Guide: Windermere, England

Guide: Windermere, England

By Anthony Pearce

Few sights are more beautiful than Lake Windermere at sunrise, when mist hangs over the mirror-like surface, still undisturbed by the first of the day’s sailings. With the fells, trees and clouds reflected on the unbroken water, it is easy to understand why the poet William Wordsworth was moved to describe it as the “most beautiful spot that God hath found”.

Windermere is England’s largest lake. It became a tourist hotspot after the Kendal and Windermere Railway opened in 1847 during a period of early Victorian expansion, and has grown in popularity ever since. More than 19 million tourists visited in 2017.

Despite its remoteness, the region – which became a national park in 1951 and was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2017 – is surprisingly accessible, even without a car. On a recent trip, we took the three-a-half-hour train journey from London, changing at Oxenholme Lake District for the branch line to Windermere, and staying in Bowness-on-Windermere, a charming slate-stone built town of just 4,000 people which sits on the banks of the lake. It is also home to The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction.

We stayed at the recently renovated Hydro Hotel, with views of the tranquil lake. It is just a five-minute walk from Bowness town centre, which gives a taste of authentic Cumbrian life – particularly in its pubs – with sweet shops selling Kendal mint cake and fudge. A highlight is Hole In T’ Wall, which dates back to 1612. Its low-beamed ceilings and curiosities – china cups and taxidermy – make it one of the country’s best old inns.

Of course, the real draw of the area is its natural beauty. One of the best ways to experience it is to take a lake cruise, ranging from 45 minutes to three hours. They are unsurprisingly popular: Windermere Lake Cruises carried 1.6 million visitors in 2017, so it is best to rise early while the lake is still clear, save for the pretty sailboats. 

We took the boat from Bowness Pier, passing Belle Island, the largest of the lake’s 18 islands, then the Hawkshead and Claife viewing point, and down to Windermere’s most southerly tip, Lakeside. Here, we joined the scenic Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, an old-style steam train, enjoying panoramic views over the fells and woods. Later, we visited the Lakeland Motor Museum. 

While Wordsworth, John Ruskin and Beatrix Potter are the literary giants most commonly associated with Lakeland, it is author and fellwalker Alfred Wainwright who best captured the area’s outstanding beauty in his seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells – still regarded as the definitive guide to walking the region. 

We used the services of Mountain Goat to go further afield, visiting Hawkshead, home to Wordsworth’s grammar school and the charming Minstrels Gallery tearooms; Tarn Hows, another breathtaking body of water; and Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s delightful house, which she bought in 1906 and left to the National Trust. When she married, she moved but did not go far – you can see her marital home on the opposite fell. It is no surprise she did not want to leave this captivating region.  

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