Ambleside is also very popular offering a range of facilities to suit all pockets. Walking and hiking shops abound. There are a number of attractions nearby including Hilltop, Beatrix Potter's 17th Century Farmhouse which is left exactly how she would have lived there, and a reference to a picture in one of her tales appears in each room. Built over 300 years ago you cannot fail to miss Bridge House on a visit to Ambleside. It is almost obligatory to take a photograph of it!
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Windermere and Southern Lakes
Note: Links are provided so you can find more information on the attractions you are interested in. Please check the relevant sites as some attractions are not open all year round.
Links in BOLD type denote the property is owned/managed by the National Trust.
The National Trust owns and manages a large proportion of the land, houses and attractions in the Lake District and many of the car parks in the countryside. Joining the National Trust before, or at the start of your holiday, may save you a lot of money on entry and parking fees.
Including the best known lakes, majestic scenery, impressive waterfalls, most challenging roads; sufficient indoor attractions for adverse weather and bursting with history (including many properties lived in and owned by William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter), Windermere and the Southern Lakes area makes a great base for both the casual tourist and the more serious outdoor sports visitor. This page tries to give a flavour of the area, and highlights which you might want to see/do while on holiday here.
Lake Windermere is the largest lake in the Lake District, and the largest lake in England being over 10 miles long and nearly a mile wide at its broadest point. There are 18 islands on the lake. It is one of the most well known lakes, and a popular holiday destination.
If you like a challenge you can take part in the Great North Swim. This event is held annually for charity and there are options for 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles or 5k courses. You do need to register early for this event which, in 2013, will take place on June 14th to 16th.
If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land there are plenty of other activities including walking, horse riding or golf.
The western shoreline is owned by the National Trust, and at the southern end of the lake you can take a ride on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway.
Roughly half way down the lake on its eastern shoreline are the towns of Windermere, and Bowness on Windermere. It comes as some surprise to many that the town of Windermere is about a mile away from the lake itself. In fact the only village/town on the shoreline of the whole lake is Bowness on Windermere, which accounts for it being a major tourist destination.
Tourists have been coming to this area for its beauty and tranquility - as well as the outdoor activities - for nearly 200 years since the railway arrived in 1847. The railway company named the station 'Windermere' after the lake, and the town which grew up around it took the same name. Although not next to the lake Windermere makes a good tourist base as it has all the necessary faciities including a supermarket and a variety of places to stay from bed and breakfast, guesthouses to hotels.
Bowness on Windermere has a distinct town centre from Windermere, but there's hardly anything else to define the two conurbations as the buildings sprawl into each other. As the only town on the lakeside Bowness is extremely popular with tourists and caters for them well. If it's wet you can enjoy the Aquarium of the Lakes (open all year - cheaper to buy tickets online), the Steamboat Museum (historic vessels dating from 1200 to the present day) and the World of Beatrix Potter.
Photo courtesy of Hawkshead Old Grammar School.
On a wet day you will find plenty to do and see in and around Hawkshead. In the village you will find the Beatrix Potter Gallery, together with the Old Grammar School which dates from 1585. William Wordsworth and his brother John attended the school, and in the ground floor classrooms you can see the old desks covered in carvings made by the boys attending the school - including William himself. There is also an exhibition of the history of the school.
Hawkshead is one of the most attractive villages in the Lake District with charming old buildings. The village is full of history, and has strong connections with William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. As a base it is ideal with Coniston, Grasmere and Ambleside a short distance away, and a ferry ride will take you to Windermere and Bowness. It is a good centre for mountain biking, walking and fishing.
Hodge Close Quarry
Reached from the Ambleside to Coniston road (A593) Hodge Close Quarry has become very popular with climbers, divers, abseilers as well as the normal tourists. The quarry is 50 metres deep, with a 32 metre deep green pool at one end. There are underwater tunnels which should be treated with extreme caution as a number of lives have been lost here. It is an interesting place to visit with some quite striking features.
The waterfall on the Brathray river, Colwith Force, has an impressive drop of 18 metres. Skelwith Force, on the same river is lower, but both are equally worth a visit, particularly after rain.
