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Travel: Fairytale Lake District trip made us feel like royalty

Wildlife park fun
Wildlife park fun

Set in one of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty, the Lake District Wildlife Park is the perfect place to take children.

My two were enthralled by the otters, meerkats, snakes, flamingos and zebra – just some of more than 100 different species at the 25-acre site near Keswick.

The children were equally impressed by the outdoor adventure play area and indoor ball pool, and a tractor ride was a highlight for the entire family.

We visited when the weather should have beaten us but rain doesn’t dampen the spirits of under-5s when there’s so much to see and do.

The park is a stone’s throw from Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa, where we were staying for our two-night winter escape to the Lake District.

Armathwaite Hall Hotel
Armathwaite Hall Hotel

The stately English country home next to Bassenthwaite Lake looks like a fairytale castle, according to my three-year-old daughter who gave her instant approval when we arrived.

We were ably assisted by friendly staff who helped us unload the car before ushering us in to the oak-panelled reception area. After a swift check-in we were shown to a deluxe family room which was a spacious, sprawling space and, helpfully, included a travel cot for my one-year-old.

Once we had settled in we went for a walk around the beautifully manicured gardens to let the children run off some steam after our journey from Scotland.

The hotel’s interior
The hotel’s interior

It gave us an opportunity to drink in the secluded splendour of the magnificent deer park setting, nearby woodland and, in the distance, Skiddaw mountain and Lakeland fells. Armathwaite Hall also offers guests an award-winning spa and we were keen to go for a swim before dinner. Understandably, access to the spa is somewhat restricted for children in order to maintain the necessary ambience for the majority of guests who are seeking quiet solitude.

There are two two-hour time slots every day for under-16s so the children were getting impatient by the time the pool opened at 4.30pm.

Fortunately, the majority of guests had vacated the pool by the time we arrived so the whoops of joy from my two didn’t disturb.

My wife was even able to sneak off and enjoy the beautiful 16-metre infinity edge pool for a few quiet moments away from the hullaballoo.

The charming spa
The charming spa

When it was my turn to escape, I particularly enjoyed the hot tub with views of the surrounding woodland. Bliss.

Expectations were high at dinner because the lake View restaurant has two AA rosettes and head chef – Kendal-born Brad Jasper – is known for using local fayre in his dishes which fuse British and French cuisine.

I enjoyed scallops followed by a perfectly cooked sirloin steak. My wife also had the steak with a goat’s cheese salad to start.

The chef helpfully went off menu to make macaroni cheese for the kids – their favourite.

The next morning’s traditional Cumbrian breakfast was just as sumptuous and set us up well for the morning trip to the wildlife park.

In the afternoon we had the chance to visit nearby Keswick, a pretty town and the hub of tourism in the northern Lake District.

One of the biggest draws is Keswick Market, which sees around 60 traders set up stalls selling local handcrafted gifts and fine foods every Thursday and Saturday.

A meerkat at the wildlife park
A meerkat at the wildlife park

We stocked up on some preserves carefully picked by my daughter whose favourite is Strawberry jam and also grabbed some rhubarb and ginger gin from Wild Sheep Distillery.

We also took time to check out the lovely local park and enjoyed a takeaway coffee from a charming little place next to the museum.

We got back to Armathwaite Hall just on time for an early dinner in the Courtyard Bar and Brasserie, which offers a more informal dining experience.

The whole family enjoyed pizza and chips to refuel after a busy day.

There is so much to enjoy about Armathwaite Hall and it’s surrounding area. This stately home which some have compared to Downton Abbey certainly made my family feel like royalty.


Prices at Armathwaite Hall start from £285pp for bed and breakfast and use of the spa. See

P.S. Worth a visit is Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick, home of the world’s first pencil and one of the biggest pencils in the world at almost eight metres long. The museum also has a child-friendly cafe.