is an absolute culinary highlight, and well worth booking several weeks ahead for – which you’ll need to as the restaurant only seats 28.
See www.oldstamphouse.com. Closed Mondays.
I can honestly say this was the highlight of the trip.
Coming a close second though was Blackwell House – an arts and crafts house and a World Heritage Site, this impressive home from the early 20th century sits in a stunning location overlooking Windermere.
Architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott designed Blackwell as a holiday home for Manchester brewer Sir Edward Holt, Lady Holt and their five children in 1901. Some of its notable features include beautiful wood panelling, a rare hessian wall-hanging in the Dining Room; leaf-shaped door handles and spectacular plasterwork and stained glass.
Complete with a delightful tea-room and plenty for the little ones to do, it’s definitely worth a couple of hours at least of anyone’s time when in this area. See blackwell.org uk. Entry £8.90
My other big find on this trip was the Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories (windermerejetty.org with £9 entry fee). Quite a mouthful, but it’s a simple enough concept, once over the door.
Basically, it showcases boats, steam launches, sailing yachts and record-breaking speed boats in a Boathouse and interactive galleries. It also focusses on the story of the locals, from the 18th century to present day, whose lives were shaped by the lake. Obvious contenders include Beatrix Potter.
OK, so now we come to the cheesy bit – the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, slap bang in the heart of Bowness.
Had I had my grandchildren with me, and had it not been absolutely rammed with families of tired toddlers I’m sure it would have made a better impression, but even for a fan of Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tittlemouse, it was a short visit if I’m honest.
Would I return to The Lakes? You bet I would. There’s great shopping and some wonderful cafes and galleries, and it is really is chocolate-box England. Absolutely I’d go back, but I will choose a relatively quieter time of year, possibly when the weather is kinder than in late December so that my walking boots can do more than lie in the boot of the car.
For further information on the Macdonald Old England Hotel, visit HERE.
To find out more about the Lake District, click HERE.