Bowness-on-Windermere – not to be confused with Bowness-on-Solway in north Cumbria – and the adjoining village of Windermere make up one of the busiest resorts in the whole of the Lake District. Tourists flock to the lakeside locations to gaze on some of the most famous views in England and, almost inevitably, jump on a boat to savour more of this long, sinewy stretch of water.
Bowness was once just a collection of humble cottages, first settled in the eleventh century by the Norsemen who dominated the Lake District at the time. The same was true of neighbouring Birthwaite. Both changed and grew when the railway arrived in 1847, Birthwaite even altering its name to take on the more tourist-enticing moniker of ‘Windermere’. Not only did the railway bring vast numbers of tourists, it also meant the Lake District was suddenly within weekly commuting distance of the north’s industrial powerhouses of Yorkshire and Lancashire – wealthy factory owners could build their lavish weekend homes here; villas and mansions within a pebble’s throw of England’s largest lake. And the railway’s still there, maintaining that ease of access.
Today, the villages of Bowness and Windermere merge – Windermere in the north, just above the lake, with Bowness to the south, running right down to the water’s edge – forming a single resort that is full of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and attractions. This is the place to come to if you’re looking for upmarket accommodation, with several luxury hotels occupying exclusive lakeside locations. Many are known for their world-class restaurants. But that’s not to say there aren’t budget options too: there are smaller, simpler guesthouses as well as a backpackers’ hostel. And not all the eateries boast Michelin stars!
Among the many paid-for attractions in Bowness are Windermere Lake Cruises, the World of Beatrix Potter and Windermere Jetty. Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house, is about a mile south of the village. Family activities at Glebe Park, near the Windermere Lake Cruises piers, include a variety of different takes on the traditional game of golf – crazy golf, pitch and putt and foot golf. If you’re looking to burn off a bit more energy, maybe even get an adrenalin kick, a variety of activities are on offer. As you’d expect, watersports are particularly popular, and there are hire options as well as taster sessions and guided trips available at various locations. You can have a go at a huge range of land- and water-based activities at nearby Brockhole, including tree-top adventures and clay pigeon shooting.
If you’re just itching to lace up your boots and head for the hills, the regular 555 bus service puts the fells above Ambleside, Grasmere and even Keswick within easy reach. Or you can settle for one of the lower hills overlooking the eastern shore of Windermere: Brant Fell and School Knott are both within walking distance of Bowness, and provide breathtaking perspectives on the lake and the distant fells. Orrest Head, a half-hour walk from Windermere Railway Station, is where guidebook writer Wainwright began his lifelong love affair with the Lake District. Aged just 23 and enjoying his first walking holiday in the area, he stood at the 787ft summit transfixed by the scene before him, later describing it as a “fascinating paradise”.
The World of Beatrix Potter is one of the top attractions for young families in Bowness-on-Windermere. It brings to life the much-loved stories of one of the world’s most popular children’s writers. The famous characters from her books are all here: the hedgehog washerwoman Mrs Tiggy-winkle, the gentleman frog Jeremy Fisher and, of course, mischievous Peter Rabbit, probably the most famous of Potter’s creations.
Visitors enter The World of Beatrix Potter through a small theatre where they watch a five-minute film about Potter and her books. As well as focusing on her pets, many of which were the inspiration for the animal characters in her little books, the film also explains her love of the natural world and her life as a Lakeland farmer. Potter first fell in love with the Lakes during family holidays to the region, and, in 1905, bought Hill Top, a small farm in Near Sawrey that has since become a pilgrimage site for fans from all over the world.
The doors of the theatre open out directly on to the first of many scenes from Potter’s books. First, you step into a peaceful woodland glade with Jemima Puddle-Duck flying overhead in her smart blue bonnet and pink cape. Other locations brought to life with 3D models, countryside sounds and real smells include Mr McGregor’s greenhouse and Mr Tod’s underground home. Beatrix Potter’s there too, a squat figure wearing the tweeds for which she was famous.
Touch-screen displays provide fascinating snippets of information about the books, and feature quizzes and tasks for young visitors. Children also get an activity book with puzzles in it and questions they can answer as they make their way around the exhibition.
A ‘virtual walk’ leads visitors into the Lake District landscape. A computer projection provides 360-degree views of the places that inspired Potter’s books, while another short film and an interactive timeline provide more information about the writer’s life.
The tiny Peter Rabbit Garden at the back of the museum, created by Richard Lucas, was used as the basis of an award-winning design at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. The garden, which featured various details from Potter’s drawings including Peter Rabbit himself, won gold at the 2014 show.
The World of Beatrix Potter has a gift shop and a café. The attraction also arranges for Peter Rabbit to call in on the children’s parties that it organises. These are usually held just across the road in the Laundrama studio. This is an off-shoot of the Old Laundry Theatre, which shares a building with the World of Beatrix Potter and stages a variety of performances from comedy and music to drama and films.