The New Normal in the Lakes

Driving across singe-lane Newby Bridge, just south of Windermere Lake, the lawns by the side of the River Leven, with their white lacy patio furniture and navy parasols look such an idyllic spot to stop for a coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. In the summer of 2020, when many of us still feel safer outdoors, this open air al fresco area looks even more tempting.

Tempting al fresco dining by the River LevenYet, a doorman stands guard at the entrance to The Swan Hotel car park. Even for a coffee you must book a table in advance. “We’ve had to turn away hundreds of guests who haven’t booked since we reopened,” he says with disappointment.

After the long hours and days of lock-down the appeal of the Lake District is stronger than ever. You can climb the fells, walk the trails, kayak on the lakes and rivers without worrying about masks: revelling in the freedom of remoteness, sometimes trekking for an hour or more without seeing another soul. Certainly, the Lakes are quieter this summer with less traffic on the roads. Self-catering accommodation is generally booked but hotels are cautiously operating significantly below usual occupancy rates.

Freedom in the Lakes (Copyright: Paul Reynolds)The Lake District of 2020 has changed. No longer is it entirely a place of carefree leisure and spontaneity. Decide to take a cruise on one of the lakes and you will need to book online in advance.

Even a pint or glass of wine at the end of the day is no longer simple. Take the pub featured in the Jemima Puddleduck book, The Tower Bank Arms, a mere stone’s throw from Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top, numbers are restricted, a one-way system is in operation. Standing or sitting at the bar is not permitted.

If you want to call in on Hill Top itself, a National Trust property, you need to visit the National Trust website to book a 30-minute arrival time-slot. Sadly, at the time of writing the house itself was closed to visitors but the gardens were open. A pop-up coffee shop sells drinks and delicious cakes. A small shop, with one-way system, is open for buying Enid Blyton books and toys for the grandchildren, as long as you use a credit or debit card.

Walking round the National Trust’s Sizergh CastleAlthough some National Trust properties remain closed, Sizergh Castle’s spacious gardens and magnificent walled kitchen garden are open. On a warm day there are ample picnic tables close to the restaurant. Also, there are tables available inside, providing you enter your National Trust membership details for tracing purposes.

Baha, providing Pacific Street Food in Bowness-on-Windermere, demonstrates how the restaurant industry is determined to rebuild consumer confidence. The restaurant has invested in the only U.K. lab-tested Covid-19 killing product on the market. Visitor groups are limited to six people who are then given single-use menus to order from their table. All staff are required to clean their hands every 15 minutes and are temperature checked each day before starting their shift.

The Swan Hotel at Newby BridgeTurning to hotels, if The Swan Hotel’s Covid-19 precautions are typical then travellers to the Lake District should feel very safe. Numerous hand-sanitisers have been installed. Only members of the same family are permitted to use the lift at the same time. Fortunately, The Swan has a large restaurant and although a number of tables have been removed to increase distance between tables, it can still accommodate a large number of guests. Waiters, wearing visors, will take your orders, and rigorously clean tables between guests. Young and local, the staff are very clearly pleased to be back at work and able to chat with guests. But in this new world you will have to specify a time for breakfast.

The food is as good as ever – but remember to book a tableThe Swan’s Spa opened on Friday 17th July offering massages, manicures and pedicures. Hopefully, gym, indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam room will open over the coming weeks.

Even check-out at The Swan represents the hospitality industry’s determination to defeat Covid-19. Guests are asked to book a time slot, to avoid congestion in reception, as they drop their key-cards into a box and settle their bills. This year taking a summer holiday in the Lakes will require a lot more planning.

More information

Hotel accommodation is available at The Swan: www.swanhotel.com

Check the National Trust at www.nationaltrust.org.uk  for details of openings.

Baha, Bowness’ Pacific Room restaurant, can be booked at www.bahabowness.com

For self-catering cottages and larger properties in the Lake District and Cumbria, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sally’s Cottages 

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Michael Edwards

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