It normally takes me about two years to get around to writing up my hotel reviews (it’s well over a year, I think, since I visited the Bedruthan in Cornwall and I still have the notes fresh in my mind, as though I visited yesterday!) but I’m trying to be more organised and proactive and – why not? – reactive and so TA-DAH! here we are with a post that’s actually fresh in my mind and not from my ever-growing backlog of drafts.
What an intro.
Great. You don’t want to miss this one, especially if you enjoy the odd luxury weekend away somewhere rural but refined. Polished rural, I like to call it. It’s a thing. It’s all the bits of the countryside that people who are not from the countryside want to see, packaged up with deep, hot baths and fifty types of artisnal gin in the bar and a boot room stacked high with Hunter wellies. Hotels that are surrounded by gorgeous countryside, viewable through huge windows from a comfy chair, but that also have paths.
Because nobody would come to the real countryside, not for a luxury break. There’s nothing relaxing about a constant barrage of mud, psychopathic tractor drivers and wifi signal so weak and frustrating it makes you want to go at your own face with a cheese grater.
Obviously there are many good things about the countryside (clean air, slower pace of life, actual space), all I’m saying is that these country hotels (the good ones) manage to parcel up the country life experience so that you’d be forgiven for believing that anyone outside of the M25 spends most of the day either leaning against an AGA or throwing more logs on the fire. Rug on lap, dog at feet, glass of gin in hand and the firelight gently flickering as you read a romantic novel.
Anyway, the Newt In Somerset is the latest polished rural country house and by God do they do it well. This isn’t a hotel, it’s a destination – you could spend an entire day just going about the gardens, which are so splendid that non-guests actually pay to visit them. As a day trip.
They are magnificent, with acres of food-providing beds and orchards, wild areas, a deer park and a cutting edge, forward-thinking garden museum that you’d pay the entry price for alone.
So you have the gardens, which are an attraction in themselves, and then you have one of the most excellent spas in existence – so quiet, so instantly welcoming, so brilliantly designed – and a whole load of different places to eat and drink. Not in a “resort” sort of way, it’s not as though the place has themed restaurants popping up all over the shop, but you can climb up to the huge garden cafe that sits majestically on top op the lands, or you can have coffee in the greenhouse or dinner in the gloriously dark and sexy dining room…
The gym looks like the sort of gym very famous people would go to. I rarely mentions gyms, because WHY you would want to exercise on your relaxing break is beyond me, but this one is notable. The glass that fronts the entire building is formed from one sheet (the largest installed in the whole of Europe last year – geek fact) and it’s just spectacular. It’s no secret that I love a bit of elegant, streamlined modern architecture set against historic buildings and The Newt just do it so well.
It’s an absolute triumph in planning and design – like entering the world’s most perfect village, but if the village had been built by a perfectionist with unlimited budget. I can imagine it must have cost tens of millions of pounds. (The Daily Mail say 50 million, but hey. Pinch of salt, etc.)
And so to the main building, which is your classic Pride & Prejudice early Georgian affair, but with a cheeky little twist. In fact the twist happens before you even get through the door, because all of the woodwork (window frames, door frames) have been painted grey. It’s always a bit of a surprise when they’re not the usual off-white. Part of me hates it, that departure from the way things should be, but the other part of me admires the boldness. And it screams “we’ve done a shitload of work on this hotel – it’s basically a new build in an ancient shell!””
Which it is. The inside is immaculate, with huge panes of glass set against exposed stone walls (sound familiar? It’s like House Reno deja vu!) and bedroom walls and ceilings that are so flawlessly plastered you’d be hard pushed to tell you’re in an old house, until you go to the windows and see that they are the original sashes. The bedroom was borderline too clean for me, finish-wise – spots set into the ceiling, shining out through peepholes cut into the plasterboard, and pristine furniture, but on the other hand there’s no denying that this gives everything a really high-end feel. There’s no shabbiness – no worn leather armchair or frayed rug, none of your ubiquitous country house edge, but if there was then perhaps it would feel a little too much like the hotels that are already well established in providing a luxurious rural bolthole.
