Geographically, Ambleside is the most centrally located town in the Southern Lakes, situated a mile north from the head of Lake Windermere, in the Rothay Valley. Surrounded by high fell, it is a popular destination where the village caters well for visitors during peak season and public holidays. Shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants are plentiful, offering a range of cuisine, along with art galleries, clothing boutiques and outdoor wear. Add to this the museums and activities such as climbing walls, boat trips and watercraft hire, there is almost too much to choose from!
Ambleside has its roots in the medieval woollen trade, however today it is a popular base for exploring the National Park, though this does mean it tends to get rather crowded during the high season.
The setting is fantastic, with high fell rising up above the grey stone buildings, a pleasant river - Stock Ghyll, with its impressive 70ft waterfall, along with lots of alleyways and twisty lanes to explore. Situated at the crossing of many old packhorse routes, the town has a long history. The Romans, marching their way from the coastal Ravenglass in 79AD built Galava fort at Waterhead. Only earthworks remain of the ancient fort these days.
The most famous building is the Little Bridge House, built in the 17th century. It is a small, two storey, two room stone edifice, built over the river and probably the most photographed building in the Lakes. Its longevity is credited to the many uses it has been put to over the centuries. Over the years it has been a counting house, an apple store, a cobbler’s shop and a bijou, ‘des-res’ for a hubby, wife and six children. Today’s incarnation is an information centre for the National Trust.
The Old Town
The oldest part of the town dates back to the 15th century and lies on the Kirkstone side of the river. This was once the centre for a thriving corn and bobbin mill industry - where a restored waterwheel can still be seen just above the bridge, opposite Bridge House.
Out and About
There are some superb little food shops and delicatessens, along with art galleries, arts and crafts shops, as well as a couple of decent bookshops. The main commerce is outdoor clothing, mountain gear and boots. The oldest supplier is the Climbers Shop on Compston Road. Go here for pro advice, apparel and equipment. Finally, for the keen gardener, there is Hays Garden Centre, one of the largest in the North West. They also have a magical enchanted forest where you can go in search of Dragon Eggs and Fairy Doors! You need to book one day in advance as this is so popular.
Take in a movie
For entertainment, on a wet day, there are two cinemas, Zeffirelli’s with its own classy pizzeria and Fellini’s with a vegetarian menu. These both offer a diverse programme of off-mainstream films from around the world, as well as the ‘odd’ blockbuster. The restaurants are excellent and must be included in your evening dining plans.
For a bit of culture, happen by the Armitt Museum with its vast collection of pictures, books and jottings from Lake District notables. You can see letters from the likes of Ruskin, the manuscripts of Harriet Martineau and the fabulous art of Kurt Schwitters.
Dining spots are varied, with a mixture of fast food and fine dining establishments including Italian, Indian, Chinese and Thai, along with a host of pubs and inns. Most popular is Sheila’s Cottage down The Slack, Lucy’s On a Plate in Church Street and ‘Lucy 4’, a devilishly good wine bar and bistro. The Glass House Cafe & Restaurant on Rydal Road has always pleased locals and visitors alike. For lunch or a coffee, there is the ever-popular Apple Pie Eating House & Bakery with its epic sandwiches and tempting confections.
Finally, a mile or so south is the Samling Hotel and Restaurant - award winning and with a Michelin star. Reservations are essential.
Each year there are two annual events. Ambleside Rushbearing is a traditional event that has taken place in Ambleside for over one hundred years. A procession carrying wooden bearings decorated with flowers and rushes accompany children carrying flowers to the church. Led by Burneside Brass Band the procession stops in the Market Place to sing the hymn written especially for the occasion.
The Ambleside traditional sports are held in July. A great day out, three centuries of Lakeland traditions are crammed into this unique sporting event including Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, fell and guides races, hound trails, cycle and running track events and children's races. Tents offer a public bar (with a live brass band) and a wide choice of outside caterers as well as craft and local trade stands, and a range of activities.
Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre is a short drive from the town. There are indoor exhibitions, outdoor activities in the famous Thomas Mawson gardens and an exciting adventure playground, ensuring something for all the family, along with boat trips and the hire of rowing boats or canoes.
A mile south is Waterhead, the northern terminus for the Windermere steamboats. Here you can take a tour of the lake or hire a row or little electric powerboats. Also, at Waterhead, you can find a bike hire outlet for both roads, mountain and electric assisted cycles. The indoor Ambleside Climbing Wall is great for that rainy day or just to get in some safe practice. The 35ft wall is a new-generation in indoor climbing, being a replica of a real crag taken from a direct mould of natural limestone and providing all the intricacy and excitement of movement on natural rock. Lessons are available and experienced climbers can get open access to a wall where route quality, training facilities and regular route changes are made.
For some serious water activity, the Low Wood Water Sports Centre has an extensive range of kit. A few miles south of Ambleside, you can try water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing and motor boat hire, and fly-boarding, all providing an adrenaline rush experience that you will never forget!
Embark on some local walks including Stockghyll Lane which brings you to the waterfall. Another scenic trail is along Skelghyll Lane, a track that leads up to Jenkin Cragg for some magnificent views of the mountains and lake. A steep climb up Nook End Lane opens out to a track taking in High and Low Sweden Bridges, then Rydal Fell and Fairfield for some challenging high fell walking. A short drive north brings you to Rydal Water. This is the perfect round lake trek, taking in some decent fell and lakeside, where the walk can be extended through to Grasmere for a well-earned pint.
We have some lovely holiday cottages in Ambleside in our collection. Take a look and start planning your next holiday today!