Set in the foothills of the Lake District, Lake Windermere is an incredible body of water.
Just look at the stats. It measures in at over 10 miles long, up to a mile wide and more than 200ft deep, making it England’s largest natural lake.
It’s dotted with wooded islands, the largest of which is the privately owned Belle Isle covering 40 acres.
The surface area is 5.7 square miles, which equates to 3,640 acres. It’s so big it even has its own tide.
But forget the stats. It’s the spirit of this place – which has been described as ‘having its head in the mountains and its foot almost the coast’ – that draws visitors in their millions from across the globe.
It’s a spirit that inspired Arthur Ransome’s classic tale of kids’ boat-borne adventures, Swallows and Amazons, which was first published in 1930.
The action takes place on “that great lake in the north”, thought to be an amalgam of Windemere and Consiton (the latter, for the stat-hungry, is the region’s third-largest lake, coming in at 5 miles long, half a mile wide and covering an area of 1.9 square miles.
Captivated by its natural beauty, history and the varied opportunities for recreation and relaxation, many visitors return to this part of Cumbria year after year – often having first experienced its charms as children.
It’s a magical place for families; a place for picnicking, paddling and recreating the adventures of Ransome’s characters.
The author isn’t the only artist, of course, to have drawn inspiration from this watery wonderland. The poet William Wordsworth lived at nearby Rydal Mount, between Ambleside and Grasmere, until his death in 1850 and would write in the house’s beautiful garden with its views of Lake Windemere.
It was also home to the creator of Peter Rabbit and the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction in Bowness-on-Windermere gives an insight into the world of the woman who brought us Jemima Puddle-Duck.
For visitors to this part of England’s north west, the watchword is choice. Whether you enjoy relaxing and taking it easy or are seeking adventure and adrenaline, it really does have it all.
There are water-based pursuits such as sailing, canoeing and kayaking (with boat cruises for those who want the view without having to puff or paddle) and it’s been the venue for the Great North Swim since 2008.
For those who’d rather stay on dry land, there’s cycling, wildlife-watching, photography and a variety of houses and gardens to explore. You can even follow in the footsteps of Romans at Galava Fort.
And then there’s the walking – the activity for which the Lake District National Park is perhaps most famous. This really is the place to be for those with hiking boots, whether they’re looking for a challenging ridge walk or a gentle meander.
The Windermere Way is a 45-mile circular route around the lake, varying from easy and accessible paths to higher, out-of-the-way stretches offering some spectacular views.
The adventurous may also wish to tackle Scafell Pike which, at 978 meters (3,210 ft), is England’s highest peak and which the popular writer walked Alfred Wainwright described as being “every inch a mountain”.
There is a huge choice of places to stay locally. Some hotels surrounding the lake were once the grand mansions of rich businessmen, while nearby towns and villages are home to a myriad of hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and self-catering properties.
‘Beautiful but busy,’ is the impression many people are left with of Bowness-on-Windemere, the buzzing tourist town about halfway along the lake’s eastern side (the smaller settlement of Windemere is about half a mile from the lake and runs into Bowness). Ambleside, at the north of the lake, is another great base from which to explore the area and has popular shops, restaurants and pubs.
But it’s away from the crowds – off the beaten track, on hillsides and at quiet spots beside this magnificent lake – where you’re perhaps most likely to feel the spirit of Windemere.
Take a few moments, while you’re there, to scan the shore for a Tizzie-Wizzie. First reportedly spotted by a Bowness boatman around 1900, this shy, water-loving critter is said to have the body of a hedgehog, the tail of a squirrel or fox and a pair of bee-like wings. Apparently, it has a faint cry that can just be heard if you pace your ear at water level.
There are still reported sightings of Tizzie-Wizzies today although many, it must be said, are by people who have visited one of the area’s many delightful hostelries.
The existence of this mini-monster has, perhaps not surprisingly, never been proved. But in a spot as magical as this, you never know…
HOW TO GET THERE
Windemere is about 20 minutes from Junction 36 of the M6. There are regular trains going there from major towns and cities in the north of England and Scotland.
FIND OUT MORE
Lake District National Park Authority
Low Wood Bay
Reservations: 08458 503 502 or 015394 33338