A Big Yellow Cruise Lake District Day Out on Windermere
There is nothing nicer on a sunny day than taking to a lake. And Windermere, England’s largest natural lake, offers the chance to hop around some of the UK’s finest lakeside towns and attractions on classic Lakeland steamers. For this feature, a collaboration with Windermere Lake Cruises, we jumped aboard a Yellow Cruise for a Great British Day Out. Our mission? To pack in as much British goodness as possible and produce a downloadable itinerary with insider tips to help you plan your own great Lake District Day Out on and around Windermere…
Union jack flutters in the breeze on the front of The Swan, one of Windermere Lake Cruises classic ‘steamers’
A reminder that it’s great to be British
If we forget we are British at any point on our cruise, there is a Union Jack flag flying to remind us. And to be honest today we could be forgiven for thinking we are in Italy or Coatia. The sun is hot. The sky is almost bare of cloud. Moving white triangles traverse the horizon creating soft swells in their wake. On deck a father keen to entertain his son blows a circle of bubble mixture and we see the sky through a multi-colour prism before it pops. It’s the kind of day you feel glad you are alive, and definitely feel like you are on holiday.
Admiring the views of Southern Windermere from rear deck as MV Swan cruises North towards Bowness
OMGB – Truly Great Britain
Yet we are not on holiday. Tomorrow we will be back at our keyboards. This lakeland scene is only half an hour’s drive from our house. And our experience is probably repeating itself all over the UK at coasts and lakes as families explore what’s on their own doorstep. Because given the right conditions, Britain is a truly great place to live and travel in. We just forget that sometimes when the weather is rough, we’ve forgotten the umbrella and are dreaming of escape to a holiday home in the sun.
A Lake District cruise is so OMGB
Our Big Yellow Day Out
Our Big Yellow Day Out isn’t a tribute to the golden orb in the sky though; that’s far too fickle. Our adventure is based around a Yellow Cruise, one of the many services offered by Windermere Lake Cruises. Their Yellow Line cruise travels the length of Windermere between Bowness and Lakeside, allowing you to take in all that is British about The Lake District. The blindingly fertile scenery. The unique industrial history and sense of the past. Thousands of years of glacial geology.
There are lots of different options for this great car-free day out, combining cruises, boats, trains and a range of Lake District attractions. On our yellow day out we choose to journey back into steam on boats and trains. We walk a maze of motors, and ache to reach out and touch some of the shiniest and well preserved classic cars in the world. We have a grand afternoon tea on a Great British lawn. We wave a posh wedding off while they wave Union Jacks back at us, and then make way for a party of newborn swans to join us at the jetty. I’m telling you even HM The Queen would approve of this.
A small budget big day out
We do all this on a single combination ticket that includes a ride on the Lakeland and Haverthwaite Railway train, a Yellow Line Cruise and entry to the Lakeland Motor Museum. (There are lots of other combination tickets available to suit your interests.) And it’s great value at just £61 for the whole family (up to 2 adults and 3 children). Of course we have to pay for our breakfast, tea and cakes on top, but at that price we know there’s plenty left in the budget for that.
Looking up Windermere from Lakeside
Tips for your great Lake District day out
During the day we capture our day out in words and images and produce a timetable and tips to help others less familiar with the area get the most out of their day. You can read about our day out below and download a free pdf leaflet of tips and ideas to take with you from the Windermere Lake Cruises website. Or of course design your own great day out.
We start and finish our day in Haverthwaite in the South Lakes but of course you can plan things differently and do a similar itinerary starting in Bowness. Be aware that timetables and opening hours do vary with the seasons so you do need to confirm timings before setting out. Check the Windermere Lake Cruises and other attraction websites linked to in the Practical Information section below to put together your own itinerary.
Steam train getting ready to depart at Haverthwaite. And so are we… but first, breakfast.
Our Big Yellow Cruise Classic Lake District Day Out
First up breakfast
: We start at Haverthwaite Railway station in South Lakeland. There’s no lake in sight here but it’s easy access, there’s plenty of parking and it means we won’t get stuck in Lake District traffic on the way in or out. We say goodbye to the car for the day and head off to catch a train to find the lake.
