By Rose Shepherd
According to marine biologist Dr Wallace Nichols in his book Blue Mind, we human beings derive many cognitive and emotional benefits from being by, in or under water. This is nothing new, of course, but something we know instinctively, and it is part of the reason why we are particularly drawn to hotels by the sea, rivers, lakes, lochs, canals and streams. Then, of course, there are the recreational aspects, the joys of wild swimming, fishing, surfing, sailing and other water sports. If you’ve still to plan your summer escape, here are a few of our favourite hotels where water, fresh or salt, is a great part of the attraction.
The Thames flows past the leafy garden of this hotel, a wedding and events venue with fine-dining restaurant and members’ club. Several bedrooms overlook the water. Yoga, meditation, Pilates and fitness classes are on offer in a yurt. They’ve teamed up with Active 360 Richmond to give guests an opportunity to paddleboard on some of the loveliest stretches of the river, while the less adventurous can stroll along the towpath, passing Petersham Meadows, Marble Hill House and Hall House, in rural tranquillity.
Overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens, with views of shimmering man-made Rutland Water, Tim and Stefa Hart’s country house hotel occupies a Victorian hunting box, built in 1881, 95 years before the reservoir transformed the Rutland landscape. While mass tourism largely overlooks Britain’s smallest county, there is so much here for the visitor – fishing, sailing, windsurfing, birdwatching, walking, cycling. Complete the full Rutland Water lap (17 miles, or 23 if you include the peninsula), and do justice to Aaron Patterson’s Michelin-starred cooking.
Right on the quayside, with views over estuary and salt marsh to Blakeney Point, this family-friendly hotel is a perfect base for exploring North Norfolk’s unspoilt Heritage Coast and Blakeney National Nature Reserve. Days can be spent birdwatching, paddleboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, fishing, crabbing, taking seal-spotting trips, or just lounging on beautiful beaches. Some prefer to relax poolside, before a lunch of local mussels or a seafood platter in the sunshine on the terrace amid a luminous waterscape.
Behind an unmissable cobalt-blue exterior, this former harbourmaster’s house, with four overspill bedrooms in a historic warehouse building, is a landmark on the original Georgian waterfront of a planned town. All original bedrooms have a sea or harbour view. Aeron Queen annexe room has a Juliet balcony. More than 300 bottlenose dolphins spend part of the year in Cardigan Bay, through the summer into September and October. Take a boat trip to see them, along with seals and porpoises. Or spend the day crabbing, cycling, walking the coastal path, before dining on, maybe, the catch of the day, or Cardigan Bay crab linguine. (Aged five and over welcomed).
You can wander down to the shores of Lake Windermere from this historic Grade II* listed country house in 17-acre wooded grounds, for a paddle or more bracing open-water swim before breakfast. Later, paddleboarding and, kayaking commend themselves, or you might take a tour aboard the hotels own Thames slipper launch, Abigail Leah. Pub fare is served in the Tower Bar (the elaborate carved bar counter once resided in Blackpool Tower). At night there is a short fine-dining menu in the lake-view restaurant. Lakeside open-plan suites have a glass wall onto a private terrace with a cedar-wood hot tub.
Amid a vast private estate overlooking Lough Corrib, and approached by a private road through woodland, Henry and Lucy Hodgson’s Victorian country house may not be for the smart international set, but it delights us with its old-world charms and charisma. Passed down through the same family since 1842, it is a haven of peace, with 10 individually styled rooms. You can request a picnic and spend hours exploring, fish, take a dip in the sparkling water or row out on a clinker larch boat to claim an island for your own for the day. Only be sure to be back for tea and cakes at 4pm, or at least in time for drinks before Henry bangs the gong to herald a fantastic dinner cooked by Lucy.
Every second weekend in season you can watch cricket on the sands at this convivial, good-value, owner-run pub overlooking the Firth of Forth – unique for having its own beach cricket team. Four of the six bedrooms have a view of Elie Bay. All are decorated in breezy coastal colours and have an espresso machine and Scottish toiletries. Two are dog friendly. Menus of pub classics include Shetland mussels, haddock and chips and house burger, alongside such dishes as spiced cauliflower, coconut and chickpea curry, and yuzu-marinated halloumi. At this time of year there are also daily barbecues. You can walk Fife Coastal Path or play golf on the links to work up an appetite.