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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.