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Windermere Sunset

Windermere Sunset

© stevieh

Sparsely populated and mostly mountainous, the county of Cumbria encompasses the far North-West of England, an area stretching from the Yorkshire Dales to the Scottish Border. The main draw here for tourists is the Lake District, a postcard-perfect vision of rural England immortalised by Wordsworth, Wainwright and Beatrix Potter.

Away from the tumbling waterfalls and slate-roofed towns of the Lake District, the wilderness beckons. The North Pennines and Howgill Fells offer windswept landscapes and adventure away from the oft-crowded lakeland regions, and the hidden plains of the Eden Valley provide a glimpse into Cumbria's past.




The Lake District forms the central area of Cumbria, a captivating series of glacial valleys, lakes and mountains including England's highest point, the 1,100-metre Scafell Pike. Cumbria is bounded to the South by the Howgill Fells and the Yorkshire Dales, and to the East by the Pennine mountain range. The area around the floodplain of the graceful River Eden, nestling between these mountains, is the Eden Valley. Cumbria's West Coast is rugged, arcing into the Irish Sea from Morecambe Bay in the South to the Solway Firth in the North. To the North of Cumbria, seperated by the remains of the once mighty Hadrian's Wall, lies Scotland.




The only city in Cumbria, and the modern administrative centre, is Carlisle.

Other major settlements in Cumbria include:

  • Barrow in Furness is Cumbria's second settlement by population, a major centre for the shipbuilding industry.
  • Kendal is the largest town in South Lakeland.
  • Penrith is the self-styled 'Gateway to the North Lakes', set between the Lake District and the Eden Valley.
  • Alston is a remote town set high in the Pennine mountains.
  • Windermere, Ambleside, Hawkshead and Keswick are the principal towns of the Lake District, all with character and charm.
  • Workington and Whitehaven are post-industrial towns on the West Coast, currently undergoing regeneration.
  • Sedbergh is a picturesque market town set between the Howgill Fells and the Yorkshire Dales.
  • Appleby and Kirkby Stephen are two pretty, traditional market towns of the Upper Eden Valley.



Sights and Activities

The Lake District

No visit to Cumbria would be complete without attempting one of the Lake District's dramatic fells. Scafell, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw are the only four peaks in England above 3000 feet (about 1050 metres). For the less energetic, gentle routes include paths around Buttermere and to the imposing waterfall of Aira Force.

Adventure sports are a genuine option here - Mountain Bikes are available to hire from all the major towns, and there are some legendary Rock Climbing spots. Watersports opportunities abound at the many beautiful lakes, including Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston and Derwentwater. Everything is catered for, from gently sculling in a traditional Rowing boat to Windsurfing with the latest state-of-the-art gear.

The Eden Valley

Tucked away between the Lake District and the Pennine mountains, the Eden Valley is a tranquil backwater with some pretty towns and villages. The landscape is peppered with fascinating historical curios - Medieval forts, Norman churches and Norse artefacts.

The pretty market towns of Appleby and Kirkby Stephen make good bases from which to explore this interesting and largely undiscovered area.

The Pennines

A wild and windswept mountain range, the Pennines offer some great walking opportunities including England's highest peak outside of the Lake District, Cross Fell, and the spectacular horseshoe of High Cup Nick. Also set in the Pennines are the interesting town of Alston, and Tan Hill, England's highest pub.

The Howgills

A striking collection of round-topped humps, the pleasant Howgill fells benefit from being located far enough away from the Lake District to avoid the worst of the throng. The attractive town of Sedbergh is located at their foot. Popular activities here include Paragliding, and hiking to the waterfall of Cautley Spout.


Curiously this is included in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, unlike Nidderdale in Yorkshire - which is not. It is very pretty and gentler than many other dales. The vilage of Dent is quite idyllic. Between Dent and Sedbergh it is worth finding the earliest meeting house of the Society of Friends at Brigflatts.

Quaker Tapestry

To celebrate 300 years of existence the Society of Friends had a very large number of people from young children to very senior citizens in many countries working to produce a large tapestry that went on display before coming to its final place in Kendal. All details on their website.



Events and Festivals

Appleby Horse Fair

Probably the best attended Roma fair in the UK, Appleby Horse Fair draws travelling families from across the country. It's a great spectacle for the rest of us too, with hundreds of horses paraded (and raced) around town and many attractively decorated traditional caravans. - 2nd week in June, Appleby

Grasmere Sports

The best opportunity to see a traditional Cumbrian sporting event is Grasmere Sports. Alongside the usual running, jumping and cycling this is your best chance of seeing Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, a unique and ancient style that has to be seen to be believed. Grasmere Sports celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002. - August Bank Holiday, Grasmere

Kendal Calling

If you're looking for an alternative to Glastonbury for your rock festival needs, think about putting Kendal Calling on your list. Set in beautiful surroundings, this pint-sized festival punches well above its weight, recently attracting big acts such as Dizzee Rascal, Super Furry Animals and British Sea Power. - July/August (see website for dates), Lowther Deer Park near Kendal




With mountainous terrain and a maritime climate, the maxim about 'all seasons in one day' is no truer anywhere than Cumbria. A walk in the fells can take in thick fog, bright sunshine and torrential rain all in a matter of hours. It's worth packing and dressing accordingly.
In winter the hills are likely to have a covering of snow, beautiful but potentially treacherous. Make sure that you take expert advice if you're thinking of heading into the wilderness at this time of year.



