Lake Cruises on England’s most beautiful Lake...

of Ullswater 'Steamers'



The first reported Steamer on Ullswater dates back to 1859. The valley has inspired many famous artists and poets through the centuries including William Wordsworth and Turner, visit historic landmarks during your visit and listen to the ancient tales of myth and legend. We have pulled together a  mini timeline but if you want to find out more, our Ullswater Times and commentary app expands on our story.

  • 1855 – "Ullswater Steam Navigation Company"
  • 1859 – Enterprise was launched on 13th August, she was a paddle steamer but was beset with problems with her paddles being choked by weeds, not much is known of her demise but she was later replaced by Raven in 1889.
    The main purpose of the "Steamers" was not only to carry passengers but also Royal Mail, provisions, slate from nearby mines and lead from the Greenside mine in Glenridding. During WW2 the "Steamers" even ferried soldiers down to Glenridding for their training at the Ullswater Hotel.
  • 1877 – Lady of the Lake was launched on the 26th June; she was designed by Mr Douglas Hebson of Penrith and built in Glasgow by Joseph Seath & Company. She was transported in three sections by rail to Penrith then horse drays to Waterside where she was constructed at Elder Beck. Lady is 29.8 metres long and weighs in at 42.7 tonnes.
  • 1881 – Lady of the Lake sank at her moorings and was re-floated by a team of divers from Liverpool. She sank again in 1958 in a severe storm then in 1965 she was badly damaged by fire and was out of service for 14 years until Lord Wakefield had her restored and refitted ; she was re-launched on 19th May 1979 by William Whitelaw.
  • 1889 – Raven was launched on 16th July; she was named after Ravencragg, the home of company director W H Parkin and built by the same company as Lady of the Lake. Raven was the second choice for Ullswater, the first was the "Steamer Wyvern" until she sank at Windermere on 24th February, 1876. Extract from the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald 18th July 1889 "It is questionable if there be any boat to beat, or even equal this little craft on any lake in this country".
    Winifred Parkin, aged 6 broke the bottle of champagne across Raven's bows. The younger the person that names a vessel, the longer she will live. Raven is over 120 years old.
    One of the shareholders Mr Thomas Cook was the reason behind the launch of a second "Steamer". He voiced his concerns to the Directors that when Lady of the Lake had broken down at the height of the season, a second vessel would have alleviated this problem.
  • 1900 – The company became "Ullswater Navigation and Transit Company".
  • 1912 – Raven was made a temporary royal yacht and her decks painted yellow to mark the visit of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II to Lowther Castle, home to the "Yellow Earl" – Lord Lonsdale.
  • 1934 – Raven was converted from steam and fitted with twin diesel engines, cruising at around 1400 rpm approximately 12mph or 10 knots. Raven had Thornycroft AEC engines fitted. Lady had Kelvins fitted in 1936, providing 115 bhp. Today, Raven and Lady both have Cummings Engines; Raven has a bph of 155 and Lady 180 bhp.
  • 1953 – Sir Wavell Wakefield discovered that the controlling shareholder –Dixon- was going to wind up the Company so he bought up all but three percent of the shares to ensure the future of the "Steamers".
  • 1954 – Sir Wavell Wakefield of Kendal became the new chairman of the Company, he was a three times Grand Slam winning England rugby captain, WW1 Fighter pilot, Member of Parliament and a family man. His vision for the future of the "Steamers" is continued by the family to this day on Ullswater.
  • 1961 – Manchester Corporation Waterworks Department promoted a parliamentary bill to turn Ullswater into a reservoir. Lord Birkett known as the "Lakes Great Advocate" started a campaign to save Ullswater from environmental disaster.
  • 1962 – Lord Birkett defeated the parliamentary bill against the Manchester Water Authority in the House of Lords. He passed away shortly afterwards some say the happiest he had ever been. On the western side of the lake above Glencoyne Head, a Nameless Fell was re-named in his memory; there is also a memorial plaque on Kailpot Crag visible only from a boat. The Ullswater Yacht Club hold an annual Birkett Cup Trophy Race on Ullswater in his honour.
  • 2001 – Lady Dorothy joined the fleet, she was a sea-going vessel from Guernsey and her arrival meant for the first time winter sailings were introduced into the timetable.
  • 2007 – Lady Wakefield was renamed in a recommissioning ceremony by HRH Princess Alexandra in April. She was originally known as Berry Castle, Golden Cormorant and Totnes Castle. Built in 1949 in Dartmouth, she had worked on the River Dart and Plymouth Sound before her arrival at Ullswater.
  • 2011 - Western Belle has arrived. Built in 1935, for the Millbrook Steamboat & Trading Co. Ltd. She entered service on the River Tamar in 1936. After a complete refurbishment at the Heritage Shipyard on the Wirral she was re-launched onto her new home in early June 2011 and is now in full service.
  • 2015 - We were awarded Gold in the Best Sea or River Cruise category at the World Responsible Tourism Awards
  • 2016 - We were awarded the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year at the Cumbria Tourism Awards and Best River and Inland Cruise Operator at the British Coach Tourism Awards
  • 2017 - We celebrated Lady of the Lake's 140th Birthday
  • 2018 - HRH Prince of Wales took a cruise on board Lady of the Lake whilst visiting Cumbria to celebrate the Lake District becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • 2019 - We were awarded Best River and Inland Cruise Operator at the British Coach Tourism Awards and we will be celebrating our 160th Anniversary and Raven's 130th birthday in July
    If you want to find out more about the History of the region, take a look at the other stories we belong to by our involvement in modern history. Visit Modern History because ............ every visit tells a story.

