Bowness - boats and beautiful buildings

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 June 2016

MV TERN is 125 years old this month (June 2016)

MV TERN is 125 years old this month (June 2016)


This town always attracts huge numbers of visitors eager to take to the water. Mike Glover joined them. Artwork by Nick Oliver and photography by John Cocks

Bowness BayBowness Bay

THE grand old lady of Bowness is celebrating a special birthday this month. She is 125 years old and still going strong.

MV Tern is the flagship of the fleet run by Windermere Lake Cruises and its oldest vessel.

Her status was suitably marked when she was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch on its pre-games national tour in 2012.

Windermere Lake Cruises Managing Director Nigel Wilkinson says the birthday party on June 27 marks an important date. ‘MV Tern is a direct link with our heritage, having been built by Furness Railway Company, and is an iconic image of the Lake District with tremendous appeal into the 21st century and, hopefully, into the 22nd,’ he said.

Nigel sees his company as custodians of the boating heritage on Windermere and he is determined that MV Tern and the other 15 passenger boats in the fleet are maintained in at least as good a condition as the day they took stewardship of them.

Bowness, the ultimate honey-pot village, nabbing a large percentage of the 17 million visitors to the Lake District each year, has always been about boats, beautiful buildings and the outstanding views.

Occupying the bay of England’s largest natural lake – at 10.5 miles long, up to one mile wide and 200 feet deep – has always meant boats were central to Bowness’s economy.

The lake is subject to a public right of navigation and in centuries past supported commercial traffic associated with slate and copper mining, timber, wool and fishing.

Georgina Gray-Carnaffin and Ian Greenwood at The Laura Ashley The Belsfield Hotel.
Ian has work for the company for 32 yearsGeorgina Gray-Carnaffin and Ian Greenwood at The Laura Ashley The Belsfield Hotel. Ian has work for the company for 32 years

In the early years of the 19th century White and Gibson of Ambleside operated a sailing packet service. Their vessels carried passengers and general goods between Ambleside, Bowness, the Hawkshead Ferry and Newby Bridge – roughly the template used to this day.

The company grew out of the Windermere Iron Steamboat Company, formed in 1847 to run cruises in conjunction with the newly opened Kendal to Windermere Railway. Traffic on the lake grew rapidly during the Victorian years and in 1890 the Furness Railway commissioned Forrest & Sons of Wyvenhoe, Essex, to design and build a new steamer.

Originally to be called Swallow, a last minute change of heart resulted in the vessel being named Tern. Launched in June 1891, she cost £4,000.

At the time, Tern was the largest ship on Windermere with room for 633 passengers in first and third class accommodation. After updating, that it’s now 350.

Her unusual canoe shaped bow and finely rounded counter-stern enhances her external appearance, while her large diameter propellers and their low rate of revolution made for a smooth ride and the ship was very popular with holidaymakers from the start. In May 1993 the Bowness Bay Boating Company purchased it and today historic steamers sail alongside elegant launches such as Miss Lakeland, Miss Cumbria and Queen of the Lake.

Windermere Lakes Cruises is the most popular attraction in the Lake District with 1.5 million passenger voyages a year. It employs up to 180 staff, most of them multi-skilled so those that sail the boats in season help repair and maintain them in the winter.

‘We live and operate in the local community so we have a wider responsibility to provide sustainable employment for people who want to put their roots down in this fantastic part of the world. We are really proud of that,’ added Mr Wilkinson.

Bowness’s magnificent views and proximity to the lake have always attracted the rich – most of them from Lancashire - to come and build and live in magnificent homes. Many of these have since been converted into attractions and hotels.

One of the most magnificent is the Belsfield, a superb example of Victorian Italianate architecture.

Built in 1845 as a private residence for Baroness Von Sternberg, the house was acquired by the steel magnate Henry Schnieder in 1869 and converted to a hotel in 1892 and then extended to provide additional bedrooms shortly before the First World War.

Directly overlooking the Belle Isle, The Belsfield became only the second hotel in the world to be branded with Laura Ashley and given a £4 million pound makeover. Within a year it won Cumbria Tourism’s large hotel of the year award.

The partnership is a licensing agreement in which Laura Ashley has provided its professional interior design service, using its Home collections, for a complete renovation of the 62-bedroom hotel.

The move has been welcomed by staff, as shown by longest serving front of house worker Ian Greenwood, who came up from Hesketh Bank, near Southport, 32 years ago. ‘This is the largest change we have been through as a hotel and they have done us the world of good,’ he said, pointing to the boom in wedding and afternoon tea bookings.

As resident historian Mr Greenwood likes to show guests the history corridor which highlights the story of former owner, Mr Shneider, chairman of the Barrow Steelworks, who descended through the gardens to the lakeside to travel to work on his steam yacht St Esperance, on which he had breakfast.

Today’s visitors can retrace those steps, although St Esperance itself, one of a unique collection of boats owned by the former Windermere Steamboat Museum, is currently out of view as the museum is closed for a major rebuild.

Many of the boats are also being restored and it will re-open around this time next year as Windermere Jetty, Museum of boats, steam and stories. The multi-million pound project in Rayrigg Road promises to be a world class attraction that will cement forever Bowness-in-Windermere’s connection to heritage boats and their colourful owners.

Jemima’s on song

One of the landmarks in the Lake District calendar this summer will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. It will be celebrated in style in Bowness with the world premiere of the new family musical adventure, ‘Where Is Peter Rabbit?’ which opens at the Old Laundry Theatre in June.

It is the idea of renowned set designer Roger Glossop and his theatre producer wife Charlotte Scott, owners of The World Of Beatrix Potter Attraction, who approached Warne publishers about creating ‘Where Is Peter Rabbit?’

This musical adventure is based on five of the writer’s best loved animal characters - Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck and the darker villainous Mr Todd and the icing on the cake is the new that theatre patron Alan Ayckbourn has written the lyrics.

* Next month’s Lancashire Life - read more about the Beatrix Potter anniversary

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