It's a wonderful life in Windermere
PUBLISHED: 14:52 25 March 2011 | UPDATED: 23:34 23 October 2015
It might not have a lake, but there's plenty more to the traditional village that makes it a great place to live, work and visit as Amanda Griffiths discovers Photography by Kirsty Thompson
Two years ago Paula and Graham Smith packed their bags and relocated to Windermere - their dream to run a bed and breakfast and spend their spare time walking on the breathtaking Lakeland fells. But is living and working in Windermere as idyllic as it sounds?
‘The first year was hard,’ admits Paula from Lingmoor Guest House. ‘We only had 14 days off!’ Having changed the way they take bookings, they now have people staying for longer.
‘It now feels like this is more of a destination for people rather than a stop-over on their way further north,’ says Graham.
‘It means we have a chance to get to know the guests a bit better and offer them advice about places to go or walks that we’ve done,’ adds Paula.
‘Even though it’s a tourist spot there’s a nice little community in Windermere. You have got to make the effort to join in and the first year we didn’t really have the time, but last year we joined the chamber of trade and were able to get involved in community events, like helping the victims of the floods.’
But has the attraction of Windermere dulled with time? It seems not.
‘Sometimes you don’t appreciate it as much as you thought you would,’ says Paula. ‘There will be days we’re driving to the cash and carry alongside the Lake and suddenly you think this is what it’s all about - it isn’t an everyday drive after all!’
‘For me the attraction is you can come to Windermere, park the car and go walking straight from the village,’ says Graham. ‘There’s something for everyone although most people are coming for the outdoor life.’
Chris Blaydes, owner of Jerichos, a restaurant with rooms agrees that the scenery is a big attraction for visitors and residents alike.
‘It’s what makes it special,’ he says. ‘I find there’s more day-trippers here now, probably because booking on the internet has made it more accessible.
‘I think tourists use Windermere as a base to go exploring, they go out into the hills and, of course, it’s central for the northern lakes as well. Windermere is a name people recognise, that’s why we opened the business here.’
Sue Todd, office manager at Mountain Goat, a mini bus company that run tours and holidays all over the Lake District, agrees. ‘I think Windermere is the gateway to the Lakes,’ she says.
‘In some respects Bowness might be seen as more attractive because it has the lake, but Windermere is attractive in it’s own right, not least because of the good transport links we have.
‘When the railway came in 1857 â the tourism industry certainly grew in momentum. Apparently the plan was to extend the line through but people including Wordsworth and Ruskin opposed it, so the line terminates here.’
Mountain Goat was set up in 1972 originally running buses from the railway station to Ullswater. Stephen Broughton, Peter Nattrass and Norman Stoller took over the company in 1993 and it has gone from strength to strength, not only ferrying employees from Lakeland to and from work each day, but offering tours of the lakes, holidays and a series of educational excursions for Americans, plus shopping and private hire.
As well as winning an award in the coach and bus industry magazine, Mountain Goat has also been shortlisted in the Westmorland Gazette’s tourism awards and gained an award for Green Tourism.
‘Things have changed in the tourism industry,’ says Sue. ‘I remember the days when the Lake District shut down for winter but now people are coming all year long. I’d say we personally see around 10,000 visitors a year. It’s only really the weather that stops them.’
There is however, more to life here than tourists.
‘It’s a really nice environment to live in - there’s no two ways about it,’ says Bob Langman, holiday manager at Mountain Goat. ‘It’s very welcoming. I think the more you delve into the community the more you find there is to do. And, we’re really lucky because we have a lot of good restaurants and places to eat and some really nice shops.’
Shirley Crisp owns one of those shops, Shirley C Lingerie. She was born and bred in Windermere and when it came to opening her shop four years ago knew without a doubt that this was the place to be.
‘I feel as a town it has everything you need,’ says Shirley. ‘It’s got unique shops and a good mix of people. It’s a great place to visit and central to the whole Lake District.
‘I think if you want that picture postcard village you go to Hawkshead or Grasmere, but if you want to meet Lake District people come here.
‘I think Windermere has a strong sense of community and has never lost it. Local people take care to shop in the village. I think most local people are also willing to get stuck in and go that extra mile to help the community.
‘I was involved in the fundraising for the new playground. We raised £82,000 in under a year. I think that says a lot about people here, we want a nice place to live and our children to be happy.’
Shirley is combining forces with two other businesses to put on a fashion show that will also help promote Windermere. Vanda Whitton, who has run Gini Ricci shoe shop and country shop here for the last eight years, is the main organiser.
‘One of the girls who works for me came up with the idea of a fashion show. I got together with Shirley and the ladies from Cinderella Me Dress Agency and we thought we’d use this as a chance to promote the village as a whole,’ she says.
‘I am contacting everyone to see if they want to give raffle prizes or simply include flyers or gifts in the goodie bags.’
Taking place at the Hydro in Bowness on Friday April 1, the trio are hoping to sell up to 150 tickets and raise funds for two charities, Climb (Children with inherited diseases) and Young careers in Cumbria.
‘I’ve been overwhelmed by the response so far,’ she says, ‘all my suppliers have donated something for the goodie bags.
‘I always say that Windermere doesn’t have the lake so we have to
try and make another attraction for people to visit. To me that’s the shopping,’ she adds.
Cinderella Me is a dress agency that opened its doors towards the end of last year by Karen Ryan and Catrina Fletcher, both Windermere girls born and bred.
‘We just felt there was a need for something like this here,’ says Karen.
‘Because of the nature of the shop, we’re not really showing our spring/summer collection at the fashion show,’ says Catrina. ‘It’s more about giving people a taste of what kind of thing we offer.
‘Windermere has always been a working village and I do think people visit because of the shops. People often think we’re on the lake though and can be quite disappointed when they realise we’re not.’
‘I think it’s the shops that makes Windermere special,’ says Karen. ‘There’s much more of a variety than places like Bowness which is centred much more on tourists.’
The last word however has to go to Heidi Schramli who has just opened her new shop Detail. She already has a shop in Ambleside, but being a local girl thought Windermere could do with something different.
‘I think it’s like anywhere really, it goes in cycles. A couple of years ago it might have been a bit flat but then one or two people have taken a chance and moved in which has given a boost to other shops. The reaction I’ve had from other retailers has been really positive,’ she says.
So what is it makes Windermere special for Heidi? Thinking about
the question she concludes: ‘It’s just a really lovely community.’ That says it all!
No Mere village
Many visitors get confused between Windermere, Bowness and Lake Windermere. Bowness is on the shore of the lake but Windermere village is actually a mile or so away.
The area we know as Windermere today was originally three hamlets, Birthwaite, Applethwaite and Heathwaite. When the railway came in 1847 the railway company didn’t like any of these names for the station and so named it after the lake instead, hence the name change.
The Terrace is a unique row of Grade II listed cottages, dating from 1849 and designed by Augustus Pugin. Now holiday accommodation they were originally for railway executives.
Windermere is the place where kitchenware company Lakeland Limited was founded and is still home to the company today.
St Mary’s Church was built in 1848, but hardly anything of the original building remains today as it’s had so many changes over the years.