Short Break - Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa, Bowness-on-Windermere
00:00 02 August 2014
This hotel has modern facilities and a swish spa but it’s rooted in the early days of Lakeland tourism. Sue Riley reports
Sometimes a single building can reveal the history of a place; in the case of the Macdonald Old England Hotel and Spa it’s a great example of how tourism has developed in Bowness-on-Windermere since the Victorian era.
Inside the Georgian residence there are lots of old photographs showing the imposing building standing proud beside the lake with few visitors or vehicles in sight. A couple of decades later the railway opened up the tourism trail, much to the dismay of residents including William Wordsworth. These days the hotel, in the heart of Bowness, is at the centre of the tourist industry which has grown up around it. A near neighbour is Windermere Lake Cruises which ferries more than a million visitors a year across the lake and is one of England’s top ten paid for visitor attractions.
The hotel retains its old-fashioned values though. There’s a concierge service for parking your car and the staff are incredibly friendly and genuine. From our classic double room, there was a glimpse of the lake but many of the suites have fabulous views. Head for the hotel lounge and restaurant and you won’t get a better view of Windermere; the restaurant has floor length windows overlooking the lake and it leads to a small garden where it’s pleasant to sit in the sun.
As the town grew so did the hotel and it now has 106 rooms. A major investment in 2007 saw the addition of a large luxury spa at the four-star hotel with a 20-metre pool, steam, sauna, ice and scented shower rooms. A case of history repeating itself as so many Victorian travellers originally visited the Lake District to sample the healthy air and lifestyle. This is a spa for the 21st Century though with its beautiful subdued décor and extensive range of treatments; my Elemis facial was one of the best I’ve had, partly down to the skill of beauty therapist Dawn.
The hotel’s restaurant is quite traditional. I had wild salmon which was one of the more expensive meals on the menu at £25 which followed a cold starter of corn-fed chicken pressing with parsnip remoulade and parsnip cream. My partner had seared wood pigeon with sweet shallot mousse and woodland gin-soaked puree followed by pork belly with apple, black pudding and potato priced at just under £20. Vegetables were an additional £4. The cheeseboard turned out to be the highlight. Each cheese - Rosary Ash, Tunworth, Colston Bassett Stilton and Oxford Isis – had a flavour pairing and the honeycomb was a particularly perfect contrast for the goats cheese. My only minor quibble was that there wasn’t a local cheese.
Breakfast the next morning was the usual fare of fruit, cereals, yogurts, porridge and Full English, all beautifully presented and cooked. One of my partner’s minor annoyances is piped music in restaurants but a quick mention to the charming waitress and it was switched off immediately, leaving us all to gaze on sunny Windermere in peace.
A classic double room on a bed and breakfast basis at the Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa starts at £169.
Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa, 23 Church Street, Bowness, LA23 3DF. Tel: 0844 879 9144.