Ambleside is an ideal centre from which to explore the Lake District. Situated on the shore of the northern tip of Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes, it is on the main route through the area to Keswick. There has been a settlement here since long before Roman times, although the real growth of the town dates from the time of Wordsworth and the Lakeland Poets.
The town has not only been a tourist destination. During the Industrial Revolution, it was a centre for the production of charcoal. Long before this, the town was granted a charter for a market in 1650. Later, in the reign of James II, the town was granted another charter to collect tolls. The streets today are filled with many small individual shops, with few of the chain stores that dominate the streets of many of our towns.
St Mary’s Church, the parish church of Ambleside, was built in 1854 to replace a smaller, older church. The dark grey building would grace the streets of a far larger place. The reredos is worth a second glance. In 1952, the Wordsworth Memorial Chapel was dedicated to the poet and a memorial window inserted. Some of the furnishings of the chapel were once the property of the poet. Another window in the church commemorates W. E. Forster, a former Irish Secretary. There is a handsome column in the churchyard bearing an inscription to the latter.
Each year, during the last weekend in July, the quaint Rushbearing Festival takes place. This is a floral procession, followed by a church service and a field day. It is believed to be a combination of the old Roman floral festival, a celebration of hay making and a reflection of the ancient custom of strewing the church floor with rushes, which was the case before tiled floors were the norm. The Rushbearing Hymn is sung in the Market Place, where the old market cross still stands, and the ceremony has been recorded for posterity by Wordsworth himself.
Perhaps the most familiar picture of Ambleside is the Bridge House, which was built as a summer house during the 17th Century in the grounds of the former manor house. The Armitt Museum and Library is well worth a visit. Not only does it display many remains from prehistoric and Roman times but also more modern exhibits such as a large collection of paintings by the author Beatrix Potter. The archives and library contain many documents and books relating to the many well-known former inhabitants of the area. These include such people as John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome and, of course, William Wordsworth.
The original settlement of Ambleside is now the harbour area at Waterside. From here the visitor can take ferries to various places on the perimeter of the lake. There are also cruises available from here during the summer month.
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