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Woods and water by Windermere

Along the peaceful western shore of England's largest lake.


Minimum time 1h00

Distance 5.75 miles (9.3km)

Difficulty Medium

Suggested map  OS Explorer OL 7 The English Lakes (SE)

Start/finish  car park near Windermere Ferry; grid ref: SD 387958

Trails/tracks  mostly easy tracks, some stony sections

Landscape  rich woodland and lakeshore

Public toilets  none on route

Tourist information  Bowness-on-Windermere, tel 015394 42895

Bike hire  Wheelbase, Staveley, tel 01539 821443; Bike Treks, Ambleside, tel 01539 431245; Ghyllside Cycles, Ambleside, tel 01539 433592; Grizedale Mountain Bikes, Grizedale Forest, tel 01229 860369

Recommended pub  Sawrey Hotel, Far Sawrey, near start of route

Notes  children 8+. Mountain bike recommended, or walk some sections. Shorter ride from Red Nab, all ages


© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

Getting to the start

Road access to Windermere's mid-western shore is via Far Sawrey or on minor roads from the south. Follow the B5285 towards the ferry terminal, turning left up a lane before the terminal itself, to reach a National Trust car park. Alternatively, bring your bikes over by ferry from Bowness-on-Windermere.

1 Leave the car park and turn left on a surfaced lane. There are views along here of moored yachts, Belle Isle and the lake, with a backdrop of high fells. The shapely peak is Ill Bell. Follow the lane past lay-bys to reach a gate and cattle grid.

2 The road beyond is marked 'Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles'. Keep left past the entrance to Strawberry Gardens. Beyond this the track becomes considerably rougher, and soon begins to climb quite steeply. It's worth persevering!

3 Once over the crest and just as you begin to descend, look out on the left for a wildlife viewing platform. There are squirrel feeders scattered in the trees, and you may spot roe deer. Take great care on the descent - there are loose stones and several rocky steps, and it may be safer to walk down. The track levels out for a short distance, then continues its descent, finally levelling out just above the lakeshore. The going is easier now, generally level. Pass several small shingle beaches. Keep left (almost straight ahead) at a fork and then, where a bridleway climbs off to the left, keep right (signed to Red Nab and Wray) along a smoother gravel track. At a gate, emerge onto a tarmac track but almost immediately fork right, signposted 'Bridleway Wray Castle'. Continue into the Red Nab car park.

4 Go round a low barrier on to the bridleway. This is level, easy riding all the way along to a gate by a boathouse, beyond which you emerge to the curve of High Wray Bay. The bridleway now veers away from the lake. The bay is a popular picnic spot, with people arriving both by land and by water. Walk the bikes round to the grassy slope above the further shore.

5 Retrace your route to Point 2.

6 A bridleway rises off to the right here. It offers the option of a direct route to the pub at Far Sawrey, but the climb is longer, steeper and rougher than what you have encountered so far - so unless you found that all too easy, it's best to ignore it and simply return to the car park. The road route to the pub requires riding for 1 mile (1.6km) on the B5285, which can be busy at times, and also involves a steep climb midway.

A 10mph (16.1km) speed limit for powered craft on the lake comes into force in 2005, and should make this ride much more peaceful than previously. However, the limit has been controversial and may yet be defied. Other water traffic includes yachts of all sizes, windsurfers, canoes, rowing boats and the traditional launches and steamers which ply up and down throughout the year.

An attractive feature, the privately owned Belle Isle is said to have been used since Roman times. Today it is supplied by a little boat, which serves the 38 acre (15ha) estate. Belle Isle's circular house, recently rebuilt after extensive fire damage, was originally built by a Mr English in 1774. Apparently William Wordsworth accredited Mr English with the honour of being the first man to settle in the Lake District for the sake of the scenery.

The woodland here is typical of the Lake District. Before clearances for agriculture, notably sheep-grazing, there were many more similar woods. The predominant species is the sessile oak, which in times past provided timber for local industry and bark for tanning. It is a close relative of the 'English' oak of more southern counties, and it is not easy to tell them apart, but on closer inspection you will see that the acorns have no stalks to speak of. These woods are also rich in mosses and ferns, but often the most striking plant is the foxglove, which fills the clearings.

Why do this bike ride?

This is a perfect ride for taking a picnic. The full ride is surprisingly challenging, with a steep, rocky climb and descent halfway, though elsewhere the going is easy. For a shorter ride, go from the car park at Red Nab. Then follow the bridleway to High Wray Bay.


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