Rolling hills, charming towns and a picturesque lake attract thousands of visitors to this part of England every year, but it’s the Lake District’s ghostly visions that provide the real draw card.
It may be a foul witches brew weather-wise, but Lake Windermere is a sight for city-weary eyes. The vast lake is whipped into a frenzy by relentless winds, while fat gray clouds release torrents of water that turn the ground to a muddy mush. Deciduous trees, long stripped of their summer memories, stand staunch on the banks, and through the curtains of rain we can just make out grand old manners peeking out of the rolling hills.
It’s wet, slippery and my nose is frozen to my face but it’s nothing we weren’t prepared for. After all, it’s the tail end of autumn and we are in England’s famously soggy north where even the guide books have entire chapters dedicated to wet weather activities.
I can only marvel how the Cumbrian countryside would shine like a jewel in fine weather, but I stop cursing the weather gods soon enough. If you’re taking refuge from wild weather for four days, the majestic eighteenth century Langdale Chase is the place to do it.
Inside it’s a picture of stately charm. The fine antique furniture whispers tales of ostentatious parties and intrigue, the halls echo with rousing melodies from the grand piano and the eyes of the portraits linger, judging whether your presence is worthy of these rooms. You can’t help but feel teleported to a time when the original owner Mrs. Howarth held garden parties and croquet tournaments for England’s gentry.
When it was constructed, Langdale Chase was one of the finest buildings in the district. No expense was spared and it was the first building in the area to boast electricity. Sixteen indoor and outdoor staff were employed to cook meals, make up the rooms, polish the ornate oak staircase, clean the stained glass windows, scrub the mosaic floor, wrangle the expertly manicured gardens and maintain the boat shed.
When Mrs. Howarth died in 1930, the house changed hands and it became the hotel it remains today. It’s extravagant halls are still welcoming guests and wedding parties as a four star hotel with 29 rooms, sculpted lawns and new extensions including a guest house and staff quarters. It’s been lovingly maintained to honour it’s original splendour, and fortunately never fell victim to a bad seventies renovation.
The hotel just vibrates with history, and the scene is perfectly set for anyone who's partial to a spine-chilling ghost tales (myself included)! It's no great secret not all visitors to Langdale Chase are earthbound, with visions from the past frequently making their presence known.
General Manager Andrew Tighe tells me tales of bed covers being thrown off, scrapings, doors flinging open and shut and ghostly wailings. "I've slept in here when there's not been a single soul in the hotel, and I've heard things," Andrew says. Just a few months ago somebody complained they could hear furniture being dragged above the room above them all night long. Never mind the rooms have all got carpet on them or that there was nobody in that room.
I'm sitting by the raging fire in the main hall nursing a steaming cup of tea, but the hairs on the back of my neck bristle as I feel a chill.
“One of the owners who lived here when it was a house famously hated children,” continues Andrew. “Recently, we had a newly married couple and their newborn child staying with us. The baby was crying, and the father got up to see to the child, and he bent over the cot. There was a tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, his wife was still asleep in bed.
“Someone who once worked here said they were going through their children’s photographs one night, and stacked them all up in a pile. The next day, all the child’s photos were in a circle on the bedroom floor.
“There’s just got to be something here. A building this old has got to have something."
And its not just the house that host strange going-ons, the lake itself provides it fair share of mysteries too. There’s tales of a ghostly white horse, a phantom boat, eerie noises floating across the water and more recently, stories of a great monster dubbed Bownessie, which Andrew has claimed to have seen – or felt - himself.
“We were swimming across the other side of the lake for training, something went under us, we felt a massive pull. It left a wake that knocked us both sideways.”
There’s been dozen of sightings, and Bownessie has pulled it’s fare share of attention and headlines. While some might cynically call Bownessie a media grab to pull more visitors, that hasn’t stopped Andrew and the owner of Langdale Chase, Thomas Noblett, from looking with high-tech sonar equipment. They even invited celebrity psychic Dean Mayard to join the search, and while their search proved fruitless, guests and visitors still report sightings.
You can’t really blame Bownessie – or the spirits – for wanting to hang around. This majestic landscape has inspired scores of famous poets, artists and writers for centuries, while the stately manors and quaint towns give any history-loving visitor a welcome glimpse into a time when buildings were built with care and ageless charm.
As for whether Mrs. Howarth would approve of her house being turned into a hotel, it’s hard to say. But I can’t help but feel that her ladyship would love to know it’s halls are still ringing with life - both past and present.
Penelope stayed at Langdale Chase as an independent guest.
For travel information on Lakes District visit visitcumbria.com
For more information on Langdale Chase, visit langdalechase.co.uk