: We begin by fuelling up for the day, with a big breakfast in the Haverthwaite Station café. It’s a classic platform café and we tuck into a Lakeland Railwayman’s breakfast. Enjoy that Cumberland sausage. You’re going to need it for the day ahead.
Waiting for the trains near the picnic area at Haverthwaite Station on Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
Time to explore Haverthwaite
: We stand on the bridge to watch the first train depart. (You can also watch from the little picnic area the other side of the bridge.) Best fun of all is standing on the bridge when a steam train comes. Careful you don’t get lost in the cloud of steam. For a photo challenge, see if you can capture the moment as the train pulls in.
: We head past the playground to the viewpoint above the station and look out over South Lakeland. It’s a short steep climb on a well graded footpath and there’s a nice rock to climb at the top. If it’s already a hot day the trees provide shade (or shelter from rain.)
Looking out over the South Lake District Peninsular from the viewpoint above Haverthwaite Railway Station
Getting up steam
: We run back down and visit the engine shed to see if Thomas is at home. He isn’t but I think James might be. There are lots more trains and bits of trains to look at. Shafts of light make the shed atmospheric and interesting. Even for non train-spotters.
: We watch the first steam train getting ready. Staff work the water tower and stoke the engine. At least we think they’re staff. Apparently you can pay to be a loco driver for the day
so who knows. When the engine hisses that it’s ready to leave we jump on and grab a seat. For us parents it’s a trip back in time to the days of British Railways, slam doors, sprung seats and windows you can actually open. The kids seem to like it too.
Exploring the Engine Shed at Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
On The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
: We depart for Lakeside. Half way there we consider hopping off at the Newby Bridge Halt to stroll down and have a coffee in the newly refurbished Swan Hotel, but the kids are keen to get onto the lake. As we travel along the banks of River Leven towards Windermere we spot the Lakeland Motor Museum on the other side of the river and some paddlers enjoying life on the river.
Setting off from Haverthwaite on steam train on Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
A brief stop at Lakeside
: We arrive at Lakeside. There’s time for a very quick look around before our shuttle bus is due to depart. We take a peek at the Aquarium of the Lakes
, popular for its underwater tunnel but sadly miss the otter talks which happen at 10.30 am and 3pm each day. We’ve enough time to grab a coffee and ice cream though, from the quayside cafe. Besides, we know we’ll be back later in the afternoon with a little more time to explore.
At Lakeside the trains and boats are timed to connect and you can switch straight from the platform.
To the Lakeland Motor Museum
: We hop on the shuttle bus to The Lakeland Motor Museum
. It’s just a ten minute bus ride (free with our ticket). We wind along pretty Lakeland roads to reach the museum. After journeying back in time on the steam train, the kids are intrigued to see whether the motor museum will have Dad or Grandad’s first car.
Checking out the exhibits in Lakeland Motor Museum
Motoring back in time
: We thoroughly enjoy the Motor Museum. At reception the kids pick up a free quiz which keeps them occupied as we journey through a history of cars. The museum is like the Tardis. It looks small on the outside but inside there are more cars, motorbikes and bikes packed into this wonderland of wheels than you can possibly imagine.
: I find a few cars from my childhood; the reliable Hillman, the bumper car from a New Brighton pleasure park that I whiled away many happy hours in. The kids are particularly attracted to the bubble cars that we learn are now back into production. There’s lots to learn about the Lakeland industries around the Levens here too. And we just have time to check out the Bluebird museum gallery. Still so much to see here; we will have to return. But we have to move on, lots more to fit into this Big Day Out.
Checking out the Scootacar at the Lakeland Motor Museum
Snack and go, we’ve a boat to catch
: We need fuel though. Although still a bit full from breakfast we do have room for some bite size eats in Café Ambio, next to the museum. The chips in a bucket are especially good. We sit on the terrace, watch and listen for steam trains across the river and spot some brave kayakers heading to the falls at Backbarrow bridge.
: Tanks full we catch the return bus to Lakeside so we can swap wheels for water. The bus connects with the 1.35 departure for Bowness which is where we are heading next. Back at Lakeside we hop off the bus and straight onto the Steamer MV Swan. Couldn’t be easier.
