Win­der­mere

More than 13 years af­ter the 10-knot speed limit, opin­ion is still di­vided over the out­come, as Rob Melotti re­ports

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Sail­ing the still wa­ters of Eng­land’s big­gest lake

The weather is a peren­nial topic of con­ver­sa­tion on hol­i­day in the Lake Dis­trict. Seath­waite near Bor­row­dale, north of Win­der­mere, is the wettest in­hab­ited place in Eng­land with over 3.3m of rain per year. Trav­el­ling north from the scorched land­scape sur­round­ing my house in Southamp­ton this sum­mer, a bit of cool rain sounded like heaven. But the weather in the far north-west of Eng­land was also un­usu­ally dry and warm. Apart from the day I went aboard Grey Pearl.

Grey Pearl, a very re­cent Beneteau Ocea­nis 38.1, is one of a num­ber of 10m-plus yachts ply­ing the 14.8 square kilo­me­tres of wa­ter in Win­der­mere, Eng­land’s largest lake, of­fer­ing af­ter­noon cruises and sun­set din­ners. These are ex­tremely pop­u­lar skip­pered char­ters for those who wish to en­joy the stun­ning views in peace and tran­quil­lity far from the madding crowds queu­ing for the Lake Cruises or wait­ing in traf­fic to find park­ing.

So what did I learn afloat on Win­der­mere for the first time? That the 2005 speed limit of 10 knots, bit­terly op­posed by many, has made the once re­put­edly wild-for­wa­ter­sports lake into a haven for open wa­ter swim­mers, pad­dlers, sailors and sun­set cruis­ers, with­out af­fect­ing tourist num­bers. And that I am weirdly fas­ci­nated by the boat houses that are dot­ted like or­na­ments around the edge of the lake.

“We could never hope to run a char­ter yacht on the lake with­out the speed limit,” says Chris Jack­son who owns Grey Pearl. Chris also owns and oper­ates Heart of the Lakes, a hol­i­day let­ting agency look­ing af­ter more than 300 prop­er­ties across the Lake Dis­trict. Grey Pearl is avail­able ex­clu­sively to clients let­ting Heart of the Lakes ac­com­mo­da­tion. “There would be con­stant waves all across the lake and it would be un­pleas­ant for a yacht like this – es­pe­cially with­out much wind.”

Chris went on to de­scribe the scene in the early 2000s when wa­ter­ski­ing boats would start their runs at 0500 and con­tinue un­til night­fall set­ting up a per­ma­nent chop in the lake and driv­ing some res­i­dents mad with the noise. “Ap­par­ently the best wa­ter­ski­ing is when the wa­ter is flat and there has been rain overnight and the sur­face of the wa­ter is well aer­ated,” said Chris.

It's not hard to imag­ine how un­pop­u­lar that ac­tiv­ity would be for land own­ers be­side the lake. But it is also not hard to see the point of view of those who con­sider the byelaws to be too re­stric­tive. “I can see both sides of the de­bate,” ad­mits Chris.

Tour of the north basin

We sailed north from Grey Pearl’s berth at Win­der­mere Aquat­ics, care­fully skirt­ing the moor­ings in Bow­ness Bay to avoid run­ning aground. The lake is made up of two deep basins di­vided by a shal­low band across the mid­dle around Belle Isle. With so lit­tle rain­fall, the yacht’s 1.64m draught made it a strug­gle to get into her ma­rina berth and at risk of ground­ing when cross­ing the bar in the mid­dle.

We headed out of Bow­ness Bay, put the sails up and drifted serenely at a knot or two tak­ing in the sights in the lim­ited

vis­i­bil­ity. In­trepid oars­men and the elec­tric-en­gined hire­boats were the only ves­sels on the wa­ter apart from the tra­di­tional-look­ing lake cruis­ers full of pas­sen­gers. We passed the build­ing site that is set to be­come the new Win­der­mere Jetty, a mu­seum de­scribed as po­ten­tially the big­gest cul­tural at­trac­tion in the north of Eng­land. Due to open in early 2019, the Mu­seum of Boats, Steam and Sto­ries will dis­play the Lake’s his­tory of steam and clas­sic speed­boats, but per­haps the more in­ter­est­ing part will be the on-site restora­tion work­shop, wet dock and out­side jet­ties, of­fer­ing vis­i­tors a be­hind the scenes look at how his­toric ves­sels are main­tained and re­stored.

With Bow­ness dis­ap­pear­ing into the murk astern, we had the lake to our­selves. Then out of the gloom a Win­der­mere 17 ap­peared, one of dozens of ex­am­ples of this 17ft one-de­sign clas­sic still raced on the lake.

