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Family Traveller Editor, Jane Anderson discovers how old and new sit together in the ever family-friendly Lake District
The Romantic poets didn’t need a UNESCO World Heritage Site status to recognize that the Lake District was something special. This epic lakeland region that adorns northwest England was awarded the accolade in July 2017, but has long stirred the soul. Yet as we become increasingly urbanized and issues of climate change encroach, there’s a growing recognition of just how precious this region of lakes and mountains is with its rich heritage. How ironic that on paper, The Lakes now have the same status as Machu Picchu and the Great Barrier Reef, attractions that families travel across the world to experience, yet this is on our doorstep.
The Lake District is even closer than your think thanks to a new fast rail link with London – now just a three-hour journey from London Euston to the natty station at Penrith with Virgin Trains. Treat yourselves to a Friday night first class ticket and sit back with a complimentary gin and tonic, and lemonade for your little ones.
Locals may be weighing up the consequences of the Lakes becoming a viable weekend break. It also paves the way for new interest for weekday commutes to London and snapping up even more weekend homes, pushing up property prices. Interest is set to peak further in 2020 as The Wordsworth Trust prepare for the poet’s 250th anniversary of his birth in 1770.
Known as one of Britain’s greatest poets, William Wordsworth helped revolutionise English Literature and the Trust is working to keep his connection with the inspirational Lake District strong for all to enjoy. Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage on the edge of Grasmere during what is termed his golden decade, moving into the former pub with his sister Dorothy just before Christmas 1799. It was here that he wrote the majority of his most famous works including The Predule and I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
More than ever before, the Lake District is a thrilling place to take your children, even if they don’t give two hoots about poetry! It satisfies the craving for fresh air and big landscapes. Just the sight of these mighty lakes makes you want to stride out or a take a whooping leap in the air, taking that feeling away with you to lift your spirits in a quieter moment – which is exactly what Wordsworth was aiming to convey in his early poems. And aren’t childhood holidays all the more precious when they stay in your memory?
It’s no coincidence that innovative hotel collection, Another Place chose the shores of Ullswater for the first of its family-friendly hotels where the mantra is all about making the most of location. The team behind Another Place has proved their worth with the glorious Watergate Bay Hotel in north Cornwall where it’s all about beach. This time, the spirit of the lakes is the focus.
As Watergate Bay and Another Place brand director Judi Blackburn says, “We’ve borrowed 90% DNA from Watergate Bay, but 10% is the location. After opening on August 14, 2017, the emphasis is all about getting guests out onto the lake and moors.
We are on the hunt for other locations and our next will hopefully be a mountain one, possibly in Wales.” As Judi is careful to point out, Another Place has been mindful to involve local people and businesses. “Families can book a wild swim with Chill Swim’s Colin Hill who front crawls across the lake in the mornings.
We opted for a kayaking session with Aaron from Distant Horizons, a man who’s the definition of upbeat, even when the weather isn’t in agreement. He motivates my kids and provides a good lesson in kayaking before we head off along the 11km lake. He’s a font of info about deforestation, the depth of this mighty lake (over 200ft deep), the cormorants and the kingfishers.
From May onwards, extra activities will include archery by the lake and night walks, gill scrambling and rock climbing. Judi hopes there will also be the option to camp out overnight on the Lake Shore. “The plan is to begin the experience by kayaking from Glen Ridding, camping overnight half way and kayaking in the rest of the way back to the hotel the next day.”
But what of the hotel itself? The original white building by the lake is a warm and cosy refuge with just the right tone of design and comfort. There’s a roaring fire in the reception room with squishy sofas to flop into.
Head one way and you’re in the Library with its big open fire, mismatched mirrors and vases, work by local artists such as Michelle Castles, a sculptor who’s cows sketches adorn the walls, and books curated by Ultimate Library to dip into and board games to lose hours in. You can opt for a bedroom in the old house or one of 20 new family suites in the a swanky new wing whose clever architecture enhances the old. Our suite overlooked the epic lake from the main double bedroom and lounge combo with a Juliet balcony bringing the outside in.
The kids had a separate bunkroom to the rear so non of that trying to get to sleep all in one room malarkey! Tunnock’s Teacakes are placed in strategic spots down corridors and bedrooms incase you fancy a sweet treat. There also a natty Stanley Flask for you to take to the kitchen to be filled with hot chocolate if you’re heading out.
Hearty food is key here, and my kids felt relaxed in The Living Space with its tables and chairs and squishy sofas where you can munch on doorstep sandwiches and sharing platters, and equally in the more formal Rampsbeck Restaurant with its menu focusing on local Cumbrian produce. I strongly recommend the Cumberland sausage and the thick bread and butter pudding to restore energy levels after a cold lake swim.
If you prefer a warm dip, head to the Swim Club. The designer pool has floor to ceiling windows making the most of the lake view and there’s a glorious Canadian outdoor hot tub next to a slate wall. You an even see the lake from the sauna.
A discrete door leads to a chillaxed adult spa area created like much of the hotel out of local material with big white chairs for manicures and pedis. Head to a pale green treatment room for a divine massage. Round the back of the hotel, past the Highland Cattle, are the kids clubs.
A wooded Kids Zone from 6 months to 7 years is OFSTEAD registered and full of fun with soothing colours, beanbags and woody smells. All very calming unlike many brash kids clubs. With a wood chip playground in front, there’s plenty of outdoor play.
Opposite is a chic safari tent for older kids aged 7-12 to use as their den – with its hanging chairs out front, and inside a pool table/air hockey/table tennis table, TV and cooking facilities. Kids have the delicious feeling of being hidden in the woods.
There’s plenty to fill a week here, never mind a weekend. A must is a visit to Lowther Castle, where you can trace the quirky ancestry of this impressive 19th century pile, with its façade and outer walls still standing. But it’s the gardens that are the greatest attraction for children.
Take a walk down the avenue of yew trees and you might spot a red squirrel or two, en route to the wondrous Lost Castle, a mighty castle-shaped wooden adventure playground on many levels. Kids can literally lose themselves charging around the battlements, whizzing down the curly slides and hurling themselves along the zip wires.
Take a ride on the Ullswater Steamers. We boarded the Western Belle – on a sun-filled chilly day, armed with hot chocolate in our Stanley Flask. The hardy remain on deck, but there’s a snug below with a tiny café and copies of The Ullswater Times to hand. We disembarked at Aira Force for a magical woodland walk to the Aira Force waterfall. A sight to inspire a Wordsworth poem if ever there was one.
Virgin Trains offers single standard class fares from London Euston to Penrith from £22. Single first class fares available from £48. Journey time is 3 hours 10 minutes. Beam onboard entertainment offers films, TV box sets, TED talks and games.
Another Place The Lake offers Family Suites from £335 per night based on a family of four with space for an additional cot (0-2 years are not charged) including breakfast.