A cautious Deanna Thomas wonders if it's possible to really relax in the shadow of coronavirus?
Hands up those who cancelled their holiday abroad. After saving up all year, my family was supposed to be in Croatia, but the global pandemic put paid to that and thousands of other people’s travel plans. The uncertainty of sudden localised lockdowns and the threat of a two week quarantine on return has made travelling abroad less appealing in 2020.
Several of the rooms lead onto their own terrace, for the ultimate socially distanced option
So instead, let’s work with what we do have. The UK weather may not be dependable but we have beautiful Blue Flag beaches, swathes of picturesque green landscape and masses of fascinating historical sites. What you save on flights and travel time, you can invest back into the local economy. Plus the Eat Out To Help Out scheme has boosted everyone’s mid-week August budget.
But if you’ve spent the past few months at home, how safe can you feel heading straight from lockdown into one of Britain’s tourist hot spots?
Up in the Lake District (less than two hours’ drive away) you might be taking your chances in bustling towns like Bowness, Grasmere and Ambleside where not everyone wears masks as they pass each other on narrow pavements. But shops have generally done well working out one-way systems, installing sanitising stations and implementing safety procedures.
Cumbria has a number of fine hotels and award winning restaurants. If you push the boat out a bit, you can stay somewhere that makes you feel so safe and comfortable you won’t really need to leave for a few days. And if you do want to go out, there are plenty of wide-open spaces nearby to explore.
Rothay Manor, a Grade II listed country house hotel in Ambleside, has nineteen bedrooms, a 3AA rosette fine dining restaurant and a huge private garden area.
We pulled in to the private car park an hour our so before check in and went to stretch our legs via nearby Borrans Park and Waterhead which leads right onto Lake Windermere. The walk took us up through the town and back downhill to the safety of the boutique hotel.
Rothay Manor sends all guests an email before their stay outlining their new safety procedures, which protects their staff and reassures guests.
A note by the front door points towards the sanitiser provided on entry to the hotel and the receptionist sits behind a screen to check guests in before showing them to their rooms. The check in procedure is then completed over the phone.
Check in has been moved to 3pm to allow housekeeping extra preparation time. Cleaning procedures have been increased and each room has been treated with an antiviral cleaner. If you would prefer soft furnishings to be removed as an extra precaution, just let them know in advance.
All the individually designed bedrooms have huge beds, complete with Egyptian cotton bed linen, feather pillows and duvets. Some have balconies over-looking the gardens - and one even has its own private hot tub.
It’s table service in the bar, drawing room and garden terrace, so feel free to chill out in the seating area overlooking the gardens where one of the easy going team (all wearing masks) will bring you a cup of tea or a G&T. If it makes you feel more comfortable, several of the rooms lead onto their own terrace, for the ultimate socially distanced option.
Although Ambleside has a number of highly recommended restaurants (see below), you’d be missing a treat if you didn’t book in for dinner in Rothay Manor’s fine dining restaurant (reservations have been staggered to maintain social distancing.)
Menus are scanned via QR code so you can choose from the a la carte or tasting menus from your own device. Chef Dan and his team showed a real lightness of touch (sometimes missing in these traditional country house hotels) with a series of highly enjoyable dishes; a smooth terrine of goose liver with hazelnut and cherry; Cumbrian Dexter beef sirloin, tongue and bone marrow with aubergine, followed by a pudding simply called ‘peach’ which turned out to be a perfect sugar sphere filled with raspberries, vanilla crème and almond.
If you prefer casual dining (or have brought your dog along), you can book a table in the adjacent Brathay Room, which serves simpler dishes such as soup, salads, burgers and steaks.
Brathay is also where breakfast is served – and it is a great one. In accordance with government guidelines, the breakfast buffet is no more so it’s table service, which can slow things down a little. If you need to head out early, you need to be first at the door at 8am. You’ll struggle to be hungry for lunch after piles of fresh fruit and granola, croissants and toast – and that’s before you even get onto smoked salmon and eggs or a Full English (Cumbria is well known for excellent sausages and bacon.)
Considering my family is in the ‘cautious camp’ and haven't ventured far beyond our local supermarket for the past few months, we felt pretty relaxed on our first outing to Rothay Manor. Guests were following the two metre physical distancing protocols and masks did nothing to hide the warmth of the staff looking after us. If anything, having to be more mindful of everything slowed down the general pace, which is what holidays are all about, aren’t they?
Rothay Manor Hotel, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0EH
Telephone: 01539 433605
BB from £165 per night
DBB from £275 per night
The Stay & Save offer provides up to 20% discount on DBB rates when three nights upwards are booked, with a maximum of 20% for five nights or more.
Click here to see all current offers
Other recommended places to eat in Ambleside
Ambleside is home to great restaurants such as Lake Road Kitchen and the Michelin starred Old Stamp House (reviewed here), which has now had to reduce its capacity from ten tables to five. It’s great news then that chef owner Ryan Blackburn had the foresight to open Kysty, which offers a simplified a la carte version of The Old Stamp House dining experience.
Nearby upmarket hotels The Samling and Holbeck Ghyll also have highly recommended fine dining restaurants showing the best of local produce. Occasionally, as at Rothay Manor, they offer themed dinners like the Louis Roederer champagne event we enjoyed last year.
It’s also worth knowing that the award winning Great North Pie Company has opened a small café/pie shop/kitchen/bottle bar in Ambleside serving British classics with matching beers.