Kendal and the Lakes: Pt 4 – Ambleside, Cumbria

We soon arrived at our next destination, the town of Ambleside, just a mile or two from the Northern end of Lake Windermere. We pulled up in the town centre, and set out to explore…

Ambleside:

Status: South Lakeland District, Cumbria (Historically Westmorland), Town, England

Date: 05/06/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Greggs

Attractions: St Mary’s Church, Market Hall, War Memorial, Museum & Library, Old Police Station, Market Cross, Shopping Centre, River Rothay, Lake Windermere, Wordsworth’s Office, Rotary Club Wishing Well, Central Buildings etc

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To explore the town, we did a circular route from the car, round through the main streets and past the major buildings, circling back around to the car via the one way system which provides a nice planned out route you can take around the town centre. I mentioned in my Grasmere post about the local slate being mined in the Lake District, and it has been put to good use in the many towns and villages that inhabit the National Park, including here in Ambleside.

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Just off the main road, on Church Street, we came across a plaque on the side of an old building, which states that the building is:

“The office of William Wordsworth as distributor of stamps for Westmorland March 1813 to July 1843”

I mentioned Wordsworth in my Grasmere post, as he lived in the village for 14 years and his house is now open as a Museum, called Dove Cottage, on the outskirts of the village. He lived and worked in the Lake District, and was born in 1770, in the town of Cockermouth. After moving around various places, his final home was Rydal Mount, a house in the village of Rydal very close to Ambleside. He lived here from 1813 until his death in 1850.

It was in 1813 that he was appointed as the Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and he lived happily in the area with his wife Dorothy. Wordsworth is of course well known for introducing the Romantic Age in England starting with “Lyrical Ballads” a collection of poems written by both Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834, friend of Wordsworth) which were very different from previous poems, in their Romantic nature, something which has triumphed ever since.

Wordsworth often said that he considered the Great Lakes to be his office rather than a building, but he spent a lot of time here in Ambleside, and is a much loved resident.

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Continuing along the loop, we passed more impressive slate houses, as well as one building in particular that caught my interest, the one just before the buildings with the large white jutting out windows. This is the Old Police Station, built in 1882. I think there is also another building, on Rydal Road which is the main road into the town, which is also a former Police Station, and has a studded door on the front.

Looking at the original building, it blends in perfectly with the surrounding houses, and it was quite by chance that I noticed the plaque at the top of the building with the name and date. I am unsure when exactly the building changed hands, but if I find out any more information I shall update the post.

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Meeting the next main road, we came across the town green, inhabited by a Golf Course, in a nice picturesque part of town. St Mary’s Church is visible in the background, and green foliage and trees surround the course. If we had had longer in the town I might have been tempted to try a game, to enjoy the cool air and the fantastic scenery whilst playing the most popular of tourist sports, mini golf.

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Outside of the Golf Course was a seemingly normal looking bench, where you could stop and relax, watching the world go by. Upon closer inspection however, there is a plaque on the back rest, which reads:

“Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Presented to Ambleside Urban District Council.”

My first thought was that it was presented in 2012 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, but then I realised that it says Ambleside Urban District Council, which no longer exists administratively as the town is now in South Lakeland District. Some research soon told me it was formed in 1894, and abolished in 1935. This means that the plaque must have been gifted in 1897, when Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901), the previous British Monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, made it to this impressive milestone. Whilst I am sure that the Bench has been replaced a number of times since 1897, the Plaque itself is in good condition, and it’s nice to see a reference like this, and later on in this post you will find out why the Victorians were so important to the overall development of Ambleside.

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Looking across the road from the Golf Course, there are more of the beautiful slate houses, the occupants of which are afforded a grand view over the green and towards the Church. What better way to unwind than to nip over to the Golf Course for a quick play, then settle down to enjoy the sweeping views. The Church Spire is visible from most places in the town, and was our next port of call.

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We wandered round to St Mary’s and gazed in awe from the churchyard entrance at the giant construction in front of us. This isn’t the first Church in the area, so to find out where St Mary’s history begins, we have to go back to 1550, when an old Chapel called St Annes was constructed. A new Chapel was built in 1812, but became redundant in 1854 when, due to the increased number of visitors with the opening of the railway here in 1847, the present Church was constructed, complete with Spire.

