Windermere is the largest natural lake in England. It has been one of the country’s most popular places for holidays and summer homes since the arrival of the Kendal and Windermere Railway’s branch line in 1847. It is in the county of Cumbria and entirely within the Lake District National Park. Windermere has also been the venue for the Great North Swim since 2008.
The word “Windermere” is thought to translate as “Vinandr’s lake”, from the Old Norse name Vinandr and Old English mere, meaning lake. It was known as “Winander Mere” or “Winandermere” until at least the nineteenth century.
Its name suggests it is a mere, a lake that is broad in relation to its depth, but despite the name this is not the case for Windermere, which in particular has a noticeable thermocline, distinguishing it from typical meres. Until the 19th century, the term “lake” was, indeed, not much used by or known to the native inhabitants of the area, who referred to it as Windermere/Winandermere Water, or (in their dialect) Windermer Watter. The name Windermere or Windermer was used of the parish that had clearly taken its name from the water. The extensive parish included most of Undermilnbeck (that is, excepting Winster and the part of Crook chapelry that lay west of the Gilpin, which were part of Kirkby Kendal parish), Applethwaite, Troutbeck and Ambleside-below-Stock, that is, the part of Ambleside that lay south of Stock Beck. The parish church was at Bowness in Undermilnbeck.
Windermere is a ribbon lake. (Ribbon lakes are long, narrow and finger-like.) It was formed 13,000 years ago during the last major ice age by two glaciers, one from the Troutbeck valley and the other from the Fairfield Horseshoe. When the glaciers melted the lake filled with the meltwater, which was held in by moraine (rock material) deposited by the glaciers.
The lake is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven. It is replenished by the rivers Brathay, Rothay, Trout Beck, Cunsey Beck and several other lesser streams. The lake is largely surrounded by foothills of the Lake District which provide pleasant low-level walks; to the north and north-east are the higher fells of central Lakeland.