Wray Castle :


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Wray Castle

This is not a real castle but a private house built in in the Gothic Revival Style in 1840. It was built for Dr James Dawson, a retired Liverpool surgeon, and is now owned by the National Trust. The house was built using his wife’s inheritance from a gin fortune. Apparently she took one look at the house when it was finished, and refused to live in it.
William Wordsworth, on the other hand, said it ‘added a dignified feature to the interesting scenery in the midst of which it stands’. But then, he wasn’t required to reside within its walls.


It was designed by John Jackson Lightfoot, a trained accountant with an interest in architecture. It was his first and only design, as he sadly drank himself to death before it was finished. H.P. Horner, a more experienced architect stepped in to complete the design. So what you see is a combination of Lightfoot’s playful fantasy design and Horner’s practical approach.
The castle has mock ruins, hidden doors and a billiard room on the first floor next to the bedrooms. There is a viewing platform on the top of the central tower (but not accessable to visitors due to housing a set of communications masts).
The house was one of many built around Lake Windermere by very wealthy industrialists who had made their fortunes in big cities during the industrial revolution.


Wray Castle. Aerial photo by Jonathan Webb.

After Dr Dawson’s death in 1875, when he was 96, the estate was inherited by his young nephew, Preston Rawnsley. In 1877 Preston’s cousin, Hardwicke Rawnsley, took up the appointment of vicar of Wray Church (next to the Castle and built at the same time by Dr Dawson).
The castle has been in the care of the National Trust since 1929, when it was given to the trust by Sir Noton Barclay to celebrate his year of office as Lord Mayor of Manchester.
You can explore the Castle inside and out in all weather. Find your way from James and Margaret Dawson’s grand living spaces to narrow winding passages used by their servants. Rooms are empty of the original furniture but photographs taken by Beatrix Potter’s father helps you to imagine 19th-century life.
Wander the Castle’s elaborate hall, rooms with towers, turrets and arrow slots. You can enjoy a paddle by the lakeside before catching a boat back to Ambleside or Brockhole.

The castle building room now has new foam blocks, there is lots of dressing up, a countryside room, plus the newest addition to the castle, the Peter Rabbit Adventure.

Rooms in the old servant’s quarter in the castle have been magically transformed.

The grounds are well worth visiting for the sake of the specimen trees – wellingtonia, redwood, gingkoa, weeping lime and varieties of beech. There is a mulberry tree planted by William Wordsworth in 1845 (see photo in Gallery below). Watbarrow Wood is the wooded bank between the castle and the lake, and has several pleasant paths leading through it to the water’s edge. There are spectacular views across Windermere.
Over the last few years the grounds have been undergoing a major restoration by the National Trust, to try and restore them to how they would have looked when the house was built. This will give impressive views to Windermere lake from a variety of directions.
There are more rooms open than before, free guided tours, and there is a cafe – run by the Tower Bank Arms of Near Sawrey.

The entrance hallway at Wray Castle. Photo by Jan Fialkowski.

Beatrix Potter was born and brought up in London. Her parents took her on summer holidays to Scotland, but when the house they rented became unavailable, they rented Wray Castle. Beatrix was 16 when they stayed here in 1882. Her parents entertained many eminent guests, including Hardwicke Rawnsley.
His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home. She bought Hill Top nearby in 1905 with royalties from her first few books, and when she was 47 married and moved to the Lake District. She bought much land in the area, including most of the land surrounding Wray Castle, though she never owned the castle itself.
John Moffat, National Trust General Manager for the South Lakes area, said: “Wray Castle is an elaborate building. James Dawson could essentially build whatever he wanted, from a portcullis to turrets which don’t have any access to them, as well as arrow slits and even mock ruins in the grounds – James ordered the lot. The Dawsons didn’t have any children so it’s always amazing to me that this was in effect a retirement home for two people.”


One of Beatrix Potter’s favourite rooms at Wray Castle was the library. This is one of the rooms recently to be renovated, with its trompe l’oeil and restored floor. Younger visitors can also become kings and queens for the day, dressing up and building their own giant castles, while older guests can learn about the history of the building on guided tours which will give them the chance to learn more about the place.
John Moffat added: “We’re aiming to make sure that you’ll be able to spend an entire day at Wray this summer and it won’t be the traditional National Trust house you may be expecting. We want everyone to find something here for them and to use it as a base for a great day out – perhaps linked with a walk down the lakeshore as well. There are also the extensive grounds to explore and there will also be a great café with an amazing view run by one of our tenant food producers.
“I don’t think there is any better way to arrive at a castle than by boat. The Windermere Lake Cruises boats which run from Ambleside stop at the Castle regularly, so why not leave the car behind and make a day of it?”


After Sunday 2 November 2014 and up to 21 December 2014, the castle will be open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when there will be events and activities going on. The final day of opening is Sunday 21 December and the castle will re-open on Saturday 21 March 2015. The grounds are open every day of the year.
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Grid Ref : NY 375010
Address : Low Wray, Ambleside, LA22 0JA, Telephone: 015394 41456 (South Lakes Boon Crag property office),
Email : wraycastle@nationaltrust.org.uk