A BOUNCE through the treetops and a tunnel under sharks keep youngsters busy and happy, writes Gaby Soutar
When you’re holidaying with two small children, self-catering is surely the only way to go. That’s because they can chuck as much food on the floor as they want – within reason – and you can clean it up later without giving a waiter a nervous breakdown. They can make ear-piercing shrieks and the only nerves that will be shredded are your own.
Team that with a family-friendly destination such as the Lake District, and you have a holiday that’s better than Disney World (well, almost) when it comes to keeping ankle biters distracted and entertained.
We found Winterfell Cottage near Bowness after browsing the website of cottage rental agency Lakelovers, which has more than 430 properties in the central and south Lake District. It’s a homely place with two neat doubles and another bedroom with bunk beds. Downstairs is a galley kitchen, conservatory and comfortable living and dining space, with a cupboard full of board games and DVDs.
However, it’s the garden that really sold it to us, with its rhododendrons, snapdragons, pear tree and squares of lawn to dash about on. I apologise to the owners for the fact that my three-year-old niece Edie is going through a murderous flower-picking phase, so a few of the more tempting blooms came to an untimely end. Her younger sister, one-year-old Iris, enjoyed transferring the grey slate chips from a decorative patio area onto the garden path. Simple yet destructive pleasures.
The cottage is only five minutes from Bowness, where you can find attractions including the World of Beatrix Potter, as well as grocery shops to fulfil your self-catering needs. However, as this tourist honeypot is always rather busy, and thus a no-go with a speedy toddler who can quickly vanish into a crowd, we only ventured there once in order to take a Windermere Lake Cruise to the Lakes Aquarium.
Edie had fun “shark-spotting” on this gentle expedition, which took about 45 minutes each way. We didn’t see any Great Whites, sadly.
The aquarium features a few unexpected guests such as a boa constrictor (we were there at feeding time when Slithers refused to eat a dead rat), otters, Mandarin ducks and a tank full of field mice. But there are also more predictable inmates such as the friendly ray in an open-topped pool, chunky and dappled koi carp and piranhas. There is also a glass tunnel so you can experience catfish and sharks gliding overhead.
Your ticket gets you all-day admission, so we looped the fishy loop a couple of times while waiting for the next boat home.
That was fun, but not as much fun as Treetop Nets at Brockhole. You have to go here. According to the man at the ticket desk, this attraction for children aged three and up is the only one of its kind in the UK (though they’re looking to expand). Essentially it consists of 1,500 square metres of treetop trampolines and walkways, the highest of which are suspended nine metres up in the trees.
That may not sound particularly vertiginous, but it feels it as you bounce along up in the branches like an ant in a hammock. To quickly get back onto terra firma, cross your arms over your chest and rocket down one of their enclosed slides.
After burning up all our adrenaline, we had a more sedate afternoon at Wray Castle. This mock-Gothic building on the shore of Lake Windermere resembles a cartoon castle, with its toothy turrets and towers. However, it came into National Trust ownership without its contents, so it’s not one of their typical properties. Instead of paintings and antique furniture, they’ve filled some of the empty shell with family-friendly attractions such as the Peter Rabbit and CBeebies Adventure, which is spread across five attic rooms.
You’ll find one that’s full of freshly picked (plastic) vegetables from Mr McGregor’s garden, plus a wheelbarrow for transportation, while another features Old Brown owl’s nest, complete with giant eggs. We’re not sure how it fits into the narrative, but there’s even a room that features a tiny blue bed and a mini kitchen – Cottontail’s bedsit perhaps?
Anyway, as dinner time loomed, we headed back to Winterfell Cottage and spotted three female pheasants in the garden and, then, the real Peter Rabbit (or maybe one of his distant relatives) rocketed across the lawn and into the rhododendron bush.
See, this place is better than Disney World.
A week at Winterfell Cottage near Bowness, which sleeps up to six people, costs from £395. Call Lakelovers, 015394 88855, or visit www.lakelovers.co.uk
Treetop Nets, Brockhole (01539 447186, www.treetopnets.co.uk). Two-hour session: children 3-6 £12.50; over-sevens £15; adult and child under seven £12.50; adults £15.
Lakes Aquarium, Newby Bridge, Ulverston, Cumbria (015395 30153, www.lakesaquarium.co.uk). Admission: adults £5.95; children £3.95.
Wray Castle, Low Wray, Ambleside (015394 33250, www.nationaltrust.org.uk). Adults £7.20; children £3.60; families £18.
For cruise times and fares, visit www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk
For information on things to see and do in the region, visit www.golakes.co.uk