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Lake District

Photo © PeteB

Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom England North West England Cumbria Lake District

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Introduction

The trees of Lake Buttermere

The trees of Lake Buttermere

© All Rights Reserved Mikey B

Once home to writers and poets such as Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and Alfred Wainwright, the Lake District - now a national park - is arguably the most visually scenic area of England. From wooded lake shore to rugged mountain top the region is largely unspoiled mainly thanks to that national park status but also in no small part to Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit stories, who left her considerable estate to the National Trust with the proviso that it shall never be built on. As a result much of the farmland immediately west of Windermere has remained out of bounds to the developers for a hundred years.

Situated entirely within the county of Cumbria, the Lake District is a center for outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain biking as well as watersports such as canoeing. More sedate water borne activity occurs around Windermere which has a large marina at Bowness.

The region's main towns are Windermere, Bowness Ambleside, Keswick and Coniston with Kendal and Penrith just outside the national park. Langdale is probably the most popular area for hiking and is normally accessed from Ambleside or Coniston. Some of the valleys on the periphery especially Eskdale, Wasdale and Ennerdale to the West are less frequented than the main centres and contain some of the most unspoilt scenery. Equally quiet but rewarding are Kentmere and Mardale to the East.

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Geography

The lake districts unique landscape was created by the formation and demise of large glaciers. The most recent of which disappeared over 10,000 years ago. The area (approximately 55 kilometres across) is made up of large U-shaped valleys, most of which feature a lake. The high areas feature rocky terrain and lower down the open moorland is quite boggy due to high rain fall. Scafell Pike, England's largest mountain can be found here.

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Towns

  • Windermere
  • Bowness
  • Ambleside
  • Keswick
  • Coniston
  • Kendal
  • Penrith

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Villages

  • Grasmere
  • Coniston
  • Kentmere
  • Boot
  • Eskdale
  • Longthwaite

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Sights and Activities

  • The Lakes for which the region is known are as follows: Windermere - at 11 miles (18 kilometres) the longest lake in the region - and Coniston Water are in the south and popular with watersports enthusiasts. Next to Keswick in the north lies Derwentwater with its multitude of wooded islands while a little further north on the edge of the region lies Bassenthwaite Lake - the only body of water named "lake" - the rest being "water" or "mere". The eastern lakes are home to Ullswater which many say is the most scenic of the lakes. Almost as large as windermere but without any major towns around it, Ullswater's wooded shorelines stretch from pastoral Pooley Bridge to the base of the rugged mountains above Patterdale. The east is also home to Thirlmere and Haweswater - both man made reservoirs but no less attractive for it.
  • To the west of the national park lies Wastwater, England's deepest lake set in spectacular scenery at the foot of the famous screes and England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike though it is another peak, that of Great Gable which dominates the much celebrated view up the lake. Just north of here is tranquil Ennerdale Water in its wooded valley and just north again, Crummock Water and Buttermere framed by mountain slopes to rival those of Wastwater. These are the main lakes though there are many more smaller ones such as Loweswater, Elterwater and Grasmere each worthy of a visit. In addition the Fells, as the local mountains are known, have countless small glacier formed lakes known as tarns.
  • A recommended trip by rail is to take the train to Ravenglass on the West Cumbria Coast and then the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, known locally as "L'aal Ratty" into the Eskdale valley from which there are a multitude of walking opportunities.
  • Although its name is the Lake District, it is in fact the mountains which draw and entertain most of the 13 million visitors each year. England's liberal system of footpaths has led to a huge network of paths giving hundreds of possible walks. Alfred Wainwright's hand-drawn Pictorial Guides were the first attempt to categorise the fells, and his descriptions of 214 mountains split into 7 volumes remain in print today and are the guidebook of choice for many regular visitors. For the casual visitor, you can walk into almost any shop in the area and buy an Ordnance Survey map (the district is covered by 4 maps - NW, NE, SW, SE), locate yourself and go walking.