We gybed over to sail close to Lang­dale Chase – once a pri­vate res­i­dence – now a high-end ho­tel. Like many of the big prop­er­ties on the lake, Lang­dale Chase has a boathouse built of stone, which has been par­tially con­verted into hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion. Later in the week we went for din­ner at the ho­tel and our hosts, it turned out, were ac­tu­ally stay­ing in the boathouse, hav­ing booked at the last minute. So I was in­vited to look around the room which sported a bal­cony over­look­ing the dock and a roof ter­race as well. The build­ing it­self stretches back a good 15m from the wa­ter’s edge; the suite, on the floor above, oc­cu­pies less than half of that length – it’s quite a big berth in­side. On the dock was a white­hulled day­sailer, but in­side was a clas­sic steamer – gleam­ing and ready to sally forth. It’s fair to say that I was quite taken with Win­der­mere's stone boathouses – they ex­ude a touch of glam­our to the shore no mat­ter what the weather.

Around the next head­land was a newer, mod­ern ho­tel un­der­go­ing a huge ex­pan­sion, but still rel­a­tively low-pro­file in ap­pear­ance, nicely tucked away in a bay. Low Wood Bay ho­tel and wa­ter­sports cen­tre is a land­mark lo­ca­tion on the lake with a ma­rina and an ar­mada of dinghies, wind­surf boards, pad­dle­boards, kayaks and more. They of­fer a vast menu of ac­tiv­i­ties for res­i­dents and non-res­i­dents in­clud­ing wa­ter­ski­ing. Wake surf­ing is pop­u­lar – an ac­tiv­ity that is de­signed for low speeds.

Low-speed Win­der­mere

And the con­ver­sa­tion aboard Grey Pearl turned again to the speed limit. A 1991 sur­vey of lake use con­firmed that ‘on an av­er­age day’ there were 812 craft on the wa­ter, of which 368 were fast power boats. This rep­re­sented an in­crease of over 300% in fast power boats since the first lake use sur­vey car­ried out in 1977 – an in­crease that had ex­ceeded all fore­casts – and the lake was de­scribed by the Win­der­mere Joint Steer­ing Com­mit­tee as ‘dan­ger­ously con­gested’.

The boat reg­is­tra­tion scheme was

in­tro­duced in 1978 and af­ter a se­ries of man­age­ment plans, con­sul­ta­tions, con­ven­tions and pro­pos­als the new byelaw for a 10mph speed limit (this was later amended to 10 knots) was sub­mit­ted to the Home Of­fice in 1992. Eight years later it was rat­i­fied with a fur­ther five-year de­lay in­sti­tuted to al­low lo­cal busi­nesses to pre­pare for the change.

The protest lead­ing up to 29 March 2005 was en­er­getic and vo­cal, but to­day, over 13 years later, the key group KWAA (Keep Win­der­mere Alive As­so­ci­a­tion) is no longer a reg­is­tered do­main on the In­ter­net. Dozens of news re­ports from day one of the ban were pub­lished, but one line from The Daily Tele­graph stuck with me: ‘The Lake Dis­trict Na­tional Park Au­thor­ity claims that since power-boaters make up less than one per cent of the area’s 12 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors, the im­pact on the econ­omy if they all left would be min­i­mal.’ Of­fi­cial tourist num­bers are now 19 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

Eco­nomic dis­rup­tion might have been min­i­mal, but change was def­i­nitely no­tice­able. One mag­a­zine re­port from the early 2000s put the num­ber of reg­is­tered boats on Win­der­mere be­fore the ban at a whop­ping 13,000. The lat­est fig­ures (2017) show 3,577. The num­ber of boat launches from the lake’s main pub­lic slip­way at Ferry Nab, near Bow­ness, fell rapidly in the years pre­ced­ing the change, from nearly 4,000 in 2003 to about 1,200 in 2005. Ten years later just 691 launches were recorded (the fig­ures do not in­clude per­ma­nent moor­ing hold­ers us­ing the slip­way), al­though the past three sum­mers have seen num­bers bounce back to more than 800. New boat reg­is­tra­tions dropped from 1050 in 2010 (the ear­li­est date fig­ures are avail­able) to 691 in 2013, but have crept back up since that low point to 772. Re­newals since 2010 have dropped steadily from 3,349 to 2,800.

The Lake Rangers are charged with catch­ing and pros­e­cut­ing those flout­ing the byelaws, as well as at­tend­ing all man­ner of break­downs, strand­ings and other in­ci­dents. There were 134 in­ci­dents of speed­ing with six of­fend­ers go­ing be­fore Mag­is­trates in 2017. More than 60% of in­ci­dents recorded by rangers that year were for break­ing the 10-knot limit or for reg­is­tra­tion of­fences. Les Lans­ley, a di­rec­tor of the Lake Dis­trict Boat Club, reck­ons the ban was a step too far. “I do think it was more dan­ger­ous when there was a lot more speed on the lake,” he said. “I think it just needed man­ag­ing rather than ban­ning.”

