Opened in the early part of the 20th century, the Waterhead Hotel, south of Ambleside, was one of a new ‘breed’ of hotels purpose-built to accommodate the rising tide of affluent tourists to the Lake District. It benefited, too, from the ferry service that ran from Newby Bridge at the southern end of Windermere lake to Waterhead at the northern end. A cutting-edge enterprise then, it remains so today, under the umbrella care of the English Lakes Hotel group.
From the outside, it comes across as a rambling pile of tacked-on additions to a central core, and inside gives no different impression. But that’s not a concern since the lounge, bar, grill and restaurant are all closely located and convenient. What really makes this hotel stand out from the many I researched for my thesis into the evolution of tourist accommodation in the central Lake District (1770-1914) is attention to detail, sometimes seemingly inconsequential detail, but which underscores a thoughtfulness that so many contemporary hotels are lacking.
You can take it as read that all of the 41 rooms are well and tastefully furnished, from the standard ‘House’ rooms, and the ‘Classic’ that have views over the lake to the ‘Luxury lake view’ rooms that come with lots of extra special touches from bathrobes and boutique toiletries to complimentary beverages such as Nespresso coffee pods, Teapigs tea, miniature bottles of Lakes gin and Fever-Tree tonic, filtered water, a generous bowl of fresh fruit, and Grasmere gingerbread – all replenished daily.
And, get this little idiosyncrasy – bottles of salted nuts and jelly beans! Small touches – I can’t remember when I last found a jelly bean in my hotel room – but the product of someone’s lateral thinking – those jelly beans will stick in my mind (as well as my teeth) for a very long time. And I’ll remember where I got them.
The discerning hotel visitor will know that there are few pleasures in life more agreeable than time devoted to the ritual of Afternoon Tea. It’s an ‘English’ tradition that pre-dates this hotel by around fifty years. Here, the customary towers of bloomers, bagels and buttery scones with gin-infused strawberry jam and clotted cream come with a choice of signature gins and tonic. In fact, they try to get gin into everything, including a delicious sloe gin trifle. And the hummocky, bracken-clad view over Black Crag to distant Wetherlam and Crinkle Crags is free.
Special offers – we enjoyed a 2-night autumnal break, B&B in a luxury room with dinner on one evening – pop up throughout the year, and are excellent value for money at this and the other hotels in the group.
The luxury of the hotel, however, doesn’t stop at the rooms and scope for relaxation – you get a pass to the nearby Low Wood Spa and Health Club – but spills over into the kitchen where a skilled brigade put together a sensibly limited menu that embraces tempura vegetables, BBQ pork ribs and ham hock terrine for starters, to lemon and rosemary lamb chump, grilled sea bass fillet and Thai green vegetable curry to follow, as well as a choice of steaks.
For those who need to be careful about what they eat, there are 4 vegan dishes, 4 vegetarian and no fewer than 21 dishes that are either gluten-free or for which gluten-free alternatives are available.
The choice of wines is sensible with most in the £20-£50 price range, with several served by the glass.
If you’re minded to do little or less, then leave you car on site (there’s an electric charging point for those that need it) and amble via Galava Roman Fort into Ambleside, potter about and then come back for that Afternoon Gin Tea.
Tell Me More about the Waterhead Hotel
Waterhead Hotel, Lake Road, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0ER
T: 0333 4141 314
Rates (late 2019)
‘House’ rooms from £146 to £259 B&B; or £202-£315 DB&B
‘Classic’ rooms from £182-£320 B&B; or £238-£376 DB&B
‘Luxury’ room from £234-£352 B&B; or £290-£408 DB&B