Question – when is a castle not a castle? Answer – when it’s Wray Castle. This is not a real castle but a large private house, built in the Gothic Revival style with turrets sprouting everywhere. We stopped here for a couple of hours on a cycle ride around Lake Windermere.
The main town on the lake – Bowness – is touristy, but here on the western shores of Windermere, everything is much quieter. We found Wray Castle by accident, but what a great find. The landscaped gardens and grounds are idyllic. The light seems to have some magical quality and the views across the lake over the rolling fields are glorious.
Castle Wray was built by a retired surgeon from Liverpool in 1840. He used his wife’s inheritance and proceeded to build this mansion, which she apparently hated at first sight. She took one look at the place and refused to live there. Either a lacking husband or a fussy wife – take your pick.
Actually, I thought it didn’t look half bad – battlements, turrets, even arrow slits in the walls make for an interesting exterior. Anyway, if you don’t like the outside, you could just stay indoors and enjoy looking out – the views are that good.
The house is now run by the National Trust. Inside it is a little tired, dated and faded and quite unlike any other National Trust property I have ever visited. If you want old furniture, antiques, family history and faded grandeur, this is not the place. Inside there is no furniture at all – which is great for young explorers. The 9 year old was in his element – racing around this grand old mansion, going where he pleased, touching whatever he wanted and nothing was out of bounds.
They have a few photos on the walls – taken by the father of the author Beatrix Potter. She holidayed here in 1882 with her family when she was 16.
Lots of rooms have games, dressing up boxes and interesting stuff for kids to pull out and enjoy. We found a room filled with a giant checkers board – cue some serious strategic game playing between the 9 year old and husband. Another room was jam packed with foam bricks to do with as you would.
The gardens are gorgeous – lots of meandering pathways, interesting trees and plants (including a mulberry tree planted by Wordsworth in 1845) and everywhere a view of the lake.
We found a raft of family activities underway in the gardens. The 9 year old was enthralled by a story-teller and had to be dragged away. There were also various craft activities and a fabulous adventure playground in the forest.
After a couple of fun filled hours at Wray Castle we cycled back along Windermere’s shores. Not a real castle, but a unique, family-friendly one and a great stop off when out on your bike.