Catbells is perhaps the most-walked hill, since it is visible from the lakeside at Keswick and looks invitingly easy. Many walkers take a trip on the motor launch from Keswick at the Hawes End landing stage, walk up through woods and onto the shoulder of the hill, admire the view from the summit before returning down a prepared pathway of stone steps down to the lakeshore at Brandelhowe where there is another ferry pier to return to town. More energetic walkers will continue from Catbells along the ridge onto Maiden Moor, High Spy and Dale Head, before dropping down to Honister Pass to pick up a bus home, or they may walk back along an old drove road below the pass, via Castle Crag (the smallest of the Wainwright fells, but still a mountain in miniature) to Grange and the foot of the lake.

Great Gable is to many fellwalkers the central mountain of the Lake District, in spite of not quite being the highest. This can be tackled from the hamlet of Seathwaite at the foot of Borrowdale, but an easier route starts at Honister Pass and heads over the smaller fells of Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable before the final assault on Great Gable. On a clear day the Isle of Man and Blackpool Tower can be seen, and each year on Remembrance Sunday a non-religious non-militaristic ceremony of remembrance is held on the summit at 11am in memory of those who fell in the First World War in the protection of freedom; this land was gifted to the nation in memory of those who fell.

Helvellyn offers perhaps the most challenging walk in the Lakes, with two tricky ridges to traverse - Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. Mostly tackled from Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater, easier routes are available which avoid the ridges.

Hiking in the Lakes isn't all about the high fells. A popular walk follows a triangular route from Skelwith Bridge to Little Langdale to Elterwater, staying at low level and offering a variety of landscapes beginning with an impressive waterfall at Skelwith Force, through woods and fields to emerge above the Little Langdale valley. Disused slate workings here give the chance to walk into the Cathedral Cave, which is a chamber in a slate quarry with a large opening above giving natural light so no need for torches. Then across pretty Slaters' Bridge, a packhorse bridge which dates to pre-Roman times, and a stop in the Three Shires Inn. An easy bridleway crosses to Elterwater with another stone bridge over clear waters, and another possible refreshment stop at the Britannia Inn, then along the riverside path, next to Elterwater lake, and back to the beginning.

  • Mountain Biking
  • Watersports

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Weather

Being on the western side of the country and mountainous in nature it is inevitable that the Lake District has a wetter than average climate. Indeed the wettest place in England, Sprinkling Tarn is located just north of the highest summit, Scafell Pike. Besides, the lakes, waterfalls and green hillsides are part of the natural beauty of the region and having all four seasons in a day just adds to the overall experience.

In general more rain falls in the western valleys and mountains than on the eastern side and it is common for it to be a wet day at Wasdale Head and have sunny spells at Ullswater. Winter snow usually only occurs on the hills and then doesn't usually last for long except perhaps on the higher summits especially the east side of Helvellyn. Equally summer hot spells are usually tempered by cloud cover over the hills.

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Getting There

By Plane

The closest airport to the Lake District is at Blackpool, served by Ryanair from London Stansted airport in Essex. However, intercontinental flights generally use Newcastle, Durham Tees Valley, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester airports, which are about a 2 hour drive away from the Eastern lakes and 2.5 hours from the Western lakes. Regular trains run direct from Manchester Airport station to Windermere, Penrith and Barrow-in-Furness. Newcastle airport is on the Metro and after travelling to Newcastle City, the Tyne valley line can be used to get to Carlisle.

By Train

The high speed West Coast Main Line skirts the eastern edge of the Lake district with stations at Oxenholme and Penrith. Fastest journey times from London are three hours to Penrith and 2.40 to Oxenholme.

Windermere station is most conveniently located for the Southern Lakes. The train from here travels to Oxenholme station on the main West Coast line. The Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line also links the lakes to Yorkshire, as does the line from Leeds to Barrow via Hellifield.

For the northern lakes, it is best to travel to Penrith, from where it is possible to catch a bus to Keswick and Ullswater.

