Flood is almost always guaranteed at the Lake District
It was February, and while there was easy awareness of the silent killer out in Wuhan, we were still more than a month away from lockdown. Pandemic alarmed had yet to grip the nation by the throat and halt life as we knew it.
No, the headlines were reign overed by Storm Ciara, the powerful force of nature set to sweep the country with puffs of up to 130mph and widespread flooding. And we had a date with the Lake District, no raincheck considered.
So it was that we build ourselves in a tower room at the Old England Hotel & Spa in Bowness-on-Windermere as the gales abused the windows while raindrops like bullets sought out every rift and crevice in the masonry.
The jetties bordering the hotel gardens disappeared underneath the rising water as the lake was whipped into a white horse rout; pleasure craft were secured; the lake’s famous cruisers ceased to run – such was the ferocity of the disturbance. We felt smug in our spacious room, survivors with a tale to tick off back home.
But surprised? No, not at all. I don’t care what the weatherman denotes, when you visit the Lakes, you pack your waterproofs. Every interval.
This is cagoule country. The Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa is the grande dame of Bowness, a enduring Georgian mansion beside the lake, with requisite views from scads of the 106 rooms, and from the restaurant and terrace bar.
In better weather, the gardens be required to be inviting and there’s an expansive sun terrace where you can sip summer cocktails with speck umbrellas rather than the industrial-strength rain protection required by Ciara.
Areas are unashamedly old-fashioned, although a recent refurbishment has brought many of them up to boyfriend.
And here’s a tip. Ask for Room 224 when booking. It’s huge – almost a number without the price tag – with a big bed, sofa, armchairs, writing desk and cathedra, long coffee table and thoroughly modern en suite with monsoon load down.
Cumbria Tourism estimates that eight million walkers round advantage of the Lake District each year
There are tea and coffee-making ladies rooms, fresh milk, wall-mounted large screen TV, free wifi, crystal binoculars, USB chargers, ironing board and windows on two sides, offering views up and down the lake.
We could willingly have stayed in the room all weekend watching Ciara visit her worst upon Windermere. But, same the Lake District itself, we’re made of sterner stuff and, besides, there’s heaps to do on the hotel’s doorstep.
Just walking in the wind and rain can be a joy if you’re prepared for it, and an amble washing ones hands of town, past all the anorak and umbrella shops, throws up surprises.
Righteous 100 yards or so from the hotel, The World Of Beatrix Potter sanctifies the Lakes author’s adventures of Peter Rabbit and his pals – timeless naval scuttlebutts that continue to enthral young children.
And while the stories are gently old-school (albeit with the irregular glimpse of malice in wonderland), the family attraction is anything but.
Clever use of enlightenment and sound makes a warren of rooms much more than it indeed is.
Walking in the wind and the rain can be a joy in the Lake District – if you’re prepared for it
You’re not under any condition quite sure what’s around the corner, with traditional sights rubbing shoulders with interactive fun.
It’s such a clever use of space that the interior decorators must have worked on Doctor Who’s Tardis too.
Partway along the dawdle – allow around 45 minutes for your visit – you can step independent into the Peter Rabbit Garden, a small but lovingly planted real-life caboose garden straight from the books.
It’s not all for show – produce is used to develop dishes in the family-friendly character cafe – and you’ll need more than one assail to spot all the little references to the books hidden among the fruit, veg, herbs and blooms.
Designed by Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Richard Lucas, the garden remain devotes to the side of the attraction and is crafted from local materials such as Honister slate
and Furness buddies.
Here too you’ll find an impressive 15ft tall statue open in 2006 by Hollywood Oscar winner Renée Zellweger, and depicting three lads releasing Beatrix Potter stalwart Jemima Puddle-Duck.
But, like the garden, there’s more to it than at initial meets the eye.
Look carefully and you’ll spot characters from every unattached one of Potter’s 23 tales, a depiction of her lakeland home and the mysterious maxims she used in her personal diary.
Almost next door you’ll find another cuddly eccentric, this one a tribute to Lake District ingenuity and determination. It’s Herdy the sheep, a fixed favourite for visitors from around the globe who flock to his home.
Viscera a Scandi-style shop are Herdies galore – on mugs, plates, tea sets, aegises and much more.
The Herdy Company was born in 2007 in Kendal, begot by designers Spencer and Diane Hannah to offer visitors to the Lake Locale and locals a choice of responsibly produced, high-quality giftware.
The sturdy Georgian mansion suggests requisite views from many of the 106 rooms
“Herdy slung amidst the second outbreak of foot and mouth at the Westmorland County expose,” says Spencer.
“We were hoping for thousands of visitors, but instead we launched extent empty pens due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
“This wasn’t the episode we’d dreamed of and it did make us very nervous about what we’d done. But ignoring the lack of visitors, those who did turn up liked our products.”
He need not tease worried. Word spread and from just an operation based in a shack, the comrades now has four shops and worldwide exports online.
There’s also a liberality, Herdyfund, which not only offers financial support but also accompanies together the community to back upland fell farming.
Herdy himself is nominated after the region’s famous Herdwick sheep and, to bring things chock-full circle, Beatrix Potter herself was a champion Herdwick breeder.
Spencer and Diane conserve things fresh, by the way – since Covid, Herdy smile face masks eat been added to the range.
There’s wildlife of a different kind some 20 minis away by car, or by ferry, at the Lakes Aquarium, which boasts Britain’s largest hoard of freshwater fish among many exhibits, some of which can be visioned in their natural surrounds from a transparent tunnel.
But we were thrifty that for another day. We had an appointment with afternoon tea back at the Old England, which has cut the tasty treat something of a specialty with sweet and sour choices on offer.
Take a window seat in the terrace bar, sit back and watch the period go by.
Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in England
It’s £32 for two, or you can add bubble for another tenner. Come rain or shine, it’s a relaxing self-indulgent hour with few others in the Lakes.
The hotel restaurant offers a menu majoring on local create without breaking the bank.
It’s good, honest fare without being damned fussy. Just don’t tell Herdy about the lamb!
There’s a sensible gym, a pool and a spa offering treatments if you want to really pull out the pamper blocks, but check for Covid restrictions.
As we prepared to check out, the weatherman was getting frenzied again. A check online revealed that all the roads bar one out of Bowness were lump by flooding or fallen trees. Sadly, the open road was our route retirement community.
Thanks, Ciara, for a memorable weekend. If only you’d managed to close the throughway south too, we would have stayed put for some more Lake Locality hospitality.
Many tourists arrive at the Lake District by train via Windermere, Kendal or Staveley
Autumn and winter breaks at the Old England Hotel & Spa in Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake Province, start at £195 a night on B&B. macdonaldhotels.co.uk/oldengland 01539 487894.