England’s longest lake escapes its confines at Newby Bridge. Here, Windermere becomes the River Leven, tumbling over a weir close to the ancient bridge that gives the village its name. It then scurries over cataracts and falls through the Backbarrow Gorge before sweeping into Morecambe Bay.
It’s an area of crags, tarns and wooded fells, lovely walking country generously sprinkled with visitor attractions that guarantee a fine family day out whatever the weather.
Take a leaf out of actor Michael Caine’s book and head first for Haverthwaite, at the southern end of the Leven’s lively gorge. This is one terminus of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, the old Furness Railway that once connected Windermere’s steamers to the main line at Ulverston. In Victorian times, wealthy industrialists with mansions close to Bowness and Ambleside travelled the lake on their private vessels, changing on to personal rail carriages for onward travel.
Nowadays, it is home to a family-friendly steam railway, with an impressive collection of rolling stock. In 1988, Caine featured as Sherlock Holmes in the film Without a Clue; scenes were shot on the railway near to Newby Bridge and at the northern terminus, Lakeside.
If you’re keen to escape the crowds, then take a walk to Finsthwaite Tower. The steep, waymarked path from the railway bridge at Newby Bridge snakes up through woods to this hidden stone structure, built by a local landowner to commemorate naval victories such as the battle of the Nile in the Napoleonic Wars.
Views through the woodland stretch across Windermere to Gummer’s How and the distant line of the Pennines. The woodland hereabouts, home to red squirrels, was managed to provide wood to make bobbins for the cotton industry.
Making bobbins is one of those industries that largely passed the world by; fortunately at Stott Park Bobbin Mill, immediately north of Lakeside, it is preserved a working wonder of the industrial age where millions of bobbins were shaped between 1835 and 1971. This ‘live’ museum is an extraordinary look back to a lost world.
Lake it or not
Of course, it’s impossible not to take advantage of mighty Windermere. Families with a sense of adventure should hot-foot to the far side of the lake’s foot opposite Lakeside (there’s a little ferry across every half-hour), where, at Fell Foot Country Park, you can hire rowing boats and two-person kayaks.
Back at Lakeside, the lake’s renowned steamers continue to offer the most relaxing views of the enfolding countryside. While even die-hard landlubbers can join in at the Aquarium of the Lakes, beside the quay.
From secluded Finsthwaite’s sleepy village to Lakeside’s bustling quay, Windermere’s southern tip is the epitome of a family day out.
HOW TO GET THERE
Finsthwaite is in the hills at the southern end of Windermere. Head for Newby Bridge, on the A590, There are car parks at nearby Lakeside. Bus route 6/X6, between Kendal and Ulverston, serves Newby Bridge.
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Backbarrow LA12 8TA
Newby Bridge LA12 8QP