The South and West Lakes is accessed by one of the most scenic railways in the country. Starting from Carnforth the line travels across the Lake District peninsulas by a series of impressive viaducts to Barrow in Furness. The Cumbria Coast line then travels via Millom to Whitehaven, and re-joins the West Coast Main line at Carlisle. At Foxfield the old market town of Broughton in Furness and the Duddon valley is accessible. From Millom northwards some of the most interesting of the western valleys can be seen and accessed from such as Drigg, Seascale and Ravenglass stations. Onward travel in such as the "Wasdale bus", or by taxi may be necessary for those without bicycles. Further north the line literally runs along the beach at Braystones and after a superb serpentine section next to the Irish Sea it passes through St Bees with its Heritage Coast and ancient priory, and thence to Whitehaven.

By Car

M6 motorway and enter the park via either the A590 from Junction 36 for the South Lakes, or the A66 at Penrith from Junction 40 for the North Lakes. Alternatively the A65 from Leeds connects to the A590 at Junction 36.

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Getting Around

The area is served by multiple bus routes, many of them operated by Stagecoach. However, as this is a rural area, and routes are necessarily limited to the roads in the valleys, it is sensible to plan your travel in advance.

This also applies to getting around by car, with journey times being extended due to the slow winding roads. Bringing your own car to the lakes is the most popular option, but motorists may encounter hefty parking fees/restrictions in large towns, or even at the base of popular hill walking routes.

The beautiful coastal railway, travelling between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness allows access to many of the rarely visited seaside towns and villages. The "Lakes Rover" ticket offers good value for rail travel around this area.

Budget travellers can book a day tour to get to see the best of the Lake District in a day. Mountain-goat are one of the popular tour operators in the area. They also offer a pick-up from your accommodation if you are staying in Windermere or Bowness-on-Windermere.

It's also possible to travel the lake district by bicycle - however it's only recommended for very experienced and well-prepared cyclists. It's definitely recommended to be prepared for rain, wear high-visibility clothing and fit lights, as the weather in this part of the country changes very quickly and rain can cause road-conditions to be slippery and visibility is greatly reduced. Also be particularly cautious of traffic - although the roads are not busy, local drivers who are familiar with the roads tend to drive very fast so take particular care when approaching blind corners. Although bike-rental is available in some larger towns in the region, the bikes available are generally sub-standard mountain-bikes - a high-quality road, hybrid or touring bike is more highly recommended. Fortunately bikes can be carried on all trains operating in the region (although a free reservation must be acquired before boarding).

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Eat

Traditional pubs tend to be more prevalent than restaurants in this region, and most of them will serve traditional English food at lunch and dinner time. With so much sheep farming in the hills of the lake district, roast lamb is a favourite local dish. Cumberland sausage is a speciality throughout Cumbria, and locally-caught Borrowdale trout is also popular.

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Drink

This region presents many opportunities to drink a traditional English ale in a traditional English pub. This can be a very satisfying way to replace lost calories after a long day walking in the hills.

Pubs in remote areas can develop a surprisingly lively scene in the evenings, if they are popular with mountaineers. Otherwise you will need to head in to larger towns if you are looking for night life.

The best thing about Cumbria is the staggering number of breweries - around 25 to date.

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Accommodation in Lake District

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Lake District searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Lake District and areas nearby.

Contributors

as well as Frodo42 (3%), davidx (2%), Hien (2%), Peter (1%), Sam I Am (1%)

Lake District Travel Helpers

  • stevieh

    After a visit when I was 15, I walked in the Lake District on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and on trips with mates. Years later, after travelling for a year, I settled here with my partner and kids. That was eight years ago and we now both run businesses in the county.
    We'll never be true locals, but we've definitely got under the skin of the place :)

    Ask stevieh a question about Lake District
  • PeteB

    I have been a frequent visitor to the Lake District for many years and am in the process of finishing off the Wainwrights List. I certainly don't pretend to know everything about the region but I have written numerous online guides - including part of this one - and can give ideas on the best places to go - especially for outdoor activities which are what the area is best known for.

    Ask PeteB a question about Lake District
  • magykal1

    I grew up on the edge of the Lake District National Park. My family still live there and I have visited regularly since moving away.

    Ask magykal1 a question about Lake District

This is version 42. Last edited at 3:15 on Aug 2, 17 by sleepBot. 12 articles link to this page.

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