Martin Symington reports on the winter warmer sweeping in from the States

For centuries, Icelanders have wandered out into the sub-Arctic night, stripped off and enjoyed the delicious sensation of relaxing in hot water surrounded by ice and mist, thanks to the scalding geothermal streams that bubble out of the ground to form steaming lakes, pools and rivers. (Read all about it in the sagas.) However, had the Icelandic Vikings' civilisation in Vinland (think Newfoundland) not come to an abrupt end in the 10th century, it might not have taken another millennium for a very similar idea - outdoor hot tubs - to catch on in North America.

For centuries, Icelanders have wandered out into the sub-Arctic night, stripped off and enjoyed the delicious sensation of relaxing in hot water surrounded by ice and mist, thanks to the scalding geothermal streams that bubble out of the ground to form steaming lakes, pools and rivers. (Read all about it in the sagas.) However, had the Icelandic Vikings' civilisation in Vinland (think Newfoundland) not come to an abrupt end in the 10th century, it might not have taken another millennium for a very similar idea - outdoor hot tubs - to catch on in North America.

Hot tubs are either wooden vats held together with steel bands or are like mini-swimming pools, sunk into the ground. They are equipped with a range of electronic devices to make the water bubble, or hydrotherapeutic jets to massage you, and they are usually positioned somewhere with a view. They have become an essential feature in up-market hotels and leisure complexes anywhere cold or snowy in the US or Canada in the past decade - ask anyone who has been skiing in Aspen or Whistler. And now they are beginning to take off in Britain. Here's where to find them.

Faweather Grange, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Recently, a guest at one of these Scandinavian-style log lodges lost her bikini top in the hot tub. Nobody need have been any the wiser, except that the offending article got stuck in the pump and site maintenance had to be called. Luckily, the woman had a convincing explanation. "It blew off," she said. Windy place, Ilkley Moor - baht 'at or otherwise.

Faweather Grange is a collection of eight holiday homes open all year and set in nine acres, a walk away from the pub that features as The Woolpack in the television soap opera Emmerdale. There is wonderful hiking on the doorstep and a pitch-and-putt golf course even closer. The lodges sleep two, four or six. Two of the smallest ones have outdoor hot tubs with commanding views of a wooded valley and the moor beyond. "These lodges make perfect places for honeymoons, and the hot tubs are very popular at night," said Tim Fullam of owners Hoseasons Holidays.

Single-bedroom lodges with a hot tub cost between £380 and £590 per week, depending on the season. If you're feeling really romantic, you can also hire a four-poster bed and indoor Jacuzzi and sauna.

* Hoseasons Holidays (tel: 01502 500500; net: www.hoseasons.co.uk).

The Samling, Lake District

To the Druids of ancient Cumbria, a samling meant a gathering. For reasons unknown, these took place in spectacular locations such as the stone circle of Castlerigg, high in the Lakeland Fells. This Samling, on the nearby eastern shore of Windermere, is a gathering place for up to 10 couples who can afford to splash out between £3,000 and £5,000 (depending on numbers) for just a day's break.

Billed as an "an exclusive weekend venue", these suites for the sybaritic sit in 67 acres of woodland and open countryside. Whatever food or drink visitors fancy is included in the price - caviar, champagne, you name it.

The gathering point is the large hot tub, which offers unsurpassed views over the lake and fells beyond. Plutocrats sit in it, poaching passively at any hour of the day or night, while drinks or nibbles are served. "It is most popular after midnight," claims Rob Hine of The Samling, who is too discreet to elaborate.

* The Samling, Ambleside Road, Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 1LR (tel: 01539 431922; net: www.thesamling.com).

St Christopher's Inn, London

This backpackers' hostel is the south London venue for a hot soak outdoors, and you don't even have to be a resident - £1 gets you a dip. The action takes place in its buzzing third-storey bar, Belushi's: order your drink in a plastic glass, and you can wander outside, strip off and take it into the hot tub. There is room for seven or eight, but, says hostel manager Victoria Melles-Sawyers, "sometimes people keep piling in, and there can be quite a party".

Views from the tub are of the London skyline: St Paul's Cathedral, the London Eye - and Guy's Hospital. Double rooms cost £40 a night and a dormitory bed just £12, including continental breakfast.

* St Christopher's Inn, 161 Borough High Street, London (tel: 020-7407 1856; net: www.st-christophers.co.uk).

Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland

Gleneagles has a fine outdoor hot tub, of course - well, it has just about everything. It's a big one, too, with room for up to 16 people, with underwater seats and a fountain. But, rather disappointingly, there are no views of the 850-acre Gleneagles estate.

By way of compensation, the spa leisure complex (which also has a huge indoor pool with "an exclusive range of beauty care and therapeutic treatments for gentlemen and ladies") offers luxury tinged with a clinical mien. The spoilsports won't allow any food or beverages to be consumed in the tub, for example. Nor is nocturnal revelry on the cards, as access is permitted only between 7am and 10pm. Still, who wants to be frolicking under the stars in a hot tub when you could be indoors enjoying a dinner-dance featuring Craig McMurdo and That Swing Thang band?

Rooms at Gleneagles cost from £235 per night, based on two sharing.

* The Gleneagles Hotel (tel: 01764 662231; net: www.gleneagles.com).

Stembridge Mill Pembrokeshire, Wales

Keep your voices to a whisper in the hot tub outside this 17th-century corn mill on the Gower peninsula, west of Swansea, and you may spot a family of otters slipping out of a stream or in the millpond below.

The serene old mill stands in 21 acres of woodland, pasture and water meadows and recently has been renovated in luxurious country-house style. It opened in September last year with four double bedrooms, two of which have mezzanines where a couple of children can sleep.

Bed and breakfast costs £130-£140 per night for two, or £230-£250 for an all-inclusive deal which includes all meals, drinks and facilities such as swimming pool, croquet and childcare if required.

Guests sit round a table together and can then adjourn to the hot tub. It seats six and is covered by a pergola to keep out the rain. Stembridge also runs day and residential courses in cookery, garden design, creative writing, and wildlife photography.

* Stembridge Mill, Stembridge, Gower, Swansea SA3 1BT, (tel: 01792 391640; net: www.stembridgemill.co.uk).

Deer's Leap Cottages, West Anstey, Devon

This hot tub is for the use of the visitors staying in five holiday cottages situated on the fringes of Exmoor. It bubbles away in a sheltered garden which is overhung with trees and rare shrubs. Beyond are the wilds of the moor.

The one- and two-bedroom cottages are set around a courtyard in 30 acres of landscaped gardens with an ornamental lake, ponds and a stream. Facilities for children and adults include an adventure playground with swings and a skyride, and an all-weather tennis court and mountain bikes.

A two-bedroom cottage costs between £220 and £450 per week, depending on the season. There is an additional charge of £5 per person per week for use of the hot tub.

* Hoseasons Country Cottages (tel: 01502 501555; net: www.hoseasons.co.uk).

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