Secret Water – Windermere

A brief guide to Windermere

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

The stunning scenery of Windermere has been the inspiration for many a writer and was the starting point for Alfred Wainwright’s first Lakeland fell walk up to Orrest Head overlooking the mere. It was not until the 19th Century that Windermere became popular as a tourist destination with the arrival of the railway and first steamer companies offering lake cruises.

Measuring in at a little over ten miles long, one mile wide and up to 64 metres deep, Windermere is the longest lake or mere in England, and is one of the many forming the Lake District. 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. They operate a patrol and rescue service and are responsible for the 1000 plus swinging moorings and boat registration scheme. If you are considering visiting the lake, a chat to the lake wardens is a great place to start.

Instead of IALA buoyage, Windermere uses a simple system of red danger buoys marking areas of shallow water, yellow buoys marking fairways/safe water and green buoys for racing markers.


Red buoys marking shallow water near Bowness – yellow buoys mark the fairway

The few hazardous rocks are marked with a red triangle atop the rock and are often surrounded by red buoys. Speed restriction markers occasionally remind you of the 10 knot speed limit which reducing to six knots 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 rise and fall depending on the weather. Long periods of rain can raise the level by 0.5m or more, in fact in the heavy rains of November 2009, Windermere Lake rose by 157cm. Excess water flows out through the southern end of Windermere via the River Leven at Newby Bridge and courses out to Morecambe Bay.

Jetties and Buoys

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

The North, Waterhead


Waterhead, cruise boats depart from Steamer Quay. Ambleside YHA

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


Typical wooden rowing boats

The public jetty nestles between Steamer Quay and the Wateredge Inn jetty. Waiting is limited to two hours and the depth shelves quite quickly 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 to explore and Pull Wyke is a secluded little inlet on the west side. Seasonal restrictions from March to August prevent powered craft entering the Wyke. The impressive building of Pullwood Bay house boarders the entrance and may be familiar to ‘Corrie’ fans as the honeymoon setting for two of the characters. It also featured in the BBC’s production of Swallows and Amazons.

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

There are several jetties on the eastern edge of lake, some of which are public whilst others are private and have access for hotel visitors only. The public jetties are at the National Park Visitor Centre, Brockhole, and two further South at Queen Adelaide’s Hill; all have a maximum two hour stay limit.


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

Central section

The beautiful central section is bejewelled with most of the lake’s 18 islands, many of which have ‘holme’ in their name; the Norse word for island. The majority of the lake’s moorings are located in 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. It has many shops and amenities and is a busy place with lake-cruise boats and small hired motorboats manoeuvring around so keep a sharp lookout. Also keep your eyes peeled for ‘Bownessie’, the Bowness version of the Loch 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 the lake 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 limit increases to 10 knots. There are very few public jetties but loads of nooks and crannies in which to drop anchor. Tower Wood has a pump out jetty on the eastern bank; otherwise the jetties at this end tend to be privately owned by hotels and activity centres.

The southern end of the lake continues to narrow and becomes shallow in places as it finally comes to an end at Newby Bridge, after passing Lakeside.


The western bank is home to the Lakeside Hotel which has its own jetty for customer use only. Just south are Steamer Quay and the Aquarium which are also the boarding point for the Lakeside and Haverthwaite 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 a slipway and visitor jetties can be found. There’s an abundance of people in canoes, kayaks, rowing boats and sailing dinghies interspersed with moorings. A small passenger ferry operates seasonally between Lakeside and Fell Foot Park.


Fell Foot Park visitor jetty with ferry on the end


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

There are several launch sites around Windermere, with the main slipway for all types of boat at Ferry Nab. All powered vessels using the lake need to be registered and the Lake Wardens at Ferry Nab have details. The Internet 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 help with the making of the article.

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

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