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IT’S NOT SO GRIM ‘OOP NORTH…….’.
Did you know there’s a River Kent? But it’s not in the Garden of England – it’s 400 miles further north, in the Lake District.
As a northerner who has lived in the south for the past 20-odd years, it never ceases to amaze me how many folk have never ventured further north than Birmingham (if as far as that!) Northerners regularly visit Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Kent …….so how come so few southerners wait until they are nudging retirement before they head for the hills of Scotland, Northumberland, Lancashire and the Lake District?
When they do, they all agree that the scenery is stunning. OK – so it rains a lot, but that’s why it’s so green and pleasant….
Take the right wet weather gear, a sturdy pair of walking shoes and you’re all set to explore ‘the frozen north.’
Pubs and all but the poshest of restaurants in the Lake District expect people to turn up looking a bit bedraggled from time to time, so you’ll be in good company if your neatly-coiffeured locks are not quite so well ‘coiffed.’
Of course, the ideal way to see all that the Lakes has to offer is to get out and about, braving the elements, during the day - but return to a relaxing retreat of a country house hotel, with roaring log fires and fabulous food of an evening. That way you can still pack your posh frock and enjoy the best of both worlds! Serious walkers tend to head for the towering crags of the Langdales, but gentle strollers and softer southerners (!) might prefer the less strenuous slopes around Windermere, at the more accessible southern end of the Lake District National Park. (It’s also closer to the M6 if you feel the need to escape.)
Bowness, on the shores of Windermere, is a mere six miles from the aforementioned River Kent. Surrounded by stunning scenery, it’s also a similar distance from Tarn Hows, which offers one of the most spectacular views in the Lake District. It’s under an hour from the M6 which makes it an appealing location for weekend breaks all year round.
After an invigorating nine-mile hike in the woodland around Tarn Hows, beginning and ending at Beatrix Potter’s old haunt of Hawkshead, it’s easy to see why so many people head here, come rain or shine.
The Sun Cottage café is renowned across the globe for its amazing cakes – but tread with caution: the portions are enormous!
Bowness itself is a great place for retail therapy once you’ve hung up your boots, being home to an abundance of art galleries and chic, independent shops. It’s not all Wainwright books and camping shops either – although there are a fair few! Treat yourself to some super fashion items, sheepskin rugs, stunning pieces of art and beautiful, unique pieces of jewellery.
You won’t walk far to find fine restaurants either – and service with a smile. It’s what northerners do, you see. The recently refurbished Hydro Hotel, at the heart of Bowness and with suites overlooking the lake, is but a stroll from all the shops and restaurants. Now part of Squire Hotels, it first opened as ‘The Windermere Hydropathic Establishment’ in 1881. Its Turkish baths were noted for their unique heating system and the elegance and grandeur of the era is still much in evidence in its high-ceilinged bedrooms, spacious lounge areas and wide-corridors.
If you’ve not had sufficient exercise running up and down a few mountains, it also has a small gym and heated indoor swimming pool – the perfect place to relax those muscles after a hard day’s hiking. The 1881 restaurant – acknowledging the hotel’s origins - is a delightful setting for breakfast, where my (very experienced high-living) travelling companion dubbed the hearty three-egg breakfast omelette the best she’d ever tasted – high praise indeed! And I must admit, my bacon was among the finest I’ve ever come across – lean and meaty, accompanied on the ‘Full English’ plate by locally-sourced sausages, free range eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans - and the obligatory black pudding (you’re oop north, remember!).
Locally-sourced food is much in evidence on the dinner menu, with lamb rump, pulled pork and sirloin steak from nearby producers; sharing platters pay homage to the Italian staples of mozzarella, pesto and Parma ham – but also Bury black pudding! Most main courses come in between £8.95 and £14.95, with starters around £5.75. With room rates starting from £62, what’s not to like?
Squire Hotels have set out to change perceptions that Lake District hotels are expensive. For those of us acclimatised to southern prices, these kind of price tags appear excellent value for money. Still some cash left over to buy Kendal Mint Cake, in fact!
For further information, visit www.squirehotels.co.uk/windermere or telephone 01539 444455
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