Secret Water - Windermere

A brief guide to Windermere

A brief guide to Windermere.

‘Standing alone, as from a rampart's edge, I overlooked the bed ofWindermere, like a vast river, stretching in the sun. With exultation,at my feet I saw Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays, auniverse of nature's fairest forms’
William Wordsworth – The Prelude -Book Fourth

The stunning scenery of Windermere has been the inspiration for many awriter and was the starting point for Albert Wainwright’s firstLakeland fell walk up to Orrest Head overlooking the mere. It was notuntil the 19th Century that Windermere became popular as a touristdestination with the arrival of the railway and first steamer companiesoffering lake cruises.

Measuring in at a little over tenmiles long, one mile wide and up to 64 metres deep, Windermere is thelongest lake or mere in England, and is one of the many forming the LakeDistrict. Windermere can be split into three distinctive areas: North,South and Central; each with entirely different characters.

The knowledge

A team of lake wardens look after Windermere. Theyoperate a patrol and rescue service and are responsible for the 1000plus swinging moorings and boat registration scheme. If you areconsidering visiting the lake, a chat to the lake wardens is a greatplace to start.

Instead of IALA buoyage, Windermere uses asimple system of red danger buoys marking areas of shallow water,yellow buoys marking fairways/safe water and green buoys for racingmarkers.

Red buoys marking shallow water near Bowness - yellow buoys mark the fairway.

Thefew hazardous rocks are marked with a red triangle atop the rock andare often surrounded by red buoys. Speed restriction markersoccasionally remind you of the 10 knot speed limit which reducing to sixknots at the very ends of the mere and in the central parts.

Rock marked with a red triangle and buoy on top of it.


Windermere obviously does not have ‘tides’, however water levels riseand fall depending on the weather. Long periods of rain can raise thelevel by 0.5m or more, in fact in the heavy rains of November 2009,Windermere Lake rose by 157cm. Excess water flows out through thesouthern end of Windermere via the River Leven at Newby Bridge andcourses out to Morecambe Bay.

Jetties and Buoys

Thereare a few public jetties and also many other jetties belonging to hotelsand pubs which may be used if you go ashore for a meal or drink. Thereare a few visitor mooring buoys around the lake and details areavailable from the Lake Wardens.

The North, Waterhead

Waterhead, cruise boats depart from Steamer Quay. Ambleside YHA

Thebustling hub of Waterhead is at the tip of the lake. The shore is linedwith wooden rowing boats waiting to be hired and it’s one of the maindeparture points for Windermere cruise boats. Waterhead is home to theAmbleside YHA, a few tourist shops, eateries and a pub. The main town ofAmbleside is about ½ mile inland.

Typical wooden rowing boats

The public jetty nestles between Steamer Quay and the Wateredge Innjetty. Waiting is limited to two hours and the depth shelves quitequickly along the jetty, but we found 1.7m on its end.

Waterhead public jetty

Pull Wyke

Heading South from Waterhead, there are plenty of coves toexplore and Pull Wyke is a secluded little inlet on the west side.Seasonal restrictions from March to August prevent powered craftentering the Wyke. The impressive building of Pullwood Bay houseboarders the entrance and may be familiar to ‘Corrie’ fans as thehoneymoon setting for two of the characters. It also featured in theBBC’s production of Swallows and Amazons.

Wray Castle is abit further south along the western bank and was a favoured holidaydestination of Beatrix Potter and her family in the late 1800’s. It isnow owned by the National Trust and will soon be converted into a hotel.It has previously been a naval training base for radio operators andthe home to the Ships Radio Licensing Authority.

Thereare several jetties on the eastern edge of lake, some of which arepublic whilst others are private and have access for hotel visitorsonly. The public jetties are at the National Park Visitor Centre,Brockdale, and two further South at Queen Adelaide’s Hill; all have amaximum two hour stay limit.

Visitor jetties at Queen Adelaide’s Hill / Rayrigg Wyke.

Central section

The beautiful central section is bejewelled with mostof the lake’s 18 islands, many of which have ‘holme’ in their name; thenorse word for island. The majority of the lake’s moorings are locatedin this section especially west of the lake’s longest island, Belle Isle. The depth is significantly reduced near the islands and the speed limit reduces to six knots.

West of Belle Isle with the Lillies in the distance


Bowness is the biggest town located around Windermere. Ithas many shops and amenities and is a busy place with lake-cruise boatsand small hired motorboats manoeuvring around so keep a sharp lookout.Also keep your eyes peeled for ‘Bownessie’, the Bowness version of theLoch Ness Monster!

Bowness on Windermere, boatyard to the right with fairway buoy

Ferry Nab is just south of Bowness and home to the lake wardens.There are public jetties, a slipway and pump-out facilities available,together with boat charter and hire companies. A car ferry crosses thelake from here at one of its narrowest parts to Ferry House.

Ferry nab slipway and lake wardens boat house to the left

The South

Leaving the ferry behind and heading South, the speed limitincreases to 10 knots. There are very few public jetties but loads ofnooks and crannies in which to drop anchor. Tower Wood has a pump outjetty on the eastern bank; otherwise the jetties at this end tend to beprivately owned by hotels and activity centres.

Thesouthern end of the lake continues to narrow and becomes shallow inplaces as it finally comes to an end at Newby Bridge, after passingLakeside.


The western bank is home to the Lakeside Hotel which has itsown jetty for customer use only. Just south are Steamer Quay and theAquarium which are also the boarding point for the Lakeside andHaverthwaite Railway running through the Leven Valley.

Lakeside hotel jetty

Windermere cruise boat moored alongside Lakeside Aquarium

The Eastern bank harbours the National Trust’s Fell Foot Park where aslipway and visitor jetties can be found. There’s an abundance ofpeople in canoes, kayaks, rowing boats and sailing dinghies interspersedwith moorings. A small passenger ferry operates seasonally betweenLakeside and Fell Foot Park.

Fell Foot Park visitor jetty with ferry on the end


Windermere may not be the largest stretch of water toexplore, however the scenery more than makes up. It has everything fromhustle and bustle to peace and tranquillity. When the sun shines andyou are around the back of the Islands there is truly no place like it.

Thereare several launch sites around Windermere, with the main slipway forall types of boat at Ferry Nab. All powered vessels using the lake needto be registered and the Lake Wardens at Ferry Nab have details. TheInternet will give you a host of hire and charter options.

With thanks to:

Neil at OB Sailing for the use of the charter boat to helpwith the making of the article.

Tel: 01539552338

Stuart Douglas, Lake Warden for his help and for permission toreproduce the Windermere chartlet.

Photos and words by Simon and Vicky Jinks, Instructors at SeaRegs Training: