Hotels that are dog friendly probably expect guests to bring the types of tiny coiffured pooches which are carried in a handbag and hand fed steamed chicken at mealtimes.
Ollie isn’t one of those. He is a large bouncy collie spaniel cross, known at times to be nervous, cantankerous and malodorous. He also has something of a track record of disgracing himself on trips away; as house guests we have had occasion to order the services of professional carpet cleaners.
However, that was when he was young, now he is seven, so calmer, better behaved and loves a walk so booking a family weekend in the Lake District in a hotel describing itself as dog friendly, it would have been criminal not to take him. We were here for walking and as a walk without a dog is a commute, we packed him up along with the hiking boots and maps.
Briery Wood Hotel is on the north east side of Lake Windermere, between Ambleside and the town of Windermere and set back from the lake. The hotel is an imposing Victorian building and the seven acres of grounds are spectacular – with mature landscaping and ornamental trees. Our family room had a balcony overlooking the front of the hotel towards the lake.
Dogs are allowed in some of the rooms but aren’t allowed to be left alone in them, understandably, so Ollie was deposited back in the car while we enjoyed a sumptuous three course meal in the hotel restaurant.
The food here is sourced very locally and not only sounds better because of it – who could resist Roast Rump of Fell Bred Lamb or the authenticity of Black Pudding from Bury – but tastes wholesome and delicious too.
A breakfast of local delights set us up for an action-packed day and our first call was just a mile down the road at National Park headquarters at Brockhole. I’d booked us all – excluding Ollie but including the somewhat reluctant other half and two teenage children – on to a Tree Top Trek. The aerial rope course is designed to make you swing, climb, balance and fly through the ancient oak woodland canopy. You are connected to a continuous safety cable which means you can move quickly from one tree to the next, and although this ensures your safety, it won’t preserve your dignity when wobbling in an ungainly manner.
It finishes with three parallel 250 metre zip wires which you can race down – the brochure advises that you “take in the spectacular views of the fells and Lake Windermere”. That’s if you don’t have your eyes shut and can concentrate through the squealing.
After so much excitement, it was Ollie’s turn to challenge himself. Having never taken him on a boat, we’d decided a four boat tour of the lake in a day would be a good introduction. A Windermere Lake Cruises Freedom of the Lake ticket gave us unlimited trips for 24 hours – perfect for a short stay. We boarded, with a somewhat nervous Ollie (whose ticket was free) at Brockhole and planned to use two ferries, via Ambleside to get to Wray Castle, from there walk five miles down the opposite shore of Windermere, to a ferry back to Bowness and from there another back to Brockhole.
It is a brilliant way to see a huge amount in a short space of time. Wray Castle was a fascinating place – a mock gothic edifice built by a Victorian industrialist with a very good opinion of himself, one assumes. The walk along the western side of Windermere gives some amazing views and is very gentle terrain. That is until we realised we were in danger of missing the last ferry across the lake to Bowness and had to break into a trot for the last half mile. Catching it without a minute to spare, we took a breather in the tourist trap of Bowness, just long enough to get an ice cream. After four boats and a long walk, Ollie was quite the seasoned sailor and we were famished from so much fresh air and exercise.
The Lamplighter Dining Rooms in Windermere offers such a good idea for Sunday lunch or dinner my family have made me promise to divert there next time we are within a hundred mile radius. Groups order their choice of roast – specifying the cut of meat and how it is cooked – and then your roast saddle of Lakeland lamb, topside of beef, gammon or whole roast chicken, or a combination of your choice, is served to your table for you to carve and dish out. Alongside are overflowing serving dishes of Yorkshire puds, roast parsnips and potatoes and an array of vegetables, sauces and gravy plus an expertly unctuous cauliflower cheese. It makes for a lovely convivial meal and a just reward for a weekend’s exertions, even if Ollie had to wait in the car for his scraps.
Briery Wood Country House Hotel offers weekend breaks including dinner, bed and breakfast from £95 per person, per night, www.brierywood.co.uk
A two hour Treetop Trek costs £30 per adult, £22 for a child. Family tickets (min 4 participants) 5 per cent discount, www.treetoptrek.co.uk
A Windermere Lake Cruises Freedom of the Lake ticket allows 24 hours of unlimited travel and costs £19 per adult, £9.50 per child or £50 for a family ticket (two adults, three children), www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk
The Lamplighter Dining Rooms in Windermere offers an à la carte menu, as well as their speciality Sunday lunch, which starts from £17.95 each for a joint of meat, www.lamplighterdiningrooms.com