It’s a very short wait to board the Swan at Lakeside
A Lake Windermere Cruise
: Our Yellow Line Cruise departs, heading north to Bowness. I’ve done this trip in winter where I’ve held my coat tight around my body and congratulated myself on my bravery at being outside without a hot water bottle and a brew. Today it is very different. There’s a carnival atmosphere on the Swan, a classic Lakeland steamer. Everyone is on deck to wave to the crowds and we power off down the lake dwarfing the yachts and the water skiers.
Playing I Spy from the deck of MV Swan on a journey out of Lakeside
The bustle of Bowness
: We arrive at Bowness and consider hiring a rowing boat
. There are options for a family of four or six, but the queues are long and the piers quite crowded. So we decide that’s for another day. There’s loads more to do in Bowness including a Beatrix Potter experience
, a fun factory, crazy golf, tennis or just some shopping. Alternatively we could wander down the road and hire kayaks, stand up paddle boards
or electric bikes
. But that all sounds a bit too active today.
Rowing boats for hire at Bowness Bay on Windermere
A Great British afternoon tea
: Instead we spot a little door in a wall and head into the gardens of the Belsfield Hotel
, a grand Victorian building overlooking the lake. As we make our way uphill we pass little areas with ponds, benches and slopes just right for rolling down. We stop to play roly poly. But then have an even better idea.
Afternoon Tea at the Belsfield Hotel Windermere
More cake than we can eat
: Up on the garden terrace of this boutique Laura Ashley Hotel we order afternoon tea. Having seen the size of the one delivered to the table next door we know it would be a big mistake to order one each. We order just one, and a round of drinks. We get enough sandwiches and cakes for the whole family. We sit outside under an umbrella looking out over Windermere and watch The Teal glide in (another of the Windermere Lake Cruises classic boats). I pinch myself to see if I have accidentally wandered into a scene from an English costume drama. But the cakes taste real enough, although we struggle to finish them all.
Views across Windermere from terrace of Belsfield Hotel in Bowness
Time to head south
: After tea we head back to the bustle of the piers to board our boat back to Lakeside. We arrive at the same time as a wedding party is boarding a private cruise. We watch as champagne is loaded, hats are held firmly in place and Union Jack flags are waved as the bride walks on to the jetty with her new husband. We cheer as our boat leaves. How can I not feel happy?
Heading back down the lake it’s sparkles all the way
A floating education in Lakeland
: Our Yellow Cruise to Lakeside departs and we head south. In the late afternoon sunshine the lake is alive with activity. Speedboats cruise, waterskiers fly, and yachts sail in. As our fellow cruisers grab a beer in the sunshine we relax and listen to commentary about islands passed down through families, a rising and falling lake, the arrival of the millionaires and the departure of the abbots. It is a story of ebb and flow of history and geography and geology and water. Our imaginations drift as we head for the pier.
Water skier on Windermere
Welcome back to Lakeside
: We land back at Lakeside and a welcome party of swan and cygnets greets us. A family of five, also having a day out, but her kids are much cuter than mine. We contemplate visiting the Aquarium of the Lakes, it’s open until 6pm but decide we’ve had enough attractions for one day.
Cygnets swimming at Lakeside
A paddle and some lemonade
: We’ve nearly an hour before our train and use the time for a post cruise lemonade at the Lakeside Hotel
, another escape from reality. We take our drinks down to their private beach and paddle in the lake as the hotel rowing boat returns for the day. If we were here at 11am we could have watched the swans being fed, but instead they watch us. Earlier in the day we could also have walked down to the Stott Park Bobbin Mill
or taken a mini cruise
to the gorgeous Fell Foot Park
with its adventure playground, cafe and rowing boat hire. But it’s too late now, we’re out of steam and still have the last train to catch.
Paddling and watching the Swan go past on Windermere shoreline at Lakeside Hotel
Last train home
: We catch the last train back to Haverthwaite, wave goodbye to Windermere and relax as the steam train hauls us back to Haverthwaite. We retrace our tracks along the Levens, whistle past the Motor Museum and watch coal soot fly past the windows as we journey back to the present.
Boarding the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway at Lakeside
: We arrive back at Haverthwaite and watch the engines get ready for bed. It’s been a long day for us too, but probably the biggest and best British Day Out we’ve had in a long time.
