The Windermere Way
The Windermere Way is a 45-mile loop of Windermere Lake, which is both the largest lake of the Lake District and the biggest body of water in the whole of England. The lake itself is 10.5 miles in length, but the 72km route leads you down the most scenic of bridleways and footpaths, and passes by some of the most remarkable towns, woodlands, tarns and hills found in the Lake District.
It’s standard practice to split this walk up over the course of four days, and since it consists of a complete loop of the lake it’s possible to commence the hike at whatever stage you fancy; the most popular starting point being Bowness.
One great benefit of the Windermere Way is the Windermere Ferry service which takes passengers across the lake at its midpoint, from Ferry Nab, south of Bowness, to Ferry House, located on the lake’s western shore. This makes it easier to return to your starting point at the end of each of the four days. The ferry runs every 20 minutes from morning to mid-evening and – as long as the weather remains sailable – runs almost every day throughout the year.
Windermere to Ambleside – Bowness-on-Windermere is the most popular starting point of the Windermere Way, and has become a particularly popular tourist destination for that reason. It’s positioned around half-way along Windermere itself, and is the lake’s main sailing and water sports hub. The small town is dotted with large, lake-facing Victorian mansions which were built in the 19th Century by affluent aristocrats from Lancashire; today, many of which have been converted into luxurious hotels , including the Langdale Chase Hotel, the Belsfield Hotel, and the Storrs Hall Hotel, and are popular places of residence for those participating in the Windermere Way. Bowness is also home to the World of Beatrix Potter and the Windemere Steamboat Museum.
From Bowness Bay, the walk leads to the hill Orrest Head on the Eastern shore of the lake. The hill’s short ascent offers surprisingly far-reaching views of the Lake District and is the vantage point that originally inspired British author, Alfred Wainwright, to write guidebooks, who noted: ‘I was totally transfixed, unable to believe my eyes’.
Next, Windermere Way leads hikers alongside Trout Beck, a long, fast-moving stream that acts as one of Windermere Lake’s main water supplies.
Trout Beck then leads to Wansfell, which features the highest point of the walk, known as Wansfell Pike, which has an elevation of 482 m. Stone-pitched the entire climb, Wansfell Pike offers terrific views of the Peak District and the nearby town of Ambleside.
Ambleside to Ferry House –The 2nd stretch of the walk starts in Ambleside, which is another honeypot for water activities, and also a popular destination for rock climbing and abseiling. Not short on hotels, the town also has a famed strip of pubs and restaurants that is popular amongst locals, tourists, and University of Cumbria Students.
From Ambleside, hikers then ascend Loughrigg Fell; another brisk climb that requires little exertion, but one which again delivers an undeserving payoff, with a fantastic panoramic view of neighbouring hills and valleys. Descending Loughrigg Fell, hikers will next be met with Loughrigg Tarn – a small, often obscured from view natural lake.
The next point of interest along this stretch is the neo-gothic beauty that is Wray Castle, which has only recently been opened to the public. With much to be explored inside the castle and around its grounds and even a café, Wray Castle makes for an excellent pit stop!
The last stop on this stretch of the Windermere Way is Claife Heights, one of the steepest ascends of the walk, which delivers lofty views of Windermere Lake.
Ferry Nab to Lakeside – From Ferry Nab, walkers are led towards the Western shore of the Windermere along a small stream called Cunsey Beck, another main source of replenishment for Windermere Lake.
Afterwards, hikers reach one of the most rarely visited sites in the peak district, the High Dam, which is located above the small village of Finsthwaite. An artificially created tarn, this was used to power the local Scott Park Bobbin Mill. Noted for its tranquillity, and the dense forestry which surrounds it, High Dam is a great, secluded place to take a break.
This stretch then reaches the Southern shore where it concludes at Lakeside Steamer Pier. The pier boasts an aquarium, which showcases the fascinating range of freshwater creatures that populate the Windermere lake.
Lakeside to Bowness –The final stretch is also the longest and is totally bereft of views of the Windermere Lakeshore, but instead offers unbeatable views of Gummers How while walking back towards Bowness. Gummers How is located on the eastern shore and is the most lofty of all foothills found in the Peak District.