A look through the square window: Claife Viewing Station on the western shore of Windermere

Claife Viewing Station from below

Claife Viewing Station from the courtyard below

Claife Viewing Station, on the western shore of Windermere, has been on my gem-hunting list for some time now. The remains of this historic viewing station were recently restored by the National Trust, and last weekend I finally got to see it for myself.

According to the National Trust, Claife Viewing Station dates back to the 1790s, and started life as a two-storey, octagonal tower, which was later extended. Eventually it fell into disrepair. Its remains have now been tastefully restored to allow visitors to stand and admire the view once again from its first floor, and imagine what once stood there.

The history behind the viewing station is fascinating, and it would have been one of the first purpose-built tourist ‘attractions’ in the area. Historically, the Lake District had been regarded as a frightening wilderness, rather than as an attractive destination for tourists, but this all changed in the 18th century with the beginning of the Picturesque Movement. Up until the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the wealthy would complete the ‘Grand tour’ of Europe, but found they could no longer do so. At around this time, guide books such as Thomas West’s guide to the lakes were being produced, and as a result, the Lakes soon became a fashionable destination.

The role of a viewing station (there were others dotted around Windermere at that time) was to frame the view in what the National Trust on their web site describe as a ‘pre-determined’ way. I love it that parts of the building still remain until this day.

There are several ways to reach Claife Station, and if you are a keen walker or cyclist, the western shore of Windermere is a fantastic area to explore. It’s a complete contrast to the busy eastern shore, and has a wonderful, tranquil atmosphere.

I chose to visit Claife Station as a foot passenger on the Windermere ferry, which costs just 50p per person (and another 50p when you come back). When you get to the western shore, you follow the road round a set of buildings for a few hundred yards and then cross the road and go through a gate onto a footpath. The path takes you through trees around the edge of the lake, and you soon come across a wooden gate. Cross the road (don’t forget that this is a road!) and you’ve arrived at the courtyard – it takes just five minutes in all.

The Windermere ferry

Waiting for the ferry on the eastern shore of Windermere

Boats on Windermere

Waiting isn’t all that bad with a view like this!

Gated pathway

Windermere

A path takes you away from the road and around the edge of the lake

The entrance to the courtyard below Claife Viewing Station

The entrance to the courtyard below Claife Viewing Station

From the courtyard, it’s just a short climb up to the viewing station itself, which is free to visit. The climb was apparently once planted so that the views were obscured, creating a huge surprise when visitors reached the viewing station itself. In the 1800s, Claife Viewing Station was used as a venue for dinner dances, and its wonderful to think of this path being lit with Chinese lanterns and coloured lamps – especially given its fairly remote location on the quieter side of the lake. It goes without saying that the views are incredible when you reach the top, and the restoration work is well worth seeing – this is exactly what I had in mind when I named my blog Lake District Gems!

Pathway overlooking Windermere

The climb to Claife Viewing Station, which overlooks Windermere

Boats on Windermere

Glimpses of lake further up

Claife Viewing Station

Approaching the viewing station itself

Claife Viewing Station on the side of Windermere

The platform on the first floor of Claife Viewing Station

The platform on the first floor of Claife Viewing Station

Looking through the coloured windows of Claife Viewing Station

Looking towards the north end of the Lake

The platform on the second floor of Claife Viewing Station

The platform on the second floor of Claife Viewing Station

The view across the lake from the front of the platform

Claife Viewing Station's spiral staircase, Windermere

The spiral staircase

Claife Viewing Station

The ground floor of Claife Viewing Station

The ground floor, which was once a dining room with wine cellar

The ornate window surrounds are a reminder that on the first floor of the original building there was a bay window filled with a variety of coloured glass. This allowed visitors to imagine the view in different seasons or weather (e.g. dark blue for moonlight, orange for autumn, etc.). The National Trust has even installed an Aeolian harp, a sound box with strings, which makes an atmospheric sound when the wind blows – although there wasn’t any air movement when I visited, so I didn’t actually hear it!

The platform on the second floor of Claife Viewing Station and Aeolian wind harp

Looking south from the first floor – look (or listen) out for the Aeolian wind harp above the window!

When reading about Claife Viewing Station before I visited, I come across various accounts of why visitors would use something called a ‘Claude glass’ to view the scenery – this was a small mirror which individuals would look into whilst turning their backs on the view itself. The National Trust says that this was to ‘soften the impact’ of the view, which it was feared would cause some visitors to be overcome, and perhaps even to faint!

And now to the food…

Another great reason to stop off at Claife Station is the café in the viewing station’s courtyard, which serves a range of delicious-looking light lunches and snacks such as cakes and scones. Because there are few facilities on site, tea and coffee are served in take-away cups, and food with disposable crockery and cutlery. There are tables inside what was once a small house (along with a cosy fire for winter!) and picnic tables outside, with some looking over the lake, and others undercover. There are also bike racks if you’re a little more adventurous than I am! Just remember that there are no loos at the café itself, so you’ll need to use the National Trust ones five minutes away at the ferry landing on the western shore.

