What to do with the family around Lake Windermere

Heading to the Lake District? Pack your walking gear and embrace the great outdoors to make the most of a family getaway around Lake Windermere.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020,
By Maria Pieri
At an impressive 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep, Lake Windermere is ...

At an impressive 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep, Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in England. 

Photograph by Alamy

On the water

It’s not called the Lake District for nothing, so set off on a cruise and take in some of its best-known waters by boat. Windermere Cruises runs a number of (at the time of writing, socially distanced) cruises from Lakeside Pier, at the southern end of Lake Windermere. Alternatively, there’s the fun Lakeside Circular Cruise & Steam Train tour, which departs from Haverthwaite railway station and chugs its way to Lakeside Pier; or the Bowness, Ambleside or Lakeside circular cruises, each of which lasts around an hour. 

King of the castle

Head to Wray Castle, a gothic revival National Trust property on the western shore of Windermere. Little ones can dream themselves away to a fantasy world by exploring the castle’s elaborate hall, towers and turrets. The beautiful surrounding countryside also enchanted a certain Beatrix Potter, whose tales come to life inside in the former servants’ quarters, now the CBeebies Peter Rabbit Adventure rooms. 

A step back in time

In the charming town of Ambleside, less than a mile from the pier, call in at the Armitt Museum to find more about the life and history of the Lakes, with a dedicated Beatrix Potter section. For a glimpse into the life and work of the area’s most famous son, head up the road to Rydal Mount & Gardens, an impossibly perfect country cottage that was the home of poet William Wordsworth for nearly 40 years, until his death in 1850.  

Feel the force

A short walk east from Ambleside town centre is Stock Ghyll Force, a beautiful, 70ft-high waterfall that tumbles through the woods. The path to the falls can be a little tricky to find; it’s located next to Cunningham’s outdoor shop. Don’t miss the Bridge House, opposite the shop; the 17th-century cottage over the Stock Ghyll is a prime photo spot.

Animal antics

No family visit to the Lake District would be complete without a visit to the World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness-on-Windermere. Ideal for young ones, the author’s enchanting stories are brought to life with animatronic exhibits, an award-winning Peter Rabbit Garden and a superb, character-themed cafe. The Lakes were a hugely influential part of Potter’s life; she holidayed here for many years and even had a spell as a Cumbrian sheep farmer. On her death in 1943, she left her estate of 14 farms — including her flocks of Herdwick sheep — and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust. 

Quirky culture

Put on your walking shoes, and beat a path around Kendal, exploring the buzzing town’s yards, cobbled lanes and quirky streets on a cultural trail. Browse its independent shops, pick up some local Kendal mint cake and get your art fix at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Other highlights include the Brewery Arts Centre, with its colourful events programme, and the incredible Quaker Tapestry Museum (and its fabulous cafe). Download a map of the trail online. 

Horrible histories

Explore the scenic ruins of 12th-cenutry Kendal Castle, once home to the family of Catherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives. Take in the views of rolling green countryside and wind your way back to town along the River Kent, before peeking inside the beautiful 13th-century Kendal Parish Church — the largest in Cumbria.

Pan-fried fish at the Hare & Hounds.

Photograph by Leah Rushton Photography

Where to stay

Hare & Hounds
On the edge of the Lakes is the Hare & Hounds, in Levens. The classic country inn has four rooms for overnight stays and a newly added, self-contained Barn Annexe, with exposed beams and a country-chic vibe.  Perfect for self-catering families and dog owners, it’s every inch the classic pub with rooms. It’s also a stone’s throw from Kendal and is perfectly placed for a foray into the Yorkshire Dales. Rooms from £100 or Barn Annexe from £120, both B&B. 

Langdale Hotel
North of the Lakes (and ideal for Ambleside), Langdale Hotel is set in 35 scenic acres. It has 56 rooms and offers self-catering accommodation plus a host of leisure facilities, including a 20-metre pool, gym, sauna and hot tub. The hotel’s Stove Restaurant & Bar serves up modern fare, while a short stroll away, at Chapel Stile, is the Wainwrights’ Inn, a traditional Lakeland pub with a fine selection of local ales. From £195, B&B, for a family of four. 

Published in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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