In short: go to The Newt if you’re after a countryside break. I can’t see how you’d regret it. Plenty to do, plenty to eat (and there’s a garden-to-fork philosophy, so a vast proportion of the ingredients have zero air miles and are just about as nice as you can get them) and bedrooms you’d happily live in. Make sure you do the spa and the garden museum and absolutely factor in a trip to nearby Bruton, which has the Hauser & Wirth gallery and is cute as a button. Within twenty minutes you have the market town Frome (the most “woke” town in the UK, apparently) and Wells, which is the UK’s smallest city but has an absolutely epic Cathedral. Or, you know, just lounge about at The Newt and drink their cider and eat snacks.
You can find more info on The Newt here – rooms start at £255 per night. No dogs allowed, which is also something that sets this hotel apart. Most country offerings are heaving with dogs, which is both lovely and at the same time annoying, depending on where you stand with dogs. The Newt do accept children, which is both lovely and at the same time – oh, you know the drill.
This post is what it says in the title: a post about my family holiday to the Lake District. We actually went in June and I meant to write it up then, but it takes me half a year to do anything these days. And it would have been completely forgotten had I not gone online to search for winter sun holidays and remembered that it needed editing and publishing!
It’s that time of year again: the time when I feel absolutely desperate to escape the UK and seek out warm weather. I say “that time of year again” but “that time”, when I have an almost sickening urge to find some sort of heat and sunshine, seems to stretch from around the second week of October until – I dunno – May. So in reality it’s over half the year. Maybe I should think about moving to warmer climes! I haven’t actually been on a winter sun holiday in about eight or nine years, so perhaps it needs more drastic measures? I could “home school” the kids from a beach bar for half of the year… Ha.
Anyway, my thoughts on taking holidays with small children are fairly well documented: it’s not a true holiday, in my opinion. Yes, there might be sun, yes there might be a beach, but can you really relax? Can you bury your feet into hot sand whilst sipping rosé and snacking on oversized olives stuffed with chilli? Can you let the wine go to your head and woozily read some trashy book on your Kindle before slipping off into a deep sleep, sun on your back, sound of the waves gently lapping the shore?
Can you rubber duck!
Maybe it gets better with every passing year – we haven’t been abroad as a family since April 2018, so can’t comment – but I wouldn’t say that I found our one trip en famille as restful as I had hoped.
Which was why for this year’s family holiday we went to – wait for it! – the Lake District. At the start of June we had a family birthday to go to and so we worked the trip around that, but I’m always quite nostalgic about Cumbria anyway because my mum is from there and there are loads of relatives to visit.
Practically speaking, it would probably have been much faster to go abroad. You have to spend a few hours on an aeroplane, frantically worried that your kids might scream and piss everyone off, but then at least after that you’re there. The hot walk over scorched tarmac, the tense passing through foreign passport control, the clunking of the luggage carousel as you nervously wait to see whether your suitcase has made it… At least you feel as though you’re on holiday.
Lake District? We drove for what seemed like about nine weeks. It rained the entire way. We got there in the dark – in the rain. When you go on holiday somewhere hot, they say that it’s the “same shit different scenery”. Getting out of the car in the cold and the rain in the arse end of nowhere wasn’t even different scenery; in fact, as the dog did a poo in front of me and the plastic bag of food I was hauling into the holiday cottage split open, it became abundantly clear that it was, one hundred percent, just the same shit.
We woke, however, to a glorious scene. I had rented a house a mile or so outside of Ambleside, at Loughrigg, and the house fronted the River Rothay. We opened the curtains to a beautiful June day and a view from a picture-book. The river rushed past, metres from the doorstep, providing a constant white noise that had the children sleeping so deeply we had to (for the first time ever) wake them up. Sheep and cows bumbled along in the surrounding pastures, a magnificent view towards Wansfell rose up in the distance. It was proper food for the soul.
