Discover Ambleside

Introduction

‘The axle at the wheel of beauty,’ was how one 19th century writer described Ambleside and who amongst visitors in the 2020s can disagree? Windermere and the pier for lake ‘steamers’ are a few minutes walk away while the likes of Wansfell, Loughrigg and the Fairfield range form a protective arc of fells in every other direction. But natural beauty and a pivotal location are not the only draw. A small but famous Lakeland museum, a much loved cinema complex, independent shops, a church with a Wordsworth chapel, a rich cultural heritage, some excellent restaurants, heaps of cafés, a wide choice of hotels and B&Bs and 17th century Bridge House all add to the attractions of this busy town. Picture: Nina Claridge.

A brief history

A brief history

Even though the Romans built a fort at Borrans Field near Waterhead around AD 79, much of Ambleside is a Victorian creation, the town growing in the 19th century with the expanding tourist trade. In those days it was a place fizzing with intellectual activity. Writer Harriet Martineau, Thomas Arnold (headmaster of Rugby School), poet William Wordsworth, writer and historian Mary Louisa Armitt and her artist sister Sophie, educationalist Charlotte Mason, Beatrix Potter and German artist Kurt Schwitters are all associated with the town.

The Armitt Museum and Library

The Armitt Museum and Library

This is a treasure trove of local history with a permanent exhibition called Beatrix Potter - Image and Reality and another room devoted to Kurt Schwitters, the German-born artist who spent the last three years of his life in Ambleside. The Beatrix Potter exhibition includes some of her beautiful and detailed botanical watercolours, created before she embarked on a writing career. Upstairs is the library which holds over 14,000 books, many relating to the Lake District.

www.armitt.com

Zeffirellis/Fellinis

Zeffirellis/Fellinis

There must be many towns the size of Ambleside (and bigger) that would love a venue like Zeffirellis: a cinema complex, café, vegetarian restaurant and jazz bar all under one roof. Fellinis houses a ‘vegeterranean’ restaurant and digital cinema. Because of the current situation Zeffirellis cinemas and Fellinis restaurant will be closed from March 20. Zeffirellis daytime café and evening restaurant remain open.

www.zeffirellis.com/www.fellinisambleside.com

Windermere Lake Cruises

Windermere Lake Cruises

About one mile (1.6km) away from the town centre is Waterhead where you can hop on a ‘steamer’ belonging to Windermere Lake Cruises and explore Lakeland’s glorious centrepiece. The boats are Cumbria’s biggest tourist attraction and with over 10 miles (16km) of water to sail along - main piers at Bowness-on-Windermere and Lakeside (at the southern end) as well - you can see why. Rowing boats are available for hire at Waterhead too.

www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk

St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church

Built in the 1850s, the church was designed by George Gilbert Scott, architect of the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station (now the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel) and the Albert Memorial in London. Attractive stained glass windows, the Wordsworth memorial chapel, a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos, a large rushbearing mural and a spire (not a tower) are five distinguishing features. Ambleside Rushbearing is on the first Saturday in July.

www.stmarysambleside.org.uk

Stock Ghyll Force

Stock Ghyll Force

It takes about 20 minutes to walk up from the town centre to this 70’ (21 metres) waterfall. Take Stock Ghyll Lane to start with and not long after turn left into some woodland where it’s signposted ‘To the waterfalls’. For 300 years the woollen trade was Ambleside’s major industry and in the Stock Beck, the mills had a handy source of power. You can see one of the old waterwheels, across the road from National Trust Bridge House at the northern end of town. Picture: Nina Claridge.

Kysty

Kysty

Run by the same family who own the nearby Michelin starred Old Stamp House, this ‘neighbourhood bistro’ puts local and seasonal at the heart of its menu. Look out for Herdwick lamb, beef from the Solway plain and fish and shellfish from Cumbria’s coastal waters. Kysty - the word rhymes with feisty not misty - is open in the evenings from Tuesday-Saturday and for lunch on Saturday. When you get here you can read on the wall what Kysty means.

www.kysty.co.uk

Lake Road Kitchen

Lake Road Kitchen

‘In a few short years’, Lake Road Kitchen has ‘become one of the area’s outstanding go-to destinations,’ says the Good Food Guide 2020 which places the restaurant at number 26 in its list of the top 50 restaurants in the UK. Opened in 2014 by James Cross, Lake Road Kitchen offers two main menus of eight and 12 servings and a shortened version of five servings. Dinner only is served, from Wednesday-Sunday. Check the website for a sample menu.

www.lakeroadkitchen.co.uk

The Old Stamp House

The Old Stamp House

Poet William Wordsworth’s old office - when he was Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland - is the setting for this Michelin starred restaurant where the cooking is described as ‘triumphant’ by the Good Food Guide 2020. Head chef Ryan Blackburn is a great ambassador for Cumbrian produce so look forward to dishes using Herdwick hogget, Ravenglass crab and Cumbrian gingerbread. Temporarily closed.

