Why Claife Viewing Station is one of the five best places to experience Windermere
- Credit: Steven Barber
A Georgian structure that echoes the start of Lake District tourism has been renovated as a new attraction, writes Roger Borrell
Back in the 1770s, when William Wordsworth was a nipper and Lake District tourism was in its infancy, a man called Thomas West wrote the first of what website nerds would refer to today as a listicle.
Long before the likes of Buzzfeed were writing such articles, Mr West came up with something practical for the small numbers of people plucking up the courage to visit what was regarded as Britain’s great wilderness.
His guidebook listed the five best places to view Windermere and one of them was Claife Viewing Station, which is on the west side of the lake not far from Hawkshead.
This beautiful spot started life as a summer house for a local clergyman before becoming a grander affair, referred to a ‘Pleasure House’ and owned by the Curwen family, who owned Belle Isle, Windermere’s only inhabited island. It was a scene of parties, dancing and assorted theatricals.
A rocky promontory was chosen as its site because it is one of the few places to glimpse the lakeshore villas of the eastern shore of Windermere, in contrast to the western side, much of which is in the care of the National Trust and is largely undeveloped.
Now restored after a programme lasting two years, it has become the National Trust’s latest visitor attraction. It allows the 21st century tourist to share the sense of wonder that must have been experienced by the Georgian travellers as they took a first glimpse of this wild vista. An Aeolian wind harp and coloured viewing glass add to the atmosphere.
Stonemasons from the National Trust, building teams, volunteers and rangers, plus many local tradesmen have used their skills to both conserve and breathe new life into one of the Lake District’s earliest attractions.
‘With the new viewing platform in place and the courtyard café open, today’s visitors can experience what it would have been like for the very first tourists to the Lake District over 200 years ago,’ said John Moffat of the National Trust.
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‘It’s now the perfect place to walk, paint or just relax and take in the view. And with Wray Castle at one end of the Windermere west shore path and the Viewing Station at the other, it makes a great day out on foot or on your bike.’
Visitors are encouraged to re-create the original experience by taking a boat trip across Windermere to either Wray Castle or Ferry House. The Victorian tea room is now operating as a café.
Without Napoleon we might have been deprived of this pleasure. The little local difficulty he caused across Europe meant that English travellers were forced to abandon The Grand Tour and start exploring their own country - an early form of ‘staycation.’ w
You can find out more about Claife by logging on to www.nationaltrust.org.uk