From chill-out spas to classic cars, Emma Clayton visits natural and cultural attractions in the heart of the Lake District

MY earliest experience of the Lake District was a boot camp disguised as a school trip. We spent a week canoeing, abseiling, pot holing, hill-walking and attempting to cook dehydrated mince in a rain-soaked tent. I've never set foot in a canoe since.

My latest visit to the Lakes was a more tranquil, romantic affair. My partner and I stayed at the Lakeside Hotel which is, the name suggests, overlooks Lake Windermere. Perched at the water's edge on the south of the mighty lake, it's an elegant venue, with a chic spa and a labyrinth of snug lounges where you can sink into armchairs with a newspaper or simply admire the view.

And what a view! With sweeping vistas of the lake and spectacular fells beyond, it's a perfect retreat in the heart of the Lake District.

Winner of Cumbria Tourism’s Large Hotel of the Year 2014, the Lakeside is all you'd want from a country hotel; with oak panelling, open fires and sweeping staircases.

On arrival we were offered valet parking, setting the scene for a weekend of impressive hospitality from attentive, friendly staff.

Our spacious room, with an elegant sunken bath, was a haven of peace and tranquility, opening out to a private garden visited only by the occasional chirping bird.

After checking in, we explored the grounds which include a lovely scented garden filled with climbing roses and honeysuckle, and surrounding area. The hotel is well placed for local attractions; practically on its doorstep is the Lakeside jetty, offering access to lake cruises, and the Haverthwaite Steam Railway. North along the lake shore are scenic walking and cycling trails, with a Victorian ‘viewing station’ at Claife Heights, and further on is Grizedale Forest, the pretty Lakeland villages of Hawkshead and Coniston, and Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter.

The nearby Lakes Aquarium is home to various water creatures, from ducks to piranhas. The family-friendly attraction simulates tropical rainforest settings, with brightly-coloured frogs and an army of leaf-cutting ants, and celebrates the wildlife of the Lake District and nearby Morecambe Bay. An underwater tunnel taking us 'beneath Lake Windermere' brought us up close to menacing-looking pike, but the highlight was feeding time for two lively otters.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed our own dip in the water. The swimming pool, with panoramic lake views, is part of the Lakeside Spa complex which has a rooftop garden, complete with parterres and fruit trees. After a swim, we chilled out in the steam room and poolside Jacuzzi.

The pool, which includes a shallow, beach-style area, popular with families, is overlooked by a tranquil relaxing room, bathed in natural light, and there's a gym and spa suite offering Aveda treatments, blending flower and plant essences.

Later we headed to the bar - originally a 17th century coaching inn and the oldest part of the building - for a pre-dinner drink by the crackling open fire. We dined in the Lakeside Restaurant, where the menu blends Cumbrian produce with international influences, including Peruvian and Swedish dishes. Much of the produce comes from the hotel's kitchen garden, and local foraging missions. The hotel also has its own herd of sheep and rare breed cattle.

I had a delicious cheese souffle to start, followed by sea bass, while Nick enjoyed steak, and we finished with a tasty cheese platter.

There's a more informal dining experience in John Ruskin’s Brasserie, and in the Lakeview Conservatory, looking out to landscaped gardens leading down to the lake, guests can enjoy afternoon tea.

Next morning we boarded a lake cruise, stopping off at Bowness where we browsed around the pretty shops. Windermere Lake Cruises are Cumbria's most popular attraction, and the best way to experience England’s largest lake. With a Freedom of the Lake ticket, you can spend a day on and around the water, hopping off at Bowness, Ambleside or Lakeside.

Gazing out at the spectacular mountain scenery, secluded bays and wooded islands, I felt at the heart of somewhere special. "It's very Swallows and Amazons," I sighed, referring to Arthur Ransome's much-loved account of a childhood summer in the Lakes. But of course it's much more than that.

Returning to Lakeside, we had a swim then relaxed by the fire in the wood-panelled sitting-room.

We ended our trip with a short drive to the Lakeland Motor Museum, home to a wonderful collection of classic cars and motorbikes. I was particularly taken with the "car that swims"; a 1966 red convertible Amphicar, the only mass-produced amphibious passenger car ever made, reaching 70mph on land and seven mph on water. Also on display is a rare right-hand drive DeLorean, evoking the thrill of the time-travelling car immortalised in the Back to the Future movies, a 1936 Bentley, and a 1960 MGA Roadster, one of 50 supplied for police traffic patrol. There are motorbikes and scooters, including a 1963 Vespa Sportique once belonging to Princess Margaret, an Isle of Man TT Tribute, bicycles, including Penny Farthings, and children's pedal cars spanning a century.

The vehicles are presented against a 'Memory Lane' backdrop of period shops, a 1920s garage, a Fifties cafe and a Second World War jeep, tractor and Land Girl mannequins. Housed in a former mill in the Leven Valley, a cradle of the Industrial Revolution, the museum reflects South Lakeland's contribution to woodland industries.

The Campbell Bluebird Exhibition pays tribute to 'speed kings' Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son, Donald, who died on nearby Coniston Water in January, 1967 when, exceeding 300mph, his Bluebird K7 somersaulted and sank. The exhibition includes a full-sized replica of the K7, along with Sir Malcolm's 1935 Bluebird car and 1939 Bluebird K4 boat.

Motoring back to Yorkshire, we were already planning our next visit back to Lakeland; this magical corner of the North.


The Lakeside Hotel and Spa is at Newby Bridge, Cumbria. Ring 015395 30001 or visit

For more about the Lakes visit

Lakeland Motor Museum: 015395 30400 or

Windermere Lake Cruises: 015394 43360 or

Lakes Aquarium: 015395 30153 or