www.oldstamphouse.com

Fred’s Ambleside Bookshop

Fred’s Ambleside Bookshop

If you want to find out more about Ambleside and the Lake District, head for one of Cumbria’s best known independent bookshops. Fred’s takes its name from the original owner, Fred Holdsworth, who opened here in 1956 ‘with minimal stock and maximum enthusiasm’. Arthur Ransome used to pop in occasionally; his books are sold in hard back, with original dust jackets. There’s plenty of fiction too and a children’s/teenage book section.

www.fredsamblesidebookshop.co.uk

Rothay Manor

Rothay Manor

It certainly says a lot for Rothay Manor in that it’s one of only four hotels to have been featured in every edition of the Good Hotel Guide since first being published in the 1970s. Located on the edge of town, it has 19 individually styled bedrooms exuding ‘modern country house charm’. Four of them are dog-friendly. Make sure you try the three AA rosette restaurant where the cooking, says the Good Hotel Guide 2020, is a ‘class act’. Or come for afternoon tea.

www.rothaymanor.co.uk

Nanny Brow

Nanny Brow

About a mile (1.6km) outside Ambleside is this five star, gold award B&B, AA Guest Accommodation of the Year (England) 2017-2018. The 14 bedroom property stands on a crag, with glorious views down the Brathay Valley to the Langdale Fells. Things look pretty good inside too, the 1904-designed home full of Arts and Crafts features: tiled fireplaces, plasterwork friezes, oak panelling and such like. Breakfast is a feast, with most food sourced from within 20 miles (32km)

www.nannybrow.co.uk

Randy Pike and The Jupiter House

Randy Pike and The Jupiter House

Even if you forget the name - although that’s pretty unlikely - you'll never forget the space and splendour of Randy Pike and its three luxurious suites. There’s another suite next door as well in The Jupiter House, characterised by the same lavish colours, richly textured designer fabrics and slight eccentricity. Breakfasts are fit for a king or queen. Owners Andy and Chrissy Hill also have the Jumble Room restaurant at Grasmere, itself in the Good Food Guide 2020.

www.randypike.co.uk

Ambleside Manor

Ambleside Manor

A short walk from the centre of town brings you to this much liked vegetarian B&B. It’s in the same family ownership as Zeffirellis and Fellinis in Ambleside and another vegetarian B&B called Yewfield Country Guest House, near Hawkshead. The 19th century building has 16 ensuite double/twin bedrooms and is very comfortably furnished with designer fabrics and log fires in the lounge and dining room. Two acres (0.8ha) of grounds.

www.ambleside-manor.co.uk

Waterhead

Waterhead

A few steps away from the lake shore at Waterhead is this four star townhouse hotel where almost half of the 41 bedrooms overlook the water. Built originally in the expectation that the railway line would be extended northwards from Windermere to Keswick, Waterhead was taken over in 1975 by English Lakes Hotels and transformed into the boutique hotel that’s here today. Downstairs is the Waterhead Bar & Grill, the hotel’s restaurant and bar.

www.englishlakes.co.uk/waterhead

Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa

Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa

‘The Lake District’s first world class resort’ is the billing for this 131 bedroom destination, just outside Ambleside, right beside the lake. Massive investment over the last few years - little short of £20 million - has transformed the hotel, adding the 29 bedroom Club House, a terrific spa and health club, the Blue Smoke on the Bay restaurant and the welcoming Atrium with its great views across the water to the Langdale Pikes.

www.englishlakes.co.uk/low-wood-bay

Walks

Walks

If you’re looking for a walk and some elevation around Ambleside, here are three possibilities. Picture: Nina Claridge.

Loughrigg FellNorth west of the town is Loughrigg Fell, a wide fell criss-crossed by numerous paths so you can wander around and pick your vantage point. Head out of town via Rothay Park and Miller Bridge. That’s the best route for Todd Crag from where there are cracking views of Windermere.

Wansfell PikeOne mile (1.6km) east of Ambleside is Wansfell Pike, a popular fell because of its fine views. The obvious route from the town is up past Stockghyll Force, followed by a steepish fellside climb to Wansfell. If you’ve got time and puff head further east, picking up Nanny Lane on your way into Troutbeck village.

High Sweden Bridge — Less than two miles (3.2km) north of Ambleside is the old packhorse bridge over Scandale Beck called High Sweden Bridge. A path from Sweden Bridge Lane (just off Kirkstone Road) takes you all the way there. It’s a good three mile (4.8km) walk for those wanting a taste of the fells without too much exertion. If three miles aren’t enough, carry on from High Sweden Bridge and have a go at the Fairfield Horseshoe, eight summits in about 11 miles (17.7km) of walking. Fairfield itself has steep sides to its north and west.

Stay connected

Keep up to date with all the latest news from the LAKE DISTRICT travel guide.

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.