For many people tourism in England begins and ends in London. Those unadventurous and unlucky souls don’t know what they are missing out on! The North of England has an almost endless list of interesting landmarks and places of outstanding natural beauty. The famous Lake District National Park houses a great number of these spots. Of all its awe-inspiring bodies of water, Lake Windermere and its surrounding towns and villages are, for me, the most beautiful and inspiring.
Although the pace of life is usually much slower in this part of England, when a weekend or holiday coincides with the rarest of English rarities – a pleasant, sunny day – the amount of people in attendance multiplies accordingly. Bearing this in mind, I’d recommend you arrive early in order to guarantee yourself a parking space if you are driving. Try for Rayrigg Meadow on Rayrigg Road which is situated roughly ten minutes walk from the very heart of Bowness-on-Windermere town centre. It is remote enough to help you beat the traffic and aid a quick getaway when you choose to leave. There is a small park attached to the car park which is perfect for a picnic and allows for some respite from the crowds and affords some lovely views of the lake shore.
One big draw for foreign visitors is the Lake District’s Beatrix Potter connection. Windermere is well stocked for all things Peter Rabbit et al., as it houses the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction as well as a host of specialist stores that sell only Potter themed items. If you are coming in from Rayrigg Road the attraction is the first of Bowness’ landmarks that you will pass. Japanese tourists especially are inexorably drawn to the area and, as such, you shouldn’t be surprised to see Japanese language signs here and there around the town (even if some of them are, unfortunately, upside down). Ticket prices for the museum start at £7.20 for adults and £3.70 for children.
As with many popular tourist spots, the high street is dominated by souvenir shops, trinket peddlers and art dealers looking to part people from their pennies. There are, however, a few food and drink related gems to be found among these other stores. People with a sweet tooth should look to pick up some Kendal Mint Cake, a refreshing slab of pure energy once taken to the top of Everest and consumed by flagging climbers. Whenever I’m in the Lakes I never fail to buy some and I always get it from Country Confectionery which also stocks other sweet treats made the traditional way. A few storefronts down is Windermere Ice Cream Co. who offer a staggering range of ice creams from the traditional to the outlandish – I highly recommend the rhubarb and custard flavour!
If you’ve caught good weather the throngs of people will indicate the way to the lakeside promenade. Upon arriving you will be greeted by the lake’s shimmering waters and lush green borders. Head to the pier if you wish to take a cruise across the lake or hop to a neighbouring village whilst savouring the sights in lazy fashion. If you are feeling more adventurous, head around the lake on foot, paying close attention to the overly bold geese, ducks and swans who will think nothing of thieving foodstuffs directly from your grubby mitts!
Farther along the shores of Lake Windermere lies the Ship Inn, an unspectacular pub in a spectacular location. Take five minutes, grab a beer and enjoy the lakeside view or, weather permitting, hit the benches at the front of the pub and people watch. Opposite is the Glebe where you can take a load off and relax or toss around a frisbee or kick about a football with your family. The Glebe is a nice spot although it can get extremely busy during the summer months and its serenity is occasionally broken by the revving engines of bikers flying past at top speed.
Just a tad past the Ship Inn is Cockshott Point, a beautiful promontory that runs for a short distance along the south shore of the lake. There are plenty of opportunities here to sit around and drink in the views and the area makes for a nice stroll or a good vantage point to watch the boats roll by or the sun make its farewell dip behind the distant tree-line.
You will likely have worked up an appetite by now, what with all this walking. Bowness boasts a wide range of cuisines for such a small town, from Chinese to Italian, Thai to Indian, lowly pub grub to top-end culinary delights. I, being a man of few pretensions, pretty much always head for Vinegar Jones when my tummy starts a-rumbling. Anyone not familiar with the famous British staple of fish and chips owes it to themselves to sample some from here. For me, Vinegar Jones offers some of the best fish and chips in the land. Be sure to ask for extra helpings of batter (or scraps, whatever they understand first!) and douse your food with lashings of salt and vinegar for maximum flavour sensation.
