Tuesday, 30 October 2012

How to confuse a tourist!

Whilst walking through Windermere on Saturday morning I was approached by a couple carrying a piece of paper. They looked to be in their early sixties. She had the look of Joyce Grenfell, and the manner of Margaret Thatcher in her heyday. He looked as though he had spent a life time following her lead.

"Excuse me," said the lady, "but do you live here?"
"I do" was my reply.
"At last!" she exclaimed, "we've asked quite a few people already, but they are all on holiday. We are a bit confused. This is Windermere, isn't it?"
"It is," I confirmed.
"But we can't find the lake" she continued. "Is there another Windermere, one with a lake?"
"No," I said, "this is the only one."
"Well that's silly," she replied, "why is this called Windermere when it is not near Lake Windermere?"

I could have just shrugged my shoulders and said I did not know and moved on. It would have been a whole lot easier, but then it is not the first time that this has happened to me. I once tried to explain to a Japanese girl on train that there was a big difference between Windermere and Lakeside Stations, and that when we got to Windermere she would not be able to simply hop off the train and onto a boat to get to Ambleside.It took the entire journey from Kendal to Windermere, and even then I don't think she believed me.

So I decided that if I was to answer this ladies question I should do so properly, which as it turned out was something of a mistake.
"Actually," I said, " the lake is not called Lake Windermere. It is just Windermere."
"But according to this map it is called Lake Windermere, and this is just Windermere" She waved her map at me as though to convince me that it was right and I was wrong.
"No," I replied, "they are both called Windermere. Calling it Lake Windermere would be a bit like calling London, "City London". "
"That is what it is called," interrupted her companion. "Or the City of London to be precise."
"Don't be silly Gerald, you can't call Lake Windermere "Lake of Windermere" " the lady replied sternly.

Clearly she and poor Gerald had already had words about the issue. And what I thought had started out as a polite enquiry was threatening to turn into a heated debate.

"It's all very simple, " I said, " The 'mere' part of the word Windermere means 'Lake', so it is just Windermere."
"But that's just a technicality" replied the lady, indignantly. " Anyway, what I want to know is why the town is not beside the lake. Surely if you name a town after a lake then it needs to be on the shores of that lake."
"But the town is not named after the lake," I replied. "It is named after the railway station."

This piece of information was clearly too much for her.
"Oh, this is stupid," she stated, "come on Gerald, we'll go and ask someone else."

Without so much as a thank you for my time, she marched off, Gerald in hot pursuit. I felt a little sorry for him.

Anyway, just in case she happens to chance upon this blog, or in the event of you, dear reader, also being confused, allow me to fully explain.

Windermere is a lake. That is it's name. It is not Lake Windermere, or even Windermere Lake, but just Windermere. At ten miles long and in some parts over a mile wide it is England's largest natural lake. 

But, Windermere is also a town, and it is not unreasonable to assume that Windermere the town stands beside Windermere the lake. After all, the town of Coniston stands close to Coniston Water, and Grasmere village is close to Grasmere. However, it does not. The name of the town beside Windermere (the lake) and joined to Windermere (the town) is actually Bowness on Windermere. Windermere (the town) stands on the hillside overlooking Windermere (the lake), and is at least a mile from the water's edge. 

All of which is very confusing for the first time visitor, who, having arrived in Windermere (the town), sets off  to the lake shore, little knowing that they face a trek of almost 2 miles to reach the piers at Bowness.

So how did this situation come about? Why is Bowness on Windermere not called, simply, Windermere, and why is Windermere (the town) so far from Windermere (the lake)? The answer lies in the history of the local railway network.

Bowness on Windermere has been in existence from at least the 11th century, when St Martins church was first established close to the lake shore. The main industry in the village was fishing, and it was also the major crossing point. The narrowest part of the lake is just south of Bowness, at Ferry nab.

When the Kendal and Windermere railway was first proposed, the directors of the railway company wanted to build their line from Oxenholme, where the newly built West Coast mainline ran, to Low Wood, on the shores of Windermere. The intention was very simple. It was to allow the townsfolk of Kendal, and beyond, easy access to the lake and all it's pleasures.

The line was to be built in two sections. The first was to be constructed to the point where the road to Bowness branched off from the turnpike road which ran from Kendal to Ambleside, between the hamlets of Birthwaite and Elleray. Originally, the station was to be named Birthwaite, however, there was a change of plan when objections to the building of the second part of the line were received. The objectors were the wealthy landowners of the region, who feared the effect that the new railway would have on the financial value of their investments. They were supported by the poet William Wordsworth, who gained national coverage for the campaign against the railway.

Popular history records that the protest was a successful one, however, not for the first time popular history does not reflect the truth, which is that the railway company, having started work on the second section of the line, ran out of money. The plan for the railway had included a viaduct over the river at Troutbeck Bridge, and the directors of the line soon realised that the project was out of their reach. So the station at Birthwaite became the line's terminus, and was subsequently re named Windermere, denoting that this was the closest that rail travellers were going to get to the Lake.

Windermere (the town) grew up around the new railway station and extended along the road to Bowness on Windermere. Consequently it took it's name from the railway station, which is in turn named after Windermere ( the lake).

Simple really.

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