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Review: Birkdale House, Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake District, UK

Birkdale House is a large Victorian house set on the 470-acre Matson Ground Estate close to Bowness-on-Windermere in the southern part of the Lake District National Park. Home to a number of holiday cottages, this is very much the estate’s ‘flagship’ luxury property – as you will soon see – which opened in 2020 and is arguably one of the most prestigious holiday rentals in the whole of the Lake District. The welcome Like many self-catering properties in the UK nowadays (or ‘vacation rentals’ as they are referred to in other parts of the world), Birkdale House operates on a self check-in basis which makes for a very simple arrival process. Communication in advance of our stay was made by text message, and included directions and a code for access, as well as a link to the Touch Stay app, complete with digital welcome book, which you can download to your phone for easy access before and during your stay. The directions were easy to follow, taking us up the driveway where we got our first glimpse of the property. In addition to this, I also received a lovely personal text from Rachael, the Managing Director of the Matson Ground Estate Company Ltd. – who is also a guest blogger here on A Luxury Travel Blog – on the day of our arrival, advising us that the property was ready and wishing us a wonderful stay. There is ample parking at the entrance to the property as well as an electric charging point. The property On entering the property, there’s a tiled hallway immediately ahead, leading to a small cloakroom. To the right is the main hallway, with wooden floorboards softened by a series of long rugs and an elegant grandfather clock. The décor, furnishings and artwork are all so befitting for such a traditional Lakeland property, but with some contemporary touches too, and everything has clearly been given a lot of thought in this regard. At main the hub of the hallway is a grand staircase with a piano beneath it, and from here there is easy access to the main rooms of the ground floor. The drawing room is the main area in which to relax. It enjoys an open plan with lots of areas to sit, whether it be the two large sofas by the fire, or the two comfy chairs in the bay window with views of the lawned garden at the front. Nearby is the dining room which can accommodate up to twelves guests comfortably around a beautiful mahogany dining table. This is a great room for families to get together and have a celebratory dinner and it’s possible to have a local private chef come in specially, so you don’t have to worry about the catering. Like the drawing room, this room enjoys plenty of natural light thanks to its large bay window. Next door to the dining room is a snug – a cosy, more intimate room than the larger drawing room – again with a log burner, as well as a good selection of books and board games to choose from. For those who do like to do some of their own catering, the kitchen has been finished to a very high standard with granite worktops, a Rangemaster Professional Plus 100 Induction cooker with left and right fanned ovens and a 5-zone induction hob on top, Samsung American-style fridge freezer, Sage Barista Express™ all-in-one espresso machine, De’Longhi kettle and toaster, Bosch dishwasher and a central island providing additional worktop space, where you can also sit and unwind with a cup of coffee, and read the newspaper or plan your day. A nice touch is an electric bell system – no longer in use but presumably an original feature from the house – that is mounted above the kitchen doorway. These displays were introduced into houses in the latter half of the nineteenth century and would signal to servants as to where their help was required. Beyond the kitchen is a utility room which houses a second Bosch dishwasher (handy for a property that can sleep 10 people) as well as a washer/dryer. Dogs are also well-catered for at Birkdale House and beds for up to two dogs can be provided, as well as dog towels and treats. Often it’s these finer details that define true luxury and our Springer spaniel George certainly loved it and was in doggy heaven during our stay! There is access from the utility room to a basement below but I’ll come back to that later. The utility room leads out to the rear of the property where there is an outhouse with everything from recycling bins and firewood to high chairs and an ironing board. There’s also plenty of garden games – a football, tumble tower, quoits, bowls and a croquet set. Alongside, an expansive terrace with a barbecue and pizza oven is the perfect spot for some al fresco dining in the Summer, or a place to relax and snuggle up next to the large outdoor fire pit brazier in the cooler months. This part of the property enjoys most of the sun and two loungers offer the ultimate opportunity to relax in the peace and quiet of the grounds, with only the occasional birdsong to interrupt you as you snooze and enjoy the fresh air. Returning to the hallway, a grand staircase leads up past some beautiful stain-glassed windows to the first floor where all the bedrooms can be found. Birkdale House sleeps 10 people across five well-appointed rooms, each individually named after fields which formed part of the original Matson Ground estate, depicted on old maps of the area. Navigating from the landing in an anti-clockwise direction, the first of the bedrooms is Goosemire, a lovely