Famous Faces and Places - Donald Campbell, William Wordsworth, A.W Wainwright

Glenridding was once one of the most important mining villages in Britain until its closure on the 31st of January 1962. Galena was the chief ore mined at Greenside Lead Mine, it had an exceptionally high silver content around 15-30 ounces per ton of ore. The chalice in the St Patricks Church, Patterdale is made from Glenridding silver.

Lord Wakefield (owner of the Ullswater Company) was also a Director of an engineering Company at Preston who built Bluebird for Donald Campbell as well as providing him with a temporary boat-house and launching facilities at Glenridding. The original slipway can still be viewed adjacent to Glenridding Pier House.

Donald Campbell broke the world speed record on Ullswater on the 23rd July 1955 in the Jet powered Bluebird K7. The measured mile on a trial run was 215.08 mph and 189.57 mph on the return setting the new world record at an average speed of 202.32 mph.

Ullswater is known as the "Dark Lake" with links to Arthurian legend. Legend tells that a burial mound near our slipway at Waterside, used to be the home of Sir Tristan –one of the knights of the round table. But this is now thought to be of glacial origin.

In medieval times, monsters were believed to live in the dark waters which have a maximum depth of approximately 205 feet (62m).

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) first visited Ullswater at the age of 18 in 1788. One of his most famous poems "The Daffodils" was inspired after a walk with his sister Dorothy beyond Gowbarrow Park on their way back to Grasmere on 15th April 1802. To this day these wild daffodils (Lenten lilies) can be found in abundance on the lake shore in the Spring : "A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze "

The area has also been popularised by the writings of A.W Wainwright (1907–1991) who took his first Lakeland holiday in 1930 ; one of his favourite walks was the lakeshore walk. Other famous authors such as Samuel Coleridge (Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe) are also associated with the Ullswater Valley.

Aira Force waterfall is located between Pooley Bridge and Glenridding. At 70ft the Aira waterfall cascades over a dramatic gully and if you are lucky the sun"s light forms a prismatic effect to create the famous Aira Rainbow.

Aira Force has a tragic legend attached to it between a knight Sir Eglamore and his beloved Emma. Emma perished one night after she slipped into the falls as she waited for him to return from war overseas. He never got over her death and it is said that he spent the rest of his days as a hermit next to the Falls.

The name "Ullswater" may derive from its original name "Ulfr"s Water" after a Viking Lord and has been known as "Ulpha"s Lake" and "Ulleswater" previously. Alternatively "Ulf " is the Scandinavian word for wool, it is said that the Danes used the lake to clean their fleeces and that its origin may derive from this or could it be the Norse God Ullr, you decide? During WW2, Ullswater was used to test mini-subs, naval craft and flying boats. It is rumoured that Ullswater or Haweswater was a test area for the targeting system for the bouncing bomb created by Barnes Wallis in 1942.

In July 1983 a speed limit restriction came into force of 10mph. The "10mph campaign" attracted film giants such as Lord Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness and the novelist J.B Priestley to Ullswater in support.

Gowbarrow and Glencoyne Park was once a Red Deer Hunting Park. Gowbarrow at one time was owned by William Rufus, successor of William the Conqueror. Llulph"s Tower a former Pele Tower was used as the hunting lodge on the estate. The Tower can be viewed aboard the "Steamers". Did you know Martindale was the last place to see fairies. Tales say if you throw money down Kailpot Crag it will bring you luck.

Legendary huntsman Joe Bowman was hunting in Martindale with the Ullswater Hounds. He decided to return from Howtown to Patterdale by 'Steamer', on discovering that he would have to pay for each hound, he sent his hounds ashore and remained onboard. As the boat was underway, Joe blew his horn and the hounds trotted along the lakeshore path, to be reunited, at their kennels at the southern end of the lake.

St Peters Church set within the parish of Martindale has a memorial window to the officers and men lost when aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was destroyed in controversial circumstances off the coast of Norway in 1940.