Practical information and alternatives
Getting there: The Lake District is a National Park in North West England, about two hours from Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow by road, rail or bus. Windermere is both the name of a local town and one of the largest lakes in the Park. This Lake District day out is centred on two locations on Windermere (the lake): Lakeside, at the southern end, accessible via the A590 and local bus services; and Bowness, the part of Windermere town on Bowness Bay, right next to the lake and accessible by car, bus or train.
We start and finish our day at the Haverthwaite terminus of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. It makes for easy access and parking, avoids the traffic and crowds of the Central Lakes and means we can start early and finish late. You can of course plan things differently for a shorter day or do a similar itinerary starting and finishing in Bowness. There’s good public transport access to Bowness and plenty of paid parking in car parks around Bowness piers.
Beautiful Lake District dawn on Windermere
Windermere Lake Cruises: There are many options for cruises on the lake with Windermere Lake Cruises. Take a good look at their website for route and ticketing options. The combination family tickets which include a cruise plus entry to one or two attractions are excellent value. The Freedom of the Lake ticket allows you to hop on and off any route for a period of 24 hours and can also be combined with entry to attractions. Watch out for special offers which can save you even more, e.g. on Fridays there is a discount on the Freedom of Lake ticket and some tickets are discounted if booked online. Children under 5 and well behaved dogs go free. You can take your bikes on most boats, at staff discretion and for a fee of £1 between piers.
If money or time is tight there are 30 minute mini cruises that run during the day from Lakeside across to Fell Foot and exploring southern parts of Windermere. If you wanted to stay south to explore the Aquarium, Motor Museum and Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway that might be a good option. You could also visit Fell Foot park and have tea in the cafe. For afternoon tea try the Lakeside Hotel. You won’t regret it.
Windermere Lake Cruises boats arriving at Bowness
Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway: Steam train times vary with the seasons and some services at some times of year are diesel hauled so check timetables carefully to avoid disappointment or missing the last train home! Services connect with the boat services at Lakeside so you don’t need to panic about catching or missing your boat or train in either direction. The café at Haverthwaite station opens 9-4.30.
Lakes Aquarium: This is at Lakeside, right next to the boats and trains. It’s open daily from 10am-6pm with last admission at 5pm. There are scheduled talks during each day and may be extra activities at half terms and holidays. You can get a Cruise combination ticket which includes admission to the Lakes Aquarium and saves you money compared to separate admissions.
Lakeland Motor Museum: This is in the Levens valley between Newby Bridge and Haverthwaite and can be reached by a free shuttle bus from Lakeside. Shuttle buses connect with departing boats and trains, the journey takes 10 minutes, do check the timetable to make sure you don’t miss a connection. The museum is open daily from 9.30am-5.30pm. You can buy a Cruise combination ticket which includes admission to the Lakeland Motor Museum and saves you money compared to separate admissions.
Fill up with motoring nostalgia at the Lakeland Motor Museum
Lakeside Hotel and Spa: This four star hotel is at Lakeside. It has a lovely conservatory and gardens overlooking the lake and they serve some fabulous afternoon tea treats. Be warned these aren’t cheap and you will get more than you can eat. You certainly don’t want one each! If you don’t think you can manage the three course afternoon tea, you can scale things down to the feast of cakes or perhaps settle for a cream tea. Served between 2-5pm.
Belsfield Hotel: This Laura Ashley hotel is at Bowness; you’ll see it on the hill as you approach Bowness by boat. It’s amongst the grandest Victorian buildings in Windermere and its garden terrace overlooks Windermere. It’s a fabulous spot to take a break, away from the madding crowds down at the piers. Sandwiches, cream teas and afternoon teas are all available to take on the terrace. You can watch the boats come and go and it’s a quick dash down the hill after paying the bill to catch one.
The terrace of the Belsfield Hotel, Windermere
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you thanks to a collaboration with Windermere Lake Cruises and in support of the Visit England Home of Amazing #OMGB campaign encouraging people to visit amazing places in Britain. We took to the water on a Yellow Cruise ticket to produce a guide for families. All the detailed planning, experience, tips, opinions and photography are, as ever, entirely our own.