The great thing about middle age, I'm deciding, is that I no longer have to seek foreign sun and sand with kids in mind. Now the nest is empty, my wife and I are determined to discover more of Britain. It's shameful to admit, but we had never taken a walking holiday nor ever been to the Lake District. Time to fix all that, then! But nothing too ambitious. A trip to the Windermere of Wordsworth – destination Ambleside – which has a nice and none too vigorous ring to it.
And yet, any thoughts of gentle strolls soon receded as we turned off the M6 and, within 20 minutes, found ourselves winding down the A593 through a beautiful but rugged landscape. We were glad we'd invested in some sturdy walking boots.
Pullwood Bay estate is centred on one of those mansions built by the Victorian manufacturing elite, as both symbol of status and expression of the urbanite longing for something unspoilt. This Tudor-style mansion with boathouse, gatehouse and wooded grounds, was erected on Windermere's north-west shore in 1891 for Sir William Crossley, a Manchester-based engineer. Since then, the estate has been used as a boys' school and, most recently, a collection of self-catering apartments.
There are 11 apartments, seven cottages, a boathouse and country house to choose from. We stayed in Fairfield, which sleeps four. The duplex apartment has an open-plan kitchen, dining room and lounge and one double en-suite bedroom downstairs. Upstairs, there's the master bedroom, with a large, deep bed, a large, deep slipper bath, and a power shower. The decor follows the tone, with white walls, dark wood, glass tables and a muted palette of greys and blues with odd splashes of colour. It's all in tune with relaxation after a day walking on fells and lakesides.
The apartments, and luxurious detached Wyke Bay house and Boat House, all have wood or slate flooring downstairs, with under-floor heating and surround-sound systems, and a high-spec Poggenpohl kitchen. Of the cottages, Curlew Close has patio doors for wheelchair access, open-plan living/kitchen area and a downstairs bedroom and toilet.
Out and about
Between Easter and October half-term, Pullwood Bay guests can arrange a boat trip across the lake, with an on-demand pick-up at the resort's private jetty. Round-lake cruises cost £17.75 for adults, £8.90 for children five to 15, or £48.50 for a family pass (015394 43360; windermere-lakecruises.co.uk). For more up-close encounters with the lake, from boat hire to wakeboarding, try Low Wood Bay Watersports Centre in Waterhead (015394 39441; elh.co.uk/watersports). For bike rental, there's Ghyllside Cycles (015394 33592; ghyllside.co.uk) where daily mountain bike hire is £20 for adults, £15 children.
Ambleside, a bracing three-mile walk away, is a crossroads and provisioning centre for the adventurous tourist. Located at the head of Windermere, it has plenty of restaurants, bars and gift shops as well as two independent cinemas with eateries attached: Fellinis (015394 32487; fellinisambleside.com) and Zeffirellis (015394 33845; zeffirellis.com); the former also has a jazz bar.
We were there for the walking, and for Wordsworth, so we followed the old Coffin Road towards Rydal, so named because that's the path that Ambleside's dear departed once took en route to burial in the consecrated ground at St Oswald's, Grasmere, where William and Mary Wordsworth were also laid to rest.
A vicious overnight storm had brought down trees and deposited snow on the fells before giving way to blue skies. So there was an Alpine feel to the scene next morning as we made our way to Grasmere, on the pilgrimage to Dove Cottage – Wordsworth's first residence as a married man and, many would say, his happiest (015394 35544; wordsworth.org.uk). Entry is £7.50 for adults, £4.50 for children (aged six to 15), with family passes (for five) at £17.50.
The food and drink
Ambleside has plenty of small supermarkets for self-caterers and a variety of cuisines. On our first night we went for an affordable (£25 per head with drinks), reliable Thai option at Jintana (015394 33394; jintanathaicuisine.com). If you fancy a treat, fashionable gastro-pub Drunken Duck (015394 36347; drunkenduckinn.co.uk) is just over a mile from Pullwood Bay, near the village of Barngates. Further afield, and up in the fells at Troutbeck, there's the atmospheric Queen's Head (015394 32174; queensheadhotel.com), a 17th-century coaching inn.
Pullwood Bay, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0HZ (015394 33333; pullwoodbay.com). Weekly rental starts at £350 for a cottage sleeping four.