IF there's one place that can shrug off climate change it's the Lake District –already the wettest place in England but still packed with character even when it's lashing it down.
If the weather's fine, the views are even finer, with some of the most magnificent countryside on the planet to drink in and enjoy.
If it's raining – and it often is – then gird the loins, save the high-rise scenery for another day and drink in some of the best pubs around on a lower-level walk, with perhaps a nod to the doyen of fell walkers with a welcome pint of Wainwright.
But driving to the Lakes in driving rain is no joke, so it helps to have a handy base near to lakes, fells... and a boozer or two close by.
The bases don't come much better than White Cross Bay, the flagship site of South Lakeland Parks, about half way between the popular tourist towns of Windermere and Ambleside. It's quite a solid base, too, for the park used to be the site of a Second World War factory making giant Sunderland flying boats, and rests on an 8ft-thick concrete 'raft' on used to be soggy ground.
No sogginess now, apart from the odd downpour, and a short three-night break served to underline what a fantastic time can be had almost on our own doorstep, with no need for baggage weight worries, spiralling airline 'extras' and frustrating airport delays.
The company owns nine holiday and leisure parks across the Lake District and Lancashire and this 4-star site on England's longest lake, which has held a David Bellamy Gold Award for Conservation since 2003, lives up to its billing.
It boasts an indoor heated swimming pool, a sauna, multi-purpose gym, restaurant, bar, shop, indoor and outdoor play areas, and a marina. Most importantly, the caravans and lodges in its 65-acres of wooded and immaculately-maintained grounds can suit most pockets and family sizes, ranging from two-bed standard caravans to open-plan, three-bedroom luxury lodges, with all fixtures and fittings.
There are 79 properties available to rent on the park, which has a total of 348 plots. . . and the large number of privately-owned lodges reflect the South Lakeland Parks investment. Further hints include the number of gleaming, Lottery-class cars and 4x4s parked between lodges over the weekend and the amount of steam rising from hot tubs on tucked-away verandas, with faint sounds of tinkling glasses and happy conversations as dusk closes in and the bats start flying.
Entertaining among friends was a noticeable feature, made all the easier by having fully-equipped kitchens in the spotlessly-clean lodges fitted with every modern appliance, so it's perfect for picking up some great meal deals en route from M&S or a brilliant Booths supermarket if a few of you are getting together.
If you don't want to put your apron on, there's The Flying Boat restaurant, named in honour of the factory which built and launched more than 30 legendary Sunderlands in the 1940s. Its record-size hangar was later removed, along with a specially-built nearby village for workers, and all that remains is the foundation, the former gatehouse and a ramp that makes it easy to launch a boat in the marina.
Historic photos of the factory and the massive aircraft under construction hang on the walls of the restaurant, which offers a varied and well-priced menu, which, being in the Lakes, includes an almost-compulsory sticky toffee pudding. There goes the diet, flying faster than a Sunderland!
The main base complex is also home to the Boathouse Bar, which has a handy takeaway menu as well as food in a more laid-back atmosphere, although ordering onions with a margherita pizza proved a bigger challenge for the kitchen than I expected . . . but I will allow for it being the very start of the season.
Drinks were well-enough priced, helped in the Boathouse by a complementary voucher for a half-price bottle of very passable house wine. So a crisp rosé and a table among the beer garden songbirds went down very nicely, thank you.
As predicted, the sun was notable by its absence for most of the time I was there, although the temperature was OK and the occasional burst of rain wasn't too cold. There was no way it was going to stop us enjoying the Keswick Mountain Festival just a few miles up the road on the Saturday, with gulaschsuppe and a bier for adults to try, courtesy of a Tirol team promoting their own mountains.
Fortified by a lunch at The Kings Arms former coaching inn on Keswick's main street – and a drop of the aforementioned ale – there was more of the Mountain Festival by the side of Derwent Water, then back to White Cross Bay and playtime in the pool before dinner... then the Eurovision Song Contest in the comfort of our two-bedroom Double Superior Plus Lodge.
Sunday meant a trip on the historic Windermere 'steamer' MV Tern, boarding the elegant, 1891 boat at Ambleside for the half-hour sail to bustling Bowness, where a pub lunch was duly taken for old times' sake at the Royal Oak Inn – and it was just as good as I remember. A wander round, a drop of Jennings as well as Thwaites, just to redress the balance you understand, then in perfect time to catch the Tern for a return trip to Ambleside and 'home' to White Cross Bay, named after the white-painted memorial to a couple of 19th Century anglers lost in a surprise storm.
No storms in the pool or the sauna though, then it was dinner and an evening at leisure.
Check-out time is 10am, so plenty of time to pack and set off on Monday before the cleaning teams move in to make way for the next family.
Short breaks t White Cross Bay (3-nights weekend/4-nights midweek) start from £174 in a caravan or £268 in a lodge. Week-long breaks (Saturday arrivals) from £249 in a caravan and £382 in a lodge.
Check out the details at www.southlakelandparks.co.uk and/or www.slholidays.co.uk. Alternatively ring 015395 69835.
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