With autumn rapidly approaching, a hallmark of English countryside vacations is the Lake District in Cumbria – a patchwork quilt of mountain peaks, open fells, lakes and sparkling rivers that inspired writers as diverse as Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth.
With a wide selection of activities and accommodation options, making the right choice can be overwhelming. To help out, here are three, all offering a variety of contrasting locations and ambiance, with a diverse selection of things-to-do near each.
The Daffodil Hotel & Spa, Grasmere
Opened two years ago, this 78-room, three-floor, 4-star hotel (named after William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, ‘Daffodils’) lies within walking distance of the sleepy rural village of Grasmere where the national poet laureate lived. One of the Romantic poet’s former homes, ‘Dove Cottage,’ is 100 yards away and open to visitors.
Located on an open, grassy area off a winding country road beside a lake, the hotel offers stunning views over Loughrigg, Red Bank and the Vale of Grasmere. Its exterior blends well with its rural surrounding, its granite stonewalls matching the traditional, century-old buildings nearby. Inside is modern and bright with an uplifting contemporary design. Its walls decorated by a series of light-hearted wall drawings, a tribute to former owner, Tom Harwood, who wanted “a building full of laughter and jokes where people could relax and enjoy themselves.” Artwork includes ‘Mrs. Dali Hanging Out the Washing’ with melted clocks on the line and ‘Mrs. Gaughin’s Tupperware Party,’ depicting seated topless Tahitian ladies examining various items on a table before them. Other satirical pencil sketches by artist Sue Macartney-Snape reflecting the quintessential comedy of daily life hang on different floors featuring caricatures of people in everyday poses: snoozing by an open fireside or attending a regatta or horserace.
A spacious restaurant features locally-sourced dishes such as pan-fried haunch steak venison from Holker Hall near Morecambe Bay in Lancashire; roasted cannon of local Cumbria lamb; and grilled sirloin steaks of Cumbrian beef. In the basement, a Germaine De Capuccini Spa comprises a sauna, steam-room, Jacuzzi that fits 10 or more people and a 10-meter thermal pool with a variety of water jets. Facials, massages and exfoliating wraps are among many options on a comprehensive treatment menu.
Activities, all within walking distance, include visits to former homes of William Wordsworth, including Rydal Mount and Gardens, which lies between the villages of Ambleside and Grasmere where it commands glorious views over Lake Windermere and Rydal Water. There are also many scenic walks near the hotel, especially to Easedale Tarn (lake), about three miles away. Paths are marked for both length and difficulty.
Gilpin Lake House, Windermere
Owned and operated by the Cunliffe family, this luxury property, set in 100 acres, boasts two separate accommodation choices. Slate-roofed with a stone facade upon which ivy clings in curlicues, a six-bedroom lake house lies in a hollow, in a leafy glade inviting one to forget any lingering sense of urban angst. A short drive away is a 21-room hotel adjacent to the Gilpin’s main restaurant.
The sense of gentile civility is enhanced by gracious furnishings in the hallway and drawing rooms, including a collection of straw hats, sand-colored wallpaper featuring a white floral motif, soft carpeting, classic period furnishings, standing lamps throughout and shelves filled with books. Delicate crystal and porcelain ornaments stand alongside framed sepia and black-and-white photos of family members from earlier generations.
A highlight of a stay here is the ‘multi-stage’ spa treatments, which includes a ‘scent experience,’ by which guests select oils to be used; private leisure time in a swimming pool, with chilled cocktails; a massage or facial in an airy room on stilts overlooking lake and forest; a delicious assortment of scones and cakes in a converted boathouse; and a soothing session in an open-air, cedar wood hot tub.
Another highlight is dinner, beginning with imaginative local cocktails such as eldersour – a mix of gin, vodka, elderflower cordial, lime juice, topped off with soda water. Chef Gordon Cartwright prides himself on what he terms the ‘British Culinary Heritage’ thus starters range from potted shrimp from Morecambe Bay in Lancashire soused with white cabbage to tender, stem broccoli and cod cheeks with blue a fine cheese from Stichleton, Nottinghamshire. Mains include grilled hake with crispy squid; smoked haddock with champ and crunchy panetta; grilled Dover sole with white asparagus; two-year-old Cumbrian Hogget (lamb) with black garlic and chateaubriand of Buccleuch beef with ox heart tomato, wild mushrooms and béarnaise sauce.
The property’s large expanse of land offers jogging and biking trails, coarse fishing and swimming or rowing in the lake. Within a short drive is the steam train of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway with short excursions into the surrounding countryside or cruises on boats operated by the Ullswater ‘Steamers’ Company on England’s second largest lake.
Moresby Hall, Whitehaven
The granite, crenellated Palladian style façade and leaded windows of this 1,000-old manor building at the edge of the Lake District is a stunning reminder of a bygone era and a coastal alternative to explore the area.
The feeling of entering a time portal is intensified even more inside, with a lobby featuring broad, aged oak-wood beams on stair banisters and rafters, bounteous wainscoted paneling and elegant period furniture.
Moresby Hall, a Grade I listed historical building boasting a colorful history stretching from the ancient Romans to the Normans, boasts an abundance of original features. In the lobby are terracotta tiles; decorative plates lining the walls; an open stone fireplace; a 150-year old grandfather clock; as well as diverse paintings owners, Jane and David Saxon, purchased mainly from auctions. In the elegant drawing room are a white marble fireplace; framed oil paintings of classical English rural scenes; gilded wall mirrors; a cabinet filled with assorted porcelain figurines such as ballerinas, nubile nude ladies, tea-pots and various animals and delightful window seats. Bedrooms overlook the surrounding countryside and feature assorted elegant furnishings including vanity mirrors, damask chairs and four-poster beds.
Dinner is a most enjoyable affair under an old world ambiance created by oak crossbeams, candelabra and a hanging chandelier, with floral carpeting and tasseled curtains. Enjoyable not only because of the food quality, which includes succulent lamb, duck and fish dishes, all locally sourced, but also because the room’s intimacy lends itself to interactive conversations among diners, a situation encouraged by a tradition whereby guests gather at a designated time for pre-dinner, get-to-known-you drinks in the drawing room.
The Georgian town of Whitehaven, five miles away, presents a variety of activities including the Beacon Museum in the harbor area offering a history of the area from Norse Settlers to twentieth century industries, as well as the ‘Sellafield Story,’ about how the area became the heart of the world’s nuclear industry. In contrast is the ‘Rum Story,’ a museum focusing on the famous drink and how the port plied its trade through the centuries. Visitors travel through a tropical rain forest, an African village, a slave ship and Cumbrian cottages. The town’s Rosehill Theatre also offers a variety of live performances.