Wray Castle

Wray Castle :

Windermere / Ambleside

Wray Castle is a National Trust owned Gothic Revival castle on the shores of Lake Windermere with turrets, towers, informal grounds and miles of lakeshore paths.

image of the exterior of wray castle, windermere, lake district

Explore Wray Castle

Use the castle as your base and set out on your bike down the west shore of Windermere to Claife Viewing Station and back. Or choose from one of the lakeside or countryside circular walks for a great day out in the heart of the Lakes.

Family adventures in nature await as you explore the grounds and discover the adventure play trail with hidden activities in the woods

Pack a picnic and find some of the best views in the Lakes for your lunch spot, or pick-up some refreshments from the Kitchen Court Café, selling hot and cold light-bites, drinks, snacks and ice creams.

This year there will be access to the ground floor only of Wray Castle, where you can catch a glimpse at the castle’s former glory. The castle came to the National Trust without its contents, so you will not see a ‘typical’ historic house full of paintings, furniture and antiques with an accompanying owner-family history through the ages.

Wray Castle History

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.

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 seems amazing that this was in effect a retirement home for two people.

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 who was 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 house was one of many built around Windermere lake by very wealthy industrialists who had made their fortunes in big cities during the industrial revolution.

an aerial image of wray castle near ambleside in the lake district
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.

Wray Castle Grounds

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.

image of the entrance hallway at wray castle in the lake district
The entrance hallway at Wray Castle. Photo by Jan Fialkowski.

Beatrix Potter at Wray Castle

Although Beatrix Potter was born and brought up in London her parents took her north for her summer holidays. Firstly to Scotland, but when the house they rented there became unavailable they rented Wray Castle. Beatrix was 16 when they stayed here in 1882. Her parents entertained many eminent guests here, including Hardwicke Rawnsley.

His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix. She had already 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.

One of Beatrix Potter’s favourite rooms at Wray Castle was the library. This is one of the rooms recently renovated, with its trompe l’oeil and restored floor.

Wray Castle Visitor Information

2022 Opening hours: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

2022 Admission: Free for entry to grounds. Castle entry £5.40 Adults | £2.70 Child | £ 13.50 Family.
2022 parking charges: 2 hours £5.00 | 2 – 4 hours £6.50 | 4+ hours £7.50 | Free for NT members

You can arrive at Wray Castle by boat, with the Windermere Lake Cruises boats running from Ambleside to the Castle and Brockhole regularly.

Address : Low Wray, Ambleside, LA22 0JA, Telephone: 015394 41456
Email : [email protected]

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Grid Ref : NY 375010