New life on the wa­ter

We con­tin­ued north and passed an open-wa­ter swim­mer flanked by a kayak and a RIB dis­play­ing the blue and white check flag. It is es­ti­mated 12,000 peo­ple take part in swim events on Win­der­mere, and there are 3,000 peo­ple reg­u­larly tak­ing part in swim coach­ing ses­sions on the lake. The Great North Swim was launched in 2008 with 2,000 en­trants. Ten years later there were around 10,000 par­tic­i­pants across all the dif­fer­ent dis­tances and races.

En­chanted by the boat house at Lang­dale Chase, I asked if we could stop at a jetty at one of Heart of the Lakes’ waterside prop­er­ties. So we con­tin­ued across the lake to Pull­wood Bay – a grand Vic­to­rian man­sion that was once a school. The Pull­wood apart­ments al­most all com­mand ex­cep­tional views, res­i­dents have ex­clu­sive use of the jetty and the boat house is also a hol­i­day let on the first floor.

Later in the week we vis­ited friends stay­ing at Low Wray camp­site and spent the en­tire af­ter­noon sit­ting in a lit­tle cove, pad­dling var­i­ous boats around a tiny is­land and try­ing to avoid an­noy­ing the swans. When I looked over the dry stone wall as the evening drew in, it was quite a sur­prise to re­alise we were just me­tres from the Pull­wood boat house: lux­ury pri­vate quar­ters on one side – camp­ing in the for­est with shared toi­lets, show­ers and wash­ing up fa­cil­i­ties on the other. Both re­quire book­ing a long way in ad­vance – es­pe­cially in school sum­mer hol­i­days.

An ab­sorb­ing place

For the rest of our week’s hol­i­day on Win­der­mere the sun shone, the tem­per­a­ture reached the high 20s and the traf­fic jammed, but I saw few boats on the lake. “It tends to be quiet in the week,” ad­mits Lans­ley, but week­ends are busier. “Some­times on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, if you look down the lake you can barely see a gap to sail through.”

The Lake Dis­trict as a whole is a com­pletely ab­sorb­ing place to visit: bring a ca­noe, a dinghy or a stand-up pad­dle­board and when­ever the sun shines, find a body of wa­ter to get afloat. For res­i­dents and trav­el­ling rac­ers there are reg­u­lar re­gat­tas and round-the-cans events on Win­der­mere and sev­eral other big lakes.

But for cruis­ing in the af­ter­math of the speed limit, Win­der­mere is a work in progress. In the words of the Lake Dis­trict Na­tional Park Au­thor­ity’s pub­lished ac­tion plan: ‘the of­fer for boat users is seen as tired and out-dated’, al­though re­cent im­prove­ments in­clude ad­di­tional pub­lic jet­ties and bet­ter fuel pro­vi­sion. An­chor­ing overnight will save on ac­com­mo­da­tion, but it oc­curred to me that a trailer-sailer or a cruis­ing Way­farer that you can haul up on a beach might be fun to sail from camp­site to camp­site over 10 days or a fort­night, but bear in mind that book­ing in ad­vance will al­most cer­tainly be nec­es­sary – es­pe­cially in school hol­i­days.

And the lake is con­nected to other bod­ies of wa­ter: white wa­ter raft­ing is pop­u­lar, de­pend­ing on rain­fall, on parts of the River Rothay, which feeds into the lake. With a guide it is pos­si­ble at some times of year to ca­noe or raft quite a long way down the river end­ing up in the lake it­self. And the Leven, which drains the lake to the sea at the south end is nav­i­ga­ble down­stream to Newby Bridge and once over the weir, all the way to the sea.

Still wa­ters run deep

The Lakes are cher­ished by vis­i­tors and res­i­dents alike and the speed ban is still a hot topic. I tend to agree with Les Lans­ley that man­age­ment would have been bet­ter than a ban, and said as much in my ed­i­tor’s let­ter (Septem­ber 2018). I was re­buked by one PBO reader who wrote: ‘Ev­ery­thing that could be said on the sub­ject has been said many times; I sug­gest you leave well alone...’

Then a sec­ond let­ter ar­rived from a life­long wa­ter­skier: ‘I en­joyed many years on the lake and nu­mer­ous friends and fam­ily learned to Wa­ter Ski. Hope­fully it may re­turn one day but at my age, 74, it may be too late.’

Bow­ness Bay

The moist cool cli­mate is a boon in heat­wave sum­mers

Win­der­mere Lake Cruises wooden launch

Grey Pearl is for char­ter to Heart of the Lakes clients

Low Wood Bay Ma­rina, ho­tel and wa­ter­sports cen­tre

The boat house at Lang­dale Chase

Lake Rangers en­force the byelaws

Grey Pearl at a pri­vate jetty

Low Wray camp­site

Gor­geous Gras­mere

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