How on earth do you choose a hotel in the Lake District?
There are seemingly hundreds upon hundreds to suit every budget, all competing against each other to attract their share of the 13 million visitors who come to this most wondrous of regions each year.
How do they stand out to their clientele – from those muddy-boot wearing fell trompers to the more discernible lake gazers more accustomed to wine than Wainwrights?
It’s an impossible mission but the Lakes appears to be in rude health, if the M6 southbound on a Sunday evening is anything to go by.
But stand still and you may get left behind.
And that’s why the Low Wood Bay hotel just a mile shy of Ambleside is reinventing itself – again.
In one of the most prime spots imaginable right on the lake, Low Wood Bay Resort and Spa is a luxurious four-star hotel that somehow finds a happy balance between historic and ultra-modern.
Many visitors will know it as the hotel next to the jetties where the Great North Swim has launched for the last decade.
But it’s standing in the minds of many travellers goes back long before hardy swimmers donned wetsuits and launched themselves into the chilly waters of Windermere.
And among the luxury fittings, impeccable food, top of the range gym and spa and glorious accommodation, its connection to yesteryear are one of its greatest assets.
In each room, you will find a book chronicling the fascinating history of this former posting house and its role in helping tourism flourish in a previously inaccessible Lakes.
Co-written by former owner Michael Berry, it tells the story of 300 years of Low Wood’s place in Lakeland history and how its location was a vital factor in the establishment of rail travel to the heart of the lakes and beyond.
While gazing out from our Lake-view room with the inviting snowcapped Langdale Pikes staring back at us from across the still Windermere, it was marvellous to know the hotel’s roots hadn’t been forgotten among the modernity of the 21st century and its many demands.
We stayed for two nights and the hotel is dog friendly – with each four-legged visitor getting their own bed, bowl, set of treats and brochure of dog-friendly things to do in the Lake District.
Suffice to say, the wife loved it – almost as much as the pregnancy pillow we found amid the litany of plump pillows on the luxurious bed.
We must have mentioned it when booking – a great touch.
Low Wood Bay Resort and Spa is around a 25-minute brisk walk from the centre of Ambleside about a mile south of its sister hotel the Waterhead.
But it has enough on offer to keep you entertained, including two fine restaurants, swimming pool, steam room and sauna, squash court, gym and even regular daily fitness classes which are open to non-residents.
And for the health freaks among you, a fully stocked juice bar for the post workout recovery.
Dogs can’t be taken into the dining areas, The Windermere and the Blue Smoke restaurant, but they can be left in the room.
On the first night, we opted to eat in the bar area between the two with dog staring up longingly at the wife’s succulent braised beef (£18) while my fish pie (£17) was the best devoured in a long time.
The following night we dined at the ultra-classy Blue Smoke restaurant which is a tad more expensive (whole sea bass £24 and 8oz beef burger at £18).
But it does come with the added spectacle of seeing the food prepared in front of you with the mesmerising wood-fired grill.
Many deals to Low Wood have dinner included and it is worth pushing the boat out for top quality food at places like this.
The transformation from posting house of yesteryear is continuing apace – with £19m of development taking place at the back of the sprawling site where high-class suites are being built.
The race to stay ahead of the game continues apace, and while the Langdale Lounge is a little garish with its showroom furniture, there is no cause for complaint.
And one final word of praise – the staff. The determination to keep hold of its heritage is seen with their rustic uniforms and the homely feel is evident with their relaxed and warm approach, more akin to a smaller venue.
No robots here and that is all the more important as it competes for your business.
Low Wood also caters for conferences and weddings – it is a jack of all trades, and one it has truly mastered.
If this is your choice, then it will be a wise one indeed.
A wide range of weekend, midweek, conference and wedding packages are available at www.englishlakes.co.uk/low-wood-bay/
n Andy stayed in a Hazel Lake View Room.