Monday 18 November 2019

Lake Windermere's fan



We were following in Renee Zellweger's footsteps but it was another Hollywood star who sprang to mind.

Each course at the Michelin-star restaurant of the Holbeck Ghyll hotel prompted a Meg Ryan Moment. The one in the restaurant in When Harry Met Sally.

There were MRMs again over breakfast. And if that wasn't sensory overload enough, there were the fantastic views from the restaurant and our (shared) terrace overlooking Windermere in England's Lake District. Zellweger stayed in the multi-award-winning hotel for more than a fortnight while filming Miss Potter, so maybe she managed to try out the recommended local walks or the spa. And if she was too busy, well, at least she wasn't the first creative type to be hard at work in the area.

Once amateur artist William Gilpin, back in 1786, used the landscape hereabouts to illustrate his theories on what made paintings picturesque, artists, including Constable and Turner, flooded in.

You can see all of Turner's mastery of light and movement in his study of my wife zip-wiring through Grizedale. See how he's captured her legs bicycle-kicking... Hang on ... I've got my notes mixed up. That's the trouble with the Lake District -- you can be having a lovely, civilised time when suddenly a large dose of fun grabs you unawares.

We were at Go Ape, where you can release your inner Indiana Jones as you zip through the forest on steel wires, or try the Tarzan swing, all the time attached to a safety harness to ensure you don't fall. Around us there were people squealing with delight, and we were pretty pleased with ourselves that we were up there for some of the course too -- an accomplishment we'll put down to the unflagging support of our instructor -- even though we're more Jane than Tarzan.

Afterwards, a walk through Grizedale forest brought some more of those magnificent views Gilpin wrote about -- along with a street sign attached to a tree which described the Lake District as the capital of adventure. There are moves to make it the adventure sports capital of the UK so, quite apart from the traditional walking, riding or rock-climbing, you could try a Segway safari. You can see these two-wheeled electric vehicles being used by the police here and there, but you don't have to be young or fit: the guys at Lakeland Segway told us their oldest customer was 84.

After introductory instructions we were off through the Graythwaite estate -- along a path while being studied by sheep and cows, and then off road. The only danger I felt I was in was from the prospect of my face cracking from my wide grin.

Of course all this activity requires rest and recuperation -- and the area offers myriad choices, partly because it has catered for tourists for so long. It's been a national park, England's largest, since 1951 but as far back as 1784 Thomas West was able to report that the inns offered "viands [that] at present are not excelled in any other quarter of the empire".

The range of accommodation on offer was brought home on our second night when we moved on to The Wild Boar at Crook. While our room (complete with en suite copper bath) looked as if it had come from an interior design magazine, the on-site smokehouse provided the likes of smoked wild boar chop and smoked organic haddock.

In addition there are nature trails, smoking courses (we're talking food), and the use of leisure facilities in a sister hotel. If all this is too much, then retire to your balcony and enjoy the sound of silence.

Everywhere we visited kept up West's standards. Our third night's B&B was at the Watermill Inn, in Ings. Quite apart from its restaurant, packed with satisfied customers, the pub -- Cumbria pub of the year in 2009 -- also houses a micro-brewery, producing a lovely range, and it was named UK Beer pub of the year in 2011. One of its two bars is dog-friendly and we were later told that some of the mountain rescue teams drink there, partly because their dogs can come too.

Sometimes, however, you have to feed the soul as well as the body. And so to Blackwell House, an arts and crafts country house near Bowness-on-Windermere. Beautifully restored at a cost of millions, its interiors, especially the white drawing-room, rival the views of the lake. There's a tearoom and outside spaces to wander in as well, so it's not just a wet-weather destination.

Of course, the combination of culture and the lakes for many means just one man: Wordsworth. And Dove Cottage, where the poet lived from 1799 to 1808, was the site of composition of most of his famous works. Along with the museum which displays many original manuscripts, among them the diaries of his sister, including the entry which prompted the poem on the world's most famous flowers, you can see where Wordsworth had a lovely room upstairs in which to think, while the women of the house -- his wife, his sister and his sister-in-law -- ran the household in the dark kitchen below. After all, the poet had said he didn't want to be bothered "with questions of a domestic nature".

If only the ladies could have slipped up to Grasmere for some of the famous Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread, the recipe for which is now known by only one man. (Don't worry, it's also kept in a safe). For something a little more substantial there's always Chesters by the River, between Ambleside and Coniston, where fantastic rolls and salads are on offer along with gifts, speciality foods and kitchen equipment in a vaguely Avoca-esque vibe, or the Swan Hotel and Spa at Newby Bridge, where even if you're not staying you can enjoy lunch by the river.

It's unlikely the ring-tailed lemurs at South Lakes Wild Animal Park would have paid much attention to Wordsworth's admonishments. They have the run of the place -- one gently tugged my wife's sleeve when she was taking pictures. You can feed the lemurs and some other animals, such as the penguins and giraffes, at specified times and under supervision. Much of the park is traversed by means of raised walkways, affording great view of the bears and otters. It's a fantastically relaxing destination.

Our final jaunt was on a Windermere Lake Cruise. As we puttered towards Ambleside it was easy to see why visitors had been coming since the mid-1700s. And we Irish have some advantages -- not only are the lakes just three hours from Dublin by train and plane, but go just after the schools break up and you could well avoid the high- season hordes, as well as possibly getting the best value for money. Go even earlier and maybe you could catch a host of those famous daffodils.

Getting there

TransPennine Express trains run from Manchester airport to Oxenholme, Lake District. If renting a car from Enterprise in Kendal you can be collected and dropped in Oxenholme. There are also direct services to Windermere. Online fares start from £10 single.

At Holbeck Ghyll, bed and breakfast with dinner is from £280 per night for two adults sharing. or (0044) 1539 432 375.

At the Wild Boar Inn, part of the English lakes group of hotels, bed and breakfast ranges from £40-80 per person per night up to £59-119 person per night based on two adults sharing. Phone 0044 (8458) 504 604 or see

The Watermill Inn at Ings offers bed and breakfast from £72-£84, per night for two. Main courses in the bar/restaurant cost around £10. Phone 0044 (1539) 821 308 or see

For self-catering try www.heartofthe

Admission to the South Lakes Wild Animal park is £13.50 per adult, £9 per OAP and £8 per child. Under-threes go free.

For details of Segway tours, prices range from £35-£50 per person or a combined offer for Graythwaite and adventure tours is £75. Minimum age 14.

Go Ape has two sites in the area, see Prices £20-£30.

For Windermere Lake Cruises see

Entrance to Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum is £7.50 per adult, less for students and children. See www. Admission to Blackwell is £7.95 for adults, less for students and children, see

Other websites:,,

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