On approach, there is a subtlety to the exterior of the Windermere Jetty Museum, designed intentionally to blend into the landscape and lakeshore.
The museum began life in 1977, bought to life by local enthusiast George Pattinson who was proud to showcase his collection of boats that he had rescued and restored that would help paint a broader picture of life along the shores of Windermere.
Local charity Lakeland Arts took over running the site (then called the Windermere Steamboat Museum) in 2007 and made extensive renovations before reopening in Spring 2019. The museum was nominated for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture in 2021 for its modern and innovative design.
I love how the copper cladding has been used to reflect the site’s former industrial heritage and will age and change appearance in response to both time and weather, serving as a bridge to both past and present.
The Main Gallery
The first area you enter in the museam is wide and expansive, housing a number of boats, boat machinery and a flying plane.
Each area explores different aspects connected to the lake: speed, the spirit of adventure, a life of luxury and how the popularity of trips to Windermere grew with the advent of the industrial revolution and a feeder train line from Kendal to Windermere. New residents showed off their wealth by purchasing steamboats like the ones displayed in the gallery. Little snippets written and audio snippets of people’s stories bring the exhibition to life.
Also on display were the original notes and sketchbooks of the author Arthur Ransom, who wrote the famous children’s books Swallows and Amazons, inspired by previous visits to the Lake District and especially at Coniston Water.
One of my favourite exhibitions was the simple, lovingly restored rowing boat that was owned by Beatrix Potter, which she sailed on Moss Eccles Tarn, a short walk from her home at Hilltop.
The Changing Exhibition Space
The next room houses a temporary exhibition space that changes every few months. Previous exhibitions have included Wrecked, which dived into the details of Windermere’s most intriguing shipwrecks.
When I visited earlier this year, the current display was Forty Farms from local photographer and farmer Amy Bateman, who spent a year documenting forty of Cumbria’s farms, from large-scale industrial production to small holdings making cheese and ice cream.
The Conservation Workshop
After the exhibition space, you can step outside to visit the wide-open observation windows of the conservation workshop and watch the boats being restored in real life. A blackboard documents the current boats being worked on as well as a detailed breakdown of how historic vessels are conserved and maintained.
If you visit in the morning, you can join a free talk at 11.30 led by one of the skilled boat team and learn more in detail about how the boats are looked after in the workshop.
The final part of the exhibition leads you into the boathouse, which was common in previous times along the shores of Windermere and was used to house steamboats, yachts and rowing boats.
The boats on display here often change and include ones restored by the museum staff and guest boats from local owners and collectors. A notable boat on display during my visit was the vessel used to film the recent BBC adaptation of Swallows and Amazons, which had to be small yet sturdy to carry both a film crew and allow the children to be able to sail it.
The Boating Lake and Heritage Boat Trips
Adjacent to the cafe is a small boating lake, where you can try your hand at sailing the model yachts.
If being out on the water is more your thing, you can also choose to go on a heritage boat trip (an additional £10 for adults) to enjoy the splendour of the boats from days gone by.
With panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the Windermere Jetty Museum cafe is my favourite in the Lake District.
The menu has a tasty selection of home-cooked lunches, sandwiches and cakes (I have a particular soft spot for the huge cheese scones!)
There is plenty of outdoor seating, and even a few old boats have been used to provide shelter which provide sweeping panormic views across Windermere and the neighbouring hills.
You can also access just the cafe and the gift shop without needing to buy an admission ticket – there is a separate entrance to the cafe to the right of the museum.
When I first heard about the Windermere Jetty Museum, I’ll be honest and thought that it potentially sounded a bit niche and perhaps a bit dry – but actually, I loved my visit and ended up staying most of the day, browsing the exhibitions and having a long lazy lunch. I love how the museum is bought to life by the people’s stories, both past and present.
I also love the sense of calm spaciousness that runs through the museum; it feels so refreshing from the often busy crowds of the Lake District.
It is a great way to spend a day in the Lake District (especially if it’s rainy!) and immerse yourself in England’s largest lake’s history.
Just note, this post isn’t sponsored in any way – I paid for my admission and just love sharing about places I love around the Lakes!
Read More: The best 12 cafes in the Lake District
Plan your visit
Opening Times The Windermere Jetty is open every day (except Christmas and a short break in January for restoration) from 10 am-5 pm (April to October) and until 4 pm (November to March)
Tickets can be purchased in advance online or on the day (subject to availability). Adult ticket prices (as of 2023) are £9 each (this is an annual pass so that you can return again!), £7 for students and £4.50 for children aged 5-15.
You can find the most up-to-date prices and opening times here.
Parking The museum is a 5-minute drive from Bowness, and parking is free for up to 4 hours with an admission ticket.
Public Transport Bus You can also access the museum by the 599 bus that runs between Grasmere and Bowness; alight at the Royalty Cinema in Bownes, where it is a short 15-minute walk. Turn left on Longlands Road, follow the road down past the Rugby Club, and then left again at Millbeckstock, signposted Rayrigg Road. Follow the path downhill and cross over the main road to find the entrance.
Public Transport Boat If you are visiting in summer, why not arrive by boat? The museam is a 12-minute walk from Bowness Pier. A select number of red route services run between Ambleside and Bowness also stop at the Jetty pier – you can find out more information here.
Read more tips about visiting the Lake District here…
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