The design was by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Gothic Architect), and was consecrated in 1854, as St Marys Church. St Mary was the daughter of St Anne, so it’s a sort of passing of the torch through history. In 1940 the original Chapel was consecrated by King George VI (1895 – 1952). Aside from a large fire in 1953 which destroyed the Clock in the tower, the building has remained the same ever since, although St Anne’s Chapel was later converted into apartments.

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Above is one of the newer developments in the town, a small Shopping Outlet from 1997, which replaces the old Bus Station, demolished a number of years ago. There are various high street shops, and it’s a pleasant area for shopping and relaxation.

At the front of the complex is what appears at first glance to be a fountain or a shrine. It is in fact a Wishing Well, where visitors are encouraged to put change in and make a wish, on behalf of the Rotary Club of Ambleside Kirkstone. It’s a fun idea, and I am glad that both the Shopping Outlet and the Well have both been built in the same kind of Slate that typifies the rest of the town, so that they blend in well and appear to be original features.

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Walking through this area of the town, it really hits you how close the mountains and hills of the Lake District are, with the town nestled in a valley between them. As with both Keswick and Grasmere, most directions you look out of the town you will see a large hill looming over you, which makes the Lake District so amazing, being in the centre of nature yet working with it.

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Directly across from the Shopping Outlet are a number of Landmarks, the most prominent being the Market Cross. It was during the English Civil War that the first charter was granted to the town, in 1650, giving it the right to hold a Market. King Charles I (1600 – 1649) was deposed in 1649 and executed, with the Parliamentarians and Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) taking over. The Monarchy was eventually restored in 1660 when King Charles II (1630 – 1685) took over, and his successor, King James II (1633 – 1701), granted a second charter to Ambleside, which enabled it to collect tolls.

The Market Place was then the centre of the town, where a lot of local trading took place. Behind the Cross is a set of shops called Central Buildings, built in Victorian times, along with much of the rest of Ambleside, which was originally only a small town, however the sheer volume of tourists and it’s growing popularity caused the town to be expanded substantially. At the front of Central Buildings is the Tourist Information Office, where you can get information about the town and the local area.

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The loop finally returned us to our start point, as we had parked outside the impressive Market Hall, shown above. Again it is a Victorian Building, from 1863. I mentioned before about the building boom in the Victorian era, and it continues here as many old buildings were demolished, including the old Market Hall, allowing for a new, grander building.

If you look below the main “The Market Hall” sign, you might spot that it is in fact inhabited by a Thai Restaurant now, although this only takes up the bottom floor. It’s a beautiful building, as are most throughout the town, and although it’s a shame that some of the very old buildings were taken down to make way for new ones by the Victorians, they definitely did a good job in designing the new town.

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Across the road from the Market Hall stands the Queens Hotel, which is proudly flying three flags, which are, from left to right:

The Coat of Arms of the County of Cumberland

Cumberland County Flag

Westmorland County Flag

Whilst Ambleside is actually in Westmorland, the three countries of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland historically met not far from here, near Oxen Fell. The northern detached part of Lancashire, along with Cumberland and Westmorland now make up Cumbria, but their local identity has recently emerged and become much more prominent.

Elsewhere, a river called the Under Loughrigg runs through the town, meeting up with the river Rothay, that nears the end of it’s long journey from Threlkeld, through Grasmere Lake and on to Windermere just past Ambleside. You could also visit the Armitt Library & Museum, founded in 1909 by Mary Louisa Armitt, showing off an impressive collection of paintings by a German artist called Kurt Schwitters, as well as over 10,000 books in the main Library. The most famous patron of the Museum was Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943, famous English Author who created Peter Rabbit), and her own personal copies of the books she wrote can also be found in the Museum.

Ambleside is a great little town, with the town centre very well co-ordinated by the Victorians as well as modern day architects who have made sure that all new buildings fit in perfectly. The Northern end of Lake Windermere is at the bottom of the town, with Steamers running from there round to towns along the Lakeside including Bowness-on-Windermere. Local buses run around the area, and it is ideally located in the centre of the Lake District, with endless scenery.

Ambleside is a perfect place to visit if you are exploring the Lake District, with a trip on Windermere a must. Incidentally, Bowness-on-Windermere was our next stop, on the shores of the largest Lake in England…

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