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Bowness-on-Windermere - Come rain or shine in Cumbria

PUBLISHED: 22:04 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

Bowness Bay in the sunshine

Bowness Bay in the sunshine

You don't need a brolly when you go to Bowness - but if it's too wet to cruise, just go undercover. Roger Borrell reports

Back at the waterfront, Windermere Lake Cruisers are gearing up for what they hope will be a bumper season. While it may seem like a small business to people strolling along the prom, the reality is that they take around 1.2 million passengers a year and employ 100 people year round with another 70 swelling their ranks in the summer season.

This is a company which makes an important impact on the local economy. What's more they do almost all their off-season maintenance work locally, thus retaining traditional skills and providing winter work.

While today's company is a relatively new union of long-standing firms, there is considerable history. Tern, one of the three big steamers, has been in operation since around the time Blackwell was built.

'It's the oldest in the fleet but the most important thing for us is to ensure it meets the highest modern standards while retaining its traditional character as a ship built in 1891,' says HR director Ian.

Retaining the glories of the past while providing customers with top class modern facilities - it's the same story whether you're running a cruiser company or maintaining a house like Blackwell. And to blazes with the weather forecast!

IT'S that time of year when people involved in the leisure business start cocking an anxious ear to the weather forecast. 'It is the single biggest factor affecting our business,' says Ian Wilkinson, one of the directors of Bowness-based Windermere Lake Cruises. 'A soggy forecast has a huge impact.'

A little further up the road, Jeanette Edgar, who is in charge of marketing for the wonderful Arts and Crafts confection known as Blackwell, has a different approach. 'We often do a little rain dance here,' she laughs. 'Our visitor numbers can really increase when the weather is bad.'

While taking a steamer trip might not be the perfect outing on a rainy day, Blackwell is well worth a visit come rain or shine. 'We can die a death on a wet day but the reality is that we have amazing terraces where you can enjoy a coffee and look out at one of the best views in the world,' says Liverpool-born Jeanette, as we stroll around the stunning rooms of this remarkable house.

Blackwell was built for Manchester beer baron Sir Edward Holt as a country retreat from the city. A competition was staged to design the house and M.H. Baillie Scott beat all comers, including the revered Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Work started in the late 1890s on a site overlooking the lake with magnificent views over the Coniston Fells.

After the Holt's eldest son died in the First World War, they lost interest in Blackwell and it was eventually rented out. During the Second World War it was temporary home to a Liverpool girls' school and then it was used as office space.

Little was done to Blackwell and this neglect was its salvation. When it was bought by a charitable trust they set about the mammoth task of restoring it to its original glory. And what a glory it is.

From spectacular carved panelling, plasterwork and stunning friezes to intricate window catches and delicate leaf-shaped door handles, this is every inch a building of international importance.

While the house is substantial, it has managed to retain an intimate feel with nooks and crannies and window seats. The two rooms with real wow factor are the half-timbered main hall and the white drawing room, which shimmers in the sunlight and moved one recent visitor to propose marriage to his lady friend. She accepted and they recorded the fact in the Blackwell guest book.


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