Melissa Sweeney and family discover lake fun and beautiful views on Lower Mill Estate in The Cotswolds, the UK’s first residential nature reserve
There is something very relaxing about getting away for a few days in your own country. Removing the stress of air travel is not to be ignored. Recent experience of airlines going bust have definitely added to the appeal of short breaks closer to home. So if the UK weather is kind and the traffic gods are on your side then facing the motorway on a Friday can be worth it. We were so lucky on both those fronts as we headed for our weekend at Lower Mill Estate after a mercifully brief flirt with the M4. We arrived at this south Cotswolds idyll armed with our wetsuits and ready to use them.
This 300-acre estate is located in a network of lakes with a variety of houses. Most are privately owned holiday homes but many are available to rent. We were welcomed to our delightful weekend home with a much appreciated pack of provisions and after the ritual explore by the kids, with lots of exclamations regarding the beautifully made up beds, rooms were allocated. The house, as do all, boasts lovely large balconies on each floor with views across an impressive lake creating a tangible sense of tranquillity.
With our three active children, Alex 8, Gabriella 11 and Charlotte 14, keeping them busy is a must. Set within a nature reserve there is a great choice of both wet and dry fun to be had. The Activity Hub, run by the lovely Jenny and Terry, hire out all sorts of equipment for playing on the lakes. Canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boarding and katacanoes are all available. The kids, enthusiastic as ever, were off on the kayaks, being the faster of the two, leaving us struggling to keep up! It’s the sort of place where you want to explore, with islands in the centre and a dock on the far side. After some mid lake swapping to try out both, (not so easy! We did of course have the required buoyancy aids), we were introduced to ‘Paddle Board Gladiator’ by Alex, a ‘who falls off first’ game. A low centre of gravity being a huge advantage made it particularly popular!
In the holidays the Hub run a timetable of lake activities including dawn and dusk canoeing and stand up paddleboard races and obstacle courses. However if you prefer to stay dry there are bikes to hire and tennis rackets for use on the number of courts dotted around. We went for the family tennis, but unfortunately, the competitive nature of our little clan and the lack of an impartial umpire and several line judges can result in a less than harmonious session! Adults won of course.
Being a nature reserve, there is a lot to explore. The lakes are filled with wildlife. If you know your stuff you can educate your children on all sorts of different birds on the lake (‘ …err well that one’s definitely a swan.’) Or you can make use of the Wi-Fi to do that when you get back, like we did! The grounds also include a beaver reserve and if you brave a twilight visit and have a little patience you could well catch a glimpse of these animals playing in the water.
If you fancy something more relaxing there is a choice of heated swimming pools. With the sun out we spent a gorgeous afternoon in the outdoor pool and relaxing on the loungers, interspersed with the odd trip to the sauna to cook (useful in an English summer). Then there’s the lovely Spa. Here there are more two more fabulous 20m pools, one indoor and one outdoor, both nicely heated and a great contrast to any previous lake activity. There are steam rooms, sauna and treatment rooms offering all the usually relaxing treatments. It has a luxurious, almost tropical feel with a lush setting surrounding by greenery.
I just wish I had time to sample every treatment! All this activity and fresh air generally results in ravenous appetites and although we had a beautiful, fully functioning kitchen, a holiday is a holiday. So we headed down to Ballihoo, the on-site restaurant. Built with a beautiful rustic oak frame and a central open fire that’s surrounded by battered old leathers sofas, it certainly ticked the boxes for us. It has a large garden full of picnic benches and a climbing area. Just a shame it had not been built on a lake too. The menu offers a range of hearty pub grub food. The burgers beat the kids hands down!
There is also much to do in the local area, from exploring the lovely Cotswold villages of soft yellow stone with some seriously good eateries. You could see the sun come up from a hot air balloon, enjoy an exhilarating trip to the races at Cheltenham or a day trout fishing if that’s your thing.
So whether you are tempted to splurge out on your own second home to escape from it all or just rent one for a stress free break then Lower Mill Estate is definitely one to check out. Just one tip when away with the kids……don’t forget their homework! Ahhh!
How to book
Habitat Escapes offers a new Swallows & Amazons Family Experience with prices starting at £1,170.
The package includes three-day bike hire, three-day Canadian canoe hire, paddleboard hire for a day and seven nights staying in a two-bed apartment sleeping a maximum of four guests.
Melissa stayed in the five-bedroom Bauhinia House which starts from £1,500 for three nights.