It is 7:30 a.m. and already seventy degrees in Bowness-on-Windermere. A rare, early summer heatwave. My friend Ebele and I lower ourselves into a sunken outdoor hot tub in groggy disbelief. We appear to have woken up in Utopia. Llamas and alpacas frolic yards away as we sip coffees in silence. A butterfly lands on the decking.
There’s no noise but for the bubbles, until a perfect breeze ruffles the fronds of the tree that’s dappling the sunlight. The grass could not be greener, skies cerulean. This is the definition of “bucolic,” I think. William Blake’s England, plus massage jets. His pastoral poems that plagued me in university start to make more sense (plenty of lambs here, too; the local “Herdies”).
We’re determined to get the most out of this weather, and our precious time in a coveted spa suite at Gilpin Hotel. Arriving late the previous day, Bel and I had tumbled into the Champagne room — not to raise a glass, but to borrow electrical plugs, both anxious to hit tough deadlines before we could relax. Genial staff periodically popped their heads in, offering words of encouragement and cups of tea while we furiously tapped our keyboards.
Finally making it into the Knipe Grill hours later (just down the road at sister hotel Gilpin Lake House), we’d vowed to leave our cloudlike bed at the first alarm. Three glasses of wine and an excellent Cumbrian meal later, that prospect seemed less likely. Beef rump cap with shiitake ketchup, hispi cabbage flavored with Marmite and ewes’ curd, and Lake District-farmed Iberico pork ensured a deep slumber (that — and the pillow spray found in our room).
Today we’re feeling lucky that our biggest task will be finding enough time to enjoy all the beautiful experiences laid out in front of us. We set our phones to Do Not Disturb and tuck away our laptops. Goodbye, world.
There are thirty bedrooms dotted across Gilpin Hotel’s twenty-one acres, Spa Suites being the fanciest. Of their countless draws, absolute privacy is the biggest. That and the en suite spa, complete with sauna, steam room, infrared lounge bed and state-of-the-art massage chair.
The living area features a huge, circular bath, a giant plant-filled birdcage suspended above it. There’s a large box stuffed with local Pure Lakes products; natural soaps, balms and tinctures to scrub and soothe every part of the body as you float between the facilities. A giant flatscreen TV can be trained in any direction, so you can catch up on The White Lotus.
Too hot for that today; we throw on some clothes and connect to the speakers, blasting the shared playlist both of us have added songs to for years. Then, the doorbell, just audible. Breakfast has arrived. Every member of staff here is a delight, and we’re sad to wave off our new friend as we turn our attention to the hearty spread of fruits, breads and Welsh rarebit with poached eggs. We make up our plates and waft through the patio doors to eat outside, enjoying a shady breakfast picnic before the mercury shoots up.
Back to that view: an algae-covered, private natural pond stretching out beyond the hot tub, its chilly water beckoning on this stifling day. Our bedroom appears to float on its edge, huge windows offering mountain views. While my comrade shakes her head, I tentatively wade in, and promptly get dive-bombed by a wasp, slipping on the rocks underfoot. Splashing over to the bank, I take a full minute to heave myself out, emerging covered in algae and duck shit!
Teeth chattering, I rinse off in the cedar wood double shower and all’s soon forgotten. We spend the next few hours on a self-led spa trail, the highlight being our discovery that the massage chair can be synced with East Coast hip hop.
We’ve booked at the casual pan-Asian Gilpin Spice, over in the main building, for lunch. All the windows are thrown open and we cool off with a Bombay Mule each (Bombay gin muddled with ginger ale, lime and fresh mint) then share Goan-style tiger king prawns and stir-fried vegetables. We’re tempted over to the hotel spa (which somehow feels smaller than ours) for a heavenly full-body massage, enjoying a quiet moment on the roof terrace in the sunshine before we’re whisked back to our digs via golf buggy.
It feels like the right moment to open a bottle of something; we duly toast in the hot tub. Another hour of lounging around, and it’s time to get ready for dinner at Michelin-starred SOURCE — at this point in the visit, an unsurprisingly spectacular affair.
Teaming up with a neighboring organic farm in a nose-to-tail, low-to-no food-mile approach to sourcing, this is a special spot. Making use of a vertical farm, chef Ollie Bridgwater ensures three things: no pesticides, no poor harvests and no plant wastage.
Dinner starts with more gin and tonics, but this time edible, clear globs that burst delightfully on the tongue. We carry on with native lobster dressed in peanut and chili, broccoli doused in XO sauce and roast loin of monkfish paired with Iberico ham, Borlotti, almond and caviar. Dessert is a delicious deconstruction of a classic: lavender, Earl Grey and reduced milk make the “English Strawberry” perfectly delicate and nostalgic.
We’re bowled over, chaperoned from one delightful experience to another by a team of effusively nice people. Both hotels sit on the edge of the National Park — and aren’t particularly close to the lakes — but no matter. The point of a stay here is to tune in and drop out, forgetting the outside world altogether. We climb back in the tub, turn up the volume and set our alarms again. For one last morning, we’ll pretend nothing exists but us, our playlist and this hot tub. And the alpacas.
Amy Rose Everett was a guest of Gilpin Hotel.