Stretching for just over 10 miles, and at almost a mile wide, Windermere is not just the largest of the lakes, but also England’s largest natural lake. The main town, Bowness, is about mid-way along the lake’s eastern shore, and a natural place to start exploring the lake. The busy promenade around Bowness Bay has an almost seaside feel to it, and is a great place to enjoy a coffee or an ice cream, and to take in the views. One of the best ways to see the lake is of course to go on the water; Windermere Lake Cruises offer a choice of routes from Bowness Bay, and for anyone who has yet to venture further north, the cruise to Ambleside at the head of the lake is recommended for the best views of the mountains. The largest boats are quite glamorous vessels with lounges and bar areas, but there are also sailings on smaller cruisers, as well as rowing boat hire nearby.
Just south of Bowness a ‘chain-ferry’ takes cars across the lake bound for Hawkshead and Coniston. Pedestrians and cyclists are also able to take the ferry, and for anyone wanting a quick break from the hustle and bustle of Bowness, the track along the western shore of Windermere is an excellent little escape. Heading north, the path stretches for just over 3 miles to Wray Castle, where the peace and quiet makes an amazing contrast with the busy eastern shore. Or for a short up-hill walk, the ruined folly of Claife Viewing Station stands on the hillside just above Ferry Point, and is well worth a visit.
One of Lakeland’s architectural curiosities stands on Belle Isle, Windermere’s largest island which almost straddles the lake near Bowness. This is the Round House, one of only a handful of truly circular houses in England. It was built in the early 1770s in a classical Roman style, with the intention of improving the landscape.
Rising above Bowness itself is the little, rocky summit of Brant Fell. At a height of just 191m, this short walk from the town gives one of the best views across the whole of Lake Windermere.
About a mile north-east of Bowness is the busy little town of Windermere. The town’s name has often been a source of confusion, being so far away from the lake. Two hundred years ago there was just the small village of Birthwaite here, but when the railway arrived here, the town sprang up taking its name from the railway station. Just above the station is one of Lakeland’s most famous viewpoints: Orrest Head. Like Brant Fell, Orrest Head is also of modest height (238m) but has endeared itself to generations of travellers who arrived and departed by train, as the short walk up to the top was often possible between connections.
Two miles north of Bowness is Brockhole, the National Park’s visitor centre. This was originally the holiday home of a wealthy Manchester industrialist named William Gaddum; it was built in the 1890s in the fashionable Arts and Crafts style, and sits in 30 acres of parkland and listed gardens which stretch down to the shores of Windermere. These days Brockhole offers a choice of out-door activities including zip-wires and boat hire, all with fantastic views of the lake and mountains.