Of all the discoveries Robin Copland made in 2016, Lake Windermere tops his list for a return visit in 2017.
It was the traffic more than anything. This is a busy place! But busy in a good way — maybe bustling would be a better word; bustling in a holiday kind of a way, which is far better than the M8 at 7.30am or the city rush hour.
We were in Bowness on Lake Windermere, having driven down from Edinburgh. After checking into our bed and breakfast, we went into the town to look around and have a meal. We had arrived towards the end of the season but still had to search for somewhere to eat (note to self: book the next time!). The pavements were pleasantly full, as were the pubs and wine bars. There was a real atmosphere about the town. People having fun, relaxing. Great.
The area round the pier was busy as well, although the ships that day had long ceased sailing. That was for tomorrow.
The problem when your partner is less keen on your passion than you is that you are rationed. It is not that she will not come on a sail with me; it’s just that she is not that enamoured to want to do it more than once on a holiday. I have to pick my sail thoughtfully. Eventually we opted for a sail to Lakeside at the south end of the lake, there to connect to a steam train travelling three or four miles up a preserved line to Haverthwaite station. If we were lucky, this would mean a sail on two different lake steamers and that is exactly how it turned out.
The piers at Bowness (there are, in reality, two of them — it is almost like a miniature Craigendoran) were busy both with intending passengers and those who were there just to have a look and take in the atmosphere. Sitting beside the main pier, laid up in serried ranks on the beach, were rowing and motor boats for hire. If you are lucky, you may see two of the bigger steamers sitting on either side of the pier.
The fares are reasonable and you can book on the day beside the pier or in advance on the easy-to-understand website. An £11 ticket buys you a return cruise to Lakeside and £15.80 includes a trip on the steam train — well worth the extra money.
As your ship approaches, you are allowed onto the pier itself. If you get too close to the working area, you are gently and politely shooed out of the way, but nonetheless you are ‘up close and personal’ and can watch how the seasoned crew and pier staff all work together to bring their charge alongside.
As we were waiting for MV Teal, we had the added bonus of seeing her sister ship MV Swan manoeuvre off the pier before setting out on her cruise to the northern end of the lake. She was berthed bow-in, so used ropes and the pier to cant herself round.
Swan was built in 1938, two years after Teal, on which we sailed to Lakeside.
They are both comfortably appointed with plentiful space outside and inside in case of inclement weather. They both have a shop stocked with books, magazines, snacks, drinks and confectionery.
Teal gently approached and tied up. We boarded over a short ramp at the stern (no problems with tides and the like — a short ramp on board ship is lowered onto the pier) and made an immediate beeline for the bow and the comfortable wooden seats just in front of the bridge, from where the lake and its surrounds can best be viewed. The cruise to Lakeside takes about 40 minutes.
As she approaches the pier there, the ship turns through 180 degrees so that she is pointing the right way for her return journey. Just round the corner from the pier, there is the station and, if you are on one of the connecting cruises, you will see the steam train ahead of its rake of carriages gently spluttering, wheezing and squeaking ready for the off.
Victor, as our steam engine was called, huffed and puffed, and gradually the train picked up speed and rattled and rolled its way along the restored line to Haverthwaite. You can choose to stay for a while — there are adjacent pubs and restaurants — or return immediately. We chose to stay for a snack and a drink before making our way back along the line to Lakeside. On reflection I am glad we did, because it meant we saw the lovely MV Tern of 1891 gently approach the pier to take us back to Bowness.
Stepping on board Tern is stepping back in time. If Swan and Teal are mid-1930s ships built at roughly the same time as the LMS paddler twins Mercury/Caledonia or Jupiter/Juno, Tern is in a different category altogether. Sir Walter Scott (without her ugly deckhouse) would be the nearest equivalent in Scotland, I suppose.
This time, we boarded amidships. The main deck is almost entirely covered but open at the sides; the best of both worlds. Dress warmly and enjoy! We sat unashamedly facing out over the lake and didn’t move from our seats (I am sorry to say), so I have nothing to tell you about the ship other than I was entranced and have vowed to go back — and back — and back again.
Graceful, timeless, quiet, unhurried; you somehow enter a different world when you board her and I was almost surprised not to see gentlemen dressed in tweed suits and the ladies twirling their parasols. I wonder why I waited these 62 years to go for my first sail on her. I really suggest a diversion to Windermere and the Lake District sometime in 2017.
Further information from Windermere Lake Cruises 015394 43360