Windermere & Bowness-on-Windermere can be found roughly at the midpoint on the east side of the longest lake in England "Lake Windermere" [10.5 miles/17km]. Windermere is situated above and away from the lake by a distance of approximately 1 mile/1.5km with Bowness-on-Windermere being the main tourist access to the lake.
Windermere rather than Bowness at the water's edge, takes its name from the lake. The reason behind this was simply to provide the railway station with a more appealing name. Until the opening of the line in 1847 Windermere was known as Birthwaite. Windermere is as far into the heart of the Lake District as the railway was ever driven.
The town of Windermere was only a scattering of homes until 1847 when a railway came to the area and terminated here. The rail station was named Windermere, and the village obligingly changed its name from Birthwaite (meaning 'clearing in the birches') to match that of the station. The railroad brought hoards of holidaying Victorians to the lake. Hotels and guesthouses, built of the local stone and slate, followed. The Windermere Hotel, built in 1847 specifically for rail travellers, was ideally sited opposite the station. The Town became such a popular destination that it was listed in an 1860 guidebook. Today, many of the former wealthy Victorians' homes are hotels and lodging houses.
School Knott east of Windermere, provides a good spot for panoramic countryside vistas. A footpath next to the Windermere Hotel opposite the railway station takes you through the woods to the top of Orrest Head with one of the finest views in the Lakes. Orrest Head (c750 ft high), is an ideal place to view the central fells, the Yorkshire Pennines, and the lakes.
Wordsworth wrote a poem about the view from Orrest Head:
"Standing alone, as from a rampart's edge,
I over looked the bed of Windermere,
Like a vast river stretching in the sun......"
The railway never continued through the Lake District, partly due to Wordsworth. Although he loved the area himself, he didn’t wish to share it with others and used his influence to help terminate the rail line at Windermere. He wrote:
"Is there no nook of English ground secure,
From rash assault?......How can this blight endure......"
With the railway, Windermere developed quickly around the station, with hotels, boarding houses and shops eventually spreading down the hill to merge with Bowness.
Some of the finest hotels and accommodation can be found in and round Windermere along with an array of eateries from bistros, cafes, pizza parlours, Indian restaurants, Chinese, fish and chips takeaways. Also there are plenty of shops, ranging from crafts, gifts, clothing, outdoor shops, supermarkets [Booths & Co-op]. There are a number drinking establishments from the quiet to the more lively ones.
The population of (St. Mary's Parish) Windermere is approximately 4,500. The area is reasonably well served by public transport (bus, train & ferry). The community as a whole could best be described as a large village or small town but the social dynamics feel quite 'suburban'. The two distinct centres to Windermere-Bowness (by the Lake - the ancient Parish of St. Martin) and Windermere (St. Mary's Parish). For much of the year there are a large number of tourists/visitors present which means for the most part this is not a typical 'village' or 'town'.
Tourism is perhaps the major employment sector and there are many hotels and guesthouses in evidence. Other significant employers include Booths Supermarket and Lakeland Limited which has its headquarters in the parish. The town includes a significant number of second homes and holiday lets.