Whisk yourself away to the popular lake’s quiet western shore, where a dreamy world of reedbeds and pine forests inspired Beatrix Potter, says Daniel Start
“Perhaps Beatrix Potter took inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin here”
England’s most famous lake is many people’s introduction to the Lake District. The heady mix of attractions, boat trips, country parks and scenic drives concentrates most visitors to the towns dotted on the lake’s eastern shore.
The quieter western shore and craggy hinterland is less-visited. This intriguing landscape of woodland and tarns, back roads and dreamy views is in sharp contrast to the east. It’s here amid the forest and bluffs that lovers of wildlife will find much to seek out.
And it was here that Beatrix Potter found inspiration for her timeless books, with 2016 marking the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth. There’s plenty to see and do all year but here are a few enchanting autumnal highlights.
The Leven drains Windermere south to the sea. At Newby Bridge, a graceful, curving weir is a great place to catch sight of leaping salmon forging their way upstream. There’s a fish-ladder at its eastern end, and a handy viewing platform; autumn is the peak time for the salmon ‘run’. Sea trout also run the Leven in growing numbers. Eels are another migratory species that use the ladder or the specially designed bristle mat; expect ‘glass eels’ (juveniles) in late spring heading upstream; mature eels move seawards in summer.
Above the western end of the cross-lake ferry, colourful woodlands of pine and broadleaf clothe the crags. Paths criss-cross this beautiful countryside, home to some of England’s last red squirrels. Perhaps Beatrix Potter took inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin here at the pine-fringed tarns she later donated to the National Trust. They’re shy creatures but a good place to spot them is by the nut feeders that are kept topped up to supplement their diet. Several of the waymarked trails from the Ash Landing car park near the ferry terminal pass these feeding sites. Look for crossbills in the pines, too.
Esthwaite Water lies in a serene vale between Claife Heights and Hawkshead Moor. It’s unusual in being privately owned, with very limited access to its shoreline. Potter’s long-suffering frog, Jeremy Fisher, lived here; today’s visitors might just hear the elusive bitterns that hunt in the reedbeds along its shores. Much more visible are ospreys, and you may even spot the odd otter as well. You can absorb much of this wildlife paradise by taking the helm of an electric boat for a selfconducted tour (www. ospreysafari.com).
Fir plantations and native woodland feather the rugged landscape between Esthwaite and Coniston Water. Grizedale Forest is largely a product of planting a century ago. The name is Norse for ‘valley of the wild boar’, although it’s not home to any today. Instead, red kite drift over the canopy on the breeze in search of carrion. These majestic raptors were reintroduced in 2010 and have bred successfully; nearly 100 birds may now be resident. Keep an eye out for red and roe deer – autumn marks their rutting season, making these timid creatures easier to spot but if they prove elusive, seek out the forest’s fine sculptures.
Salmon and eels, as well as 18 islands, can be found in the waters of England’s largest natural lake; while deer, squirrel, crossbills and bitterns inhabit its surroundings