“ Address: Ullswater / Nr. Penrith / Cumbria CA11 0JJ / Telephone: 0844 879 9142 „
As part of our recent honeymoon, my wife and I treated ourselves to a night in the Leeming House Hotel in Ullswater in the Lake District.
Because our stay was a celebration, we booked it months in advance, but it was a breeze to do. Using the MacDonald Hotel website, I simply went to the individual page for the hotel, chose the night I wanted to stay, selected the tariff I wanted and tapped in my credit card details. In less than five minutes, I had a booking confirmation number and that was it - all done. Better still, Leeming House don't actually take your money until after your stay - the credit card details are simply used to confirm the booking. So, although I booked several months in advance, the money stayed in my account until I actually checked out of the hotel - always a nice little bonus!
Communication with the hotel was easy too. I wasn't arriving until late evening and wanted to make sure they kept the room. I emailed them using the form on the website and later that day got a very friendly response telling me that the proposed arrival time was fine and they had noted it on my booking record.
A word of warning though: Leeming House seems incredibly popular. We had hoped to stay for a second night, but there were no rooms available. Book early if you don't want to be disappointed.
Leeming House is in a very special location - in a wonderfully picturesque part of the country, but within easy driving distance of major routes. It's located just off junction 40 of the M6. Come off the motorway, drive for 10-15 minutes down a pleasant country lane, and you're there. Throughout the stay, you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, which makes it nice and quiet, yet you're only 10 minutes' drive away from the motorway network. Perfect!
Be warned, though, if you approach in the dark (as we did), it's not actually that easy to actually find. It's set back from the main road and is only distinguished by a small unlit sign situated on the edge of the driveway which leads up to it. Had it not been for my eagle-eyed wife sitting in the passenger seat, I would have driven straight past. Clearly that's the sign of a truly upmarket hotel, when it doesn't need to bother with tawdry, common things like signs!
The hotel itself is situated more or less on the banks of Ullswater, one of my favourite lakes in the Lake District. A gentle 5 minute stroll gets you to one of the most picturesque spots in Britain. Whether you just want a gentle walk round the lake, something a little more vigorous, or to use the hotel as a base from which to explore the area, Leeming House is perfect.
The hotel also has its own grounds, which looked fairly extensive. I didn't actually get the chance to explore these (I only stayed one night and it rained on the day of departure), but from the little I could see, they looked very well kept and pleasant.
Although Leeming House is part of MacDonald Hotels, it doesn't feel like a chain hotel in the way a Travel Lodge or Premier Inn does. Instead, it feels like an individual hotel with its own unique identity. That's something I always prefer to the soul-less feel of identikit hotels. It was actually once a private country house which has now been converted into a hotel and MacDonald have worked very hard to try and preserve that image. Walking into it, you can well imagine you are actually arriving for a weekend party with your Victorian Chums, rather than staying in a hotel. There's a very friendly, welcoming feel to the whole experience. Reception staff are friendly and efficient (it took some getting used to, being addressed as "Sir" by everyone!) and really make you feel as though there is nothing in the world they would rather be doing at that moment than helping you. The décor was very pleasant and the hotel seemed to have lots of facilities - there was even a library where you could go to read newspapers and books.
The room itself was excellent. We had one of their standard ones (deluxe versions are available) and found it more than adequate. Well equipped with a TV, large bed and standard hotel furniture, but also containing those extras which some hotels are starting to phase out on cost grounds. I mean basic things here like coffee and tea making facilities - simple stuff like that but things that make a difference.
A reasonable sized bathroom was just inside the main door, and this provided our only real bone of contention. The Leeming House certainly seems to have fun with its water supply (ironic, since it's on the banks of a huge lake!). Turning on the hot water tap in the sink caused it to clank and sputter in a most alarming manner. Wait a few seconds and it would reluctantly spit out a bit of water. The bath was the opposite - there it was the cold water tap that wasn't keen on doing its job, although it would if you talked to it nicely. Similarly, the water from the shower could at best be described as "warm", and no matter how high you turned the dial, it never got hot. In fairness, we got up and showered quite late the following morning, so it could be that other guests had run off much of the hot water. As we were only staying for the one night, these were only a minor irritant. However, had we been there for a longer stay, they could have given cause for greater complaint.
What the room may have lacked in water supply was more than compensated for by the bed, though, which was incredibly comfortable - easily the most comfortable I've ever had in a hotel. The mattress was springy, soft but not too hard and the pillows the same. Even though I'm an insomniac, I slept like a log and wondered if they'd notice if I took the bed with me on departure.
Another reason why it was easy to sleep so well was because the room was incredibly quiet. As it's in the middle of the country, there was no noise pollution or traffic from outside. Similarly, there was no shouting or other noise from other parts of the hotel either, making Leeming House a truly relaxing place to stay.
As the hotel is relatively isolated, it was pitch black once the lights were switched off - again, a bonus for anyone who has trouble sleeping, but not great if you're afraid of the dark. It did, though, make going to the bathroom in the middle of the night a bit of an adventure. Despite the fact I've got pretty good night vision and sense of direction, I actually managed to get myself totally lost on the way to the bathroom - it was so dark and disorientating.
Of course, all this luxury comes at a cost. The basic cost for a standard double room was £107 per night - and this was on a tariff that didn't include breakfast. As it was a very special occasion for my wife and I, I didn't mind paying it, but it's certainly not somewhere I could afford to return to on a regular basis.
As we arrived late in the evening and had to check out by 11am, we also probably didn't get our money's worth, in the sense that we barely used many of the facilities on offer, other than the room, but I guess that's our problem, not the fault of the hotel! I'd certainly be interested in going back at some point to re-evaluate the other things the hotel has to offer, although at these prices, that may be a while coming!
Another minor annoyance was that if you pay by credit card, there is a £2 charge to cover the administrative costs of this. In fairness, they do make this very obvious - there are notices and signs everywhere - and there are plenty of other options (I paid by Debit Card, for which there is no extra cost, but you can also pay by cash or cheque). I do still find it annoying, though, that such costs are levied - especially when you are paying so much to start with!
Overall, Leeming House comes highly recommended... provided your bank manager doesn't object. Now, if they could just get those taps sorted, it would be perfect!
MacDonald Leeming House Hotel
Tel: 0844 879 9142
© SWSt 2008
Formerly a private estate, this 200-year-old house is surrounded by 22 acres of lush gardens and woodland which leads down to the shore of Ullswater. Lake district of England.