Windermere is the largest natural lake in England. It is a ribbon lake formed in a glacial trough after the retreat of ice at the start of the current interglacial period. 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. Historically forming part of the border between Lancashire and Westmorland, it is now within the county of Cumbria and the Lake District National Park.
The lake contains 18 islands.By far the largest is the privately owned Belle Isle (16.18 hectares, 40.0 acres) opposite Bowness and around a kilometre in length. Its older name was Lang Holme, and 800 years ago it was the centre of the manor of Windermere and later, in effect, of a moiety of the barony of Kendal.
The other islands or “holmes” are considerably smaller. The word “holme” means small island and comes from Old Norse holmr. The island of Lady Holme is named after the chantry that formerly stood there and in former centuries was sometimes called St Mary Holme or just Mary Holme. The remaining islands are Bee Holme, Blake Holme, Crow Holme, Birk or Birch Holme, Grass Holme, Lilies of the Valley (East, and West), Ling Holme, Hawes Holme, Hen Holme, Maiden Holme (the smallest island, with just one tree), Ramp Holme, Rough Holme, Snake Holme, Thompson Holme (the second largest), Silver Holme.
Passenger services operate along the whole length of the lake, from Lakeside railway station, on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite heritage steam railway at the southern end of the lake, to Waterhead Bay near Ambleside in the north. Intermediate stops are made at Bowness and, by smaller launches only, at Brockhole. Some boats only operate part of the route, or operate out and back cruises, whilst others run the whole distance.