Hardknott and Wrynose Passes
Well known for taking short cuts the Romans originally built the road which linked their forts at Ambleside and Kendal to the fort on the coast at Ravenglass. During the Second World War the track was destroyed after being used for tank training. The road as it is today was rebuilt after the war.
In the second century AD the Romans built Hardknott Fort to house a 500 strong garrison at the top of the Hardknott Pass, and the ruins make a good stopping off point on your way over the passes.
Driving the Hardknott and Wrynose Passes is not for the faint hearted being a single track road reaching gradients of 1 in 3 with a series of hairpin bends. Adherence to the Highway Code is necessary, for example, giving way to cars coming up hill and using passing places correctly.
This road is often closed during the winter due to snow and ice.
From Ambleside you can drive to Patterdale going over the Kirkstone Pass - the highest pass in the Lake District open to cars with a gradient of 1 in 4 in places. You can stop off at the Kirkstone Pass Inn which, being near the summit, is the 3rd highest pub in England.
Grasmere and Wordsworth
Making a base at Grasmere is a good option if you want gentle walks around the lake, or if you want to try some more serious walks. It's the place to visit if you enjoy the poetry of William Wordsworth, or are interested about his life and times three of his former homes Dove Cottage, Allan bank and Rydal Mount are near by. The Wordsworth Museum is situated next door to Dove Cottage.
Townend House can be found at Troutbeck. This house was built in 1626 and the same family owned and lived there until 1943. It was then transferred to the National Trust. Visiting Townend House will show how one Lake District family lived through four centuries.
Troutbeck is a valley lying between the towns of Wiindermere and Ambleside running all the way down the Trout Beck to Lake Windermere. It is a very popular area with tourists for its beauty and tranquility although it has no official car parks, shops or places to get refreshment but it does have a range of accommodation. It is visited often by walkers or riders as it is well served by footpaths and bridleways.
If you want to cycle you can try the 12 mile Vale of Rydal Cycle Route which takes you along the lakesides of Rydal Water and Grasmere. You can hire bikes in Ambleside.
Just a short walk from Ambleside takes you to Stock Ghyll Force, an impressive 70 ft waterfall, visit the Galava Roman Fort or enjoy the delights of woodland flowering shrubs at Stagshaw Garden.
Bridge House, Ambleside
Wray Castle is a mock gothic castle which was built in 1840. It includes mock ruins, grand living spaces and you can see the winding passages which were once used by servants. The castle usually has activities to keep children amused on wet days. Outside the gardens have something for all ages with a rope swing and trails.
Beatrix Potter purchased the house named Hill Top in Sawry in 1905. Later on she bought up much of the land in and around the village including a number of small farms, Castle Cottage and the Old post Office. When she died Hill Top was left to the National Trust on the proviso that it be kept exactly as she left it. Each room has a reference to a picture in one of her stories.
Coniston Water is 5 miles long and half a mile wide making it the third largest lake in the Lake District. It is probably most famous for being used for attempts to break the water speed record. Sir Malcolm Campbell set the record at 141.74 miles per hour in 1939, and his son continued to set successive records between 1956 and 1959. Tragically Donald Campbell crashed and died in his hydroplane, Bluebird K7 after having achieved a top speed of over 320 mph in 1967. (A replica of the Bluebird together with an exhibition about the Campbells can be seen at the Lakeland Motor Museum located at the southern end of Windermere).
Lake cruises are available, either stop off at any of the jetties and explore, or just sit back and enjoy the round trip. If you want to step back in time take to the water on the Victorian steam powered yacht, Gondola first launched in 1859 and now restored. (NB Although owned by the National Trust members will be charged the full fare).
The town of Coniston is a good centre for walkers and the climbers who attempt to conquer the Old Man of Coniston which rises behind the town.
In the 19th century three tarns were joined together to form the beautiful Tarn Hows. The sheer beauty of this spot attracts a large number of visitors. There is a pleasant one and a half mile walk around the tarn, and the path is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
The lake is famed for water sports, although since the imposition of the 10 mph speed limit on the water in 2005 there has been a reduction in tourist numbers as those wanting speed have had to go elsewhere.
The speed limit has returned the lake to be a more tranquil and relaxed area for other users.
Along with the more active water sports which are catered for at various centres around the lake fishing is very popular. You do not need a permit and the main fish to be found are trout, pike, perch and char.