Exploring historic Ambleside: a trail of hidden heritage

Sign to North Road in AmblesideIf stopping off in Ambleside for only a short space of time, it could be easy to dismiss the town as a rather large collection of outdoor shops, with little else to offer. According to one local shopkeeper I spoke to on a recent wander around town, this is the impression that some visitors to the Lake District are left with – and in my opinion, this is a real shame.

Ambleside has a rich historic past, the remains of which can be seen throughout the town if only you know where to look. One way to explore the town’s historic and industrial story is to get hold of the Ambleside Heritage Trail. It’s a lovely little guide which takes you just outside the main shopping areas to places you otherwise probably wouldn’t think to explore, unless you happen to be staying in one of the many self-catering properties nearby and walk into the centre.

The tour starts at Market Cross, just outside the Post Office and Information Centre, which is handy because this is where the guides, which were produced by the Ambleside Civic Trust back in 2000 for the millennium, are on sale for £1. You can also find them on sale at the town’s Armitt Museum, which is next to the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus along from Bridge House.

Market Cross, Ambleside
The Market Cross outside the Information Centre, where the trail begins
The Armitt Museum which, amongst other items of interest, exhibits original botanical drawings by Beatrix Potter

According to the guide, Ambleside’s origins date back to a Roman settlement by the lakeside at Waterhead (which you can still see the remains of today), and the town has since been shaped by Norse-Irish farmers who lived in another area of Ambleside in medieval times, the water-powered mills on Stock Ghyll and, finally, the growth of Lake District tourism in Victorian times.

Bridge Street, Ambleside, otherwise known as Rattle Ghyll
Bridge Street, once called Rattle Ghyll due to the noise of the waterwheels

The guide takes you on a tour of interesting old houses and notable buildings in the centre of town and on the outskirts, providing many intriguing historical snippets of information and drawing your attention to features that could so easily be missed. One hidden gem is this charming little alleyway, which can be accessed via Bridge Street (above). But mind your head – it’s a case of ‘bend or bump’!

A ginnel in the centre of Ambleside
I found this gorgeous little ginnel in the centre of Ambleside for the first time
An archway under the cottages
An archway under the cottages

I won’t take you on the complete tour here, because you’ll have to buy the trail guide for yourself to find out more, but here are a few photos to give you a sense of what there is to explore in historic Ambleside.

North Road, Ambleside
North Road, which crosses the river behind the Information Centre
Ambleside cottages
Some of the lovely old cottages you’ll see on your walk round the trail
Benches overlooking Kirkstone Road, Ambleside
There are two benches at the highest point on the trail – just in case you’ve not got over the shock of Peggy Hill!
St Anne's Chapel, Ambleside
Previously St Anne’s Chapel
Looking over Ambleside from Sweden Bridge Lane
Overlooking Ambleside from Sweden Bridge Lane – the views from the top floor of some of the local buildings are just like this. I once worked in a shop that had its staff room on the fourth floor, and used to really enjoy the view during lunch breaks!
Kirkstone Road, Ambleside
Looking down Kirkstone Road. A bit of a tip: watch out walking down here, as it’s narrow and hasn’t got a pavement – you can instead walk behind the buildings on the left (down a quieter narrow piece of road known as Chapel Hill) which will bring you out at the bend where the white van is parked
Ambleside cottages
Chapel Hill, looking towards St Mary’s Church in the town below
Bridge House, Ambleside and The Fulling Mill
Bridge House (left) and the restaurant, The Fulling Mill (behind)
Bridge House, Ambleside
Bridge House, which is owned by the National Trust and has a fascinating history

Not long after starting the blog, I wrote about Bridge House and its many lives, so you can find out more about the history of this National Trust building here.

Standing next to Stock Low Bridge
Standing next to Stock Low Bridge
At the Apple Pie Bakery and Café
Abandon trail. I repeat. Abandon trail. Look what I’ve just spotted in the window at the Apple Pie Bakery and Café… (I was actually REALLY good, but one day I’m going back to try one – followed by a few circuits taking in Peggy Hill!)
Bread at The Apple Pie Bakery and Café
Hmm, freshly baked bread too…
Kirkstone Road from the mini roundabout
Kirkstone Road from the mini roundabout

Whether or not you choose to explore Ambleside fully using the heritage trail, I hope that this post will have inspired you to look at this historic Lake District town differently next time you’re passing through. I really do think it’s a charming place to visit, and already have plans to write another post about things to do in Ambleside very soon.

Have you been to Ambleside recently? What’s your favourite place to visit here and why? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


  1. In this blog post I only really cover features of interest on one half of the trail – the route also takes you round the rest of Ambleside town, where you’ll also see a building that was once William Wordsworth’s place of work!

  2. Ambleside is my happy place. Found some lovely places to eat and stay there. Elder Grove the best b&b known to man. Cafe Treff for a cuppa and cake then in the evening Zeffirelli vegetarian Italian restaurant 😍😍

    • Hello Ellen, Thank you very much for your comment, and my apologies I’ve not been able to moderate comments for a couple of days while I’ve been unwell. It’s lovely to hear that you enjoy Ambleside so much – I love a cuppa at Cafe Treff, and thank you for your other recommendations as well! 🙂

  3. Sandi Davis

    Hi Janine,

    I am researching for a book on Harriet Martineau, who spent her latter years in Ambleside. Does the Heritage Trail make any mention of her? I will have to get over there (from the US) one of these days, but I would like to know what to expect.

    • Hello Sandi, I’ve taken another look at the heritage trail leaflet, but as I thought, I can’t see a mention of Harriet Martineau. I purchased the trail guide from the Armitt Museum, who might be of interest to you, although you may already be aware of them. All the best with writing your book!

  4. Love Ambleside. Especially the Waterhead section along the Lake. Then a walk to the village. And a visit to my favourite shop: Lakeland Leather. Then a trip to the Apple Pie shop. Fab!

  5. Patrick Sullivan

    We had passed through Ambleside many times and did not think much of it, then in March 2020 we stayed for four days, and found it had lots to offer in walks, history and a good collection of shops and restaurants. The Heritage Trail leaflet seems to be unavailable; we asked at the Armitt and the post office. Fortunately our accommodation had a copy that we borrowed. The walk to Stock Ghyll Force (keep walking until you see the 70′ drop) had hundreds if not thousands of daffodils ready to burst. The walk up Loughrig was rewarding – the stone staircase at the north side is fairly step, but so much better than without. A tip for visitors, amblesideonline.co.uk has lots of information. Thank you for the thorough article.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, and also the website recommendation. It’s a shame if the leaflet has been discontinued, but good to hear you found a copy in your accommodation and that you enjoyed your time in Ambleside. I bet the Stockghyll walk was lovely with the daffodils – I might have to pay a visit to see them next spring!

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