In a nutshell
Seven new barn-like buildings on the shore of Windermere are set around a wet dock that enables boats to glide straight onto the lake. Beatrix Potter’s homemade wooden rowing boat faces record-breaking hydroplanes and polished teak and picnic baskets sit next to pioneering speedboats. It’s an extraordinary collection, mostly gathered (over decades) by steam enthusiast George Pattinson.
One corner is dedicated to Swallows and Amazons, with author Arthur Ransome’s sketchbook and the swallow flag from his dinghy. It’s a museum but also an immersive experience, with optional vintage cruises (book in advance) and an onsite workshop where you can watch old boats being restored.
My son was impressed by an onboard Windermere kettle (a steam-powered tea urn), which can boil five litres of water in 10 seconds – it uses steam from the ship’s boiler. There are several of these copper urns on show.
Best thing about it
Giant windows look out across water and wooded islands towards the misty western shores of Windermere – so framed views become part of the exhibition. Don’t miss the treehouse on one small island or the tall, distinctive cormorants watching from dead branches on another.
What about lunch?
With good, local food and spectacular views, the cafe is going to be popular. Arrive before the crowds and order soup (£5), stews, salads (£8.50) and sarnies. “Little skippers” can eat simple pasta dishes (£4.50) or a pizza deal with crisps, cake and juice, milk or Fruit Shoot (£6). There are mouth-watering platters for £9: the Boatman’s with ham, tangy Brant Fell cheese and so on, or the Fisherman’s (including locally smoked salmon). There is plenty here for vegans, too, including roast veg sandwiches (£7.50) and Cumbrian potato cakes (£3.50). More choices in nearby Bowness.
Exit through the gift shop?
Yes, and enter through it, too. There are classic Lakeland souvenirs of the fudge and Kendal mint cake variety, plus nautical books and toys for all ages: from wooden boats, pirate telescopes and cuddly otters to knot-tying kits and Victorian compasses.
Parking (£4 extra) is limited and the museum encourages visitors to arrive by public transport, bike (there are racks) or on foot. Windermere railway station – on a short branch line from Oxenholme – is two miles away; you can hire a taxi or rent bikes at the station. The hourly 599 open-top bus stops at the Royalty Cinema, a 10-minute stroll from the museum. Best of all, from 6 April you can arrive by boat with Windermere Lake Cruises.
March to October, 10am-5pm daily (cafe hours same); November to February, 10.30am-4pm (cafe 10am-4pm).
Value for money
Adult £9, 5-15 £7, under 4s free, family (with 1 or 2 adults and up to 3 children) £18 or £27. Heritage boat trips an extra £10pp. The museum itself is reasonable value compared with similar paying attractions but how long kids will want to spend there depends on how much the (many) displays appeal to them: a couple of ships’ toilets, an interactive video about steam engines, an ancient steamboat rescued from the bottom of Ullswater by divers etc. Combined with a Red Cruise from Bowness around Windermere (£55 joint family ticket) with another stop at the Lake District national park’s Brockhole activity centre, it could be part of a great – though pricey – day out.
Windermere Jetty is a beautiful place with interesting things to look at, and a much-needed all-weather destination for families on holiday in often rainy Cumbria. As another parent remarked: “If they’re too big for Beatrix Potter, it’s this or Derwent Pencil Museum.”
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