Christmas Day – 25th December 2006
Waking on Christmas Day morning to nothing more than the gentle sounds of wild ducks and swans, with the occasional call of a moorhen, a few gulls and the odd rook or two, must rank amongst the most idyllic moments in life. This gentle alarm call from nature is complimented as soon as the curtain is drawn back, when the gentle waters of Lake Windermere appear just fifty yards from the window. Set to a backdrop of the gently rising green fells, their tops just covered by a fine mist, and with one or two white yachts quite still at their moorings, the scene is one of tranquillity and peace.
The Lakeside Hotel commands one of the most picturesque locations on the lake. Situated on the south-western shore of the lake, just one mile north of Newby Bridge, this four-star hotel is the antidote to the fast pace of modern life. Guests have a choice of exquisitely furnished rooms or suites within the hotel itself, or can opt for one of the two Executive Lodges built within the hotel grounds but set apart from the main building and having the advantage of their own private gardens and moorings. Built in the style of a converted boathouse, the lodge in which I now write has been designed as a studio apartment, full of space, light, large picturesque windows and, yes, its own sauna.
Today, the lake is perfectly calm, thereby allowing a perfect reflection of the hills and trees in its glassy surface. Just to my left, on the opposite shore, the slopes of Gummer’s How rise away from the rest of the fells. At 1053 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in this area and, from its top, gives a commanding view of almost all of the ten miles of Lake Windermere. Indeed, when we climbed it two days ago, and despite a fine haze, we could just discern the sands of Morecambe Bay. From the same point, one could look down upon the land of the Swallows and Amazons along the lakeshore, whilst further south is Fell Foot. Now owned by the National Trust, Fell Foot was once part of a large Victorian Estate with extensive lakeside lawns and gardens.
The small, grassed garden of the lodge is like a meeting place for 'Woodland Friends'. A rabbit is usually in evidence, quietly grazing the lawn, unperturbed by our presence at the window. Just above the rabbit, on a piece of wooden fencing, sits a robin. Occasionally joined by a second robin, it flits back and forth, capturing the odd tasty meal disturbed by the rabbit. Within a few feet feed a cock blackbird and song thrush, whilst in a tree nearby, a chaffinch moves from branch to branch with a flick of white feathers.
A few miles to the south lies the village of Cartmel. Famous for its pocket-sized racecourse at which races are held on only six days per year, Cartmel is also home to Cartmel Priory. Built by Augustinian monks around 1200 A.D., the priory church survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries and now serves as a wonderful parish church, with fine Renaissance screens and delightful misericords in the choir. It is a fitting venue for the celebration of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as we discovered for ourselves last night. The warmth of the church itself, combined with the collective voices of a full congregation and choir, help one to touch base with the spirituality within us, reminding us as to what this time of year is really all about and building resolve for the forthcoming New Year.
With the excellent food of the hotel’s restaurant and some fine wines from its cellars (including a Chateau Chasse Spleen 1983, Chateau Leoville Barton 1993 and a Chateau Talbot 1994 and not forgetting an exquisite bottle of Tokay), accompanied by the resident pianist and a small jazz band, the celebration of Christmas 2006 will certainly leave this writer suitably refuelled with a sense of goodwill.
A very happy Christmas and healthy New Year to all my readers.