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In E M Forster's novel, A Room with a View, the heroine complained about her hotel room in Florence, which, she claimed, had a disappointing view. At the Beech Hill Hotel in Windermere, I couldn't have been more delighted with the outlook from mine, as it afforded a stunning vista of the beautiful lake and backdrop of fells.
The first morning, a pale, winter sun touched the tops of the fells and cast dappled rays over the water. On the second day, a white mist rose from the lake and hovered above the hills. It was magical, ethereal. But, apparently, one guest complained that when he arrived, at 8pm, that the lake was in darkness. At the time of year he, and I, visited, it would be. He said the view wasn't the same as the one shown on the website. Naturally, it wouldn't be, as the photo was taken during the day. The disgruntled guest suggested that lights should be installed around the 10-mile lake, a bit like Blackpool's Illuminations. Clearly, he might be better suited to booking a trip to Blackpool in future.
The stone-built, 57-bedroom, four-star Beech Hill Hotel, which dates back to the 1900s, boasts a prime spot, designed over a series of terraces, starting from the spacious lounge/bar area, with its huge fireplace and roaring fire, and Burlington's restaurant, each of which has breathtaking view of Lake Windermere's western shores, down to the indoor swimming pool, and bedrooms. Some rooms, such as the one we were allocated, have patio doors and terraces, others have balconies. There isn't a lift, so those with limited walking ability, may find the slopes and staircases, involving 60 odd steps up or down to the reception, lounge area and bar, a challenge.
A series of slate steps zigzag down through grassy slopes lead down to the lake side with its little jetty. The ambience is relaxed and friendly, complemented with charming, efficient staff. In the elegant, stylish, two AA rosette-starred Burlington's restaurant, guests are served innovate, high quality cuisine prepared by a team of talented chefs, who use fresh, locally-sourced produce. Standouts for us were the Kentmere Valley Lamp Rump with pearl barley broth, Chantenay carrots, pea shoots and mint salsa, and the trio of Sweet Shots, comprising a mini brulee, a lemon and raspberry posset and a Tobago dark chocolate mousse, which looked delightful and tasted divine.
Beech Hill Hotel manager, Jonathan Allan, has a long term affinity with the four star hotel and the area. His late grandmother used to live in the old Haverthwaite Railway end of the line station house, now the ticket office. And, as a boy, Jonathan swam in the pool at the Beech Hill Hotel, now privately owned, but at that time, part of a group. A major, ongoing refurbishment and development programme is underway and will include a lakeside spa pool, sauna, solarium and treatment rooms, plus redecoration/carpeting to many communal areas and bedrooms.
During our stay, we took in another watery attraction with a visit to the nearby Lakes Aquarium at Newby Bridge, a great option for families, particularly, when the weather is not so good. Otters, Lucy and Olly, are firm favourites here and their indoor habitat gives them plenty of scope for swimming, diving and nosing around. But some recreational sports are restricted. Because there are more than enough otters in captivity, Lucy has regular birth control injections. And after boa constrictor, Cinder, gave birth to 23 young ones, their dad was granted extended paternity leave. This was a small litter. These pythons can product up to 65 young at once.
A few steps away from the aquarium and you're in another world. The Lakeside Hotel rests graciously at the water's edge, fringed with posh yachts, moored in all their magnificence, and smaller, lighter craft, bobbing on the breeze. This four-star hotel, which is full of character, is lovingly designed to fuse a blend of traditional and contemporary style, Visitors often drop in for lunch in the spacious conservatory - the soup and sandwiches option was delicious - or afternoon tea. In the warm weather, a glass of Champagne on the terrace has much appeal.
The South Lakes Safari Zoo in Ulverston is another popular family attraction. Many of the inmates, such as peacocks, storks, cute capybara rodents, lemurs and llama, roam freely. Happily, the lions, tigers, cougars and other big cats have their boundaries. Special wristbands entitle you to join a giraffe feeding and provide a bag of special food to hand feed animals. Youngsters also love the penguin talk and feeding. It's evident that these lovable little birds relish their daily fishy dishes. But sipping a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc while perusing the menu and anticipating another wonderful dinner at The Beech Hill Hotel, I didn't give them another thought.
The Beech Hill Hotel, Newby Bridge Road, Windermere tel 0844 502 7587
www.beechhillhotel.co.uk/offers/winter-escape - from £49 B&B pp per night
South Lakes Safari Zoo:
Please note: Because of the major winter maintenance and construction programme, certain areas may be inaccessible to visitors for an unspecified period. Free entry in January.
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