Why you should visit Hawkshead in the summer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 May 2014 | UPDATED: 18:00 08 February 2016
June is a great time to visit the Lancashire side of Windermere where you’ll find a restored gothic castle and herbal teas for dogs. Mike Glover reports
The western shore of Windermere has been spruced up and is ready to attract an ever-increasing number of visitors from across the world this summer.
The Lancashire side of England’s largest lake has traditionally been less glitzy than its eastern tourist honey-pots of Bowness and Ambleside.
But what it lacks in cafes and candyfloss, the wilder western slopes more than makes up for in adventure activities, culture and industrial history.
And wherever you go, and however you get there, this month sees a refreshed and vibrant welcome for visitors.
As always, Beatrix Potter, that iconic naturalist, illustrator and trail-blazer for women’s rights, is at the heart of the appeal of Hawkshead and surrounding attractions.
Leading the way is Wray Castle that strange gothic folly built in 1847 by the Dawson family as a holiday retreat, later inherited by Edward Preston Rawnsley, a cousin of Canon Hardwick Rawnsley.
In a twist of fate that had a huge impact on both the history and the present of the Lake District and the British green movement, Beatrix Potter visited it when she was just 15-years-old and charmed Canon Rawnsley with her skills.
They struck up a friendship that eventually led to the formation of the National Trust. He also encouraged her to write the books that won her world-wide fame and a fortune. Later she bequeathed 4,000 acres of Lake District farmland to the Trust.
The National Trust bought Wray Castle in the 1920s, although they only wanted it for the water frontage. The building itself was used throughout the 20th century by a variety of educational and commercial tenants, until four years ago when the Trust decided to do it up as a self-contained attraction.
It has recently it reopened to reveal a host of renovations and new activities, with the emphasis on family fun.
The central tower, which is almost 100 feet high, was restored to its period colours following an eight-week project. Giant scaffolding installed to get the job done has now been dismantled to reveal the hallway in all its glory.
Local furniture experts, Peter Hall and Son, of Staveley, were also on site restoring the original oak flooring in the former grand dining room which had been covered in carpet for several decades. It now hosts a castle-building fun game for children using foam blocks.
There is a new cafe, an outdoor adventure playground has been constructed and children are encouraged to explore all corners of this mock castle.
Manager Rosemary Lord said: ‘Wray Castle had an amazing year last year, with over 70,000 people coming through the door, with lots coming by a new boat route, which is great because it means less traffic on our lovely Lakeland lanes. (see side panel)
‘Wray Castle is not the typical National Trust visit; the building was given to the Trust without contents so it’s very family friendly, with a maze of rooms for children and adults to explore.’
More traditional homage is paid to Beatrix Potter in the middle of Hawkshead at the National Trust’s Gallery, where this year’s theme is joining her on holiday.
Diaries, photographs and sketches from her travels are displayed alongside a collection cabinet containing some of the artefacts and creatures the endlessly imaginative and acquisitive young Beatrix gathered on her travels around the area.
An accompanying touch-screen display reveals the butterflies, stones and other objects which fired her imagination and encouraged her to draw and paint. Her original illustrations for the books of Jeremiah Puddleduck, Samuel Whiskers and others are also on display.
Catherine Pritchard, 22 years a steward at the Gallery, enthused about the quality of this year’s exhibition, open until the first week of November.
The village of Hawkshead, spoilt by its range of cultural references, not least William Wordsworth’s first school, is gearing itself up for an invasion of Chinese tourists this year.
With relaxation of visa rules and the fact so many Chinese, like Japanese, learn English by reading Beatrix Potter, it is expecting a new Visit England initiative to benefit the local economy.
One such retailer is Hawkshead, the clothing shop. The company has had a chequered history, having started in the village with a shop and mail order, expanded rapidly with hundreds of stores and then crashed.
It was bought by the Manchester-based Regatta group in 2008 which has started expanding the brand again, but still treat the original shop as their flagship store.
Manager Nick Wright said the sales director of the family-owned business, Joanne Black, had visited China to promote the brand and he was expecting an influx of Chinese to add to the 30-odd coach-loads of visitors who arrive in Hawkshead each day at the height of the season.
He is full of praise for the way Hawkshead businesses work together to promote each other. He was also concentrating on employing local people.
His store, like so many other attractions, had had a refit and a newly furnished cafe. Cafe manager Helen Able and her deputy Bethan Stafford were both recruited locally.
The company has also decided to introduce a new brew – aimed at pet dogs. The Hawkshead store now stocks doggie herbal teas from Woof & Brew, including Skin and Coat, Adult, Senior, Performance and Fresh Breath blends to take away and enjoy at home.
Leaving Hawkshead by road, travelling South towards Newby Bridge, is a reminder on just how much the west of Windermere has to offer.
There is a new Beatrix Potter – yes her again – walk alongside Esthwaite Water. The discreetly hidden but vibrant YMCA national adventure headquarters nestles by Windermere.
Round another couple of bends, there is the Stott Park Bobbin Mill, re-launched in May 2013 by English Heritage. This year it has extra attractions, a new walk up to High Dam and this month, June 13 – 15, there is a weekend of Woodland Crafts and Tales, featuring coppice making, charcoal- making and burning, basket and broom making and story-telling.
And then, before you leave Windermere, there are the Windermere Steamboat terminal, from where you can catch a boat back to Wray Castle and beyond, and the Lakes Aquarium.
The aquarium has revamped its collection to focus on local species. Marketing manager Susan Milby is hoping to increase on the 100,000 visitors it had last year.
So this might just be the ideal month to see the refreshed Lancashire side of Windermere, before the rest of the world catches on.
Windermere West Shore Cycle Trail
Described by Cumbria Tourism as family friendly and included in its “50 Things to do before you are 11 and three quarters” promotion.
Two sections totalling 3km have been improved at a cost of around £75,000 by the GoLakes Travel programme.
It is hoped the work will encourage more cyclists to use the picturesque stretch of trail and therefore help boost cycling as a green form of transport within the national park.
But remember you have to bring your own bike.
Start: Windermere Car Ferry
Distance: 4 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
Terrain: Quiet Road and bridleway
Route: From the car ferry follow the blue cycleway signs past Claife Station towards Harrow Slack car park; Follow the 1km tarmac section through open fields where people often come to picnic; The road changes to a track at an open gate with a cattle grid; Enter the woods to ride for the next 2.2km on this wide undulating trail; At Belle Grange, keep ahead and right, following the main track towards High Wray; After 500m arrive at the tarmac road and Red Nab car park; Ride through the car park, signed to Wray Castle, being beware of the low wooden barrier; The track follows the lake shore and is very flat and smooth for 1.6km. Here the track turns away from the lake and heads up hill for 500m, signed to The Castle Gatehouse; At the road look right and you will see the Dower House Gatehouse; To get to Wray Castle continue on the Castle drive. Retrace your steps back down to the lake shore, reversing the route (making it 8 miles in total) or catch the Bike Boat from Wray jetty to Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre; From Brockhole the more confident cyclist can ride back to Windermere in the road or you can catch the 800 bike bus and take your bike on the bus.