double room with a beautiful, eye-catching red-topped dressing table and with the most fabulous dual-aspect views over the estate, the gardens and towards Windermere and the Langdales beyond. The bed is set against a feature wall with wonderfully bold, printed peonia zinc wallpaper to match the curtains. Next up is Peasdale – another lovely light room with its own en suite shower room and views over the terrace and out over the estate beyond. With a pure wool, British-made 4000 pocket-sprung mattress, it’s hard to resist a lie-in! Next is a bathroom, just a short stroll across from Goosemire. All the bathrooms had the most amazing scents coming from them, thanks to aromatic scented diffusers, as well as sweet basil and orange toiletries and grapefruit and lemongrass hand sanitiser, all from a local company, Pure Lakes Skincare Ltd. Continuing with our anti-clockwise tour of the first floor, next is Longmire – another light room with a marbled fireplace and view over to one of the ponds in the Matson Ground Estate. Next door is Undermillbeck, the only twin-bedded room in the property. However, it should be noted that other rooms have ziplink beds so more twin-bedded rooms are an option. Then comes another bathroom, which is just a stone’s throw from both Longmire and Undermillbeck and comes with a bath and separate shower. Finally, completing the circuit of the landing, is Summergrove – with the same fantastic view as Goosemire – and with its own en suite. As you can see, all bedrooms are beautifully furnished and appointed, and each comes with an Alexa Echo Dot – handy if you want to set an alarm or simply listen to the radio. The WiFi signal is good throughout the property. Location Birkdale House is surprisingly secluded given its proximity to Bowness-on-Windermere which is only a five-minute walk away. There you will find everything from shops, cafés and restaurants to attractions such as The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction or the Windermere Jetty Museum. From Bowness, you can also board one of the Windermere Lakes Cruises historic steamers to explore England‘s longest lake.
Whilst you are well-positioned for exploring the whole of the Lakes, lots of short walks are possible without even having to drive anywhere. Post Knott, Brantfell and the Biskey Howe viewpoint are an easy walk and will reward you with some lovely views of the lake. During our stay, the snowdrops were out in full force within the grounds of the estate, but Cumbria is a truly year-round destination so, whenever you visit, there will always be something special to enjoy, whether it be snowdrops, blubells or daffodils, new-born lambs leaping about, stunning temperature inversions over the lake, dramatic skies, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, or the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Lakeland fells. Other nice touches A thoughtfully-prepared welcome hamper is included as standard, providing you with snacks for your arrival and everything you need for your first morning at Birkdale. It includes local produce such as Waberthwaite country cure back bacon, South Lakeland free range eggs, Farrer’s Lakeland special tea, a large country grain farmhouse cob and Cumbrian-marinated sweet basil olives. This can be upgraded to a luxury hamper with special extras such as a cooked ham, cured and full of flavour from Taste of the Lakes in Maryport; a luxury, creamy Eden Valley Brie from the Appleby Creamery; and the finest Cartmel Valley Game smoked salmon, smoked in their own Cumbrian smokehouse. We were celebrating a special family birthday and were very kindly supplied with some complimentary bottles of fizz also to get our celebrations off to a fantastic start in this incredible home. Cost Minimum stays of 3 nights start from around £4,000. The best bit There are so many wonderful things about Birkdale House that it’s difficult to pick just one. But if I had to choose, lovely though the main house is, I’d opt for the property’s basement. As mentioned earlier, a door in the utility room leads down a narrow staircase to some further rooms below. Here guests will find a treasure trove of fun – a dedicated area for table football, a cellar alcove for the storage of wine and other drinks, a room with a pool table, and – the biggest highlight of all – a dedicated home cinema with a 75-inch TV screen and surround sound speaker system. Although much more contemporary than the rest of the property, it certainly has the ‘wow’ factor and is a great facility for multi-generational family stays, that will ensure that the kids (both big and small!) are entertained. It’s also what sets it apart from other similar properties in the region. You might feel it’s a travesty to be inside watching a film when you have one of the world’s most stunning natural panoramas right outside (the Lake District was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as recently as 2017), but it’s perfect for those occasional wet days (those lakes are there for good reason!) or cosy evenings in after a long day’s walk. The final verdict Birkdale House is a very special property, perect for family celebrations. Whether it’s a special birthday, anniversary, wedding or simply an excuse to get away and treat yourselves, you will not be disappointed by this exceptional Lakeland home. Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Birkdale House.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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30 Comments

