During my month-long visit back home to the UK, I tried to keep myself busy by having a few “tourist” trips to places I really wanted to visit in my own country. Top of that list was the Lake District. Despite living not too far from this natural wonder for most of my life, I had hardly seen what it had to offer. Given my love of hiking, I felt now was a good time to explore part of this rightfully lauded region of Britain.
I opted to visit Windermere, famous for its huge lake (the biggest in England). Windermere is pretty easy to reach on public transport (which makes a nice change for the UK). The self-proclaimed “gateway to the Lake District” Oxenholme sits just outside the National Park and has links to London and Scotland via a regular Virgin trains service. Regional trains also link it to the likes of Manchester and Liverpool. From Oxenholme, you can transfer to an hourly train which heads to Kendal before terminating at Windermere.
Despite its name, the town of Windermere isn’t actually situated right next to the lake. Instead, it’s the town of Bowness about a mile or so further which acts as the lake’s gateway. Luckily, due to the huge tourist demand, transport in this area is plentiful. You can get buses further out to Keswick which is close to some of the Lake District’s most spectacular hikes. If you want to stick by the lake, bus 559 departs every 20 minutes to Bowness from just outside the train station. It cost me £4.40 for a return journey. Adding to its charm, the modern bus is open topped so on this warmish summer day, it was great to sit and admire the views of the quaint town from the top deck.
It doesn’t take long to see Windermere and Bowness’ draw. Traditional stone houses, hordes of pubs, cafes and restaurants as well as quirky shops and Beatrix Potter World which I’m sure must be more exciting than it sounds. Then you reach the piers and the town takes on a completely different hue, opening up to a spectacular lake and rolling hills in the distance. Tourists are rivalled in numbers only by the swans and ducks that roam around here. Few locations can give off such an effortless charm.
There seemed to be more opportunities for boat trips than I could fathom but I took the simple Crosslakes ferry from Pier 3 over to Ferry House, a short 15 minute hop for £5.20 return. It leaves around every 40 minutes until 5pm every day. The boat ride was great, also open-topped, and with a brief commentary about what we were leisurely drifting past. The boat terminates on the western shore of the lake from where a 4 mile shore walk begins which is what I had come for.
Nearby to the Ferry House, you can make a short detour up to the small Claife castle which commands sweeping views of the south of the lake. I chose this as my picnic spot and had it largely to myself. Heading back down, I literally just followed the path all the way along the shore of the lake. It’s impossible to get lost, even for an expert in navigational cock-ups such as me. It’s a very easy walk suitable for all ages, dogs and bikes. Sometimes you get wide open views of the lake and the hills, other times you are lost deep in beautiful woodland.
Obviously you can loop back round at any point but I would really recommend doing the 4 miles all the way to Wray Castle. The last mile or so was where the trail opened up the most, giving truly excellent views. The castle itself is also sublime. Not only is it the most castley castle I’ve ever seen, but the panorama of Lake District’s peaks just in front of it was breathtaking. Entrance into the castle costs around £10 but you can admire it (and the stunning views) from the outside free of charge whilst picnic benches and a small cafe are there to make you want to stay forever. Were it not for my departing ferry, I would have done.
I looped back round to the Ferry House and sailed back to town before grabbing the 599 back into Windermere. With half an hour to go until my train departed, I had time to celebrate with a quick pint. I spent most of my childhood wondering why tourists would choose to come all the way to the UK on holiday. Just one day at the stunning Lake District and it’s easy to see why.