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The English Lakes Through the Eyes of a Victorian Traveler- Windermere and Bowness.

Updated on August 8, 2015


The English Lakes are situated in the Lake District National Park in the county of Cumbria in North West England. In England they are often referred to simply as 'The Lakes'. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The region consists of mountains, fells,forests, woodland,upland farm land and of course the Lakes.

It is one of the most visited regions of the country. Modern day transportation gives easy access to all and it is affordable to most. However, in the Victorian era the English Lakes were beyond the reach of the masses and only the well heeled had the opportunity to visit them. In this article which is number two in the series, I look at the Lakes through the eyes of a Victorian traveler and how he would have observed the region during that period. With our traveler we will visit Windermere and Bowness.

Lake windermere

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3.0 generic license | Source

Map of the Lakes

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Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license | Source

Windermere and Bowness.

Passing down the high street of Windermere and St,Mary's road, our Victorian gentleman would see to his right, the college then Fairhaven on the left. A little further, on a gentle elevation, the neat villa and the grounds of Ellerthwaite {there is now the Ellerthwaite hotel}.

Half a mile further on is the Hydropathetic Establishment,{ this was a place where people receive Hydropathic Treatment. They were commonly built in spa towns, where mineral rich or hot water occurred naturally, the treatment is now referred to as Hydrotherapy}

Just before he reached this point a gate would be observable to him which is the entrance to footpaths leading over the higher ground in the direction of the railway station and affording him a pleasant walk and fine views of Lake Windermere and its surroundings. Passing the Hydropathic establishment and then to the right. the cottage of Mlynbeck, a common house, in its aspects towards the road, but as seen over the wall, very pretty in its front garden. The next gate on the left would have allowed him entrance to the Craig, and the villa on the right was known as 'Craig Foot', both of which were built by Admiral Sir.T. Pasley.

Below this, the houses began to thicken out about the entrance to Bowness. Our traveler would notice among them a road to the left which led to one of the finest view points in the neighbourhood, a hill named Bisket How { now referred to as Biskey Howe}, which today affords the same view of the whole lake enjoyed by our traveler in Victorian times.

Our Victorian gentleman, if he had only limited time at his disposal would in all probability, remain in the vicinity of Windermere. If he had time to take things much more easily there was much to tempt him over a period of a few days. There were pleasant walks, with fine views of the lakes and mountains in every direction. There would also be available to him one or two distant excursions which were more easily undertaken from that point than any other.

The ascent of Ill Bell and High Street. It may be worth noting that the hill at that time was generally written as Hill Bell, which was a mistake. The old meaning Ill Bell ,ill meaning in this connection evil, difficult, ie difficult of ascent.

Ill Bell as seen from Froswick

CC-BY-SA 3.0 Migrated {Wikepedia}
CC-BY-SA 3.0 Migrated {Wikepedia} | Source


Bowness was regarded at that time as the Port of Windermere. It was there that the new steam boats put up. Also from there went a great number of fishing and pleasure boats which adorned the Lake. There was great deal of bustle and activity about the place, and the lower parts near the water, were very hot in summer which was more so with the building of a new lodging house constructed in a space near the church, which was in earlier times times referred to as 'the lungs of Bowness'

The inns available to our traveler were situated in airy positions. As for an example the Great Platform of the Royal Hotel, so called since the visit of Queen Adelaide in 1840, overlooking the gardens that slope down to the shore, and the Crown and Victoria being on a hill which commanded the whole place.

Bowness today


The inns were extremely well managed

These inns were extremely well managed and our traveler would judge the prices he would pay for his stay. {there is on record a complaint of high prices being charged, which was denied by the establishments of that time}. They claimed that from May to November the charge was two shillings for breakfast {including meat, fish etc} two shillings and sixpence for dinner and one shilling and six pence for tea. A private sitting room was charged at two shillings and sixpence per day. it was claimed " That nothing can exceed the beauty of the view from the garden seats at the Crown Inn"

During his stay in Bowness our Victorian gentleman would have had the opportunity to admire an excellent model of the district which was made and exhibited by Mr. Howe. The model displayed his intimate knowledge of every part of the district, and Mr Howe made himself available to give excellent advise to anyone who wanted to see the region more fully.

Our traveler would also have had the chance to see the old churchyard of Bowness, with its dark yews and the old weather-worn church, long and low which was the most venerable object in the place. The Chancel window of the church contained painted glass from Furness Abbey. The tomb of Bishop Watson could be found in the old church yard near the east window.

St. Martins Church at Bowness

The image was taken by John Salmon Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike  2.0 generic license
The image was taken by John Salmon Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic license | Source

The Rectory and its environs

The Rectory stood at a considerable distance from the village and was approached through the fields and a garden. Our traveler would, on approach to the Rectory, have seen an old fashioned porch which was said to be the only remaining one in the district. The porch was roomy with benches along each side, long enough to hold a little company of parishioners. He would also have seen a view of a round ivy clad chimney immediately surmounting the porch. Within he would have found abundant space, plenty of room in the hall and parlours with ceilings low enough to touch by hand.

Windermere Lake

Along the strand our traveler would find himself a good quay, with boats in abundance and several boat houses in view. There was also a substantial pier built out into the lake. On either side a steamboat would be moored during the winter months. During the summer the steamers were active coming and going at least six times a day.

