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For many, Windermere encapsulates everything that is so special about the Lake District. Walks around Windermere place you in a land of herdwick sheep, drystone walls, rough hills backed by brooding mountains, chocolate-box villages, endless hiking trails and one magnificent lake.
In fact, Windermere is England’s largest natural lake. This glacial remnant of the Ice Age stretches in a thin ribbon for almost eleven miles (18 km) from the quiet pastures of Lakeside in the south to vibrant Ambleside and the glorious mountain country in the north. Discover a web of superb lakeside and woodland trails that take you to viewpoints of awe-inspiring magnificence.If hillwalking is your thing, hikes around Windermere rival some of the finest in the country. Though not easy on the knees, they’re always a feast for the eyes and wonderfully accessible. Experience huge views from towering horseshoe routes or explore the atmospheric caves, sparkling tarns and mountain ridges found near Ambleside. There is no shortage of mountain adventure.
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The most mountainous hikes around Windermere set out from the outdoor mecca of Ambleside, nestled just beyond the lake’s northern shore. The town is a terrific base for all things hiking related, with cosy tea rooms, hiking themed pubs and more gear shops than you can shake an ice axe at.
Wansfell’s ridge is deservedly popular and easily accessed from the town, offering magnificent views right down Windermere’s throat. Magical Loughrigg Fell is like the centre of a wheel with valleys radiating outwards like spokes. This results in sumptuous panoramas from its modest, 1,099-foot (335 m) perch. For something more epic, the Fairfield Horseshoe is a classic hike with very few technical difficulties. The peak bagger in you will be sated by no less than eight Wainwright summits, so it’s fair to say it is a strenuous outing.
Many of the best hiking trails around Windermere take you to exceptional panoramic viewpoints overlooking both the lake and the fells that beautifully span the horizon. On the eastern shore is the bustling Bowness-on-Windermere which joins to Windermere town itself. Both make great bases for lakeside exploration and have many options for that all important ice cream. It is worth noting that the trails here are some of the busiest in the national park, especially during public holidays and the summer.
The lakeside is richly veined with paths that take you alongside classic Lakeland scenes, like jetties that stretch out over the water with a backdrop of distant ridges. As you leave the population centres, woodland gives way to small but prominent hills, such as Orrest Head where Alfred Wainwright, the legendary guidebook writer, had his first experience of the Lake District. The vista from the 780-foot (238 m) summit was, for him, a life-changing moment.
Explore more of Cumbria: Browse the best Hikes in other regions.