'Relaxed, active and social' sums up the lure of England's lovely Lake District
John Manley believes the English Lake District's mix of quality hotels, stunning scenery and plenty of outdoor activities make it the perfect destination for a short break
‘THE Lakes’ first come into view on the driver’s side from Dumfriesshire as we head south from Cairnryan, having disembarked from Stena 90 minutes earlier. It’s not strictly speaking ‘The Lakes’ but across the glistening sandbanks of the Solway Firth are the northern peaks of Cumbria’s Lake District. Within the hour we’re on the banks of Ullswater checking in to Another Place, a quirkily named hotel that promises a “relaxed, active and social ethos” – an approach that perfectly encapsulates a visit to this beautiful part of northern England.
The Lakes have a human history dating back to the ancient Celts, while the Romans were also very active in the region, building a road – the so-called High Street – over several peaks in order to service the western end of Hadrian’s Wall.
The area first became popular as a tourist destination in the early 19th century, its deep lakes and high mountains – known colloquially as ‘fells’ – providing an antidote to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation that was taking place elsewhere in Britain.
It’s a brooding, imposing landscape, fashioned by nature but finessed by free-ranging sheep, whose grazing keeps swathes of the uplands free of trees and shrubs, imbuing them with a distinctive golden hue. The Cumbrian fells aren’t much higher than the Mournes, but these are immense, bulky mountains, at least three times as broad as they are high, their rounded summits more often than not obscured by cloud.
The Lake District was designated a national park in 1951 and is an exemplar for how natural and vernacular built heritage can be conserved, while accommodating millions of visitors annually.
Sheep farming continues, yet there’s plenty of free access for man and his best friend to the open heath, trails and bridle paths that criss-cross the uplands, forests and parkland. In 2017 The Lake District was awarded Unesco World Heritage status.
In a matter of weeks' time, Logan Air will begin flights from Belfast to the newly reopened Carlisle-Lake District Airport. It’s long overdue and is set to be a busy route, though something tells me I’ll still be inclined to get the ferry because I prefer its hassle free atmosphere and, believe it or not, enjoy the road trip through Galloway.
On previous visits we’ve stayed some 20-odd miles to the south on Windermere but this time we’re exploring the northern Lake District and are ideally located close to Pooley Bridge, a picturesque village at the top end of Ullswater, the second largest of the area’s eponymous water bodies.
Our hotel looks on to the water and is set in 18 acres of parkland, ideal for stretching guests’ legs and those of the dogs that are welcomed in many of its rooms. We’ve left our pair at home, which while allowing us a little more flexibility, does have its downside as I found when wistfully watching other guests and their dogs enjoying a lakeside stroll, usually with a dip for the latter.
We’re housed in one of Another Place’s two ‘cottages’. It’s a spacious and sumptuous two-bedroomed annex yards from the hotel, with a wood-burning stove that just begs to be lit after dark. Before dinner, we head to the hotel’s Swim Club, where we can avail of an outdoor hot tub and sauna or enjoy a workout in the fully equipped cardio room. Then it’s into the 20-metre pool, with its glass walls that look out on Ullstwater, creating the illusion that the tepid water inside is one with the lake’s.
Opposite the pool across the terrace is the ‘Living Space’, a rustic-chic, airy bar for relaxing drinks and casual dining. For more formal dining and some high-end, locally themed dishes, there’s the Rampsbeck Restaurant, exactly the sort of place you imagine Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon enjoying a bit of wine-fuelled, five-course hi-jinx in an episode of The Trip.
We’re up reasonably early and well-rested on our first morning and after a generous buffet and cooked breakfast we drive five-odd miles to Lowther, an incongruous and expansive castle/country residence set in parkland. Stately homes aren’t really my thing but this is a bit different.
The site has been derelict and reborn at least twice over the past 900 years and today much of the once-lavish property stands empty and roofless, a monument to both the ambition and ostentation of owner Jim Lowther’s ancestors.
He’s done a commendable job turning much of what is effectively a giant ruin into a popular privately owned tourist attraction. The buildings around the old courtyard have been lovingly restored to house a cafe and permanent exhibition of centuries’ worth of Lowther artefacts, including a painting of the castle in the early 19th century by JMW Turner.
Step outside and you’re beneath the towering stone skeleton of the castle ruins, where Chelsea Gold Medal-winning landscape designer Dan Pearson has taken inspiration from Ninfa, the gardened ruined city south of Rome.
We complete our visit to Lowther by exploring the various trails around the grounds on hired e-bikes, a novel mode of transport for me and one I’d happily be acquainted with again, as it takes all the effort out of riding up hills.
It was important we conserve our energy as after lunch we were kayaking on Ullswater, one of a number of outdoor activities (stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, sailing) available through the hotel.
We’re reasonably experienced canoeists but thankfully for those who aren’t, amiable instructor Chris is more than tolerant of novices. Hugging the shoreline, away from the choppiest waters, we explore the bays along the lake’s northern banks, each featuring at least one to-die-for boathouse with accommodation on the upper floor.
For those who aren’t inclined to get so close to the water, there are regular steamer runs from Pooley Bridge to Glenridding at the other end of the Ullswater.
After two blissful nights at Another Place we head north, naturally via the scenic route, to Carlisle. This small city lies 10 miles south of the Scottish border and in addition to lots of history befitting of a frontier location, it has plenty going within a short walk of the Halston, our 'aparthotel' accommodation for the night. In a busy few hours we manage to take in Hadrain's Wall, Solway Aviation Museum and Carlisle Castle.
:: John Manley and family spent two nights at Another Place near Pooley Bridge, staying in one of the hotel's two Cottages, where guests have full access to the hotel and its facilities yet enjoy private open-plan living and dining areas with a kitchen. Both are dog friendly.
:: Another Place offers a range of outdoor activities, including open-water swimming, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling, walking and skiing.
:: Double rooms with bed and breakfast are available from £180 and family suites from £335. Escape to the Lake includes a two-night stay with dinner at The Living Space and Rampsbeck Restaurant from £200 in the winter and £220 Sunday to Thursday only. For more information visit https://another.place/
:: The Halston in Carlisle offers self-catering apartments with options to cook for yourself, order room service or dine in the Penny Blue bar and restaurant. Dog friendly rooms available. Rates start at £100 per night for a studio apartment that sleeps two. For more details visit thehalston.com
:: John travelled Belfast-Cairnryan with Stena Line. Until the end of the month Stena LIne is offering motorists up to 15 per cent off on Economy, Flexi and Premium fares on its routes to Scotland and Liverpool. Travel up to January 5 2020 and use offer code ESCAPE when booking by March 31 and 48 hours in advance of travel. Full details can be found: stenaline.co.uk/save15