Don’t get me wrong; a view doesn’t solve everything – I’m well aware that the attractions of the location were short-lived for toddlers – but it was at least a splendid setting to come back to for the short periods between trips to the toy shop (in the rain), trips to get snacks (in the rain) and trips to the ice cream parlour (in the rain). When it wasn’t raining, we were in the perfect position to go on walks straight from the front door – lots of holiday cottages boast “walks straight from the front door!” but few really deliver. There’s usually a walk, but you have to cross the M5 motorway first, or there’s a walk but only if you’re willing to climb over the farmer’s barbed wire fence and risk being shot at as you traverse the killing grounds to join the public footpath.
There were lots of walks.
In fact, we walked partway up Loughrigg, much to our own disbelief. It was quite steep for a two year-old and a four year-old and both ended up being carried for lots of it, but the sun was shining and the air was clear, we picked our way up the rocky slopes like sprightly little mountain goats.
We also walked to Ambleside a few times, on the most beautiful pathway. Very few cars, lots of walkers. I’d go so far to say that the holiday house was on a Walkers’ Highway. During civilised hours, there were probably two walkers that passed by every minute. (Worth noting if your dog’s barking is triggered by people walking close by!) I quite liked people walking past, actually – we’re so out of the way in Somerset that people rarely pass on foot, so it seemed rather convivial and lovely.
You never really know what you’re getting with a holiday home though, do you? Until you get there. The pictures either “don’t do it justice” and you rejoice at the fact you’ve landed a Farrow & Ball-pimped bargain complete with proper coffee machine and working Netflix, or you open the door to a damp-smelling hallway with laminated signs telling you not to flush tampons and to put the bins out on a Wednesday.
I booked the house through Lake Lovers because, after hours of tedious searching, they seemed to have the best selection of nice properties in the Lakes. I love the holiday houses on Unique Homestays but they were prohibitively expensive, the ones that were still available, because they slept about twenty people. The ones left when I was booking also didn’t take dogs. To be quite honest, I was almost about to bite the financial bullet and confirm an amazing one that looked out over a lake, but then reality did a check on me: would I really be spending my days looking out over the still water, book in hand, glass of wine on side table?
No, I would be spending my days trying to stop Ted from pulling plugs out of wall sockets and keeping Angelica supplied with a constant stream of snacks. (She likes “options”. I have to give her three options and she deliberates for a while, finger tucked under chin, eyes to ceiling, deep in thought, before giving me her choice. It was pretty cute when we started it, a year or so ago, and I could make up ridiculous options so that she chose the one thing I actually had in stock, but now she actually requires three solid options and it’s getting more and more difficult. Why do we start these crazy games?)
So the lake house that looked like something from an interiors shoot was out; a smaller, cuter cottage was needed. But nothing with very low ceilings, and it needed to be remote enough to be quiet but near enough to a nice town that we could go to cafes and see real life people, and so on. Being able to walk to a town was going to be the biggest novelty – I was incredibly excited about this. “I’ll take Angelica to shops when Ted is having his nap!” I said, excitedly, as I was searching the holiday websites. “We can just potter! And we won’t need a car!”
As it turned out, it rained pretty much constantly so we did need the car, but the thought was nice. The walk through beautiful scenery to get to Ambleside took about forty-five minutes but possibly would have taken twenty five had we been striding along as adults. Walking with small children is like walking through a giant vat of treacle, or it’s like having massive lead boots on that have been velcroed to the ground. It’s slow progress and you have to stop every ten seconds to look at a leaf that has fallen into a puddle.
It’s great fun, and I will treasure every single one of these slow-paced memories, but good lord it’s impossible to raise your heart rate above anything greater that “sedentary”. You’d get more exercise reading the paper in a rocking chair than walking with toddlers!
