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Enterprising Lake District visitor attraction celebrates 160th Anniversary

Boldly going where no steamer has gone before, this July marks 160 years since Enterprise launched on Ullswater, a lake in the heart of the English Lake District UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ullswater ‘Steamers’ Raven M.Y turns 130 this July. Photo by Jeff Ashton

In a double celebration, award-winning environmentally accredited Ullswater ‘Steamers’ celebrates the 160th Anniversary of the Ullswater Transit & Navigation Company and the 130th Birthday of M.Y Raven (who replaced the first ‘Steamer’, Enterprise) with a Victorian themed weekend (13-14 July) and spectacular Evening Flotilla on the lake (16 July). A once in a lifetime experience for passengers this will be the first time in the company’s history, that all five heritage boats assemble on the lake together.

Throughout the anniversary weekend there will be Victorian inspired entertainments at Glenridding Pier including a coconut shy, candy floss and hoopla. The celebrations will culminate on the 16 July with the flotilla where M.Y Raven, M.Y Lady of the Lake, M.V Lady Dorothy, M.V Lady Wakefield and M.V Western Belle will amass at the widest point on the lake, providing a rare photo opportunity.

Each boat will have a different role in the evening’s proceedings with invited guests and Lake District Estates staff aboard the birthday boat; Raven. Members of the public will have the chance to take part in this occasion aboard Lady Wakefield as part of the Fish & Chip Supper Cruise or Gin Cruise on Western Belle. The cruise on Lady of the Lake has been gifted to Patterdale Mountain Rescue to help support their annual fundraising programme, whilst staff members of National Trust Aira Force have been invited to sail on Lady Dorothy.

The public cruises depart from Pooley Bridge Pier at 7pm, pre-booking is essential, you can find out more on the events pages.

Mark Horton Manager Ullswater Steamers says; “We have never before had all five boats on the water together, it will be a truly magnificent sight and experience for our passengers and a wonderful way to celebrate Raven’s 130th birthday on that very day.

“It’s fascinating to think about how the early Victorian tourists would have experienced Ullswater and the changes between then and now. To ensure future generations can enjoy the landscape we are always looking for ways to protect and conserve the environment around us.

“Our sustainability initiatives include modifying our fleet of boats to make them more efficient, achieving carbon neutral status for our office operations at the ‘Steamers’, removing single use plastic where possible and supporting visitor giving with the new contactless payment point from Lake District Foundation.”


1860s ENTERPRISE at Ullswater hotel

Originally used to transport provisions, Royal Mail, slate from nearby mines and lead from the Greenside mine in Glenridding, it was the Victorian domestic tourism boom in the late 1800s, that fuelled the ‘Steamers’ growth in popularity with passengers.

Enterprise was a paddle steamer and the first boat of the Ullswater Steam Navigation Company, which later became Ullswater ‘Steamers’. It was beset with problems with the paddles being choked by weeds, not much is known of its demise but the boat was later replaced by M.Y Raven. Tour operator Thomas Cook was also vocal in his support for a new boat to provide extra reliability for the groups of tourists he was bringing to the Lake District via the railway at Penrith as so Raven was commissioned.

Archive photo of M.Y Raven at Glenridding c.1900

Launched on the 16th July 1889 M.Y Raven was named after Ravencragg, the home of company director W H Parkin. One of his young relatives Winifred Parkin, aged 6, broke the bottle of champagne across Raven’s bows. The superstition was that the younger the person that names a vessel, the longer it will live. Raven is now 130 years old and was constructed by Joseph Seath & Company of Rutherglen near Glasgow then transported to Pooley bridge to be assembled. Designed to carry 400 passengers originally, the motor yacht (M.Y) has undergone various repairs and modernisations and now has a diesel Cummings Engine.

Running boat services daily for 160 years Ullswater ‘Steamers’ has a wealth of stories to tell, connecting some of the most famous and iconic walking routes in the National Park, with connections between Glenridding, Howtown, Pooley Bridge Piers and between Glenridding and National Trust Aira Force Pier. With views of Daffodils on the west shore in Spring and the imposing Helvellyn Mountain range at the South-Western end, the valley has long been the place of inspiration for famous artists and poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey and Turner. Today the company is one of the largest heritage fleets in the world with five boats in service and a gold standard ethos of sustainability and conservation at the heart of operations.

Fast facts:

Ullswater is the second largest lake in the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Lake District. It is around 7.5 miles (12 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide with a maximum depth of approximately 205ft (62m).

M.Y Raven has been around the world approximately 23.5 times since it launched, travelling 585,500 miles and spending around 58,550 hours on the water, and carrying over 9 million passengers.

Built of Iron in the Clyde in 1889 M.Y Raven was the 270th boat constructed by Joseph Seath & Company. It was transported in sections by rail to Penrith, then by road to Pooley Bridge to be assembled on the sore of Ullswater at Eller Beck.

Thomas Cook brought charabancs (horse drawn and later motorised pleasure buses) of passengers from Penrith train station to Pooley Bridge to take a cruise in the 1800’s

Famous passengers on the fleet include; Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince of Wales, Prince Harry Duke of Sussex and Princess Alexandra, actors Tom Cruise and Peter Postlethwaite, and presenters David Dimbleby, Tony Robinson, Kate Humble and politician Tony Blair.

Award-winning environmentally accredited Ullswater ‘Steamers’ currently operates one of the largest heritage fleets in the world, holding Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold accreditation and Gold Green at Heart for best environmental practice.

There are 80+ daily scheduled sailings on the lake at the height of the summer season.

The area is home to some of the UK’s rarest species of wildlife including Red Deer, Red Squirrel, Holly Blue Butterfy, Common Blue Damselfly, Peregrine Falcon, Raven, Red-breasted Merganser, Cormorant, Osprey and many more.

William Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem “Daffodils” after seeing daffodils growing on the shores of Ullswater.

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