Ross Heppenstall enjoys a retreat in Lakes splendour.

HEADING to Windermere and not taking to the water is like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.

Taking centre stage during any visit to Windermere is the lake itself. At 10.5 miles long, a mile wide and 220 feet deep, it’s the largest natural lake in England, fed by numerous rivers, and home to many species of wildlife including otters, kingfishers and varieties of fish.

Windermere Lake Cruises operate all year round - an ideal way of seeing the lake and reaching Ambleside and Bowness/Windermere.

I cruised around the lake during a visit to Ambleside, where I stayed at The Waterhead, a boutique hotel dripping with charm, charisma and Lakeland elegance. Located on the shores of Windermere, it offers magnificent views of the famous lake, and a room overlooking the water feels like an extra special treat.

The four-star hotel is just a 15-minute stroll into Ambleside and a short distance from Windermere and Bowness. Nearby is a landing stage for cross-lake cruise trips and a bus-stop outside the front entrance, so plenty of scope to get about without a car.

Ambleside is a delightful little town offering quality independent shops, cafes, pubs and a cinema. Other well-known Lakes towns and villages within easy reach include Hawkshead, Grasmere and Keswick, affording plenty of opportunities for fell-walking and surveying some of the nation’s most beautiful countryside.

Head out of Ambleside town centre and you’ll reach Stock Ghyll Force, a stunning 70ft waterfall sending gallons of water crashing down the hillside. From there you encounter beautiful woodland before rejoining the road and reaching a path through fields leading to the top of Wansfell Pike. At 1,500 feet above sea level, with steps cut into the hillside for easier ascent, it’s a steady climb and do-able for the not so experienced hiker.

The weather was unseasonably mild and dry during our visit, and at the top we enjoyed incredible panoramic views over Ambleside and Coniston.

The Waterhead re-opened in 2004 after an extensive refurbishment. Outside it looks like a stone country house, while inside it combines traditional Lakeland elegance and modern comfort. The staff were warm and attentive. One long-serving barman told me he’s been ‘exiled’ here from Yorkshire for almost 30 years, and it’s easy to see why.

The Bar and Grill Restaurant champions local ingredients with a modern twist on regional dishes. The delicious breakfast included Cumberland sausage and black pudding. Guests receive complimentary membership of sister hotel Low Wood’s Leisure Club, a mile away. Facilities include feature pool, steam room, sauna, gym and beauty salons.

* DURING our stay in the Lake District we enjoyed dinner at the Wild Boar Restaurant in Windermere.

An early 19th-century hotel set in tranquil surroundings, close to the shores of Windermere and set in the Gilpin Valley, the Wild Boar takes its name from the local legend of Sir Richard de Gilpin, who is said to have bravely fought and killed a particularly ferocious wild boar close by. These days the Wild Boar is a cosy country retreat.

The Grill & Smokehouse’s open kitchen offers a delicious menu, and a smokehouse and microbrewery are located at the rear of the inn. The bar area is a welcoming spot for a pre or post-prandial drink, offering over 60 malt whiskies and a selection of ports. The dining-room has low ceilings, book-lined shelves and an open-plan kitchen where guests are encouraged to interact with the chefs.

The food is excellent, with an emphasis on smoked meats, prepared at the smokehouse. Open fires, wooden floorboards and leather seating create a welcoming atmosphere, and the restaurant embraces tradition with a hearty British menu, while an open kitchen brings a little theatre to the dining experience.

To start, I opted for the deli board which included a selection of air dried ham, homemade pastrami, smoked ox tongue, hot-smoked and peppered wild boar, house-cured Loch Duart smoked salmon, pickled egg, smoked wild boar sausage and chutney. My main course was a tender 12oz fillet steak with smoked damson sauce, triple-cooked chips and roasted winter vegetables. My dining companion had lamb shank followed by crumble and custard while I finished with an All English cheese selection. By the time we left we were already planning our next visit.

Ross Heppenstall

* A two-night stay at the Waterhead costs from £139 per room. Dogs welcome.


* The Wild Boar, Crook Road, Windermere. Call 015394 45225 or visit