So anyway, we booked through Lake Lovers. The house was good – location great, house well-equipped, not much going on in the way of a garden because it was on a slope but no biggy. I didn’t fall over with interiors lust, but neither was I disappointed. The setting was idyllic, but once you were inside it wasn’t as though it enveloped you – there were large windows, but it wasn’t one of those houses where you sit in an Eames chair with a huge panoramic view rolling out in front of you. But as we know, holiday houses of that ilk cost the same as going to the bloody Seychelles!
We paid £1200 for a week – I’ve just looked at the same place and it’s currently £695, woe is the person who books at half term – plus a refundable deposit. I did look into hotels, thinking that if we found somewhere with a family room that took dogs, it’d work out to be around the same price but
There are pros and cons when it comes to holiday homes, but over the years I have come to the conclusion that the pros far outweigh the cons. Yes, I like to be waited on a bit if I’m on holiday – I don’t want to have to stack the dishwasher, pick the squashed peas out of the plughole, etc – but the joyous thing about a rented house is that if you decide you want to eat out every night, and budget allows, then you can. No problemo. You can also, though (and this is especially important when you’re with kids), stock up the fridge with kids’ Fruit Shoots and Innocent Smoothies, adults’ Prosecco and Beer and indulge them/yourself at any time you want without having to pay £3.80 for a small bottle of fizzy water or £16 for a miniature Prosecco. Crisps, nuts, all kinds of snacks can be at your immediate disposal – you can make a doorstep sandwich with local cheese and chutney whenever you want and the supply of tea and coffee can be endless.
I do love the cocooning, luxury feel of a good hotel but they come with a hefty price tag, don’t they? Great for a couple of nights, but once you tip into a week you could almost rent the James Bond lakeside abode for the same cost and invite eighteen friends. More space, the freedom to cook or eat out as you fancy and your own private outdoors areas.
What do you prefer for a longer holiday? The self-catered route or the fully-serviced hotel? Mr AMR prefers his own space and his own kitchen and has always been of this persuasion – I used to be a luxe hotel kind of person but now, with family, I think that I might be rented houses all the way…
Things we did near Ambleside:
Crossed over the Stepping Stones at Loughrigg. Ted refused to be carried and then obviously got his feet wet! Obviously!
Hired a boat and chugged our way around Lake Windermere. My health and safety paranoia was in overdrive, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, but when I had both kids firmly in my arms I loved it!
We used to have a little seventies’ motorboat when we lived on a river, so it brought back nice memories. Even if it was raining for most of the time!
We also went on the steam train that runs from Haverthwaite, but really more to give the kids something interesting to do. They weren’t too fussed by it really, which surprised me – I thought that all kids loved trains! – but they sat and ate their tangerines and looked at the rain whilst I spent half of the journey trying to take a completely symmetrical photo of the inside of the train carriage…
By far my favourite outing was to Hill Top, which was Beatrix Potter’s cottage up in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village with the most incredible views. I have a strange affinity with Beatrix Potter (don’t bloody laugh, I see you!) but I think I need to write a separate post about it. I don’t even like the books that much (sacrilege!) but I like her story and I like her cottage and I think I might have actually been her in a past life. I’ll come back to you on this particular revelation.
Anyway, I really enjoyed poking about the cottage, so much so that I bought the book about it in the gift shop. I’m usually allergic to gift shops! Although now I’m a fully-fledged National Trust member, I like to be supportive and buy the apron/fudge/fridge magnet, etc. It all helps. You can read about Hill Top here – if you’re an NT member then you get in for free.
Right, I’m off to look at winter sun holidays I’ll never book. Tell me, people, where is good to go in December with two small children that won’t be too hot but will also be guaranteed warmth, with a flight time that won’t make me want to eat my own hands with anxiety?
Jumping back to the Lake District; I would definitely go again, when the kids are slightly older. I mean I will definitely go again, because half of my extended family are up there, but I would actively choose there too. It’s so beautiful. So dramatic. I love walking, I love heartstoppingly beautiful scenery (who doesn’t) and I bloody love tea rooms. There are so many tea rooms…