Lake District

The north west of England is home to one of the country’s most famous natural tourist attractions. The Lakes attract thousands upon thousands of visitors each year, both from the UK and internationally. Most famous for its mountainous climate and the many rivers and lakes which are native to the region, the Lake District attracts many walkers and climbers of all abilities.

For literary fans the region is most associated with one of England’s most emblematic and notorious poets, the romantic poet William Wordsworth. His lyrical poetry often took its subject from the lakes and he is often imagined by his readership ambling around the picturesque scenery of the Lake District. The central area of the park became a protected national park in 1951 and has been kept by loving private owners and the National Trust. This is the most famous and visited area of the region and is protected due to its popularity – the heavy feet of the walkers and climbers can cause erosion and damage. The beautiful shapes of the Lake District – its beautiful hills, mountains and valleys were caved by glaciers over 100,000 years ago, during the last ice age. Perhaps the most spectacular are the U-shaped valleys which were carved by the ice through glaciation, these are now filled with the lakes to which the park owes its name. Other areas affected by glaciers are the higher areas of the region which are home to a number of glacial cirques, filled with tarns. The highest fells are mountainous and rocky and which are sometimes treacherous in extreme weather conditions. The lower fells however are luscious and green, stretches of open moor land blanketed in heather and bracken.

Within the Lake District National Park is the quaint small town of Ambleside. The town is located ideally at the top of the most famous lake within the Lake District: Lake Windermere. England’s largest, and some would argue, most beautiful lake. The town itself houses around 2,000 people, making it small and manageable for a short stay in the lakes. Ambleside is only six hours drive from London and less than two from Manchester, Liverpool and Southern Scotland. The town has welcomed visitors for well over a century and has welcomed the business which tourists bring. Authentic bed and breakfasts, small lodgings and friendly service make for an intimate stay. In keeping with the towns rustic aesthetic, the high street of this small town is not littered with chain shops but welcomes individual and specialist shops to the area. These friendly shops helpfully offer leaflets and guides to the local area, information and maps which show you how to reach the fells; this is invaluable to a first time visitor. After a day of walking and exploring Lake Windermere, nothing could be as welcome as the variety of real ale on offer in Ambleside. This is complimented often by good, hearty and home made food. For climbing enthusiasts the town of Ambleside is the gateway to the famous Langdale valley which is an excellent centre for rock climbing. Therefore most specialised equipment is available at your fingertips in Ambleside. If climbing doesn’t take your fancy then there are also mountain bikes to hire throughout Ambleside. This activity has become more popular in recent years, however be warned it is not for the faint hearted! Mountain biking requires a lot of physical skill and stamina.

Another point of interest within the Lake District is the small market town of Keswick. Being over double the size in population of Ambleside, Keswick is perhaps slightly less sleepy and intimate however has more to offer an active family. The town is located perfectly between the beautiful lakes of Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake which are both found in the centre of the Lake District, in the Lake District National Park. Keswick is a lively town with some strong connections with the Evangelical Christian community. Meeting in the town annually since 1875, the Keswick Convention is a popular even with around 6,000 visitors a year. This is usually held in the second and third weeks in July, so if thinking of travelling then, expect a lively and busy Keswick!

The town of Keswick also plays host to an annual film festival which is held in February of each year. This quaint local festival is arousing more and more interest each coming year therefore it is wise to book tickets ahead. As if this small market town didn’t already have enough to offer it is also the home to an annual Jazz festival. This attracts musicians from far and wide to play at local venues around the town. The programme consists of around one hundred events during one long weekend in May, again due to popularity it may be wise to book ahead for the more popular acts. This year also held four evenings of special pre-festival jazz at the Theatre by the Lake, also home to the film festival. This exquisite building offers amazing views over Derwentwater, Borrowdale and the beautiful Western Fells. The Lake District’s natural beauty appears to be incorporated into the design of this building which compliments its epic surroundings. The exterior of the building is crafted in stone which was sourced locally, slate and roughcast. This four hundred seat theatre offers something that little bit different to do in the Lakes, besides from taking in the wonderful views that is. Keswick has its heart in the culture of the region; greatly connected to Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey.

Moreover not too far from the town sits Lingholm and Fawe Park which was the summer residence of Beatrix Potter between 1885 and 1907. These sublime settings have provided plot ideas and inspiration for illustration for several of her books. Lastly, before you leave Keswick, it is important to pop in and visit the Museum and Art gallery which is a Victorian museum. Hardly touched since its founding this museum offers accounts of local history and perhaps most interestingly original manuscripts from the Lake Poets.

The beautiful and scenic Coniston, taking its name from the lake nearby, was named as the first ever village of the year in 1997. To many locals and visitors the village is still the best village in the area if not the country. The village is by no means the earliest in the Lake District. Until the mid nineteenth century – when the local copper mines where revitalised – it was only a collection of small farms and a few homesteads. Centred around the heritage sixteenth century hall, built by no other but the Flemming family, the village grew from a small collection of homes to what it is today. Unfortunately this great example of the Elizabethan farmhouse, although owned and maintained by the National Trust, is not open for public viewings. The village is a draw for those who wish to visit The Old Man of Coniston, which rises above the west of the village. This glorious fell is around two and a half thousand feet high, covered with well trodden paths by tourists and locals alike. This fell in particular is of interest to anybody who is interested in the mining history of the district. The mountain has been subject to heavy slate mining from around eight hundred years.

