With tranquil Windermere and the glorious mountains beyond, Ambleside occupies a coveted position on the shores of England’s longest natural lake.
If location, location, location really are the top three priorities in the search for accommodation, few places in the Lake District quite hit the spot like the Waterhead at Ambleside.
Looking out over tranquil Windermere and the majestic Lakeland mountains beyond, the area’s only four-star town house hotel occupies a coveted position on the shores of England’s longest natural lake.
The Romans built their fort Galava at this strategic, northern-most point of the 10.5-mile lake. Two thousand years on it is still a base for legions of tourists who come to conquer some of the most dramatic countryside in the land and, at the same time, indulge themselves with a touch of unashamed luxury.
Alison and I have often travelled the lakeside road from Newby Bridge up to Bowness, Windermere and Ambleside, en route for Grasmere and then Keswick further north.
The Waterhead has always been a striking landmark on a fork in the highway – straight on a mile or so to Ambleside itself, or left to the water’s edge where launches and steamers set sail on those famous Windermere cruises.
With the hotel right across the road from the shoreline and a good number of its rooms overlooking the lake, there aren’t many better-appointed places from which to explore the National Park.
We enjoyed a weekend stay, taking dinner in the restaurant on the Friday and then dropping in on some friends who have a place near the water’s edge just an evening stroll away on the Saturday.
Having stayed further down the lake in March and been to a wedding just a mile from the Waterhead in May, this was our third visit in four months. Yet it is a place I never tire of and, well, Mrs Ellis would live there full-time given half a chance.
Hotels are plentiful in this, the most scenic corner of England. And the quality is as high as some of the breathtaking peaks which form such an awe-inspiring backdrop.
But the Waterhead has some special touches, like a narration of a Beatrix Potter tale playing in the background – in the car park of all places – which give it that individual flavour required of a true boutique venue.
Its 41 bedrooms are all named after waterfalls in the Lake District – ours the Blea Water Beck Falls, near the “lost village” of Mardale at Haweswater.
We slept in the comfiest – and probably the biggest – bed we have come across on our travels for quite some time. But when you have been trudging up hill and down dale all day what a luxury it is to stretch out those aching limbs without fear of collision.
It was a gorgeous summer’s evening when we arrived and so a drink on the garden terrace, looking out over the water, was irresistible. Dinner, which we chose to take indoors in the elegant restaurant, was delicious.
Breakfast was cooked to order, not left to congeal on a self-service bar. It was delivered by a waiter who had taken time to find out our names. A touch some big chains would do well to copy.
That said, the Waterhead is part of a chain, but only a select group of five hotels called English Lakes. The four-star stable also includes the Low Wood Bay just down the road, the Wild Boar Inn, Grill and Smokehouse at Windermere, Lancaster House in Lancaster and the iconic Midland Hotel at Morecambe. All have achieved the Green Tourism gold mark and all demand the same high standards from their staff.
During our stay there was hardly a rucksack, anorak or hiking boot to be seen inside the Waterhead.
But that didn’t mean guests were exclusively motorised tourists happy to view the Lakes from the comfort of a four-by-four.
Most were there for the walking. They were also there for the upmarket eating and drinking and had accordingly packed two styles of wardrobe.
For our Saturday hike we drove up beyond Rydal to the White Moss Walks, took the footbridge over the River Rothay and up into the hills to look out over the peaceful waters of Grasmere.
Nothing too strenuous for two rank amateurs, but dramatic views all the same. Back at the hotel – via the shops of Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness – Peter Rabbit was still leading Mr McGregor a merry dance in the car park as we stowed the coats and boots and headed for a welcome cuppa.
The menu in the Waterhead’s stylish and contemporary restaurant offered regional dishes championing local ingredients. The fish was from Fleetwood, the beef sourced from Cumbrian farms and matured for a minimum of 21 days. There were Cartmel Valley Cumberland sausages and gin cured salmon from a little further north in Scotland.
The prices were not excessive for a swish restaurant and we got a stunning Lakeland sunset thrown in for free.
The view from our table looking out across Windermere as dusk fell was simply sensational. It really is all about location. And there can’t be many better in the Lake District than this.
Address: The Waterhead Hotel, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0ER
Phone: 08458 504503
Facilities: 41 rooms with en suite and daily housekeeping.
Restaurant, bar and grill.
Free guest parking.
Free use of leisure club at sister hotel The Low Wood Bay.
Tariffs: Rooms from £136 per night.
Special offers: One to three night mini-breaks in September and October (bed and breakfast, cruise of Windermere and Waterhead cream tea on arrival) £129 per room for one night, £219 for two nights and £299 for three).
Special occasions: The Waterhead offers wedding packages, Christmas and New Year breaks and conference bookings.