OWNING A steam boat, explains the friendly tour guide at Windermere Jetty, is a bit like having a pet dragon. “You need to feed it and cherish it, and while it might not breathe fire, it can hiss fiercely sometimes,” she smiled. “Although, a boat is maybe not quite as dangerous as a dragon…”

Windermere Jetty, Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories, is a wonderful place. Originally brought together by George Pattinson, a private collector of steam launches who founded Windermere Steamboat Museum in 1977, the collection now comprises 40 vessels which tell the story of boating on Windermere from 1780 to the present day.

There is SL Dolly, one of the oldest mechanically-powered boats in the world; Margaret, the oldest sailing yacht in the UK; and Esperance, one of boats which inspired Captain Flint’s houseboat in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, not to mention world record-breaking speed boats, motorboats, steam launches and more.

Our boys are in awe as we wander around the museum, admiring the sleek, powerful crafts. The Osprey, built in 1902 and the first steam launch to take to the water for boat trips at Windermere Jetty, is their favourite. “It doesn’t look more than 100 years old,” marvels the 11-year-old. He is right – lovingly restored and refitted, with decorative features, flooring and linings crafted by the museum’s apprentice and conservation assistant (and with all teak surfaces protected by eight coats of traditional oil-based varnish), it looks brand new.

Windermere Jetty is a fascinating, thought-provoking place which captures hundreds of years of history, charting not only the evolution of boatbuilding here, but also the story of Lakeland life and people.

Those people and their stories bring this museum alive. The 16-year-old is impressed by Gertrude Bacon, a pioneering aviator none of us had ever heard of, a daring flyer who took off at Windermere. She was the first woman to fly in an airship, and the first Englishwoman to fly as a passenger in an aeroplane, a hydro-monoplane and a hydro-aeroplane (at Windermere in 1912 in the Lakes Flying Company’s Waterhen).

“To fly over water is certainly to taste to the full the joy of flight, and when the water is Windermere and the scenery the pick of English Lakeland, which is to many a traveller the pick of the whole world, in its soft intimate loveliness, the result is something not lightly forgotten,” she said of the experience.

The Lake District, of course, has been a tourist hot spot for hundreds of years. From the wealthy who wanted to pitch up and build huge, beautiful houses; to the poets and artists inspired by the scenery; and the working classes keen to escape from the cities into fresh air and green space, it has welcomed them all.

Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England, has been a magnet since the days of the steamboat tourism boom. The first steamer, Lady of the Lake, sailed in 1845. Suddenly, all the little villages along the lakeside were accessible, and hotels and tearooms sprang up alongside fishing businesses and shops selling souvenirs. Not everyone was happy – authors Dorothy Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, for example, were fiercely protective of the area’s natural beauty.

We found out more when we took to the water ourselves – Windermere Lake Cruises run trips on the lake, with helpful commentary about the places you pass and the stories behind them. It is a gentle, relaxing way to see another side to Windermere. Our captain told us that children’s author Potter, increasingly infuriated by the development creeping up one side of the lake, was so determined the same would not happen on the other side that she bought huge swathes of land. She left around 4000 acres to the National Trust, which still run it to this day.

Beatrix Potter pops up a lot throughout our trip. Her rowing boat is in Windermere Jetty, incidentally – she used to row it on Moss Eccles Tarn, the small lake on Claife Heights she purchased, planting waterlilies and stocking it with fish.

Our accommodation for the week is Lingholm Estate, where Potter spent ten summer holidays between 1885 and 1907. Later in life, after marrying solicitor William Heelis, she settled in the Lake District.

It was during her time here that Potter wrote some of her best known stories - The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle; and the Lingholm Kitchen Garden was the original inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Arriving for the first time, at the age of 19, the young woman is said to have fallen in love with the place and it is easy to see why. The lakeside setting, on Derwentwater, with dramatic fells as a backdrop, is beautiful.

Lingholm, and the immediate 40 acres surrounding the main house, was purchased by the Seymour family in 2013. Over the last six years, they have carried out an intensive programme of building works, restoration and landscaping to transform it into not only their incredible family home, but a holiday accommodation business.

There is a cafe and gift shop on the estate – popping over from our apartment for a leisurely breakfast of giant sausage sarnies served in a ciabatta bun, sourdough toast, or porridge with fruit at the Lingholm Kitchen, quickly becomes another highlight of our holiday. There are 11 properties to stay in, including our lovely two-bedroomed eaves apartment Borrowdale. It is pristine and comfortable, tastefully decorated in soft greys with pretty artworks, a luxurious bathroom and a sparklingly clean kitchen.

Living up in the eaves is fun – lots of stepping up and down to take account of the beams, and the views are striking. “Even the shower has a view,” says the 16-year-old, impressed.

Talking of views, dinner at the nearby Swinside Inn came with a magnificent vista, stretching out over the Newlands Valley, with views of the fells of Catbells, Causey Pike, and Barrow. It’s around half an hour’s walk along the main road from Lingholm, so not one for the faint-hearted or in the dark without a torch. On a warm evening, it is very pleasant and perfect for walking off the Swinside’s delicious burgers on the way back.

A world away from our gentle meanders around the Lingholm Estate and the Windermere Jetty is Honister Slate Mine, bold, thrilling and interactive. The bus journey up the side of the mountain involves a few heart-in-the-mouth moments, but the tour deep into the slate mine is full of surprises. Children will enjoy the chance to ‘blow up’ stuff and if you are feeling extremely brave (we were not), there’s the Via Ferrata on the cliff face. The original miners’ track up the steep outer incline of Fleetwith Pike has been made safe and "achievable for everyone" by the addition of a continuous cable. “One for us to try when you are not here, mum,” says the 16-year-old, wisely.

We managed to squeeze in a few more fun things to do during our short break – a day spent in Keswick included a stroll round the pretty market town, an excellent game of crazy golf in the park and dinner at the Theatre by The Lake, Cumbria's only year-round producing theatre. The food is fantastic – tasty starters, beautifully cooked mains and spectacular desserts – and the views over Derwentwater are impressive.

The 2020 season, the first under the leadership of new artistic director Liz Stevenson includes a fantastic three-week run of lauded musical Malory Towers, based on the Enid Blyton boarding school books; a spine-chilling revival of Patrick Hamilton's Rope, the noir thriller made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film; and a world premiere of The Climbers by Carmen Nasr, a mesmerising exploration of our fascination with the mountains – fittingly premiering in what is often credited as the birthplace of the British rock climbing movement.

It is no wonder that the Lake District remains a great destination for Scottish families, just a few hours down the motorway or on the train, full of historic places to visit and child-friendly attractions. It is also a place that stays with you, even after just a few days visiting.

“I remember every stone, every tree, the scent of heather,” wrote Beatrix Potter. “Even when the thunder growled in the distance, and the wind swept up the valley in fitful gusts, oh, it was beautiful, home sweet home.”


For more details and inspiration, visit www.golakes.co.uk.

Prices for the Borrowdale apartment at Lingholm (thelingholmestate.co.uk) start from £630 for a week.

A family ticket costs £49 for Honister (honister.com), £18 for Windermere Jetty (windermerejetty.org) and £34 for Windermere Lake Cruises (windermere-lakecruises.co.uk)

Tickets and performance times vary at Theatre By the Lake - check website theatrebythelake.com for details.

Swinside Inn (swinsideinn.co.uk, 01768 778144)