Windermere - with a 'wow' factor at White Cross Bay
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COOOOOOOL, this is great, Grandad! And that sky-high accolade from bubbly six-year-old Ruby Holly seems a fitting verdict for a weekend away at White Cross Bay in the Lake District.
The short, three-night break on the lakeshore of Windermere served to underline what a fantastic time can be had almost on our own doorstep, with no need for baggage weight worries, spiralling airline 'extras' and frustrating airport delays.
Exotic, foreign destinations are indeed wonderful, but Britain's largest National Park is a world-class attraction - and it's OURS!
As part of a Pennines hill tribe north of Manchester, I'm less than two hours away from the delights of the Lakes, even ignoring the fast-track M6 Motorway and enjoying a meander along the 'old' route via the A65 through Ingleton and Kirby Lonsdale and on to Kendal.
From there, it's just a short drive to White Cross Bay, the flagship site of South Lakeland Parks, about half way between the popular tourist towns of Windermere and Ambleside. The company owns nine holiday and leisure parks across the Lake District and Lancashire and this 4-star site on England's longest lake, which has held a David Bellamy Gold Award for Conservation since 2003, lives up to its billing.
It boasts an indoor heated swimming pool (which isn't too deep, even for my little skiing legs!), a sauna, multi-purpose gym, restaurant, bar, shop, indoor and outdoor play areas, and a marina. But most importantly, the caravans and lodges in its 65-acres of wooded and immaculately-maintained grounds can suit most pockets and family sizes, ranging from two-bed standard caravans to open-plan, three-bedroom luxury lodges, all complete with linen and everything you're likely to need.
There are 79 properties available to rent on the park, which has a total of 348 plots. . . and the large number of privately-owned lodges speaks volumes for the South Lakeland Parks investment. Further hints about its obvious attractions include the number of gleaming, Lottery-class cars and 4x4s parked discreetly between lodges over the weekend and the amount of steam rising from hot tubs on tucked-away verandas, accompanied by the faint sounds of tinkling glasses and happy conversations as dusk closes in and the bats start flying.
Entertaining amongst friends was a noticeable feature, made all the easier by having top-quality, fully-equipped kitchens in the spotlessly-clean lodges fitted with every modern appliance, so it's perfect for picking up some great meal deals en route from M&S or a brilliant Booths supermarket if a few of you are getting together.
If you don't want to put your apron on, there's The Flying Boat restaurant, named in honour of the factory which built and launched more than 30 legendary Sunderland flying boats on the site in the Second World War. Its record-size hangar was later removed, along with a specially-built nearby village for workers, and all that remains is the 8ft thick concrete foundation under the present park, the former gatehouse at the entrance . . . and a ramp that makes light work of launching a boat.
Historic photos of the factory and the huge aircraft under construction hang on the walls of the restaurant, which offers a varied and well-priced menu (a very particular daughter rated her steak as 'excellent, just right' ) and which, being in the Lakes, also serves an almost-compulsory sticky toffee pudding. There goes the diet, flying out of the window faster than a Sunderland!
The main base complex is also home to the Boathouse Bar, which offers a pretty comprehensive takeaway menu as well as choice of eating in a less formal atmosphere, although ordering onions as a cooked-in extra on a margherita pizza proved a bigger challenge for the kitchen than I expected . . . but then it was at the very start of the season.
Drinks were well-enough priced, helped in the Boathouse by a voucher for a half-price bottle of very drinkable house wine. Spring has sprung, so a crisp rosé and a table among the beer garden songbirds went down very nicely, thank you.
Sadly, the sun was notable by its absence for most of the time I was there, although the temperature was still in the balmy late-teens and the occasional burst of rain wasn't too cold - and the Lake District certainly has character and appeal aplenty whatever the weather.
It certainly didn't stop us enjoying the Keswick Mountain Festival just a few miles up the road on the Saturday, with all manner of adventurous things for youngsters to try, as well as gulaschsuppe and a bier for adults to try, courtesy of a Tirol team promoting their mountains.
Fortified by a substantial lunch at The Kings Arms former coaching inn on Keswick's main street, more of the Mountain Festival by the side of Derwent Water, then back to White Cross Bay and playtime in the pool before dinner . . . then the Eurovision in the comfort of our two-bedroom Double Superior Plus Lodge.
Sunday meant a trip on the historic Windermere 'steamer' MV Tern, boarding the elegent, 1891 boat at Ambleside for the half-hour sail to bustling Bowness, where a child-friendly pub lunch was duly taken for old times' sake at the Royal Oak Inn - and it was just as good as I remember. A wander round, souvenirs from the Beatrix Potter shop, ice creams from a certain parlour that offers dozens of flavours, then in perfect time to catch the Tern for a return trip to Ambleside and 'home' to the pool (yes, Ruby, we'll go in again!) at White Cross Bay, named after the white-painted memorial to a couple of 19th Century anglers lost in a surprise storm. No storms in the excellent, airy pool - I opted out and retreated to the sauna - then it was dinner and an evening at leisure.
Check-out time is 10am, so plenty of time to pack and set off on Monday before the super-efficient cleaning teams move in to make way for the next family . . . and after such an enjoyable first visit, I don't think it will be too long before I plan a return.
• Short breaks (3-nights weekend/4-nights midweek) start from £174 in a caravan or £268 in a lodge.
• Week-long breaks (Saturday arrivals) from £249 in a caravan and £382 in a lodge.
Visit www.slholidays.co.uk for details.
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