Our stay at the Waterhead Hotel was one of our most memorable ever short breaks,though my wife is trying incredibly hard to forget some parts of it, without success. Coniston is a comfortable two and a half drive though I use the adjective very loosely here. The Winter weather and three day forecast didn't bode well for a stay in the Lakes but we monitored the situation closely and made sure our vehicle was in robust condition and was well equipped for emergencies. That said, it isn't a model Bear Grylls would make his first choice for venturing into the wilderness.
Soooo …. we got to the Kirkstone Pass and there was a roadsign advising the route was passable with care. CARE !! That's possibly the most outrageous understatement I've ever come accross. I had to check my map three times to say it actually said Kirkstone and not Khyber. Snow on the ground, snow in the air, snow obliterating the windscreen, I'd swear it was snowing on the back seat. An absolute blizzard and I'm sure the sign had smallprint – Passable With Care …. if your name is James Bond.
We made it to the hotel, shaken and definitely stirred and headed to the bar for a stiff drink. Whisky, not Martini, before you ask. The prices shook us still further, very steep for a three star hotel. But the place is absolutely superb from top to bottom. Brilliant staff, exquisite food and a location that deserves all the superlatives heaped upon it. Again the restaurant charges top whack and to add insult to injury, a good proportion of the dishes carry a surcharge, even the cheeseboard ! But it's clear they use only the best ingredients and chef knows exactly what to do with them. And the service is spot on, friendly without being intrusive, efficient without any feeling of being rushed. And it's a very pleasant and welcoming restaurant. I didn't feel overfull, the portions aren't spilling over the edge of the plate ….. but hey, we had a mountain to climb next morning.
And climb it we did. The Waterhead is on the banks of Coniston Lake and only a short walk from The Old Man of Coniston, a 2,600 feet fell. So you really are staying in one of the best located hotels in England, 10 out of 10 in my opinion. The climb is beautiful and majestic, there's so many cascades and babbling brooks you almost forget that the thunder you can hear incredibly close by is actually your heartbeat. And you should have brought a straitjacket to keep your lungs in your chest. The Old Man of Coniston is awe inspiring, this even older man of Coniston didn't feel quite so Moneysupermarket. But I'd do it again and would recommend the experience to others. Just take care and take time.
The next day we walked the lake which is obviously rich in history. I'm sure most readers will know the rather gruesome story that Donald Campbell's body was recovered after his near 200 mph crash but his head remains missing to this day. There's a display of Campbell memorabilia at the Ruskin Museum on the banks of the Lakes and I think unarguably this has been the stuff of legends. The lake itself is a decent size by our island standards and has some adequate hiking for those not completely emaciated from the previous day's climbing. We, ahum, decided it was a bit cold and drove instead.
Obviously the Lakes District is not on a huge scale and Coniston is convenient for Ullswater, Windermere and Helvellyn / Thirlmere. If you're staying at the Waterhead longer and fancy a complete change of scene, the beaches of Grange-over-Sands are 35 minutes away and a lot more Lancashire beaches just a wee bit further.
The Waterhead may occupy a grand position, but be warned it's a converted gentleman's residence and not a Vegas style mega resort. That makes the rooms small and the number of available dates smaller still. We struggled to find a suitable date and I'd advise would-be guests to book well in advance and preferably outside of peak periods (no pun intended).
You definitely wont come home thinking "was that it". We felt like we'd been away a fortnight, not a matter of days. And if we turned a drama into a crisis at times, all is well that ends well and this getaway certainly did.