Wray Castle, the first castle we visited in the United Kingdom was… actually not a castle. It was certianly built to look like a castle, even to the point where mock ruins were made in the castle grounds! What, then, is a castle? According my trusted sources (aka Wikipedia) castles are “the private fortified residence of a lord or noble”. So Wray Castle, as a private non-fortified residence of a wealthy man, is definitely not a castle.
But hey, it has castle in its name, which is why it gets to be the first in this series of UK Castle posts 😛
Situated on the shores of Lake Windermere, Cumbria, Wray Castle was built in 1840 for James Dawson, a retired surgeon. In the beautiful scenery of the Lakes District, the Gothic-revival styled building actually divided opinions when it was first built, but today I think it looks amazing where it is. In its time as a private home it was visited by Beatrix Potter, who spent a holiday there in 1882. Only sixteen at the time, she had a lot to say about the place, seemingly charmed the whole time she was there. The National Trust acquired the building in 1929, and since then it has been used for a variety of purposes; a youth hostel, the offices of the Freshwater Biological Association, and even a training college for the navy! Now, it stands as a visitor attraction and an interesting example of architecture.
It was mostly a bright sunny day when we approached Wray Castle from Ambelside by ferry. We had caught glimpses of it from the boat, but when we pulled up at the little jetty, the building had dipped below the tree-line. The jetty was built alongside a little boat house, which was similarly designed to look part of a fortified wall, located in a tiny cove. Stepping off the boat, we had a narrow view of Windermere behind us and the hills beyond, and a green meadow just beyond the cove. The beautiful old trees both sheltered us from the noise of the water activity on the lake, and created a fairy-tale atmosphere. We followed the path alongside the meadow, leading us steadily uphill.
We soon had a glimpse of castle turrets peaking out from behind trees. As we got closer, my excitement grew… but I must admit I was momentarily distracted by the stunning countryside. I mean, look at it, could you get anything more picture perfect?!
And then, we were there. The first impression that I got of Wray Castle was the intricately patterned floor tiles, the high ceilings, and the noise. When the National Trust acquired the building it stood empty; all of its furnishings had been sold or removed previously. This is actually fairly unusual for a building left to the Trust, and probably explains why it served many functions before finally becoming the attraction it is today. However, being content-free made the building particularly well suited for children to visit; there’s no fear about delicates being damaged or destroyed. Hence, Wray Castle features many themed rooms (including a Peter Rabbit trail!) for children to dress up, play, and just run around screaming in. And on a beautiful summer’s day in August, in the middle of the school break, they were certainly doing that. Not that I minded, to be honest.
We walked around doing the boring “adult things”, like reading information cards and admiring architecture, although I was almost tempted by a camping themed room with tents and comfy looking sleeping bags. My Dad and I decided to check out the Peter Rabbit trail, and the trek up tiny staircases and into a surprisingly large number of rooms suggested that the house was a rabbit warren itself! The higher we got in the house, the better the views of the surrounding the countryside. The Lakes District was our first stop in our UK tour, and I think I was very spoilt with my first impression of the nation being this beautiful place!
We didn’t stay at the house for too long, as we had a busy tour plan, so we were soon back back outside enjoying the sunshine. Leaving Wray Castle behind, we travelled back down to get the ferry back to Windermere… but we managed to miss it. That’s okay,though, because it meant we had about 20 minutes to explore the woodland and camping grounds in the area. If you do get a chance to visit, I’d strongly recommended doing this as well, everything was so, so pretty!
Finally, our ferry came, and it was time to move on from Wray Castle. We got our last glimpse of it as we boated away, its tall towers sprouting proudly from a clump of trees. It was certainly a fascinating experience as my first ‘castle’ (let’s not get technical), and got me excited for what was to come later in the trip. I really like that Wray Castle is so readily enjoyed by kids, and not kept as a dusty old relic. I hope the National Trust have plans to bring the building to life in bigger and better ways to keep everyone enjoying the house for years to come. It was a beautiful building in a beautiful setting!