The café in the courtyard with Claife Viewing Station in the distance

The Café in the Courtyard with Claife Viewing Station in the distance

Inside the Café in the Courtyard at Claife Viewing StationInside the café in the Courtyard at Claife Viewing Station

Food at the café in the Courtyard at Claife Viewing Station

Light lunches include the ‘Ferryman’s Lunch’, similar to a Ploughman’s

Outdoor undercover seating, the Café in the Courtyard at Claife Station

The café has a lovely covered area outside too

Picnic tables at Claife Station

Further seating overlooking the lake

The Café in the Courtyard at Claife Viewing Station

The café was once a house, and the lady living there would escort visitors to the viewing station

There are lots of ways to enjoy a visit to Claife Station, depending on how you like to spend your holiday:

  • If you can’t avoid taking the car, you can park in the National Trust’s Ash Landing car park which is situated below Claife Station, though the car park has limited spaces. This is on the opposite side of the viewing station to the courtyard, and there are a steep set of rocky steps which take you to the viewing station and join the path back down to the courtyard. The ferry crossing for cars is £4.40 each way at the time of writing, and you’ll need change as the machines don’t take credit cards! You may also drive in on the B5285 from the direction of Hawkshead.
Pathways at Claife Viewing Station

The two pathways from the courtyard and Ash Landing Car Park meet near the viewing station itself – but be warned, as the rocky path from the car park is very steep!

  • If you prefer to go on foot, you can walk the western shore to or from Wray Castle (sign-posted as 3.75 miles from the courtyard), and you can also walk in from Hill Top (sign-posted as 1.5 miles from the viewing station). There’s lots more information on this, including route suggestions, on the National Trust website.

Signposts at Claife Viewing Station

  • Linear walks can be a pain when you need to get back to your starting point, but Windermere Lakes Cruises can give you a helping hand with this. Their Walker’s Ticket allows you to complete a walk of the western shore of Windermere and take a boat back to your starting point – there’s more information on how this works on the Windermere Lakes Cruises website.
  • If you’re a fan of two wheels, you may find it helpful to use the Bike Boat from Brockhole to Bark Barn Jetty (which meets the lake path approximately 2 miles from the courtyard – summer holidays only and weekends from the end of May) and gives priority to cyclists.
  • If you fancy a short walk, you could park in Bowness-on-Windermere and walk around Cockshott Point to the Windermere Ferry, or park in the Ferry Nab pay-and-display car park which is in the same road as the ferry. Alternatively, take the Cross Lakes Shuttle boat across the lake from Bowness to Ferry House with Windermere Lake Cruises.

… so the possibilities are, as they say, endless! However you choose to see Claife Station though, it’s a beautiful place to visit, and is in one of my favourite areas too. Do try to fit it into your stay in the Lakes – you won’t be disappointed!

Looking out from the lower courtyard at Claife Station

Looking out from the lower courtyard at Claife Station towards Windermere

Have you visited Claife Viewing Station since its recent restoration? How did you choose to get there?! Share your recommendations by leaving a comment below.

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5 Responses to A look through the square window: Claife Viewing Station on the western shore of Windermere

  1. Janine John 03/08/2016 at 5:37 pm #

    I recently wrote about another fabulous little viewing station in the area from the 17th century, ‘the Grot’, which can be found at Rydal Hall: http://lakedistrictgems.co.uk/2016/07/17/rydal-hall-gardens/

  2. Angela Cowell 05/08/2016 at 10:00 pm #

    What another beautiful post Janine. I want to go right now! We will have to build this into our itinerary for our next visit to the Lakes. Thank you for putting this wonderful little place on the map for us. Your photographs, as always, are superb. What camera/s do you use?

    • Janine John 06/08/2016 at 1:31 pm #

      Thank you for your lovely comment Angela – I’m so glad you liked the post, as I really did enjoy visiting Claife.

      I use a Sony A57 SLR camera, as for me this was a good compromise between camera features and the camera not being too bulky to carry. I occasionally use a smart phone camera (usually if I’m not expecting to take photos while I’m out), but this gives me fewer editing choices later.

      As you’ll have seen, I often photograph quite dark buildings or locations in shadow, and so I do so in the RAW file format, as the only way I can bring out the detail is to alter the light settings later on in Adobe Lightroom. It’s not always possible to visit somewhere when the light is at its best, so in that case I try to make the best of it. 🙂

  3. Windermere Lake Cruises 09/08/2016 at 9:06 am #

    Another great post Janine, thanks for mentioning our Walkers Ticket and Bike Boat – an ideal way to fit Claife, Wray Castle and the western shore on a circular route of Windermere.
    Great photos and text as ever, looks like you had fun!

    • Janine John 09/08/2016 at 1:32 pm #

      It’s great to hear that you spotted the post, so thank you for commenting! I don’t think I’ve come across a place with so many different transport options for getting there – all of them would add something special to the day, and I think the Walker’s Ticket is a great idea!

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