Of the many places to go boating in the Lake District, Coniston Water in the Lake District National Park may be the best. Coniston Water lies in a tranquil wooded valley between Grizedale Forest and the high fells of Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam. The Coniston Boating Centre, Lake Road, Coniston (tel. 01539/441366; www.lake-district.gov.uk), occupies a sheltered bay at the northern end of the lake. The center provides launching facilities, boat storage, and parking. You can rent rowboats that carry two to six people, sailing dinghies carrying up to six passengers, or Canadian canoes that transport two. There is a picnic area and access to the lakeshore. From the gravel beach, you may be able to spot the varied water birds and plants that make Coniston Water a valuable but fragile habitat for wildlife.
You can also cruise the lake in an original Victorian steam-powered yacht, the Gondola. Launched in 1859 and in regular service until 1937, this unique boat was rescued and completely restored by the National Trust. Since 1980, it has become a familiar sight on Coniston Water; sailings to Park-a-Moor and Brantwood run throughout the summer. Service is subject to weather conditions, of course. Trips are possible from April to October, costing £7.90 round-trip for adults or £4 for children.
Coniston Launch (tel. 01539/436216; www.conistonlaunch.co.uk) is a traditional timber boat that calls at Coniston, Monk Coniston, Torver, and Brantwood. (Discounts are offered in combination with admission to Brantwood house.) This exceptional boating outfitter offers special cruises in summer (the "Swallows and Amazons" tour was inspired by Arthur Ransome's classic story).
Summitreks operates from the lakeside at Coniston Boating Centre, offering qualified instruction in canoeing and windsurfing. You can rent a wide range of equipment from the nearby office at Lake Road (tel. 01539/441212; www.summitreks.co.uk).
In Hawkshead, the Beatrix Potter Gallery (tel. 01539/436355; www.britishheritagepass.com) has an annually changing exhibition of Beatrix Potter's original illustrations from her children's storybooks. The building was once the office of her husband, solicitor William Heelis, and the interior remains largely unaltered since his day. To get here, take bus no. 505 from Ambleside and Coniston to the square in Hawkshead. Admission is £3.60 per person, or else a family ticket goes for £9.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.