Travel: Waterhead Hotel, Ambleside, perfect retreat in the Lake District
Winding along the road in bright autumnal sunshine it was difficult to imagine the devastation that just a few months ago had crippled this part of Cumbria.
The A591 just sounds a number among the thousands of routes that make up the UK’s road network, but to people of the Lake District it carries far more importance.
The artery that dissects the lower Lakes re-opened in May after it collapsed last December as Storm Desmond battered the region, but not before it cost the area’s tourism industry a reported Â£1 million a day.
But now blood is starting to pour back through the main gateway into the area in the form of tourists crossing the Pennines and we were among those eager for a short break away.
Our base for the weekend was the Waterhead Hotel in Ambleside. Enviably situated with views across Windermere, the Large Hotel of the Year winner in the 2016 Cumbria Tourism Awards is ideally located to dump the car and explore the Lakes.
Traditional on the outside and clean and modern on the inside, the hotel manages to combine the old and new while still oozing character.
Our contemporary room with super-king sized bed was generously-sized with white walls complementing solid wood furniture, and offered a warm welcome courtesy of complimentary fruit, water and locally-distilled gin. But grandeur of a weekend bolt-hole almost paled into insignificance, competing against the truly stunning view of Windermere which almost seemed in touching distance with the water’s edge a matter of yards away.
Arriving late it was time for a quick freshen up and a drink in the bar before dinner.
Combining white walls - adorned with modern art - and solid wood floors the hotel’s Bar and Grill manages to pull it off not looking out of place keeping in its surroundings, courtesy of its wood panel and period-style windows.
The menu is a real celebration of the North West and Cumbria, championing local produce with a modern slant.
To start I had Bury Black pudding and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese potato cake. With a poached free range egg and béarnaise sauce, it was delicious and beautifully presented.
My partner had seared king scallops which came in a thermidor sauce, which must have been agreeable judging by the time it took him to clear his plate.
We both plumped for the roast chump of Cumbrian lamb for our main course with the attentive and knowledgeable staff on hand to recommend a suitable wine to accompany our meal.
While definitely fine dining, the portion sizes were not on the stingy side with cutlery almost unnecessary with the lamb falling apart beautifully and savoy cabbage and pancetta adding texture and even more flavour.
A fully satisfying meal was finished off with crème brûlée and, for my partner, a gin and tonic sorbet, before a couple of drinks in the bar and retiring for the night ahead of a day of exploring.
The following morning my deep slumber was disturbed by a growl and a bark from one of the other guests – dogs are allowed too.
While the Waterhead is perfect for walkers to get out and enjoy the stunning scenery, it is just as good for those who want to marvel at the views in a more leisurely fashion.
The Waterhead Pier for the Windermere Lake Cruises is not even a stone’s throw away from the hotel. With a range of cruises available to suit walkers and non-walkers, we took the 30 minute voyage across Windermere to Bowness.
Areal tourist hotspot the Victorian town’s winding streets were crammed with people from across the globe taking in the joys of the south Lakes.
A mix of modern and traditional pubs and bars line the streets as well as independent retailers, but the real attraction is The World of Beatrix Potter. Enjoying somewhat of a renaissance as 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth, the attraction tells the story of the life and achievements of the children’s writer before visitors are transported through her creations courtesy of Peter Rabbit’s Garden and Mrs Tiggy-winkle's Kitchen before being whisked away on a virtual tour of the areas of the Lake District which inspired Potter’s creations.
After a short hop back across the water and a 15-minute stroll we arrived in Ambleside town itself. More relaxed than Bowness, the town is pays homage to the Lakes’ poets William Wordsworth, Hardwicke Rawnsley and John Ruskin in the Armitt Museum.
The purpose built museum is home to the Mary Armitt Collection – an anthology of books, manuscripts, water-colours, archaeological remains, geological specimens and assorted paraphernalia.
The library was founded on the request of Armitt’s will in which she wanted to create a collection of books of scientific, literary and antiquarian value’ for the ‘student and book-lover’, embodying the 1828 Ambleside Book Society, of which William Wordsworth had been a member, and the Ambleside Ruskin Library, founded by Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1882 with the active support of John Ruskin.
As well as interactive experiences referencing the collection, the museum also features an area devoted to Potter displaying some of her natural history water-colours.
A short walk from the centre is the spectacular 70 foot waterfall Stock Ghyll Force, which can be seen from a viewpoint.
Now owned by the National Trust, the 17th century Bridge House sits over Stock Ghyll which used to power 12 watermills and is a real picture postcard moment.
Come nightfall Ambleside is turned into a quaint selection of inns and restaurants dotted around a horseshoe where, after a busy day, tourists can replenish. However, such is the popularity, booking is advised.
Special mention goes to Sheila’s Cottage, a quiet and charming hidden gem, just off the main road. By day the cottage is a tea room, but come nightfall it is transformed into a quiet and relaxed serving up top local produce.
After another peaceful, deep sleep it was almost time to leave our weekend of bliss, but not before one final stop to take in the highly recommended Wild Boar Inn.
A short hop up the hill from Bowness, this rustic, coaching inn is said to be where Sir Richard de Gilpin slain the last wild boar.
With exposed beams, open fires and stone floors, not to mention its own smokehouse and micro brewery, the Wild Boar serves up a selection of wholesome dishes again championing all things local.
As it was Sunday we both plumped for the Sunday lunch menu. The puree of vegetable soup was packed full of flavour with sweetness of parsnips shining through.
But the real highlight was roast of 28 day hung Hertfordshire Sirloin. Presented on a bed of potatoes and seasonal veg, two thick slabs of pink beef, really took Sunday lunch to another level, even if we were unable to finish it because of how much food was on our plate.
Fully relaxed, if somewhat full after lunch, it was time to hit the road.
Being from Yorkshire I’ve always shouted up for the beauty and splendour of the Dales, but as painful as it is to say, the Lakes is just as wonderful.
After a torrid few months the Lake District is definitely back open for business and I don’t think it will be too long before it is receiving my money again.