The easiest and probably the pleasantest way to take in Derwentwater and its magnificent surroundings is to sit back and enjoy a cruise on one of the boats of the Keswick Launch Company. Operating all year round, weather conditions and water level permitting, the boats start from close to the Theatre by The Lake in Keswick and then serve a further seven jetties around the lake. Starting on the eastern shore and going round clockwise, these are Ashness Gate, Lodore, High Brandelhow, Low Brandelhow, Hawes End, Lingholm and Nichol End.
Among the many attractions visible from the water are the Jaws of Borrowdale, where the valley suddenly constricts, Cat Bells, Skiddaw, Borrowdale’s ancient woodland, Lingholm (one of the holiday homes of the young Beatrix Potter) and Derwentwater’s four permanent islands. If you’re extremely lucky, you might even glimpse the floating ‘island’ of plant material that occasionally appears towards the end of the summer.
Passenger boats first started operating on Derwentwater in 1898 when the Lodore Hotel purchased the 53-seat steamer, the Lorna Doone, to transport guests from Keswick. In the early part of the twentieth century, small boat operators competed with rowing ferrymen for fares. Then, in 1935, several of these small firms joined together to form the Keswick upon Derwentwater Launch Company.
Today, passengers can jump on and off at any of the piers, although several of them are ‘request only’, so you’ll need to stand at the far end of the jetty a few minutes before the launch is due to attract the crew’s attention. Single fares are available for journeys part way round the lake, or you can purchase a day pass/round trip ticket which allows you to do the full, 50-minute circuit of the lake or make as many trips as you like until you return to your original departure point. Weekly passes are also available. Dogs are carried free of charge.
The Keswick Launch Company operates four boats – the Annie Mellor, the Princess Margaret Rose, the Lakeland Mist and the Lady Derwentwater, which appeared in the 1974 Swallows and Amazons film starring Virginia McKenna. To feel the wind in your face, relax on the open deck at the front of the vessel. Each of the boats also has a covered deck offering shelter for those occasions when the ‘Lakeland mist’ descends.
The ferries are particularly popular with walkers looking for a gentle lakeside stroll. The full lake circuit is about nine miles long, or you can use the boats to break the walk down into shorter sections of between one and seven miles. Because of parking restrictions on the western side of the lake, those considering climbing Cat Bells are advised to use the Keswick Launch, disembarking at the Hawes End jetty. There are more walk ideas on the company’s website.
For the more independent minded, the Keswick Launch Company also rents out rowing boats seating between one and eight people as well as four-seater and eight-seater motor cruisers.