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Windermere is the largest natural lake in England. It has been one of the country’s most popular places for holidays and summer homes since 1847, when the Kendal and Windermere Railway built a branch line to it. It is in the county of Cumbria and entirely within the Lake District National Park.
Windermere is 10.5 miles (17 km) long stretching from Newby Bridge To Ambleside and varies from a quarter of a mile to one mile wide at Millerground (400 m to 1,500 m). The lake covers an area of 14.7 km˛ (5.7 sq miles). It reaches a depth of about 220 feet (65 m) near its northern end and has an elevation above sea level of 130 feet (40 m). The lake is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven. It is replenished by the rivers Brathay, Rothay, Trout Beck, Cunsey Beck and several other lesser streams.
A map of the lake from 1925There are two towns on the lake, Ambleside and Bowness-on-Windermere. The town of Windermere, confusingly, does not directly touch the lake. Known as Birthwaite prior to the arrival of the railway, it is about a fifteen-minute walk from the lakefront, and has now grown together with Bowness. Windermere railway station is a hub for train and bus connections to the surrounding areas, Manchester, Manchester Airport, and the West Coast Main Line. The lake was originally known as Winandermere but the railway company thought this too long and called the station Windermere, which has since attached itself to both the town and the lake.
The lake is largely surrounded by foothills of the Lake District which provide pleasant low-level walks; to the north and north-east the higher fells of central Lakeland commence.
Windermere is one of a very few lakes in Britain which has a perceptible diurnal tide.
Lake Windermere is a ribbon lake, which are long, narrow and finger-like. Ribbon lakes were formed thousands of years ago during the ice age through glaciation: as the glacier bulldozed through a valley (glacial trough), it met bands of harder and softer rock. Erosion (mainly through abrasion: the process of rocks simply being scraped across the bedrock) was greater at the soft rock than the hard rock and so a dip was created. When the glacier melted the lake filled with the meltwater, which was held in by moraine (rock material) deposited by the glacier. A dam can also be created by the bands of harder rock either side of the softer rock. There is usually a river at both ends of a ribbon lake.
The lake has a very high percentage of its drainage area under cultivation (29.4%), and a relatively low percentage of lake bed above 9 m in depth which is rocky (28%). This makes Windermere a relatively rich habitat. The main fish in the lake are trout, char, pike, and perch.
The north to south alignment of the lake, combined with its position between Morecambe Bay and the central fells, means that it forms what is essentially a migration highway. During winter months geese flying this route are a common sight.
The Freshwater Biological Association was first established on the shore of Windermere in 1929 and much of the early definitive work on lake ecology, freshwater biology and limnology was conducted here.