  1. We’ve done some self-catering holidays for 10 (and more.) There’s usually a few wanting a noisy time. Having that type of basement is brilliant for some fun and games.

    1. Hi Caroline – the basement is a fantastic space that you simply don’t find in most larger self-catering holiday homes. Invariably, with family gatherings, you can find there’s a mix of ages in your party, so it’s a great facility to have to keep everyone entertained. Our teenage sons loved it (and, to be honest, I did too!).

  2. It looks like the perfect family retreat in one of the UK’s most beautiful regions! Clearly they’ve thought of everything and I’ll certainly keep it in mind next time I visit the area.

    1. I’ll agree on one of the UK’s most beautiful regions, Kristof, but I am a little biased – Birkdale House is only a 15-minute drive from home for me. If you’ve not been before, you would love it here – there’s so much for families to see and do, in magnificent scenery.

    2. I’ve been to the Lake District long time ago (read: as a teenager) and loved it very much! It’s something I surely want to show my kids too when I find the time!

  3. Some holiday homes can be quite sparse. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. They didn’t have to supply extras like those adorable rabbit book ends.

    1. I know what you mean, Sue. Some properties can be very stark (I guess it makes cleaning easier) whilst others (particularly if the owners use it for holidays themselves, for instance) can be quite cluttered. Birkdale House is neither of those things and has just the right balance to make it homely, and yet with plenty of character like you point out.

  4. More and more, we are seeing a huge gap between genuinely dog friendly and grudgingly dog tolerant. Personally, I’d say that dog treats and dog towels are definitely on the dog friendly end of the spectrum.

    1. Last summer we stayed in a big house in the Lake District though it wasn’t as grand as this. It was dog friendly and had a stair gate to stop the dogs heading upstairs. That seemed an ideal compromise to me.

    2. Our dog is trained not to go upstairs at home so this was never a problem for us – he simply didn’t attempt to go upstairs. I’m not sure you’d find a stairgate wide enough for Birkdale’s lovely staircase! But please do note that dogs may only use the ground floor or basement area of the property.

  5. To me it looks like a grand family home, obviously with servants, perhaps mid-Victorian period? Was there any history of the house available?

    I always like to look back and imagine what life was like when a property was first built.

    1. I don’t know a great deal about its history but I believe I saw “1881” on one of the gable ends, so that would put it at mid-late Victorian.

      You can get a bit of insight into the history of the estate via this link.

  6. What I like about this house is that from the pictures it looks as if all the bedrooms are about the same. There shouldn’t be too many disputes about who is having which room.

  7. It’s nice to have some pictures of the bathrooms. En-suite bathrooms weren’t a regular feature in Victorian houses. I’ve stayed in some old hotels and self-catering cottages where the en-suites to be honest have been cramped and dark, a real after thought. These bathrooms look fine to me.

    1. Good point, Phil… I hadn’t really thought about that but yes, you’re right, I don’t there would have been the two en suites originally that there are now. The bathrooms were more than fine and I must say they smelled so nice with the diffusers that were used.

  8. Location, location, location. You were certainly well-placed to make the most of the Lake District. It’s a beautiful spot.

    1. You’re right, Bob… you have all the amenities of Bowness and Windermere (and the Lakes, of course) on the doorstep, but are very much in a rural location, blissfully away from it all.

  9. It sounds as if it is a high spec very well-equipped kitchen. Which you’re going to need if you’re catering for that many people.

    1. Hi Fiona – yes, very high spec! And having a second dishwasher in the utility room is a definite bonus too when catering for a good number!

  10. Even with the tall windows it’s sensible that they’ve opted for a light colour scheme. You sometimes get some dark rain clouds in the lakes.

    1. Yes, Suzy… we do get our fair share of clouds and rain here, but then we wouldn’t have the lakes if we didn’t! And visitors are often pleasantly surprised when they do enjoy some good weather, thinking it always rains when it really doesn’t at all!

  11. There’s no doubt that this is one to bookmark. It’s absolutely perfect for big family celebrations.

  12. Obviously this was the flagship house. What are the other properties on the estate like? How many? How many bedrooms etc? It looks to be a great spot.

    1. Hi Cheryl

      This is the flagship property and marketed separately, but Matson Ground have a number of other lovely holiday cottages both on the estate near Windermere and a couple near Ullswater (still in the Lake District, but about an hour’s drive away). They sleep anything from 2 to 8 people (9 properties in total, not including Birkdale House).

      For full details, please see https://www.matsonground.co.uk/

      Kind regards

      Paul

  13. We’re big self-catering fans and we can tell from the pictures that this house really is state-of-the-art for self-catering.

    If only all accommodation could match these high standards!

    1. Hi Jean – if they were all of this standard, then you wouldn’t have somewhere extra special to choose for a special occasion! 😉 Seriously, though, self-catering accommodation has improved massively over the last couple of decades. It used to be commonplace that you paid extra for things like bedding and towels (hard to believe but true!) and, even when you did, you sometimes had to make up the beds on arrival. Thankfully, standards have improved since those days. 😊

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