Windermere: loveliest of lakes

by Trevor.Claringbold

The English Lake District is full of dramatic scenery and stunning waterways, none more popular than the jewel of the southern Lakes: Windermere


The English Lake District is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of the country. Personally I think there a number of other worthy contenders for that title, too, but certainly the Lakes are one of the most dramatic and impressive regions.

Sixteen major lakes are neatly organised within an area just 30 miles across, but the most popular – principally because of its easy access from the M6 motorway – is Windermere. First let me clarify one point. It is not Lake Windermere, because ‘mere’ means lake. It was derived from ‘Winder’s Mere’, and therefore should be known simply as Windermere. Niceties out of the way, let me take you on a brief tour around my favourite of all the lakes.

Like most of the waters in the Lake District, Windermere is long and thin, with hills rising steeply from its shores for most of its length. It’s also very deep, giving the characteristic dark blue hue to its glistening waters, and surrounded by some dense forests that throw dark reflections near the banks. It is possible to travel around the lake quite extensively using public transport. Buses are quite frequent between most towns, and there is also the very appealing option of using the lake itself. Ferries and cruisers link both across and along Windermere, and I like to combine these and buses to travel about. Of course, this is also superb and popular walking country, and again you can use a mixture of public transport to get you to and from the beginning and end of many of the best walks.

Just north of the town of Windermere, where most visitors first arrive, there is an excellent visitor centre. Alongside the displays highlighting all aspects of the Lake District, there is a wide choice of information sheets on different walks, both guided and independent.

I like to base myself either in Bowness or Ambleside, as both offer good links to all the places I enjoy visiting in the area. My favourite is the Belsfield Hotel in Bowness, a large Victorian building overlooking the pretty harbour, with gardens and its own swimming pool. It's just a few minutes' walk into the picturesque town centre, where there are plenty of good restaurants, including the town’s oldest; the Hole in the Wall.

Bowness is a very appealing place to wander around, and the small but excellent Beatrix Potter museum brings to life the famous tales that were written just across the lake. I know it’s for children, but even I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The town also has a steamboat museum, and is the starting point for a variety of lake cruises.

There are two particular water-borne trips that I like to take from here. The first is a cruise to the southern end of the lake, where the boats link with the old steam railway taking you on to Haverthwaite. It’s a completely relaxing day out, where nothing seems to rush, and I can imagine it has changed little in the last hundred years.

The second route takes me on the ferry across the lake, early in the day, leaving me free to walk up the winding roads, lined with unending dry stone walls. On top of the hill is Sawrey, where you can visit Beatrix Potter’s house. Then continue past Ethswaite Water to the small picture-postcard village of Hawkshead, and its maze of tiny lanes. If you are fit, then it is quite possible to carry on and reach Ambleside, before getting a bus back to Bowness.

Ambleside rivals Bowness as the main tourist town on the lake. Equally pretty, and with a few more shops and restaurants, it also has a better choice of walks up to the high peaks of the Kirkstone Pass. However, there is one point to note if you arrive by boat: it’s quite a distance from the quayside to the town centre. I cleverly decided to walk, and half an hour later, as the rain started, it was apparent I had not made the best choice. The weather in the Lake District can change very quickly, so I recommend you always keep some wet weather gear close at hand. It’s not always a bad thing, however, as unlike most places this region still manages to look appealing even in a downpour.

The Lakes are not an area I visit for the weather, of course. But if they can’t offer guaranteed sunshine, they can bring an unrivalled choice of stunning scenery, breathtaking walks, varied wildlife, relaxing cruises, and a wonderful friendly welcome. And that’s just in the area you can see from your hotel room window!