Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Winter Winsoming on Windermere

For a couple of days in mid January, we rented an historic cottage from the National Trust on the shores of Lake Windermere complete with its own stone jetty. The cottage – Low Strawberry Gardens – got its interesting name from a period during which the owner catered for a water-borne market in strawberry teas for Bowness-based tourists in the 19th century.

We were able to launch Winsome (somewhat spectacularly) from her dolly over the side of the jetty. Although the jetty is also a slipway, when it reaches the water it degenerates into an irregular pile of rocks, preventing a more normal launch.

We had a GPS to monitor our speed and noticed straight away that we were going about ½ mph faster than we do on our canal. Although we hadn’t expected this, it makes sense because on a narrow canal I guess you expend energy moving the water along the channel, and on open water I suppose this effect is much less. In any event, for the same (low) energy input we were able to maintain a steady 4.5mph on Windermere, whereas we tend to cruise at 4 to 4.1mph on our canal.

Flush with this discovery, and freed (so we thought) from speed limits, we tried a short sprint. We found we could do 6.5mph fairly readily and peaked at 6.8. Not bad. We later learned that there is a speed limit on Windermere: 6mph where we were and 10mph elsewhere on the lake. Fortunately, our high spirits went (we have to hope) unnoticed by the authorities. In any case, true to form, Winsome leaves no discernible wake – which is more than can be said for the passenger boats that ply up and down the lake every day throughout the year.

The next morning dawned bright and clear and, in a gesture of majestic blasé, we decided to nip across the lake to Bowness before breakfast for our morning paper. This took about 15 minutes, or would have done but for a minor pilot error which saw us coasting merrily inside a perfect circle of hazard buoys. We managed to reverse out unscathed, grateful that the manoeuvre would not have been widely observed at 9:00 am on a January morning. Fortunately, reversing in a dead straight line is pretty easy in Winsome.

After returning to our cottage for a sumptuous breakfast (complete with morning paper), we set off again in Winsome northwards to the top of the lake, a distance on the chart of about 5 miles. The weather was mainly cloudy, with patches of sun that rarely seem to include where we were

It took us just over an hour to reach Waterhead. The lake was deserted on the way up except for the passenger boat that runs regularly up and down the lake and creates an exciting wash which, “taken at the flood”, can provide a sensation akin to surfing, but taken at right angles is less comfortable.

We passed a number of properties with wonderful boathouses just yawning for a Winsome. One of these is Wray Castle – a Victorian construction with turrets and mock castellation – reportedly rented in the summer by Beatrix Potter’s parents when she was a child. It is a much grander property than the house used in the recent film, and even in the 19th century must have cost quite a bit to rent. But perhaps property rental at that time was not so much a commercial venture for the landlord – more a way of offsetting the cost of running his own country house.

We tied up at the jetty at Waterhead and went in search of a light lunch…

We returned to Low Strawberry Gardens late afternoon and lit a large log fire!

The following day dawned somewhat murkier than the previous one, with a very light drizzle or mist and indifferent visibility. We decided that we would still go fetch our paper, and something for our tea – which we thought at that stage we might well be taking early. Our passage across to Bowness was uneventful, but definitely damper than before.

Given the damp weather (but not wanting to miss out on exploring the lake), we decided to pedal right down the lake to the Southern end and land for tea (hopefully) at the rather grand Lakeside hotel.

This was a lengthy passage with persistent light rain and a westerly breeze of variable strength. The lake was pretty calm the whole way. We were trying out yet another cheap poncho we had bought in Ambleside, and yet again it did not quite work. The waterproof trousers did, however, keep our legs dry and we looked quite a bit wetter than we actually were.

After about 80 minutes of easy pedalling clocked at a steady 4.4 mph, we arrived at the Lakeside Hotel which, in its own words, “overlooks nothing but the lake”. We barged into their very fine conservatory bistro overlooking the lake looking like drowned rats and asked as confidently as we could for some tea. No problem. Tea for two at the Lakeside is £6 but this includes 4 pieces of ginger-flavoured shortbread biscuits to die for. I would personally have plumped for one of their enormous open sandwiches, but my partner was not feeling hungry enough.

We returned to our cottage about 4 and fetched Winsome out of the water at the nearby wooden jetty and beach in order to load her up for the trip home while it was still light.

From the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge in the South to Ambleside in the North, Windermere offers a good 13 miles of cruising, a decent day out for Winsome if you are able to stay the night at the other end. For everyone else, the perfect spot is exactly halfway up the lake, where a full day’s cruising with stops will take you to either end and back. You really should try it, especially if you have a Winsome. It’s even enjoyable in January.

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