Wray Castle – National Trust

10 mins read
Wray Castle National Trust
Wray Castle National Trust

A Gothic Revival Treasure on Lake Windermere

Have you heard of Wray Castle National Trust? It’s a must-visit destination in the Lake District on Lake Windermere. Its turrets, towers, and informal grounds make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale! Wray Castle has a rich history.

The National Trust acquired it after the World Wars, and its architecture has survived changes in lifestyle and fashion. It’s a true treasure in the Lakes. The whole family can enjoy miles of lakeshore paths to explore!

Lakeshore paths - Wray Castle
Lakeshore paths – Wray Castle

However, the castle doesn’t have any furniture or fittings. Ongoing conservation efforts are in place to maintain its historic floors and building fabric. The castle’s complex and leaky roof presents a challenge. The National Trust relies on visitors, donors, volunteers, and members to continue looking after places like Wray Castle and its parkland for everyone forever.

Explore the Outdoors at Wray Castle

Looking for a spot to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine with your family? Look no further than Wray Castle! Check out the adventure play trail and take in the stunning views of Lake Windermere while enjoying a picnic. And don’t forget to grab some delicious treats at Joey’s Cafe, like coffee, pastries, and tray bakes.

Joey's Cafe - Wray Castle National Trust
Joey’s Cafe – Wray Castle National Trust

Feeling adventurous? Take a bike ride along the west shore of Windermere from the castle. Or opt for a more relaxed pace with circular walks in the surrounding countryside and by the lake.

Little boy on a bike exploring the Grounds at Wray Castle

Take a leisurely stroll through the parkland and discover the incredible features of the great estate created by James and Margaret Dawson. See the glasshouse, arboretum, and yew walk, the Dawsons’ boathouse and miniature harbour, Watbarrow Wood, the shingle beach, and St. Margaret’s Church. And why not walk 4 miles south along the lakeshore to Claife Viewing Station, a partially restored late 18th-century banqueting house and viewing station?

For a truly unique experience, take a ferry across the lake to Bowness on Windermere. Wray Castle has so much to offer – don’t miss the chance to stroll through the parkland dotted with giant exotic fir trees. And be sure to check out the veteran oaks that predate the castle, adding an air of antiquity to the property that is simply incredible!

Holiday Fun for Kids at Wray!

Looking for ways to keep your children entertained during the school holidays? Wray’s fun-filled activities are perfect for getting your kids moving and competing with their peers. They can challenge friends to a game of noughts and crosses on the front terrace picnic tables. Plus, seasonal crafts are in a dedicated room to keep your kids creative and festive for holidays like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. Join the fun at Wray Castle!

Coronation Crafting - Wray Castle National Trust
Coronation Crafting – Wray Castle National Trust

A Historic Castle with a Fascinating Story

The Dawsons and Their Ambitious Plans

James Dawson and his wife Margaret built Wray Castle in 1840 as a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life. They constructed an amazing Gothic-style castle with beautiful gardens and sweeping parklands. They completed the design by adding a home farm and a church.

Wray Castle’s Impressive Features

The massive Gothic boathouse and miniature harbour by the shore at Wray Castle are truly impressive. Visitors arriving by water would have been greeted by this grand building, one of the largest boathouses in the Lakes. Dr James Dawson used his wife’s inheritance from a gin fortune to build it in the Gothic Revival Style, creating a stunning entrance to the estate.

The National Trust Steps In

The Dawsons had no children, but they used Wray Castle as a retirement home. After Dr Dawson’s death, Preston Rawnsley inherited the castle, and in 1929, Sir Noton Barclay presented it to the National Trust. Despite William Wordsworth’s description of Wray Castle as a dignified feature, Dr Dawson’s wife reportedly declined to live in it upon its completion.

A Renowned Building with a Decorative Renaissance Style

The Dawsons built Wray Castle with some huge ambitions in mind and delivered an impressive villa located in the Lake District! From the outside, it looks like a stern castle, but once you step inside, you’ll find a central hall that follows the form of an ancient priory.

The Central Hall - Wray Castle National Trust
The Central Hall – Wray Castle National Trust

The drawing room, dining room, library, and morning room all connect to the hall and have their own unique Gothic style. But what’s cool is that the ceilings and woodwork have elements of Renaissance styles, giving the whole place a changeful appearance that makes it seem like it’s been around for generations. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the ruins around the castle – they’re there on purpose to suggest that the outer battlements fell into disrepair centuries ago. It’s pretty neat, right?

Plans for a Hotel Halted After Financial Crisis

By the end of the Victorian era, large Gothic villas like Wray Castle had become unfashionable. After James Dawson died in 1875, Wray was inherited by a distant relative named Edward Preston Rawnsley. Eventually, Rawnsley sold the entire estate in 1898.

Over the years, the house changed hands multiple times, its future uncertain until the National Trust acquired it in 1929 due to the beautiful stretch of lakeshore it commanded. Interestingly, the building was leased to various tenants, including the Freshwater Biological Association and the Merchant Navy. Plans to convert the castle into a hotel were put on hold after the financial crisis 2008, but the parkland has always remained open.

Beatrix Potter’s Connection to Wray Castle

Potter Family outside Wray Castle

In the summer of 1882, the Potter family of Kensington booked Wray Castle as their annual summer holiday. Edward Preston Rawnsley leased it out and later became friends with Beatrix Potter. Beatrix spent her holiday in the Lake District with her family, and Rawnsley played an instrumental role in founding the National Trust.

He dedicated himself to preserving and providing access to beautiful places and was especially passionate about preserving the Lake District. With Beatrix’s help, they were able to make it happen. Rawnsley encouraged Beatrix to publish her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in 1902 – and history was made!

Beatrix Potter’s Legacy in the Lake District

In 1905, Beatrix Potter, the famous children’s book author, purchased a place called Hill Top in Near Sawrey and fell in love with the village so much that she decided to make it her permanent home. Her beloved Hill Top became the inspiration for many of her well-known stories! She used the money she earned from selling her books to purchase farms and land all across the Lakes, and she bequeathed these properties to the National Trust after she passed away. Thanks to Beatrix’s generosity, we can all continue to enjoy the beauty of the Lake District, which the National Trust continues to care for to this day.


Why not come and experience the magic of Wray Castle for yourself? The castle charges Β£5.40 for adults and Β£2.70 for children for admission in 2022, with family tickets available for just Β£13.50. You have no excuse not to come and explore this incredible piece of history, as entry to the grounds is free.

Check opening times here as they change in the winter months.

Address: Low Wray, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0JA