Telling the story of England’s largest lake, the Windermere Jetty is also known as the ‘Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories’. Opened by Prince Charles in 2019, it occupies a series of barn-like, copper-clad buildings on the shores of Windermere, the first contemporary building to be constructed beside the lake for several decades.
The main, enclosed hall of the museum features a variety of vessels, from streamlined speedboats and an opulent Victorian steamer to the tatty old rowing boat Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis used to relax in on summer evenings on Moss Eccles Tarn. Hanging from the ceiling is an early off-water glider, tested successfully on Windermere in 1943, while other exhibits include Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome’s sketchbook and several ‘Windermere kettles’, copper urns that are capable of using steam from a ship’s boiler to boil five litres of water in just 10 seconds.
A massive wet dock houses more of the museum’s 40-strong collection of vessels, including two of the boats used in the 2016 film Swallows and Amazons and a classy Florida-built motorboat called Jane. Like many boats in the collection, ‘Jane’ has been restored to her former, elegant glory, and now features the original rich red paintwork she sported when she was first imported from the US in 1937.
The wet dock is also home to the 1902 steam launch, Osprey, the first boat in the restored collection to take museum visitors on cruises. Tickets can be booked for a 45-minute ‘heritage boat trip’ that heads sedately down the lake to Bowness and around Windermere’s largest island, the privately owned Belle Isle. If you want to see the lake in style, this is the way to do it! There’s even a breakfast trip complete with tasty bacon or egg butties and a hot drink.
Visitors are welcome to visit the conservation workshop where experts work on restoring boats in the museum’s collection. A free talk is held once a day outside the workshop to help people understand what’s going on inside. Other events around the museum site include ‘Jetty Gems’, where an expert gives a daily talk on one of the items in the collection, and occasional temporary exhibitions. Model boat enthusiasts are also welcome to bring their vessels along to the model boating pond, which is free to use and becomes the hang-out of members of the Windermere Model Boat Club on Mondays and Thursdays.
Diners can visit the museum’s popular café, with its distracting picture windows looking out over beautiful Windermere, without having to buy an entrance ticket for the museum. Unlike in the museum itself, dogs are welcome in the café.
The Windermere Jetty is located about 1.5 miles from Windermere Railway Station and is a 15-minute walk from the middle of Bowness-on-Windermere. Windermere Lake Cruises’ red cruise also stops at the site on its way between Bowness and Waterhead at Ambleside.