Hawkshead is the least easily accessed of the major Lake District shopping centres. Coniston to the west and Ambleside to the north are both reached along narrow winding roads, while the southern approach uses the chain ferry across Windermere. The village isn’t close to any high mountains – nearby Latterbarrow struggles to reach 800ft – and the hills to the south west are hidden beneath Grizedale Forest.
Despite this the village is a deservedly popular tourist destination. The key to this is the lack of traffic in the village centre – the main road now passes to the east of the village. As a result the visitor is free to enjoy the picturesque village centre without any interruptions.
The village name comes from “Haukr’s shieling”, or the summer pasture of Haukr. During the thirteenth century the small settlement became an abbey farm (grange) of Furness Abbey. After the dissolution of the monasteries the village gained a market, followed in 1608 by a biannual fair, and became an important market town for the wool trade. This trade remained important as late as 1790, when the current market hall was built, but declined during the nineteenth century
The village became a centre of the wool industry
Hawkshead has an interesting collection of shops, amongst them an excellent bookshop, the Hawkshead Relish Company and of course a large Hawkshead shop as well as a good selection of tea rooms, walking shops and craft and gift shops.
The village church – St. Michael’s Church – sits above the village to the west, and is well worth visiting for the views across the surrounding area and for the church itself. The old Grammar School, where Wordsworth went to school, is open during the season. Literary connections continue with the Beatrix Potter Gallery, in the house and office of William Heelis, Beatrix Potter’s husband.
Esthwaite Water, to the south of the village, is not easily accessible on foot – the only public right of way reaches the lakeshore at its northern end, and although roads run down both sides of the lake there are very few places to park. Fishing permits are available from the post office, and rowing boats can be hired for use on the lake. Boats can be launched from the car park at the south western corner of the lake.