Windermere is the largest body of fresh water in England, and on a sunny day it can feel like the country's biggest tourist magnet, too. That's not surprising; the lake, with its fell-side backdrop, is a spectacular sight, and the town that bears the same name is a perfect base for walking, sailing, and ice-cream eating. It is a rare treat indeed to be both on the water's edge and in perfect, peaceful seclusion.
The Osprey, a converted boat house at the end of a private road between Windermere and Ambleside, offers that magical combination. Having deposited our toddler with her grandma, this luxurious hide-away was the perfect bolthole for a relaxing weekend away.
The Osprey (which is actually called The Ark, but marketed, confusingly, as The Osprey) still has its own wet dock, so the entire living quarters are raised above the water, and accessed via a flight of wooden stairs. Inside, the decor is modern, airy and high end, while outside there are two lovely balconies overlooking the lake; one has a table and chairs, making it a glorious spot for breakfast or afternoon drinks in summer.
Both bedrooms (a double and a twin) are en suite – one has a freestanding bath, the other a pleasingly powerful shower. They have indulgent touches such as White Company linens and Molton Brown toiletries. There is a comfortable living room, large dining table, and the best-equipped holiday kitchen I've ever seen. The house has wi-fi, plus an iPod dock, TV and DVD player – but you will likely spend far more time staring at the lakeside views.
Out and about
Out and about
The great outdoors, at its most glorious and greatest, is right on your doorstep, but public transport in the Lake District is, at best, sporadic. Although Windermere railway station is only a couple of miles away, The Osprey is at the end of a lengthy private road, so a car is advisable for anyone who wants to explore.
For those who are feeling active, the area is riddled with scenic walks – walkingbritain.co.uk is a great site from which to download routes, but do take a proper map too. Ferries and cruise boats ply the lake, while an array of waterborne options, including canoes, rowing and sailing boats, can be hired from various points including nearby Bowness.
There is also potential for fishing, watersports, and swimming (see lakedistrict.gov.uk for safety advice and details of other sporting options). There is a host of National Trust properties within a few miles, including Sizergh Castle, which is on the way back to the M6.
This is also Beatrix Potter country, and her house at Hill Top (015394 36269; peterrabbit.com), plus a gallery of the author's drawings and the twee World of Beatrix Potter attraction, are all nearby.
The food and drink
Visitors to The Osprey are greeted on arrival with a few useful welcome items including bread, milk, eggs, butter, coffee, and tea bags. A kitchen cupboard contains other useful bits such as oil, salt and pepper. For those looking to stock up, Booths – an upmarket supermarket five minutes' drive away in Windermere – is probably the best bet; there are smaller branches of the Co-op and Morrisons in town too.
Solid local dining options include the Old Stamp House (015394 32775; oldstamphouse.com) and Zeffirellis (015394 33845; zeffirellis.com) in Ambleside (posh British and Italian respectively), while the Watermill Inn (01539 821 309; watermillinn.co.uk) in Ings, just outside Windermere, offers enormous piles of tasty pub grub and has an on-site brewery.
For hardcore foodies, the wonderful, Michelin-starred l'Enclume (015395 36362; lenclume.co.uk), where the 17-course tasting menu is £120, is about 35 minutes' drive away in Cartmel. This pretty village has become a mini-gourmet destination, with another microbrewery, high-end cheese shop, and monthly Friday food market. The Lake District in general is awash with farm shops and roadside signs offering eggs and the like for sale.
The Osprey, Old Hall Road, Windermere, Cumbria (01637 881183; uniquehomestays.com). Prices start from £1,325 for a three-night stay for two people in low season; a refundable, cautionary deposit of £500 is also payable in advance. No children under six or pets; arrival and departure times are 4pm and 10am respectively.