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What’s the difference between Windermere and Bowness-on-Windermere?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 April 2016

Windermere Railway Station takes many first-time visitors by surprise.

Windermere Railway Station takes many first-time visitors by surprise.

Archant

Despite its name, Windermere village is more than a mile from the lakeside but this bustling community should not be overlooked, writes Mike Glover

Windermere Railway Station. Windermere Railway Station.

WINDERMERE, the town, is a mile and a quarter from the England’s largest lake, which can lead to some confusion for the uninitiated. ‘Where’s the lake?’ is a common cry of those disembarking at Windermere Station for the first time.

But any down-side to being a half-hour walk from your namesake destination is more than compensated for by being the gateway to the Lake District. Although Windermere and Bowness-on-Windermere, which IS by the lake, are two distinct trading areas, they are joined at the hip geographically, politically and socially.

Windermere town council covers both, plus Troutbeck Bridge. Published statistics, like there being 8,000 permanent residents, cover all three settlements. But each has a very distinctive character, says local resident Bill Smith.

‘Whereas Bowness is more orientated to the tourist market, Windermere is more of a service town, with all the facilities that brings. We still have two butchers, for instance, and a library and a railway station, unlike Bowness. We just don’t have a lake.’ says Bill, a town councillor, who has a nationwide reputation as a shop “doctor”, running Let’s Talk Shop, a firm which advises, motivates and mentors independent retails.

Windermere started as a tiny and insignificant village called Birthwaite. Its fortunes changed dramatically in the 1840s when the railway network was extended into the Lake District to open up its beauty to the urban-based industrial workers throughout the north. Romantic poet William Wordsworth famously opposed the plans, but they went ahead anyway.

What did stop the railway extending down to the lakeside at Bowness was the steep gradient, so the station was built at the top. The village was subsequently renamed Windermere to emphasise the connection with the lake and it grew rapidly as a commercial centre in its own right.

Pavement cafe at the junction of Crescent Road and Main Road... Pavement cafe at the junction of Crescent Road and Main Road...

So it benefits from being a travel hub and then there are the views. Being at the top of the hill means that staggering vistas open up of the lake and the surrounding countryside. A healthy hotel, guest-house and coffee culture has grown up and there is plenty to see for those who want to linger.

Right next to the station is the flagship store and headquarters of the formidable kitchen, home and garden ware company, Lakeland. The firm which started with Alan Rayner bagging plucked chickens in his garage 50 years ago has spread its tentacles world-wide, while remaining faithful to its Windermere base.

He and his wife, Dorothy, set up a mail order business supplying agricultural plastics and home-freezing products and their then young sons – Sam, Julian and Martin – were roped in to count the bags into packs of 100.

Alan retired in 1974 and his sons took over to grow it into a business with 69 stores in the UK, a further 13 in the Middle East, three in India, and summer 2013 saw the Lakeland brand launch in Germany.

It has 1500 staff, 300 of them in Windermere, produces 18 catalogues a year, got into internet shopping more than a decade ago, has its own IPad app and 100,000 fans on Facebook. It all added up to £176 million sales in 2014.

It has a distribution centre in Kendal, but is fiercely loyal to Windermere, where its modern store, cafe and headquarters is a tourist attraction in itself.

This summer will see an upgrade to the store, incorporating contemporary design and a large kitchen theatre where, customers can learn more about a products and watch demonstrations.

Opposite the station, Orrest Head perfectly illustrates the reason the Lake District caught on as a magnet for walkers. It is the fell that sparked the imagination of the guru of all walkers, Blackburn’s Alfred Wainwright.

In 1930, aged just 23, Wainwright arrived in Windermere and climbed the fell for his first view of the Lakes. On a clear day it is possible to see Scafell Pike, the Langdale Pikes, Coniston Old Man and Morecambe Bay, as well as a panoramic view of the 12-mile long lake from the 784-feet high summit.

The route is still popular, well sign-posted and most people savour the views for a couple of hours.

A good starting point for this excursion and all other sorties is the Information Centre at the top of Victoria Street.

It was threatened with closure by the cash-strapped district council, but in November 2014 it was taken over by Mountain Goat, the sight-seeing mini-coach operator.

The idea is to make the centre commercially independent. There are obvious synergies with Mountain Goat and the TIC has had a major refurbishment to modernise it, selling tickets to all attractions as well as leaflets, maps, books and everything else the visitor to the Lakes might want.

They have also opened a Hungry Goat cafe downstairs and even offer storage to tourists who want to park their bags.

Director Stephen Broughton, also the managing director of Lindeth Howe Hotel, said: ‘We felt there was a real need to keep the information services in the town of Windermere. Our aim is to make it a going concern.’

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