How the Lake District town of Ambleside is bouncing back from the pandemic

One of the Lake District’s best known hotels has come back to life with a bang as the lockdown restrictions are eased. Greg Wright reports.

The tourism season re-opened with a bang at Ambleside.

ON any normal day in spring or early summer, the tightly-woven streets of Ambleside should be full of tourists, following in the steps of poets and intrepid 18th century adventurers who fell in love with the district’s rugged summits and placid lakes.

But Spring 2020 proved to be anything but normal. The streets and hotels of Ambleside became empty as the lockdown brought a ghostly hush to vast swathes of Britain.

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Hoteliers simply closed their doors and hoped for the storm to pass. In time, the pandemic eased, and as life gradually returns to normal, staff at the Waterhead, the Lake District's only 4-star town house hotel, are confident they can play a significant role in helping the local economy bounce back from its worst crisis in living memory.

The hotel’s owners fired an antique cannon from a famous landmark to kick-start the tourism season’s late arrival.

English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues has re-opened its doors to guests at its luxury venues in the Lake District and North Lancashire, including the Waterhead and the Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa on the shores of Windermere.

The cannon was fired to mark the effective ending of the Covid-19 lockdown for the local hospitality and tourism sector.

It was purchased by Tim Berry, one of the group's directors, in the mid-1990s. It is similar to a cannon which sat on the end of the jetty at Low Wood for hundreds of years, and was first mentioned in Thomas West’s famous guide to the lakes in 1778.

Thomas West said of an ancient hostelry on Low Wood Bay: “No other inn in this route has so finer view of the lake”.

He also noted that “a small cannon is kept there to gratify the curious with the remarkable reverberations of sound which follow the report of a gun in those singular vales”.

This cannon would also have been familiar to the poet William Wordsworth, who lived nearby, and whose 250th anniversary is being celebrated this year. Wordsworth said of Low Wood: “No inn in the whole district is so agreeably situated for water views and excursions”.

English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues managing director Simon Berry said :“Our venues are the perfect retreat for holiday makers seeking the great wide open. We have ample space for social distancing and a range of outdoor activities right on the doorstep.

“It’s been a long wait which has affected us all, but we are greatly looking forward to welcoming guests back to each of our venues and seeing people enjoying themselves again.”

The cannon was fired by George Harker, English Lakes’ building and maintenance manager, who has worked for the group for 20 years and is also an accredited pyrotechnician.

Marking the new beginning, Gill Haigh, the managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said : “Back in March, just after the hospitality sector closed its doors, I vividly remember watching Simon talk about the cannon’s history and promising it would once again be fired as a symbol of welcome once restrictions were lifted.

Ms Haigh added: “It’s been a long few months for us all but we are finally here, businesses have worked hard to prepare to reopen and our visitors have been so patient. I was delighted to join Simon for this symbolically important occasion, to hear the loud boom of welcome from the shores of Lake Windermere, the doorstep to the stunning Low Wood, and to finally and officially say we are open for business.”

The management team at the Waterhead made careful plans to ensure they were well-placed to welcome guests when restrictions were lifted.

Matt Stanaway, the general manager at the Waterhead Hotel, said: "Planning re-opening has been crucial in ensuring Waterhead guests have the same enjoyable experience they were used to before Covid-19.

He added: “Clear concise signage within the hotel and pre-stay communication ensure our guests feel confident we are compliant with Government guidelines.

“We are committed to ensuring the welfare and safety of both guests and staff and have implemented new policies and procedures in line with best practice from around the world and all government guidelines.

“We continue to respond promptly to any new or amended guidance issued by the Government, updating our policies accordingly.

“Our aim is for our guests to feel comfortable, safe and secure while enjoying all that Ambleside and the surrounding lakes and fells have to offer.”

The Waterhead is a handsome boutique hotel, with a stylish restaurant, contemporary décor and a peerless view of Lake Windermere. The bar and grill combines British favourites and international classics.

All dishes are cooked by the head chef, Adam Graham, who prides himself on using local ingredients. It is the perfect place to enjoy romantic meals, family celebrations or a catch up with friends and the hotel prides itself on retaining a friendly and intimate atmosphere.

It isn’t just about the personal turndown service, fluffy bathrobes, local in-room treats and bespoke decorations.

The hotel has also devised “Bootique” breaks, which encourage the more energetic visitor to pull their boots on, leave the car behind and explore a town created by the Romans and named by the Vikings.

Famous fells such as Wansfell Pike and Loughrigg Fell are in comfortable walking distance. They offer breathtaking views of the entire district and no walker can be left unmoved after reaching their summits

The Lake District has honeypot towns and villages to explore, and visitors to the Waterhead are encouraged to discover local delicacies such as Grasmere Gingerbread or Hawkshead Relish. Those seeking a quieter break can find much to delight them in the local independent shops. There is also the option of finishing your break with a day at The Spa at Low Wood Bay.

But it’s hard to resist the charms of Windermere. You can catch a boat to explore its vast expanses from outside the hotel. The hypnotic spell cast by views of Green Tuft Island, Watbarrow Point and Wray Crag will surely convince you that you’ve returned to a world before the pandemic, when nothing could ruffle the Lake District’s majestic profile.

Box: Greg Wright stayed for one night at The Waterhead Hotel in Ambleside before lockdown.

It has 41 bedrooms, a bar and grill restaurant, free wi-fi, free parking for guests booking directly and an electric charging point. The Waterhead is just a short distance from Low Wood Bay where The spa offers a range of spa Treatments and spa packages. Guests of The Waterhead receive complimentary use of the Health Club at Low Wood Bay as well as enjoying 10% off a range of watersports courses and Ambleside boat hire at the Low Wood Bay Watersports Centre.

The hotel group has re-opened with a range of new deals and offers. For further information, visit

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James Mitchinson