Rushbearing tradition at Ambleside copyright Dave Willis

Uniquely Windermere

Did you know?

  • Windermere is a 'ribbon lake', formed 13,000 years ago during the last major ice age
  • Trout, perch, char and pike all live in the lake
  • on Friday 13 June 1930 Sir Henry Segrave broke the world waterspeed record in his boat Miss England II at an average speed of 158.95 kph (98.76 mph).
  • Racer Norman Buckley set several world water speed records on the lake in the 1950s
  • Since March 2005 the speed limit on the lake has been set at 10 mph
  • During the Second World War, Windermere 'perchines' (canned perch) were produced as a substitute for sardines.
  • the first paddle steamer began operation in July 1845
  • the first cable ferry to cross the lake was in 1870, replacing the rowing boat service in operation for more than 500 years. The modern day ferry can take up to 18 cars and 100 passengers
  • in September 2008 Windermere hosted the first Great North Swim, a one mile open water swim involving more than 2000 swimmers. The following year 6000 swimmers took part, making it the the largest open water swim in the UK.
  • Each year, more than 1.2 million visitors sail on the lake with Windermere Lake Cruises

Islands on Windermere

There are 18 islands on Windermere. The largest is Belle Isle and is privately owned. You can see them by:

  • You can hire a boat from Bowness and row or sail yourself around the central islands. Remember Belle Isle is private.
  • The cruise boats offer 'Round the Lakes' cruises.
  • The car-passenger ferry passes many of the central islands. Foot passengers can look southwards down the lake.

Find out more on our Windermere Islands page.

Folklore and myths

There have been many visitors to Windermere in history, not all of them earthbound!

The haunting of Calgarth Hall

This sixteenth century manor house was owned by Kraster Cook and his wife Dorothy. Their neighbour was local Justice of the Peace Myles Philipson who wanted to buy the house, but the Cooks didn't want to sell.

To get his hands on the property, Myles accused the Cooks of theft, judged them and condemned them to death. However before she died, Dorothy cursed Calgarth promising that their screaming skulls would haunt the Hall night and day until the Philipsons left and that the family would never prosper.

Two skulls did indeed take up residence in Calgarth, and despite many attempts to get rid of them, including throwing them into the lake, they always returned. Myles Philipson had to sell his land to pay off debts, leaving only Calgarth which his son sold after his death.

The skulls never appeared again. And in 1705 the last member of the Philipson family died.

Gylpin's wild boar

In the 12th century a wild boar terrorised pilgrims who entered the woods between Kendal and Windermere. Richard de Gylpin killed the boar and was rewarded with the manor of Kentmere.

The Crier of Claife

On stormy nights centuries ago, the ferrymen at Ferry Nab would often hear strange calls for the boat to come across the water but were too afraid to go. One night a young ferryman scoffed at their fears and rowed across. On his return whatever he had seen had terrified him so much that he couldn't speak, and the next day he died.

The local people asked a monk who lived on one of the islands in Windermere to exorcise the ghost. On Christmas Day he took a bell and bible across the lake, and confined the ghost to the quarry and woods "until men should walk dryshod across the lake".

To this day there are stories of walkers being followed by a hooded figure at dusk on the heights of Claife...

The white horse of Windermere

When harm is about to come to the neighbourhood around the lake, it is said a ghostly white horse walks on the water from shore to shore.

The mysterious Tizzie-Whizie

Photograph of the alleged Tizzie Wizzie

The Tizzie-Whizie was allegedly first spotted by a Bowness boatman around 1900. He regaled tourists in the town’s Stag’s Head Hotel about his thrilling encounter with the extraordinary creature.

Shy, water-loving creatures, Tizzie-Wizzies are reputed to have the body of a hedgehog, the tail of a squirrel or fox and a pair of bee-like wings.

From "A Boatman's Grandson": This one was captured in 1906, struggling and squealing, it was rushed to Louis Herbert's Photographic Studio, opposite St Martin's Church. Having calmed it down with some warm milk and morsels of ginger biscuit he took this immortal portrait of the Tizzie Whizie, before it jumped off his table and flew out of the window to regain its freedom.

It had a very faint cry, which could just be heard if you had your ear at water level. Many thousands of postcards were sold from this one photograph. The boatmen used to conduct Tizzie Whizie hunts and the evasive Tizzie Whizie would invariably finish under one of the piers and one of the tourists engaged in the hunt would be 'accidentally' pushed into the lake !

Sometimes the boatmen would say that it had escaped to Belle Isle and if any of the hunt followers wished they could be taken across the lake to look for it. When asked why they couldn't see it flying across the lake, the reply was 'because it was a very good underwater swimmer'.

One American visitor offered £5 reward for its capture, either dead or alive!

You can make your own Beast of Bowness - check out our Funzone!


There have been repeated sightings of an unidentified creature in the southern end of Windermere.

Charr - scaling the depths

After the glacial waters of the last Ice Age receded, the arctic charr fish became land-locked in Windermere. There are at least four distinct and separate populations, with spring and autumn spawning populations in the north and south of the lake. Autumn spawners lay their eggs in relatively shallow water, while spring spawners use much deeper water.

Related to salmon, charr taste like a delicate version of sea trout and are popular potted or in pies. They are still caught on the lake today, in season from July to October.

The most successful method of catching charr is bright metal spinners being trailed on long lines deep into the water. Charr fishermen row along the lake to keep the lures moving continually.

To see the unusual colouring of these fish for yourself - silver, olive green and even scarlet - visit the Lakes Aquarium (opens in new window).

Need more help? Pop in to Bowness Bay Information Centre

Waterfront at Bowness Bay

We can help you with booking accommodation, tickets or attractions. See us on the south side of Bowness Bay, home to Bowness Information Centre.