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Exploring the Grounds at Wray

View over Lake Windermere from Wray, Cumbria
View over Lake Windermere from Wray, Ambleside, Cumbria | © ©National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Created between 1840 and 1860 from open farmland, the Wray estate today includes a house in the Gothic form of a medieval castle, a church, a farm and boathouses. Despite its ancient appearance, the castle at Wray would only ever have to defend itself from the Cumbrian weather.

Many Lakeland villas were modest houses, but Dr James Dawson and his wife Margaret had bigger and bolder ambitions for Wray.

The outside of the house has a stern, castle-like appearance and vast parkland and grounds. Deliberate ruins around the castle were created to suggest its outer battlements had fallen into disrepair centuries before.

The grounds offer a glimpse of what would have been extensive pleasure gardens and landscaped grounds with an orchard, walled garden, kitchen garden, conservatory, tennis lawn and arboretum. In its heyday the estate totalled some 830 acres including several farms and a church.

A castle lit by dramatic autumn light to the right of the frame with mountains behind and a tree to the left
Wray Castle, Ambleside, Cumbria | © National Trust/Paul Harris

Inside the castle, the church-like interiors in the central hall follow the form of an ancient priory. In contrast, rooms with typically Victorian functions: a drawing room, a dining room, a library, and a morning room, are all adjoined to the towering central hall.

The house is typical of the Gothic Revival architecture style of the mid-nineteenth century and includes castellated towers, corner towers with narrow iron-rimmed arrow slits, an impressive porte-cochere and even a portcullis, which still operates today.

With all the furniture and artwork long gone and the last family moving out in the 1920s, the castle has had mixed uses and was opened to visitors by the National Trust in 2011.

Wray Castle
Wray castle Cumbria | © ©National Trust Images/Chris McEvoy

Gothic Revival architecture style

Look out for the castellated towers, corner towers with narrow iron-rimmed arrow slits, coat of arms, and the impressive porte-cochere.


A porte-cochère or 'coach gateway' is a covered porch-like structure at a main or secondary entrance to a building through which originally a horse and carriage and can pass to provide arriving and departing occupants’ protection from the elements. Wray’s is particularly impressive.

Ruined battlements

Part of larger, deliberately ruined wall structures that encircled the castle. Mostly removed in the 1970s, the ruins included a crumbling tower in front of the main entrance.

Arboretum and yew walk

This short, level walk with a few steps, passes through the castle’s collection of exotic trees and a shady grove of yews. The cobbled floor of a summerhouse can still be spotted beside the path. Don’t forget to look out for the Mulberry tree out past the café. It is said that William Wordsworth planted the tree in the grounds in 1845. There are some other interesting specimen trees, such as sequoias, cedar and beech and many of the surviving veteran oaks in the parkland pre-date the Castle.

Tree trunks forming a gap through which other trees and parkland can be seen
The arboretum at Wray | © National Trust/Paul Harris

Walled Garden

Although no longer complete you can imagine how impressive it once would have been. Past the walled garden would have been the orchard.

Boathouse and miniature harbour

Like the castle, the boathouse is bold and Gothic in style and large enough to store and launch small steamboats. It includes a jetty and mini harbour. Taking a boat trip is hands-down the best way to appreciate the lake’s beauty and you can catch Windermere Lake Cruises Green Cruise* at Wray’s own jetty *Easter to September.


Woodland links the house to the lakeshore. Epley Head is a famous viewpoint across the lake towards Fairfield and the historic Low Wood Hotel.

The shingle beach

Windermere has few good beaches, and this stretch of shingle is a prized feature of the estate.

St Margaret’s Church

Owned by the Church of England, the church is part of the Dawsons’ landscape design and sits among champion oak trees. The interior is not open to visitors.

Stunning lake and panoramic Lake District views

Ten and a half miles long, and a little over 200ft deep, Windermere is England’s largest lake. With some of the best views in the Lake District (to the north, the central fells; to the south, a wooded shoreline),

For scale and serene beauty, Lake Windermere is renowned as one of the most exquisite places in the Lake District.

Double boat house at Wray
Double boat house at Wray | © @Lakes Culture/Jill Jennings