The Lake District

January 18, 2013 admin Uncategorized

The Lake District is a roughly oval, or egg-shaped area of land which takes up much of the county of Cumbria, in the extreme north-west of England. It is England’s largest ‘National Park’, extending over 885 square miles (2292 square kilometres) of, probably, the wildest, and most rugged and picturesque terrain, in the country.

The area is bordered to the north by Scotland (and Northumberland), to the east and south by the northern-most counties of England,  and to the west by the Irish Sea.

Landscape

It is a part of England which, physically, resembles more the Highlands of Scotland, or Snowdonia in Wales, but nevertheless it retains a very English ‘feel’.

The name ‘Lake District’, to someone who knows nothing about the area, might give a somewhat false impression. The term could easily summon up, to the mind’s eye, images of placid reed-fringed bodies of water separated by gentle, green, countryside.

This would not be an accurate picture though. There are, of course, lakes in the Lake District, and we shall come to these, but they are placed very much in a mountainous setting; the terrain of the area consists largely of lakes surrounded by mountains (or ‘fells’ as they are called locally).

Human habitation is often confined to the perimeters of the lakes, and to the mountain passes which allow access from one body of water to the other.

England’s highest mountain is here in the Lake District. Scafell Pike is 3209 feet high, Mount Snowdon, in Wales, is only around 300 feet higher.

Obviously, there are lakes, over sixty of them in fact. The four biggest are Windermere, 1459 hectares (and over 11 miles long); Ullswater,  884 hectares;  Derwentwater 531 hectares; and Bassenthwaite Lake,  518 hectares.

What exacerbates the confusion of names, perhaps, is that only one of the district’s sixty or so bodies of water,  i.e. Bassenthwaite, is classed as a lake, all the others are  ‘meres’  or  ‘waters’.

Activities

Most people who come to the lakes as visitors, come to pursue one or more outdoor activities. Walking, is probably the primary one of these, but there is also cycling, water-sports, climbing  bird-watching, and so on.

As has been said, this is a rugged landscape, and the weather often matches it in ruggedness. Not then, the place to go, if your idea of a good holiday is to lounge in the sun, cocktail in hand.

Because it is a National Park, considerable effort and thought has gone into facilitating the outdoor activities. There are marked trails indicating strength of difficulty, there are trails set-up especially for families, for mountain-bikers, for beginners,  and for those who prefer something more challenging.

Also, there are many commercial and other centres dedicated to water-sports. The lakes are generally quite placid, certainly compared to the sea, so it’s the perfect place to learn something like canoeing or sailing, or to push your own abilities to the limit.

Yet despite all this bustle and enterprise it is still possible to walk or ride, or sail,  to somewhere completely untouched – except perhaps by a National Parks way-mark – and completely isolated: somewhere where the odd eagle, or even osprey, flies overhead, and where rare wild plants edge an unspoiled ‘water’.

History

One of the district’s primary claims to historical noteworthiness, is that it was the spiritual, and often actual, home  of the ‘Lakeland Poets’, a group of nineteenth century literary luminaries who left what seems to be an indelible mark on the English literary scene.

Fashions in literature move on, but many English people, when they think of poetry, automatically think of Wordsworth (the poem beginning “I wandered lonely as a cloud” was  concerned with the scenery of the Lake District) of Coleridge and his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and so on, in other words, they think of the Lakeland Poets.

In fact it was this fame, brought on by the literary connection, which caused the lakes to come into prominence as a holiday destination, initially; moreover, it was the first such destination in the UK. Before the experience of the lakes was sought out by those inspired by the poets, English people who had money enough to travel, tended to do so in Continental Europe.

Visiting the homes and places frequented by these literary worthies was  (as it still is, to some extent) the activity of choice when the weather has ‘come down’ and only those of supremely adventurous spirit are up to the challenge of the narrow mountain passes and open water.

So to conclude…

The Lake District is an extremely beautiful and picturesque part of England. It is unlike most areas of the country in being quite rugged and challenging. It is this, and the fact that one can still “wander lonely as a cloud’” here, that continues to bring visitors, in droves, once the winter storms have passed.

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