Max Length: 18.08 km (11.23 mi)
Max Width: 1.49 km (0.93 mi)
Surface Area: 14.73 km2 (5.69 sq mi)
Max Depth: 66.76 m (219.0 ft)
Surface Elevation: 39 m (128 ft)
Windermere is the largest natural lake in England. It is a ribbon lake formed in a glacial trough after the retreat of ice at the start of the current interglacial period. It has been one of the country’s most popular places for holidays and summer homes since the arrival of the Kendal and Windermere Railway’s branch line in 1847. Historically forming part of the border between Lancashire and Westmorland, it is now within the county of Cumbria and the Lake District National Park.
Windermere is long and narrow, like many other ribbon lakes, and lies in a steep-sided pre-glacial river valley that has become deepened by successive glaciations. The current lake was formed after the Last Glacial Maximum during the retreat of the British and Irish Ice Sheet some time between 17,000 and 14,700 years ago, just before the start of the Windermere Interstadial. The lake water was sourced from the meltwater of retreating ice in the catchment, which receded up the Troutbeck valley and up the valleys that now contain the rivers Rothay and Brathay. There were at least nine ice retreat phases, indicated by buried recessional moraines. The lake has two separate basins – north and south – with different characteristics influenced by the geology. This consists of hard volcanic rocks in the north basin and softer shales in the south.
The lake is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven. It is replenished by the rivers Brathay, Rothay, Trout Beck, Cunsey Beck and several other lesser streams. The lake is largely surrounded by foothills of the Lake District which provide pleasant low-level walks; to the north and northeast are the higher fells of central Lakeland.
There is debate as to whether the stretch of water between Newby Bridge and Lakeside at the southern end of the lake should be considered part of Windermere, or a navigable stretch of the River Leven. This affects the stated length of the lake, which is 18.08 km (11.23 mi) long if measured from the bridge at Newby Bridge, or 16.9 km (10.5 mi) if measured from Lakeside. The lake varies in width up to a maximum of 1.49 km (0.93 mi), and covers an area of 14.73 km2 (5.69 sq mi). With a maximum depth of 66.7 m (219 ft) and an elevation above sea level of 39 m (128 ft), the lowest point of the lake bed is well below sea level.
There is only one town or village directly on the lakeshore, Bowness-on-Windermere, as the village of Windermere does not directly touch the lake and the centre of Ambleside is one mile (1.6 km) to the north of Waterhead. The village of Windermere is about 20 minutes’ walk from Millerground, the nearest point on the lakeshore. It did not exist before the arrival of the railway in 1847. The station was built in an area of open fell and farmland in the township of Applethwaite. The nearest farm was Birthwaite, which gave its name to the station and the village that began to grow up near it. In about 1859, the residents began to call their new village by the name of Windermere, much to the chagrin of the people of Bowness, which had been the centre of the parish of Windermere for many centuries. Since 1907 the two places have been under one council and, although there are still two separate centres, the area between is largely built up, albeit bordering on woodland and open fields. Windermere railway station is a hub for train and bus connections to the surrounding areas and is 1 1⁄4 miles (2 km) from the Waterbus jetty. There is a regular train service to Oxenholme on the West Coast Main Line, where there are fast trains to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester Airport, Birmingham and London.