This week we had the pleasure of attending the official opening of one of the Lake District’s earliest tourist and cultural hotspots - which after a major restoration is once again ready to welcome visitors to enjoy its panoramic views of Windermere.
First highlighted in the 1770s, by guidebook author Thomas West as one of five ‘must-see’ places to view England’s longest lake, Claife Viewing Station began life as a summer house for a local clergyman, before its adoption as a Pleasure House for the Curwen family, who owned Belle Isle, Windermere’s only inhabited island.
Perched on a rocky promontory near the ferry, the Viewing Station is one of the few places to glimpse the lakeshore villas of the eastern shore of Windermere, in contrast to the western side, much of which is in the care of the National Trust and is largely undeveloped.
Following a two-year project to conserve Claife Viewing Station, the National Trust’s latest visitor attraction tells the story of its colourful history; once a ‘must do’ for visitors on an English Grand Tour, then a place of music and dances for high society, and finally to faded grandeur and ruin as visitors began to travel into the wilder landscapes of the fells.
Claife Viewing Station recreates for the modern visitor a sense of the discovery and delight of those earlier times, when a glimpse of the landscape was considered thrilling.
Through installations like the open-air modern platform, or the Aeolian wind harp and coloured viewing glass, visitors can once again use their imagination to experience the views as was originally intended.
Work on the buildings and surrounding landscape has been carried out by National Trust stone masons, building teams, volunteers and rangers, alongside many local tradesmen - including the team at Chris Brammall - who’ve used their skills to both conserve and breathe new life into one of the Lake Districts earliest tourist attractions.
Chris comments, "It's always a pleasure to undertake work in Cumbria and the project at Claife has been a really significant piece of work for us. The whole team has enjoyed being part of the project and seeing the original windows being brought back into use with decorative metalwork and stained glass has been a particular privilege for us all likewise the challenge of designing and installing a conservation project such as this is only enhanced by the enjoyment of being able to work in such a stunning location".
Throughout the 1800s, Claife Viewing Station was used for dinners and dances; with music, decorations and the novelty of getting to the party by first crossing the lake. By the end of the nineteenth century Claife Viewing Station had fallen out of favour and fell into disrepair over the last hundred years.
Today, following the National Trust’s project, the building remains a rare example of a purpose–built public viewing station.
Visitors can use Claife Viewing Station to appreciate the stunning Lakes landscape around them or enjoy refreshments in the restored cottage café – where poet Wordsworth would famously direct his guest Henry Crabb Robinson to: ‘put yourself under the guidance of an old woman, who will come out to meet you if you ring or call for her at a fantastic sort of gateway an appurtenance to a pleasure house called the Station.”