Grab yourself a drink, sit back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride this is! The Ullswater ‘Steamers’ ply the waters of England’s second largest natural lake all year round, providing visitors with a sublime perspective on this World Heritage landscape whether it’s covered in snow or rich with the greens of summer.
Not only is a boat trip a great way to view the lake and its surrounding fells, it also opens up the opportunity for lots of linear walks – either low-level routes on the waymarked Ullswater Way or along high-level ridges from one fell top to another. Some of the most popular routes link Pooley Bridge with Howtown, and Howtown with Patterdale and Glenridding. You could also walk from Glenridding to the spectacular waterfall of Aira Force, do a circuit on Gowbarrow Fell for some of the best views of Ullswater, and then get the boat back. On this walk, in early spring, watch for the flowers that are said to have inspired William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Having walked the lakeshore with her brother in April 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth noted in her diary: “I never saw daffodils so beautiful...” Two years later, he used her observations as the basis of his poem, the first line of which is probably the most famous in English poetry: “I wandered lonely as a cloud...”
The Ullswater Steam Navigation Company started life in 1859 ferrying passengers, mail, lead, slate and general provisions up and down Ullswater’s eight-mile length. Two of the company’s original nineteenth-century steam yachts still operate – the Raven and the Lady of The Lake – although both were converted to diesel in the 1930s. A further three boats have since been added to the fleet – Western Belle, Lady Dorothy and Lady Wakefield.
Today, the boats operate between Glenridding, Aira Force, Howtown and Pooley Bridge. While the piers at Howtown and Aira Force are just that – piers – Glenridding and Pooley Bridge have toilets and indoor seating areas where drinks and snacks can be bought.
The timetable differs with the season, so you’ll need to check the website before setting out. Check also for special events such as Santa cruises in December, summer evening buffets, photography workshops and wildlife events. Be aware though that services are sometimes cancelled in exceptional weather – when the level of the lake is particularly high, for example, or in strong winds.
If you’ve got your canine chum with you, you’ll be pleased to hear that dogs are allowed on board (for a small extra charge). Deck space permitting, cyclists can also take their bikes on all the boats apart from the Lady Dorothy. Again, an additional fee applies.
There are licensed bars and toilets on all the boats, and, should the weather turn bad, you’ll find shelter in the below-deck saloons. But why would you want to hide away when you can sit out on deck and feel the wind in your face as you watch the beautiful scenery go sedately past?