If, after your lunch, you find yourself parched and hankering for another beer to freshen the palette, you could do much worse than heading to the Angel Inn for a swift one. Set atop a small grassy knoll, it allows you to take your beers down onto the slopes of its grounds and enjoy your beverage in the sunshine. If you there’s no room at the inn and all the best hill spots are taken, you can sit at one of the benches beside the entrance and take in the striking views these seats offer. If you decide to drink indoors then the interior is equally as impressive.
If, by this point, you’ve had enough of Bowness but still have a hankering for more of what the Lake District has to offer, then nearby Ambleside is worth checking out. Ambleside can be reached by boat, car, bus or, if you’ve energy to burn, you can take on the five mile distance by foot. Nestled among rolling hills and perched directly on the coast of Lake Windermere, Ambleside is a slightly less crowded and quainter version of Bowness. Here the knick knack stores are mostly replaced by fancy delicatessens but there is still a good deal of choice when it comes to eating and drinking.
Ambleside promenade provides ample opportunity to watch the day go by and grab a coffee or ice cream. Rowing boats can be rented if you wish to take to the surface of the lake and you can hop on a boat back to Bowness should you so choose. History lovers will want to check out nearby Borrans park which was once a Roman settlement and still houses a few lingering fort foundations for you to peruse.
People who love to take snaps of lovely countryside will be in their element in Ambleside as there are plenty of chances to captures idyllic shots. The distant hills and photogenic copses are particularly worth keeping an eye out for. There are also picturesque scenes within the town itself, including the slowly gurgling stream (which is best admired from the gardens of the Giggling Goose Cafe) and the Bridge House which is now owned by the National Trust.
If you’ve been out and about for this long you’ll probably want to take in some dinner by now. As mentioned, Ambleside has a good selection of eateries but one place I have visited frequently is Jintana Thai. Jintana (which also has an establishment in Bowness if you don’t make it as far as Ambleside) provides for lovers of authentic Southeast Asian cuisine and offers all the expected Thai dishes such as green, red and jungle curries, Tom Yum and Pad Thai. There are sizeable set menus available for large groups and duck dishes for those wishing to push the boat out pricewise. Everything I’ve ever sampled from Jintana has been delicious and all food comes garnished with decorative carvings sculpted from carrots and other fibrous vegetables that are so pretty it seems a shame to eat them.
If you aren’t staying overnight but want to savour even more beautiful vistas then take the winding Kirkstone Pass for a more scenic route home. On your way you might want to pop into the Kirkstone Pass Inn, the highest inhabited building in Cumbria and the third highest pub in England, for a bit of home-cooked local food. The interior is traditional in style and there is a roaring fire to ward off any chills you pick up should the temperamental climate shift before your arrival.
If are staying the night but feel you’ve had enough of the local towns and villages, you might wish to get away from the tourist masses on one of the limitless hikes and walks you can undertake from either Bowness or Ambleside. For more information about these, have a look here.
Where I stayed
Windermere Boutique Hotel
The Windermere Boutique Hotel is my go to destination if I want to stay over in the Lake District. Offering a wide range of spacious suites, many with hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas included, there are few better ways to spend a night away near Lake Windermere. Breakfast is included and there is convenient free parking available for customers on the road outside. The Windermere Boutique Hotel is situated on Lake Road just outside of Bowness itself and can be identified by the unusual lightning rod water feature at the front of the premises. Although the hotel is a short walk from both Bowness and Windermere town centres, its relative isolation is more than made up for by the peace and quiet its setting affords. The hotel has recently undergone a complete redesign and the new rooms are fresh, contemporary and luxurious. Prices start from £180 per night but the high quality beds, furnishings and service provided make a stay here well worth the outlay.
Click here to visit the Windermere Boutique Hotel website for more information.