England: Where to stay in the Lake District

By Rhiannon Batten

Dome House B&B is in the Lake District town of Bowness-on-Windermere.  Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Martyn Wright
Dome House B&B is in the Lake District town of Bowness-on-Windermere. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Martyn Wright

DOME HOUSE

Amid the Victorian and Edwardian fancies and dreary new-builds of Bowness, Dome House is about as inconspicuous as Paris Hilton at a ramblers' convention. It mushrooms from a hillside with panes of green and rose-tinted glass glinting in the sunlight.

Yet this designer B&B is perfectly in keeping with its surroundings. A geodesic grass roof reflects the shape of the hill behind it, its larch cladding blends with the trees above, and the huge, heat-storing slate wall at the centre of this ultra-contemporary building echoes the immense Cumbrian geology.

The beds: The three ground-floor doubles and single first-floor suite are a lesson in restrained glamour. Mid-century furniture, colourful bathroom tiles and jewel-coloured bedspreads are the motifs here, with a wooden feature wall in the Rose Room, free-standing wooden bathtub in the Green Room and wood-burning stove in the newly-finished Dome Suite.

Walls are whitewashed, floors wooden, and the rooms' mini kitchens and Villeroy & Boch bathrooms glossy and white. Despite that restraint, the overall feeling is warm.

Fittings are high spec and beds are super king-size. The only communal area is a lap pool, which guests can pre-book a private slot to use.

A bigger selling point is the view. Even from the ground-floor rooms it's spectacular, with Windermere and a great arc of craggy peaks clearly visible over the rooftops of Bowness.

The breakfasts: Breakfasts are delivered to the rooms in wicker hampers each evening. Ours came with fruit, milk, butter, bread, cheese, eggs, orange juice, shortbread, mini boxes of Kellogg's cereals and (everyone gets a surprise treat) prosecco. Coffee, tea and other store cupboard essentials are pre-stocked in each kitchen. Ours also came with little plastic portions of jam, but these have now been upgraded to Claire's Handmade jams from Cumbria. Dorset cereals have also been added, as well as bread from the Staff Of Life bakery in Kendal.

The hosts: The Dome House is the project of Yorkshire-born Robert and his Malaysian wife Milla. It was featuring the house on the television programme Grand Designs that led the family to develop it into a B&B: when their funding shortfall was broadcast, a donor offered them a loan and they turned what were originally planned as family guest suites into B&B rooms.

"We're newcomers to the hospitality business," Robert had warned us when we arrived just a couple of months after the property officially opened last November.

Their lack of experience does sometimes show: the website is a little sketchy on practical details and there are no guest information packs. But they are naturals at making you feel welcome, and steer an adept line between generous hospitality and discreet service.

The weekend: Bowness is as popular with urban day-trippers as it is with walkers and cyclists. Many of the former come to visit The World of Beatrix Potter or to take a boat trip on Windermere.

It's well worth the half-hour boat ride to Ambleside and back for lunch at Lucy's On A Plate and a short, scenic walk around Stock Ghyll Force waterfall, just behind the town.

In the summer, Lakeside Cruises sells tickets that allow visitors to hop on and off around the lake.

Bowness is also home to the Royalty Cinema, built in 1926. There are plans for its Wurlitzer to crank back into action later this year.

And don't miss Blackwell. Reached via a 30-minute walk from Bowness, this Arts and Crafts masterpiece was designed for brewer Sir Edward Holt around the turn of the last century.

The pit stop: The best pub in town is the Hole in t' Wall, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. Its wooden benches and open fires are an ideal backdrop for a pint of "Dizzy Blonde".

For sophisticated pub grub, head to the Angel Inn for potted shrimp (£7.95), wild boar and apple sausages (£12.50) and plates of local farmhouse cheeses (£8.95).

The bottom line: If you want luxury in the Lakes without swags and antiques or leather headboards and Jacuzzi baths, Robert and Milla offer a radical alternative. Dome House is a high quality contemporary experience that's big on comfort, but free of silly frills.

The bill: Prices start at £75 (NZ$145) for a single or £175 (NZ$340) for doubles.

Address: Dome House, Brantfell Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3AE.

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