Other than that this beautiful fell, like many in the Lakes, provides exquisite views and is the home of many flocks of sheep which can be seen grazing on the mountain. However these sheep are used to visitors, they have become a little cheeky and are unafraid of trying to pinch your packed lunch! Within this village there is the architectural interest of St Andrew’s Church. This church was completed in the last decade of the nineteenth century, at this time the Lakes were enjoying a period of great wealth and prosperity. There were many wealthy patrons who have chosen to make Consiton their home; for example John Ruskin who spent the remaining thirty years of his life just over the lake from the village. He is now buried in the cemetery at the church, decorated with local slate coming from Tilberthwaite. In the village there is the Ruskin Museum which was set up by his intimate friend W.G. Collingwood a year after Ruskin’s death.

The local tourist information centre has been established for over a decade now and is very experienced with tourists and visitors. It is highly recommended to visit upon arrival to the village, the local and friendly volunteers work every day of the week and all year round. They can provide advice, maps and directions. It also hosts exhibitions frequently which keep you up to date with the latest happenings in the area. This well thought-out centre is conveniently situated next to the car park in the village. Coniston, known for its scenes of natural beauty such as The Old Man of Coniston and Coniston Water, is also the home of the Coniston Brewing Company. Hidden behind the main pub in Coniston, the Black Bull, Ian Bradley is making his bitter. The awarding winning and best known of his products is Bluebird Bitter, this 3.6% is available to taste at the local pub and true to its local beginnings is made from the pure waters of the Coniston Hills.

The Lake District’s offering in this area is the picturesque Coniston Water. This silent and beautiful giant is the third largest in the Lake District: five miles long and up to half a mile wide. This lake is a perfect example of a ribbon lake which was formed by glaciation in the last ice age. The water lies in a deep U-shaped valley; again it was crafted by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The famous novel by Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons, which follows childhood adventures around the Lakes, was inspired by Coniston Water. This is very noticeable when reading the sequences which play out around ‘Wild Cat Island’ which is of course based on Peel Island in Coniston Water. The shape and situation of this lake makes it ideal for kayaking and canoeing. Water sports are common on the lake and the famous Three Lakes Challenge sets its second leg here. Competition is at home in the waters of the lake at Coniston. In the last century, the lake was the scene of many attempts to break the world water speed record. In 1939 Sir Malcolm Campbell set the record at 141.74 miles per hour in Bluebird K4. Decades later Sir Malcolm’s son Donald Campbell broke this record four times on the very same lake in a Bluebird K7. However one tragic day in 1967 he finally achieved his goal, to reach over 300mph – a record which he though would last. At his fastest he achieved the speed of 320 mph however on the return leg his Bluebird K7 crashed and sank. The boat was recovered from the lake of Coniston Water in 2001 more than thirty years later.

The town of Windermere, although not touching the lake itself, does take its name from it – the largest lake in England. The village sits only about half a mile away from its famous namesake. Windermere is a sizeable settlement for the local area and is home to over 8,000 residents, it is also joined with the older town of Bowness-on-Windermere, which touches the lake itself. Although the two towns seem to have merged into one another, both retain their own local identity and have distinguishable town centres. Windermere was previously known as Birthwaite, it was changed to its name today after the arrival of the railway in the Lakes in the nineteenth century. One of the most famous exports from the Lake District was founded in Windermere. Adjacent to the station is the founding store of Lakeland Limited which is a chain of kitchenware stores which are now found throughout the United Kingdom. Unlike many of the larger national companies of the twenty-first century, the store is still based where it was founded, in the town of Windermere.

Windermere, as do many towns and villages in the local area, has its own church. St Mary’s Church was constructed as a chapel in the mid-nineteenth century which coincided with the introduction of the railway. The church has undergone many restorations, renovations and alterations since its initial founding. It is however well worth the trip to look around. Other than the lake near Windermere, there are other places of great natural beauty to visit in the local area. A short walk from the town of Windermere takes you to the amazing viewpoint Orrest Head. This was the first summit in the Lakes which was visited by the acclaimed author of guidebooks, Alfred Wainwright.

You cannot write about the Lake District and simply mention the great lake of Windermere. This lake is the most iconic in the whole of England as well as being the largest. Like its little sister in Coniston, it is a ribbon lake again formed through glaciation. The lake is home to eighteen islands which sit within its waters. The largest by far at a size of over sixteen hectares, and there is also the privately owned Belle Isle. Windermere is not only popular with mankind; living in the lake are many species which include trout, pike, perch and char. The lake runs from North to South and, alongside its position between the central fells and Morecambe Bay, this means that it is a popular migration route for geese during the winter months. The sights of geese flying overhead are very popular with both walkers and photographers. The town upon this great lake is Bowness-on-Windermere is the most popular holiday resort in the whole of the lakes.

This town is an excellent spot for boating activities, there are over 10,000 boats registered. Even though up until recently this lake was the only one without a speed limit, it now enforces one of 10mph. There are many passenger boats such as steamers and launches which frequent this great lake in the company of the many private ones. Many of the late nineteenth century homes, have now been converted into luxury hotels, overlooking this beautiful and great lake.

Newby Bridge is a small village at the southern end of the great lake Windermere. The name for this village derived from the five arched stone bridge which was constructed in the middle of the seventeenth century and crosses the River Leven. If staying in this authentic and cosy village, there are many places to explore. It has perfect access to the southern Lakeland areas and the sublime Furness peninsula. The towns of Bowness and Ambleside are reachable by the Lakeside Pier which is at the southern end of Windermere. Romantic poetry enthusiasts should also look in at Newby Bridge, the local hotel was built by a great acquaintance of William Wordsworth. Copies of correspondence between the two men are displayed at the hotel and most excitingly the poem ‘To Lizzie’, written by Wordsworth, which was dedicated to the owner’s child. Arthur Ransome, of Swallows and Amazons was also a famous customer at the hotel, it would be great to follow in the footsteps of these two great men and visit or even stay at the hotel.

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