Geographically the most central town of the Southern Lakes, Ambleside lies 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, however it can get quite busy 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 museums, activities such as climbing walls, along with boat trips and boat hire, it does offer a good selection for holiday makers.
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 rather good, with high fell rising up above the grey stone buildings, a decent 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 pack horse routes, the town has a long history.
The Romans, marching their way to Ravenglass in AD 79, paused and built Galava fort at Waterhead. Not much remains, but you can still see the basic outline.
The most famous building is the little Bridge House, built in the 17C. A small, two storey, two room stone edifice, built over the river and probably the most photographed building in the lakes, its longevity is probably due to the many uses it has been put to. Over the years it has been a counting house, ann apple store, a cobblers shop and a bijou, des-res for hubby, wife and six children. Todays incarnation is as the National Trust’s information centre and film star.
The oldest part of todays town dates from 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 been seen just above the bridge, opposite Bridge House.
Shopping - Dining - Entertainment
There are lots of good little food shops and delis, along with art galleries, arts and crafts shops, as well as a couple of decent book shops. The main commerce is outdoor clothing, mountain gear and boots. The oldest supplier is the Climbers Shop on Compston Road. Here you will get pro advice and pro equipment. Finally, for the keen gardener, there is Hays garden centre, one of the largest in the North West.
For entertainment on a wet day there are two cinemas, Zeffirelli’s with its own classy pizzeria and Fellini’s with a vegetarian menu.
For a bit of culture the Armitt museum is well with a visit. A 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 my favourite, the fabulous art of Kurt Schwitters, who self proclaimed "My name is Kurt Schwitters...I am an artist and I nail my pictures together…”.
As noted dining out is varied, with a mixture of fast food and decent restaurants including Italian, Indian, Chinese and Thai, along with a host of pubs and inns.
Popular are Shelia’s Cottage down The Slack, Lucy’s On A Plate in Church Street and ‘Lucy 4’, her devilishly good wine bar and bistro. The Glass House Cafe & Restaurant on Rydal Road has always pleased. For lunch or a coffee, there is the ever popular Apple Pie Eating House & Bakery on Rydal Road offering up huge sandwiches and tempting confections.
Finally, a mile or so south is the Samling Hotel and Restaurant. Award winning and with a Michelin Star, it is not cheap but is one for special occasions. Reservation essential.
Each year there are two anual events. Ambleside Rushbearing is a traditional event that has been happening in Ambleside for well over a hundred years. 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 tradditional sports are held in July. A great day out, three centuries of Lakeland traditions are crammed into this unique sporting event including Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling, fell and guides races, hound trails, cycle and running track events and children's races. Tents offer a public bar (with live brass band) and a wide choice of outside caterers as well as craft and local trade stands, along with activities.
Out And About - Local Walks - Activities
Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre is 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 rowing boats or canoes.
A mile south is Waterhead, the northern terminus for the Windermere steamers. Here you can take a tour of the lake or hire a row or little electric powerboats. Also at Water head is a bike hire outlet for both road, mountain and electric assisted cycles.
The 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 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 waterskiing and wake boarding, sailing boat hire and instruction, motor boat hire and fly-boarding, an adrenaline rush experience that you will never forget! Water is forced under pressure to your boots with jet nozzles underneath, providing thrust for the rider to fly! - crazy - mad - huge fun.
Along with exploring the town, there are some pleasant local walks. Stockghyll Lane brings you to the waterfall.
Up Skelghyll Lane, a track takes you to Jenkin Cragg for some magnificent views of the mountains and lake.
A steepish climb up Nook End lane, past Nook End farm, opens to a track that takes in High and Low Sweden Bridges and on up to Rydal Fell and Fairfield for some serious 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.
Lake District Cottages In And Around The Ambleside Area
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