Fun for all the family at the lakeside
ANDY CRONSHAW finds a hotel that is just perfect for adults and children alike
WHEN my first daughter Niamh was born, nimble-fingered Aunty Lorna knitted her a Peter Rabbit, closely followed by Jemima Puddleduck and Jeremy Fisher.
The toys have been treasured ever since, while a Beatrix Potter box set has provided many a night-time story.
Having always viewed the Lake District as an outdoor adventure playground, the Beatrix Potter stories and toys began to refocus my view.
In my younger days, tourist honeypots and traffic hotspots such as Bowness, Ambleside and Lake Windermere were to be avoided.
But now there are little legs to consider and minds that fixate on smaller features than the heady heights of Helvellyn and Skiddaw.
The release of the recent Peter Rabbit full-length movie, appearing on the back of a popular BBC animation, means that the Beatrix Potter stories have never been so popular.
In the Lakes, children will find Peter in his natural habitat.
For the ultimate in strategic positioning, that gives you boat-borne access to the Lake District’s family attractions, there is the Lakeside Hotel.
There can’t be a more appropriately named establishment; a four-star hotel which sits conveniently on the southern shores of Lake Windermere, near Newby Bridge and close to the nearby train station along the Lakeside and Haverthwaite heritage railway.
If you’re coming from the south, it’s not long before you arrive there after leaving the M6.
In fact, perusing a map of pre-1974 England you’ll discover that the Lakeside area was actually in Lancashire before the county reorganisation of the same year.
Formerly a coaching inn built in the 17th century, the place is hewn from Lakeland volcanic rock in the region’s classic architectural vernacular.
An airy conservatory looks out toward the lake where they are several jetties and boats moored.
I strolled out at night to the end of a jetty to grab two minutes of peace and quiet.
A pair of swans, heads nestled in their wings as they slept, drifted close by and there was barely a ripple across the sheen of the lake – a serene interlude that lives vividly in the memory.
Rooms are traditionally decorated without being fusty and are very family friendly with internal bedrooms for the children.
The hotel also has some other extra special touches for families, including daily duck feeding for younger guests on the lake shore.
Food is excellent, and at £30 to £40 a head it’s very good value, with the option of going for the Chef Experience (organic hen’s egg, truffle, garden pea espuma is one choice) for £52 and then £77 with wine.
There’s a traditional feel but there’s also leaning toward the continental and Mediterranean.
The Lancashire Cheese Soufflé with tomato jam is punchy but light.
And dishes don’t come any more local than pressed Herdwick lamb shoulder.
Likewise, there’s an excellent selection of fish; the Lakes are, of course, not far from the Irish Sea.
Like steak? You’ll be spoilt for choice with Galician Blond slabs from the famed mature diary cows, Belted Galloway from Scotland and Wagyu from Japan.
If you can get beyond Lakeland Gold, made by the wonderful Hawkshead Brewery, and on offer in the bar and restaurant, then there’s also a rather well-stocked wine cellar with bottles ranging from £25 to £50.
To work up an appetite you may want to make use of the 17-metre swimming pool and associated spa with its plethora of complementary treatments and massages.
The pool is one of the best I’ve visited in the Lakes and there is no time-limit for the fun.
As if being lakeside isn’t enough, the hotel is seconds from the aforementioned Lakeside train station, the marvellous Lakes Aquarium and the jetty for the Windermere ferries.
Climbing aboard the Windermere Lake Cruises service will have you in Bowness in 40 minutes, and what a 40 minutes! Even in rain and mist the lake is a wonderful sight.
A stroll through town gets you to the Beatrix Potter museum and theatre.
I’ve been to the Lakes scores of times over the years but have never set foot in the Beatrix Potter museum. And I’ll admit the delights of this miniature world of Beatrix Potter characters is delightful enough to put a smile on the face of even the grumpiest middleaged misanthrope.
The sly old fox Mr Tod and the waddling squatter Tommy Brock, the badger, appear in a scene straight out of the Tale of Mr Tod.
Mrs Tiggywinkle, the hedgehog, can be witnessed hard at work in her kitchen while the sow, Aunt Pettitoes, is spotted desperately trying to feed her piglets.
My favourite experience, however, was peering into the nooks and crannies to find some of the mice enjoying a natter or a tea party.
Lunch in Bowness was spent jostling with Chinese tourists at local chippy Vinegar Jones, but it was worth it; classic fish and chips with the all-important mushy peas.
An attraction that only requires a few seconds’ walk to reach from the Lakeside is the Lakes Aquarium.
I have to be honest; I didn’t expect much from it.
But in the end, I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Apart from displays and tanks that represent the varied flora and fauna of Lakeland waterways, there are some more exotic animals in the rainforest and African environments.
A glass tunnel submerges you beneath the lake itself to reveal an underwater world teaming with life.
Of course, from the hotel’s position lakeland walks abound, even if you only want to make the short journey to the viewing point at Claife Heights and enjoy a cuppa in the nearby cafe.
For the summer ahead with the children in tow, the Lakeside is a regal treat.
Mr Tod relaxes with the Woodland Gazette at The Beatrix Potter Museum
The Lakeside Hotel