‘Shalom”, boomed the dark-haired young man behind the reception desk as we checked into Armathwaite Hall.
The kind of greeting routinely proffered at a Tel Aviv sea-front hotel, perhaps? Not at all what you would expect to find on arriving at a 17th century former stately home nestling on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake.
However, it seemed this Lakeland hotel’s food and beverage manager, an amiable chap from St Annes called David, had spied the Jewish Chronicle were booked in, wanted to declare a shared heritage and offer an especially warm welcome.
But that’s the thing about the Lake District. Amongst this glorious national park, speckled with the bruise-coloured mountains, lush green meadows and babbling streams that inspired one of England’s greatest poets, you can still be surprised.
Not perhaps just in the form of a nice Jewish boy from the Fylde coast. Rather, in the way that the Lakes can serve up so much that is unexpected.
And even though, since we live in Manchester, its 32 miles of rolling countryside almost seeps to our doorstep, it never disappoints. This is not just countryside. This is Lake District countryside.
Of course, the hardiest walker might, on arrival, immediately reach for their cagoule and start talking about weather reports, packed lunches and the joys of scaling Scafell Pike or one of the other peaks prickling the Cumbrian skyline. And, indeed, there are so many activities you can do here — from abseiling and water sports to a simple amble around pretty Lakeland towns such as Ambleside.
But we had come to the Lakes to see if we could pull off something else entirely: a trip that could appeal to all the family.
Not too much walking, but enough diversion and entertainment to please all ages — or in our case a cycle-mad husband, his frazzled wife, their 13-year-old son and his eight-year-old sister. For this reason, we had elected to stay in the northern Lakes, where the scenery becomes less dramatic (for that, read challenging) as the terrain drops down, north of Keswick.
Brooding over Bassenthwaite, a long narrow neck of water, stands Skiddaw, which though the fourth highest mountain in England, is said to be the “simplest” of the Lake District Mountains to take on as there is a well trodden path that will take you to the top.
Feeling it might be ambitious for our party — though my husband did mutter about trying to cycle up it — we decided, instead, to stretch our legs on the shore path which we picked up at the bottom of the hotel grounds and which runs the length of Bassenthwaite’s west shore.
Flat, peaceful, save for the perpetual attempts to spin stones across the water, we could feel the stresses of the day melting away.
However the Lakes — with their tranquil uninterrupted views — can also play to the lazy gene too.
And by staying in a country house hotel, we also took full advantage of the hotel’s gorgeous grounds to simply sit around reading, before perhaps mustering the strength to order another coffee, or even something a little stronger.
When the weather closed in — another occupational hazard in this part of the world — we retreated to the hotel spa to enjoy the indoor pool and outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking a gorgeous Lakeland scene.
And thanks to a bit of bartering and creative timetabling, I managed to squeeze in a wonderful facial while my husband had a hot stone massage.However, to enjoy the Lakes as a family is to set the tempo to the needs of the smallest member of your party. And there are many commercial attractions — including the nearby Pencil Museum (home to the “world’s longest pencil”).
We spent one morning, ambling round Trotters Animal World — a delightfully genteel open zoo just across the field from our hotel. From Anaconda to Zebra, Trotters has more than 100 species, including many that are endangered such as Gibbons and Vultures.
Wandering around this peculiar world, juxtaposed with the beauty of the Lakes made for an unusual but pleasant situation. My heart did lurch a little at the world’s largest rodents. We did, one day, go on a walk, choosing to attack the undulating four and a half mile footpath around the lake at the picturesque hamlet of Buttermere. Though for the hardier rambler starting here, there are lovely walks to the summits of Haystacks and Red Pike.
We, however, felt suitably victorious wooing our eight-year-old on our chosen path — even if we had to play Eye Spy a zillion times. For those of us in the north, the Lakes offer the luxury of a day trip, an overnight break or a weekend away since it is only two hours by road. Less if you go to South Lakes. And there is plenty of room for everyone, no need to go anywhere near the hub of Windermere, the main “tourist” town.
For those down south it is a longer trek. But it’s worth the journey.Because once the Lake District casts its spell you won’t be in that much of a hurry to leave.
As my friend at the hotel could tell you, shalom means hello as well as goodbye.
WHERE TO STAY
Armathwaite Hall Country House Hotel and Spa
Set in 400 acres of deer park and woodland, bordered by Bassenthwaite Lake this is is one of England’s original stately homes The bedrooms fall into four categories of studio suite, deluxe, spa rooms and club — some located in the main olde worlde hotel and others in the newly minted spa wing.
We chose the spa wing which is home to some spacious family rooms comprising a double room, separate twin room and bathroom.
There is five-course dining in the Lake View Restaurant (please note: no jeans or trainers).
For something a little less formal, there’s the Courtyard Bar and Brasserie, located in the Spa wing — where it’s not unusual to see diners tucking into their fish and chips in white fluffy bath robes after some serious pummelling and pampering treatments.
During the school holidays there’s a free activity programme for younger children such as cooking with chocolate or kids’ fun time yoga.
Older ones can be occupied through a partnership with the local outdoor activity centre .