I first went to Ambleside with my parents and sister, who was studying Beatrix Potter as part of her A level in Art. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on the road from Lake Windermere into Ambleside opposite a nice garden centre. I have since visited Ambleside to stay on a couple of occasions and now, when we stay in Bowness on Windermere, we always visit Ambleside at least once while we are there.
Ambleside itself is a good base for touring as it lies on the A591, the main north to south road through the Lake District. It was originally granted its charter as a market town in 1650 and still has lots of old, interesting buildings. My favourite of these is the tiny house built over the Stock Ghyll, the stream that runs through Ambleside. Originally built as a summerhouse for the Ambleside Hall, it is now owned by the National Trust, who opened it as their first information centre in 1956.
St Mary's Church in Ambleside is worth a visit. It has a 150-foot spire and a mural of the rush bearing ceremony which takes place on the first Saturday in July, when the children carry rushes through the town. The mural was painted by students of the Royal College of Art who were evacuated to Ambleside during World War II.
In the centre of the town there is a pub called the Salutation and behind this is a great walk to see some stunning waterfalls. It's a bit of a climb but well worth the effort. I love waterfalls so I really enjoyed this one. There are lots of leaflets in the local shops showing the various walks from Ambleside and this is one of the ones detailed, so if you're interested it will be easy to find the information.
This lovely town is a mixture of specialist and gift shops, pubs, hotels and tea-rooms. We found a café on the side of the Ghyll serving speciality teas and all sorts of home made cakes and snacks. It's not obvious from the centre of the town but well worth looking for. The town gets very busy at peak times and the roads and the footpaths are very narrow so care needs to be taken by all.
There are a couple of large car parks and also street parking for which you need to get a ticket on sale at the local shops in the street where you park.
Ambleside is about 20 minutes walk from the northern end of Lake Windermere and you can catch the boat from here to Lakeside at the southern end of the lake or Bowness which is about halfway down. This is something that we do every time we visit as it is such a lovely cruise down the lake.
As you walk from Ambleside to the lake you pass a garden centre which has a nice café and gift shop and I must tell you a funny story about this from our last visit. We were walking round the gift shop when a voice on the tannoy kept asking for the owner of a particular vehicle to return to the car park. Eventually the voice asked the owner to return as his car was 'parked on top of another vehicle'. Everyone in the gift shop seemed to stop in their tracks and we all looked at one another in disbelief before all bursting out laughing!! What had happened was that someone had parked on a slope and left the handbrake off so his car had run into the car behind and mounted its bumper.
Anyway back to Ambleside - this lovely town is also a great base for touring the Lake District. When we first stayed here we didn't have a car and we visited Beatrix Potter's house by walking down to the lake at Waterhead and caught the boat across to the other side where we walked all the way to Near Sawrey. After visiting the house and the local pub we then walked to Hawkshead where we caught the bus back to Ambleside.
Obviously if you do have a car then you can easily get from Ambleside to the other towns, passes and lakes of the Lake District. If you're feeling really fit you can hire a bike here and get pedaling!
There is a great variety of accommodation in Ambleside from posh hotels to bed and breakfast and self catering. There are also lots of camp sites around the area so there is something to suit everyone.
In conclusion Ambleside is a really lovely place to stay and a great base for touring the rest of the area.
Whilst many people passing through Ambleside on the road north (or south) have no doubt seen the famous "bridge house" over the large stream, I wonder how many have taken the time to look behind it as they pass by. Behind the main tourist icon is an old watermill (now converted to a very pleasant coffee shop cum restaurant) and beside that the Adrian Sankey glassworks and showroom. Anyone who has seen glassblowing on the TV has no doubt been fascinated by the skill and technique of glassblowers as they convert a lump of molten glass into all forms of elaborate and beautiful glassware. However rather than just being a shop for the glassware products, the showroom also includes the glass blowing works where you can see the items on sale being made. With the furnaces going it can get a little warm in the showroom (especially upstairs), but it is worth it for the unique and interesting glassware that makes great souveniers, presents or ornaments. Worth a visit just to watch the glass-blowing (we now make a point to visit every time we are in the lakes and watch, plus stock up on presents for Chrsitmas) they ask for a entrance charge (50p I recall) if you are coming to watch but not buy anything, but the items on sale are so attractive I defy you to not want to buy something! Whilst there is no "have a go" option (hence Kids may get a little bored quite quickly and this is not always good in a showroom of glassware) for adults this is a fascinating visit if you are at all interested in glassblowing. Hopefully one day they may start offering short courses for visitors to have a go ! Nearest car park is the main car park to the North of Ambleside (near the fire station). Highly recommended.
Lake Windermere is the largest lake in Britain situated in the Lake District spreading from Lakeside right through to Ambleside with beautiful Bowness right in between the two. There is always something to do all year round in this lovely part of the country. Walking is a very popular pass time with visitors and there are twelve really good walks around Windermere Lake itself. A guidebook for these can be bought for £2.00 at the cruise network office situated in any of the towns along the lake. Both Windermere and Bowness have a wide range of shops and restaurants, they do get very busy in the summer months but parking facilities are very good. Obviously you have to pay but far better than squeezing your vehicle into a tight spot in the town centre and then getting a ticket because you have not got back in time, I speak from experience here. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway is a brilliant day out and connects with the Lake steamer from Bowness. You can really see the Lake in all its glory. Another way to discover the lake is to hire a cruiser or even an old fashioned rowing boat for an hour or two, mind you I don’t fancy rowing a boat for over ten minutes myself, but the option is there if you have the stamina. The Windermere Steam Boat Museum is a really interesting place, the Victorian boats are kept in prestige condition, I was quite taken up with them. My favourite day out though is a trip on a cruise boat from Ambleside to Bowness and then a quick five minute walk from the pier to The World of Beatrix Potter in the Old Laundry buildings. The Kids just love it here, mind you the grown ups get quite into it as well. There are numerous ways of seeing the lake, from full or half lake cruises, cruises that stop off at the Aquarium in Lakeside for a break, or as I mentioned the Beatrix Potter stop off. You can even book an evening cruise and be served wine, great one this for the romantics
out there. The prices vary depending on which cruise you pick but I do like the idea of the family ticket for £16.50 taking you around half of the lake. Two adults and up to three children, children under five go free and wait for this all well behaved dogs go free too. That is a bargain. Driving to the Lake District on the M6 you just take junction 36 and follow the brown signs with a cruise boat on. If you are driving to Windermere itself take the A590, but for Bowness it is better to follow the A591. The roads have improved over the last five years so it is an enjoyable drive from the motorway. If you are thinking about a day out in the Lake District this is one area to visit and I suggest you visit www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk so that you can plan the ideal trip before hand. There is nothing worse than getting there and standing on the pier wading through the different options wasting half of your day. Hotels and campsites are plentiful around Ambleside and Windermere from the five star to the bed and breakfast establishments. Contact the Tourist Information Centre in Windermere and they will provide you with lists of accommodation to choose from, or visit www.touristinfomation/windermere.