To the right, gardens sloped down to a little and looked cheerful even in winter from their profusion of evergreens and from the ivy that clothes their walls. The church can be seen from behind the houses above. looking over the lake, Curwen's island now called Belle island is the largest of 18 islands on lake Windermere.

In May and June the woods of that island, and all the promontories around, represented a most diversified foliage-from the golden tufts of the oak to the somber hues of the pines with every graduation of green July and August the woods are what some called too green,-massy and impenetrable, casting deep shadows on the sward and the waters. Within the shadow of the shore stood the angler, watching the dimpling surface, as the fly touches it, or the fish leaped from it, and within the shadows of the water, the boat would swing idly with the current.

Turning to the north our traveler would not have been able to see the higher peaks from the strand, however, Fairfield and Loughrigg close in at the head of the Lake.As he turned southwards along the margin, and, walking about half a mile, he would reach the point of the promontory, Ferry nab which stretched out opposite the Ferry House-itself on the point of the opposite promontory. There could have hardly been a more charming resting place for our traveler, than a seat under the last trees of this projection.

Windermere ferry has replaced the steamboats.

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Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic licence | Source

Troutbeck hills

From his seat under the trees the Toutbeck hills would have been in view, and the Lake is grander. The Ferry House, under its canopy of sycamores and its pebbly beach, was immediately opposite. He would , if the sun had gone down, observed that every dipping bird would have sparkled it with silver against the black bay. From his view point a scenery of beauty opened up from the south. In the expanse of the water is another island, and further down, on the eastern shore a pier extended with a little tower situated at the end of it. This was Storrs.

There were various pleasant walks and drives available to our traveler which could be taken from Bowness. Picturesque paths through woods and fields which would have tempted him off the main roads. Bisket How, previously mentioned could be ascended from several points, and to our Victorian gentleman well worth exploring.

Instead of returning to Windermere the way he had come our traveler could make a moderate and pleasant walk by leaving Bowness by the lower or Ambleside road and proceeding round to Cook's House. The first notable abode he would have encountered was Rayrigg, a rather low, rambling grey house, standing on the grass near a little bay of the lake. It was a charming old fashioned house, and its position had every advantage with the exception of being low.

On the high wall by the roadside, immediately before reaching the gate of Rayrigg he would be struck by the variety of ferns. { during Victorian times ferns were very popular and indeed over collected}. Passing through woods resounding with brawling streams, the road led up a rather steep ascent the summit of which was called Milers brow. The entire lake lies below and he would have been delighted with the scenery before him.

The white houses of Clappersgate distinctly visible at the north end, and the Beacon at the south. The Calgarth woods { Planted by Bishop Watson see hub one} rising and falling, spreading and contracting below, this with green undulating meadows are a perfect treat in the picturesque sense, as are the islands clustering the center of the lake. Wray castle {see hub one} stands out well above the promontory opposite, at the head, the Langdale Pikes and the surrounding mountains. Sometimes these seem, in some atmospheres, to approach and over shadow the waters, and in others to retire and shroud themselves in a soft mist peculiar to the skies of Cumbria.

Langdale Pikes

Great Langdale and Copt Howe
Great Langdale and Copt Howe | Source

Bowfell from Great Langdale


Where four roads met !

A short descent brings our traveler to Cook's house a point where four roads met. At the time of our travelers visit Cook's house had just disappeared and a new residence, built by Peter Kennedy Esq had taken its place. Of the four roads that met there the one to his left would have taken him to Ambleside and the one opposite to Troutbeck. To reach his inn he would take the one to the right which took him straight home.

In the next article in this series I join our Victorian traveler as he journeys from Bowness to Furnace Abbey via Ulverston the home of Stan Laurel of Oliver and Hardy fame.

Thank you for visiting.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Glad it brought back some nice memories for you. I will try to find the information you inquired about. Thank you for your kind comments and best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice site. Brought back a lot of boyhood memories. I am interested in learning more about the history of the Macdonald Old England Hotel, Bowness, Windermere eg when did it become part of the Macdoanld group? Reference to a website containing such info would be appreciated - My email address is: dasedgwick at gmail dot com

      I have old postcards of this Hotel from my great aunts.

      Thank you, David

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi jandee, hows it going? Thank you for reading and for leaving your appreciated comments. Hope you enjoy your week and that it is not too crowded for you! Best wishes to you.

      Hi DDE, it is a beautiful place to visit but I wish I could have seen it along with the traveler during his time before the region came to populated. best wishes to you.

      Radical Rog I know that Windermere is often referred to as Lake Windermere and I know of one more that is referred to as Lake ??? I won't spoil your question for other readers. Thank you for visiting Best wishes to you.

    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 

      5 years ago from Plymouth

      Here's a trick question. How many 'Lakes' are there in the Lake District?

      Most are 'Waters' and 'Meres', not lakes.

      The answer is, 1. Anyone care to name which one it is?

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Incredible photos and sounds a beautiful adventure.

    • jandee profile image


      5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Dal that was lovely. I haven't been to the lakes for years and as soon as the snow melts I think I shall spend a week-end there, thanks for the memory jog,

      best from jandee


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