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Windermere is a ribbon lake. Ribbon lakes are long and narrow. It was formed 13,000 years ago during the last major ice age by two glaciers, one from the Troutbeck valley and the other from the Fairfield Horseshoe.

When the glaciers melted the lake filled with the meltwater, which was held in by moraine (rock material) deposited by the glaciers. Scientifically, the lake is regarded as being 2 separate basins – north and south, with different characteristics influenced by the geology – hard volcanic rocks in the north basin, and softer shales in the south.

The lake is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven. It is replenished by the rivers Brathay, Rothay, Trout Beck, Cunsey Beck and several other lesser streams. The lake is largely surrounded by foothills of the Lake District which provide pleasant low-level walks; to the north and north-east are the higher fells of central Lakeland.

At the south end of the lake is South Windermere Sailing Club, based at Fell Foot park on the east shore. It was started in 1961, as a family sailing club and has been the starting point for many successful British dinghy racing competitors including British, European and World Champions. The notoriously fluky wind on the lake has proved a successful training ground in learning to read the fast changing wind. SWSC celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2011 and has developed a strong junior section under the coaching of Julie Tomkinson who in 2011 was honoured with an RYA Community Award for Outstanding Contribution.

SWSC from the Air

The Windermere Ferry, a vehicle-carrying cable ferry, runs across the lake from Ferry Nab on the eastern side of the lake to Far Sawrey on the western side of the lake. This service forms part of the B5285. There are also two summer only passenger ferries that cross the lake. One crosses from Lakeside station to Fell Foot Park at the southern end of the lake, whilst the other links Bowness with Far Sawrey.

Speed limits

For many years, power-boating and water-skiing have been popular activities on the lake. In March 2000, the Lake District National Park Authority controversially introduced a bylaw setting a 10 knots (12 mph; 19 km/h) speed limit for all powered craft on the lake, in addition to three existing 6-mile-per-hour (5.2 kn; 9.7 km/h) speed limits for all craft on the upper, lower, and middle sections of the lake. The bylaw came into force in 2000, but there was a five year transition period and the new speed limits were only enforced from 29 March 2005. Despite the speed limits people continue to use power-boats on the lake, both legally and illegally.

Many organisations, mainly those with an interest in sailing, support the limit, primarily on environmental grounds. Other benefits include restoring the tranquil nature of the lake and making it safer and more accessible for all users.