This is Britain’s best pub for families

The Brackenrigg is from the same people behind the popular Another Place, the Lake
The Brackenrigg is from the same people behind the popular Another Place, the Lake hotel - Rachael Smith photography

Have you ever revisited somewhere that loomed large – literally and figuratively – in your childhood? The bedroom that, aged six, seemed a vast empire to reign over, or the neighbourhood climbing frame taller than Everest. See them again, at 40, and they appear so paltry and diminished that your brain and heart just cannot make sense of it.

Ullswater is the exception to that rule. Both my husband and I made childhood visits to the lake that fixed it forever in our imaginations. Yet as we pulled up outside the Brackenrigg Inn, all of us – kids and adults alike – let out an involuntarily “woooaaah”. This newly renovated and reopened country pub sits on a hillside just above the water. Even the car park has panoramic views. And they are every bit as epic to middle-aged me as they were 30 years ago.

Interiors at the Brackenrigg are both cosy and stylish
Interiors at the Brackenrigg are both cosy and stylish - Rachael Smith photography

Which is great, really, because the Brackenrigg is designed to make children of all of us. Its reincarnation has been staged by Another Place, the Lake – the luxury family hotel with a cult following that is barely a five-minute walk from the inn, down a grassy private path and across a (rather busy) road. The hotel’s hugely successful formula revolves around making it irresistibly sumptuous, easy and fun to get out into the hills and onto the water.

The Brackenrigg is quite different – a cosy, old country inn in contrast to a big, glassy modern hotel. All the furniture and paintings in the bar and restaurant have been sourced from local auctioneers and antique shops. The walls are painted in deep greens and blues extracted from the world outside, and warm ambers inspired by vintage Ordnance Survey maps.

Three working fires will keep the place toasty come winter. Upstairs, the seven bedrooms have iron-framed beds, glorious natural bedding and characterful oil paintings. Ours – the only family suite – had those to-die-for views from both the master bedroom and the sweet second bedroom (whose walls are charmingly pasted with pages from vintage, illustrated books about the Lake District, from Wainwright to Wordsworth).

The pub is home to seven bedrooms
The pub is home to seven bedrooms - Rachael Smith photography

All is not quite as gloriously luxurious as in the main hotel. The family suite is positioned over the bar, so noise filters through from here and from the road outside. Milk (for your morning coffee or tea) comes in a sachet. And breakfast is a simple buffet that could use padding out. But the Brackenrigg is also cheaper – by a good £100 a night – than any of the family accommodation down the hill.

Guests have all the same access to the hotel’s luxuries (indoor infinity pool, watersports centre, a glorious pizza restaurant in a glasshouse overlooking wildflowers and water…) And the overriding spirit is every bit as palpable and infectious. The Brackenrigg, like Another Place, wants you to play.

At supper – a perfect pub menu of ploughman’s, scotch eggs and Desperate Dan-sized slices of rich pie, all expertly executed – I looked up to see teens at tables across the dining room playing with traditional wooden games such as chess and shut the box. No phones in sight. An actual miracle.

The menu is an epic collection of pub grub done well
The menu is an epic collection of pub grub done well - Steven Barber photography

We chose to walk down to the hotel’s jetty, wriggle into wetsuits and take stand-up paddleboards out into the misty and mystical heart of the lake (where the kids immediately shattered the calm by capsizing their parents). World-renowned open-water swimming champion Colin Hill has just launched guided waterfall swims for those aged 11 and over, starting from the same jetty. The Ullswater Yacht Club will also collect you from here and propel you – quite thrillingly – by speed boat to the opposite shore of the lake, where its sailing school gives individual or group tuition and taster sessions.

It’s a rare and precious gift to be handed so many opportunities to play together as tweens, teens and “boomers” (that’s us, by the way, if the 13-year-old in your life has yet to make you aware). Dogs too – several of the Brackenrigg’s rooms are fido-friendly and down on the lake we passed several balanced on paddle boards.

There is great food and activities for all ages at the Brackenrigg
There is great food and activities for all ages at the Brackenrigg - Steven Barber photography

Since the Inn has only one family suite, it would be a wonderful place to take a teen – old enough to have their own room and relish their own space – for some solo TLC. Still, there’s plenty of adventure on offer for smaller guests too. The kids’ club (free for Brackenrigg guests to book into) is one of Britain’s best for under-12s, and has just opened a forest school where children can build dens and roast marshmallows in the evenings before walking back up the hill and rolling into bed at the Inn. Stomachs and souls sated.


A family of four can stay at the Brackenrigg from £325 a night, B&B (a surcharge of £10pp applies if you want to have the bigger breakfast down at the main hotel). Watermillock, Penrith CA11 0LP (01768 486442;