THE Damson Dene in Lake District found fame (of sorts) as the subject of Channel 4’s The Hotel, a fly-on-the-wall documentary charting the travails of a mid-range British hotel.
It was a charming story of them and us, as Eastern European workers struggled to get to grips with British management and vice versa. General manager Wayne Bartholomew became a bit of a star off the back of it, too, not least for the fact he lived in a caravan in the hotel’s garden next to some pigs.
But more of him later.
When you arrive at the Damson Dene, the first thing you notice how much better it looks in real life; bigger, prettier. It has a pool, pleasant gardens, a lake and is just short drive – five minutes or so – from Bowness and Windermere.
I’d taken my family – including four-year-old Daisy and new-born Alfie – for an overnight stay in one of its annexed cottages, which are spread out over two floors and are nicely self-contained if you’ve got shed loads of child-related kit.
The Lake District still manages to take the breath away, as roads wind idyllically in and out of pretty villages, up hill and down dale.
It’s ideally placed for exploring, and serves as a welcome haven in the evening – the bar has a feel of the northern social club, warm and honest, with local guest real ales and homely bar food. The restaurant has a bit more ambition, although it did fall a bit flat a couple of times. Raspberry coulis and strawberry ice cream are two very different things chef, as well you know.
The dining room, which also serves breakfast in the morning, has a stunning view though, and there’s a balcony and beer garden area if you want to admire it al fresco.
When I caught up with Wayne for a coffee later, he told me the region had found the summer difficult due to a drop off in Japanese tourists, a huge part of the visitor economy in the Lake District.
The extra attention that TV exposure had brought the hotel could not have been better times, and Wayne said he’d have them back – not that he thought they’d come in the first place.
“I’d actually been having a bit of a rough time and had applied for a couple of jobs elsewhere. I got a phone call one day asking what my background was, about the hotel and if I’d be interested in the job.
“I said yes thinking it was another hotel but it was actually Channel 4. I’d totally forgotten that we’d applied.”
Wayne said the hotel was up against a couple of hundred in the UK and a few local neighbours.
“I can’t complain about the programme too much,” he said. “There were some really funny moments. Obviously they created a bit of drama too…but would I do it again? In a heartbeat.”
He’s even developed a fan base that includes Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, who was due to stay later in the year, and has received letters from adoring female fans.
“They’re all a bit weird, though,” he said. “But it’s nice. I’ve even got an album coming out, as part of a male voice choir. I’m just having fun with it really, and I’m not taking any of it too seriously.”
What he does take seriously are his guests at the Damson Dene, however. His passion for the industry is clear, as a five-minute chat spirals into an hour.
The Damson Dene is a pretty if occasionally dotty hotel, but it has bags of charm and is in a great spot if you want to get the best out of the Lakes.
If you spot a camera though, be on your best bahavour.
Damson Dene is in the Lyth Valley – famous for its damsons, hence the name – 70 miles from Manchester via the M6.
The hotel has 40 ensuite bedrooms, including 10 with four Poster bed and en-suite jacuzzi spa bath and three family suites located in the grounds. Many rooms offer spectacular views of the Lakeland scenery. For details of availability and tariff, visit www.damsondene.co.uk
Current winter offers include a two night stay from £99pp, including full English breakfast and 3 course Table D'Hôte Dinner from only £99pp. Available Sunday-Thursday. Extra supplement of £10pppn applicable for weekend stays, subject to availability.
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