The leisurely pace of a boat trip is very reassuring. On a journey that can’t be rushed, there is actually time to stand and stare. So, what better way to soak up the atmosphere of Lake Ullswater than by chugging across its glassy surface on a passenger steamer. Once paddle-operated, they are now powered by diesel – apparently weeds became tangled in the old paddles.
Ullswater is smaller than its neighbour, Lake Windermere, and just as beautiful. From above, it looks like a ribbon discarded by a retreating glacier. At about seven miles long, the lake divides the historic counties of Cumberland and Westmorland.
The lake is a peaceful spot for tourists who come to see the bobbing daffodils made famous by Wordsworth in all their springtime glory.
It hasn’t always been so. In the past, the ships were reserved for miners seeking passage after a day’s work. Sweaty and dirty from a subterranean shift, they must have enjoyed the respite granted by the cool breeze that whipped up from the lake.
A natural beauty
In early spring, the banks are carpeted in a beautiful bright yellow that inspired Wordsworth to write his famous poem Daffodils, (“I wondered lonely as a cloud…”). And you can’t help but feel the same joy the young poet experienced on seeing these welcome symbols of spring once more.
Begin your journey on the wooden jetty at Howtown, a tiny village nestled on the edge of the lake. It’s worth arriving a little early so you can see the steamer chug across the clear surface of the lake towards you.
Take in the crags of Hallin Fell, and feel the majesty of the Lake District before boarding.
Once moving, you can listen to the captain’s commentary as he tells you about this inspiring landscape. A castle peeks through the trees and the snowy crags high above instensify the atmosphere.
Sit back and unwind as the steamer follows the curve of the shoreline to the village of Pooley Bridge. Sailing on the lake is very popular, and there’s usually a fleet of small boats slicing across the surface – a real joy to watch.
Once at Pooley Bridge, step on to the waterfront and enjoy the gift shops and tearooms before catching a return steamer. If you’re feeling energetic, there are plenty of walking routes along the shore.
This spot is home to red deer, and is one of the few remaining strongholds of red squirrel in the country. Look out for greylag geese and cormorants among the abundant birdlife.
Up on the fells you can spot larger predatory birds, including falcons and ravens. People have also left their mark on the landscape; an Iron Age fort enjoys a commanding position on the heights.
There is vibrant plant life beneath your feet. As well as the daffodils, look for the first wood cranesbill and later, from June to September, purslane flowers, and even bracket fungus. It’s also worth keeping a special eye out for the carnivorous round-leaved sundew from June to August.
Once you become accustomed to the lapping tranquillity of the lake, head up the hills to Aira Force, the best-known waterfall in the Lakes. Watch as it crashes past mossy woodland in a raging torrent before you return to the steamer.
As rays of sunshine streak through the branches, it’s easy to see why this serene area – practically unchanged for 200 years – continues to be so popular with visitors today.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ullswater lies alongside the A592 between Windermere and Penrith. From the M6 leave at Junction 40 and follow the A66 sigposted Keswick, then after just under a mile, turn left onto the A592, which runs along the shore of Ullswater.
FIND OUT MORE
Catch the steamer
You can catch a steamer across Ullswater from Glenridding, Howtown, or Pooley Bridge. Glenridding is the most popular starting point, with plenty of parking available.
Fairlight Guest House
Cosy family B&B and café that is also open all day for breakfast, lunches, dinner and hot drinks.
Penrith CA11 0PG
This famous waterfall is on the north bank of Ullswater, next to the junction with the A5091. There is a large car park and the route is signposted.
Main image by Val Corbett