Getting There

By Plane

There are currently no airports in Cumbria offering scheduled flights, however plans to upgrade Carlisle airport may soon change that.

The closest major airports are Durham Tees Valley (MME) and Newcastle (NCL), with Manchester (MAN), Liverpool (LPL) and Glasgow (GLA) offering more frequent services.

By Train

Cumbria is served by the West Coast Main Line running from London Euston to Glasgow - the three stations are Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle. A branch line runs to Kendal and Windermere, and another serves destinations on the West Coast including Workington and Whitehaven.

Another rail route into Cumbria is the picturesque Settle-Carlisle line, running from Leeds to destinations including Appleby and Kirkby Stephen.

By Car

Cumbria is easily accessible by car, with the M6 North-South arterial route passing Carlisle, Kendal and Penrith. It's also possible to access Cumbria from the East of England using the A1/M1 and A66 transpennine road. Note that both of these routes (the A66 particularly) are prone to closure due to snow in winter.

By Bus

National Express offer services to a wide variety of destinations in Cumbria from across the UK. The bargain-basement Megabusservice from London to Scotland stops at Scotch Corner, just outside Cumbria to the East.



Getting Around

By Train

The railway is a relaxing and scenic way to see the county, though don't rely solely on trains if visiting the Lake District. The Settle-Carlisle line is attractive enough to be taken as a day trip in its own right, with stops at pretty villages such as Langwathby, Dent and Armathwaite as well as the market towns of Appleby and Kirkby Stephen. The west coast branch line is a convenient way of reaching destinations including Barrow in Furness, Workington and Whitehaven.

A couple of steam railway lines run in Cumbria, most significantly the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway (known locally as the 'La'al Ratty') which serves a scenic valley on the Eastern edge of the Lake District. Enthusiasts are also working on the painstaking restoration of the Eden Valley Railway - trains currently run between Appleby and the village of Warcop.

By Car

Cumbria is home to some of England's most scenic drives, particularly the lakeland passes of Kirkstone and Hardknott and the A689 pennine route to Alston. Take particular care in winter when these routes frequently become treacherous and are occasionally closed.

By Bus

The bus network is comprehensive and relatively cheap, with all but the remotest villages served by a route of some sort. All local bus service timetables are available on the Travelline website.

By Boat

Ferries operate on several of the larger lakes, most usefull the Windermere car ferry which significantly cuts the time taken to travel between Bowness and Far Sawrey.
Pleasure launches operate on all of the larger lakes.




Cumbria's most famous food export is the Cumberland Sausage - a coarse textured, disctinctively spicy sausage which is always curled and not linked (anything else is an imposter).

Much of the county is prime sheep country, and Cumbrian Fellbred branded lamb is becoming increasingly popular with foodies across the United Kingdom (including those shopping at London's Borough Market).

The abundance of freshwater also results in some great fish, particularly trout and salmon. Shellfish are caught in Morecambe Bay, and Potted Shrimp is one of the specialities of the southern part of the West Coast.

The Lyth Valley, near Kendal, is particularly famous for its damsons, a deep blue, tart-flavoured relative of the plum.




Real ale is the drink of choice for most Cumbrians. Cockermouth-based Jennings is a household name, and exports unique brews such as 'Cocker Hoop' and 'Sneck Lifter' across the country and beyond. There are also some great craft breweries - The Barngate Brewery, Hesket Newmarket and the Coniston Brewing Company are three that are particularly worth looking out for.




A wide range of budget accommodation options are available with hundreds of campsites dotted around the county and a particularly extensive network of YHA hostels. There are also independent hostels in most of the larger Lake District towns.

In the mid-range bracket, almost every village will have at least one Bed & Breakfast, with standards and decor ranging from grubby and chintzy to modern and flash. Some particularly good deals are to be had staying in traditional working farms, and you're guaranteed a freshly laid egg at breakfast. Check reviews before you book. Prices are generally comparably low, apart from in the heart of the Lake District in high summer. Village pubs will often have a room or two to rent, with costs usually similar to Bed & Breakfast.

At the top end, Cumbria is home to some of England's swishest hotels with the likes of Ullswater's Sharrow Bay and Windermere's Miller Howe attracting critics and celebrities with luxurious accommodation and haute cuisine.

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This is version 44. Last edited at 10:45 on Feb 21, 19 by Utrecht. 20 articles link to this page.

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