Windermere's Western Shore and Claife Viewing Station

Map of Windermere, 1875
We decided to brave the autumnal weather and get some fresh air, heading to the quieter side of Lake Windermere to avoid the crowds.

The day's main attraction was Claife Viewing Station, recently restored by the National Trust and now open to the public.

Viewing stations became popular in the Lake District as tourism took off in the late 18th century: they gave visitors a place with a guarantee of a 'sublime' view. There were soon dozens of locations across the region and, as the picturesque movement grew, the stations became more sophisticated and included special features to enhance the views.

Early guide-books, especially those by William Gilpin (1772) and Thomas West (1776), list the viewing stations with detailed descriptions of what to expect at each.

Claife Viewing Tower was built in the 1790s when lakes tourism was still in its infancy. From its elevated position visitors could look out onto Windermere from the various windows of its first floor drawing room and enjoy different 'picturesque' views across the water.

As well as being different shapes and offering different views, the windows featured coloured glass to enhance these views and simulate a range of seasons and weather. Green was to simulate spring, orange for autumn, violet for a thunder storm and dark blue for moonlight.

Claife Heights Viewing Tower
View across Lake Windermere from first floor platform
View down the lake from first floor window
... the same view with the Victorian simulated autumn tint
The Station was an immediate hit with the early tourists but became most fashionable from the 1830s when the unrest in Europe meant that rich English tourists had to abandon their Grand Tours and take to the wilderness of the English Lakes instead. But fashion comes and goes and the viewing stations fell out of use towards the end of the 19th century.

In ruins for over 100 years, today the tower has been partly restored and the surrounding woodland has been thinned to allow visitors to enjoy those same views as the 19th century tourists.

Leaving the station we took the path north along the lakeside towards Wray Castle. The views across the lake were dramatic, even more so because of the glowering dark sky. Along the way we saw some cows come down to the water for a drink.
View up the lake towards Belle Isle
The dark skies didn't feel like August
Thirsty cows