The Lake District National Park is one of thirteen National parks in the United Kingdom. It lies entirely within the county of Cumbria, and is one of England's few mountainous regions. All the land in England higher than three thousand feet above sea level lies within the Park. The Lakes, as the region is also called, were made famous during the early 19th century by the poetry and writings of William Wordsworth. This whole land of fells presents wonderful and mystic scenes for painters and photographers and many visitors are attracted there to go rambling.
The Lake District is only about 55 km (34 miles) across (north-to-south or west-to-east), but manages to pack into that relatively small area a wide variety of scenery, dominated by various formations left over by the last ice age. What nature has provided, the inhabitants have, on the whole, improved, with drainage of most of the dales (valleys), clearance of the valley bottoms to build the typical dry stone walls, and the sympathetic stone and whitewashed buildings that blend into the landscape.
There is a range of landscapes, including open moorland (covered with grass, bracken and heather), marshes, woodland (both native woodland and commercial pine plantations), limestone pavement, as well as small tarns and the larger lakes, which provide homes for a wide range of wildlife, including one of the remaining areas in England where the red squirrel still lives, as well as colonies of sundew, one of the few carnivorous plants native to Britain.
The area forms a radial drainage pattern, with the waters, broadly speaking, radiating out from the central hub of fells around the highest point in England: the peak of Scafell Pike, some 978 metres (3210 feet) above sea level, with a secondary hub from Helvellyn. Many of the major glacial valleys contain lakes, which also radiate from the central hub.
Alfred Wainwright wrote a series of seven Pictorial Guides to the Lake District, which walkers still use today. The books describe in loving detail 214 fells. Of these, four are over 3000 ft: Scafell Pike (3210 ft, 978 metres), Scafell (3162 ft, 965 metres), Helvellyn (3118 ft, 951 metres) and Skiddaw (3053 ft, 932 metres).
Despite its name, there is only one body of water in the park with the word Lake in the name, namely Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere use other forms, with 'mere' being particularly common. Many of the most picturesque names date to the Viking invasion, especially fell, the natural English word in the North for mountain.
Amongst the area's many attractive towns are Grasmere (once home to William Wordsworth), Ambleside and Windermere.
The Lake District's location on the north-west cost of England, coupled with its mountainous geography, makes it the wettest part of England. The UK Met Office reports average annual precipitation of more than 2,000 mm, but with very large local variation. Seathwaite in Borrowdale is the wettest inhabited place in the British Isles with an average of 3,300 mm of rain a year, while nearby Sprinkling Tarn is even wetter, recording over 5,000 mm per year; by contrast, Keswick, at the end of Borrowdale receives 1,470 mm per year, and Penrith (just outside the Lake District) only 870 mm. March to June tend to be the driest months, with October to January the wettest, but at low levels there is relatively little difference between months.
Sheltered valleys experience gales on an average of 5 days a year; the coastal areas have 20 days of gales; while the fell tops may have 100 days of gales per year.
The maritime climate means that the Lake District experiences relatively moderate temperature variations through the year. Mean temperature in the valleys ranges from about 3 °C in January to around 15 °C in July. (By comparison, Moscow, at the same lattitude, ranges from -10°C to 19°C.)
The relatively low height of most of the fells means that while snow is expected during the winter, they can be free of snow at any time of the year. Normally significant snow fall only occurs between November and April. On average snow falls on Helvellyn 67 days per year. During the year, valleys typically experience 20 days with snow falling, a further 200 wet days, and 145 dry days.
Hill fog is common at any time of year, and the fells average only around 2.5 hours of sunshine per day, increasing to around 4.1 hours per day on the coastal plains.
Industry and agriculture
Historically, farming, in particular of sheep, was the major industry in the region. The breed most closely associated with the area is the tough Herdwick. Sheep farming remains important both to the economy of the region, as well as in preserving the landscape which visitors want to see. Some land is also used for silage and dairy farming. There are extensive plantations of non-native trees.
The area was badly affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak across the United Kingdom in 2001. Thousands of sheep, grazing on the fellsides across the District, were destroyed. In replacing the sheep, one problem to overcome was that many of the lost sheep were heafed, that is, they knew their part of the unfenced fell and did not stray, with this knowledge being passed between generations. With all the sheep lost at once, this knowledge has to be re-learnt, and some of the fells have had discreet electric fences strung across them for a period of five years, to allow the sheep to "re-heaf".
In Neolithic times, the Lake District was a major source of stone axes, examples of which have been found all over Britain. The primary site, on the slopes of the Langdale Pikes, is sometimes described as a 'stone axe factory' of the Langdale axe industry. Some of the earliest stone circles in Britain are connected with this industry.
Mining, particularly of copper, lead, silver, graphite and slate, was historically a major lakeland industry, mainly from the 16th century to the 19th century. Coppiced woodland was used extensively to provide charcoal for smelting. Some mining still takes place today - for example slate mining continues at the Honister Mines, at the top of Honister Pass . Abandoned mine-workings can be found on fell-sides throughout the district.
The locally-mined graphite led to the development of the pencil industry, especially around Keswick.
In the middle of the 19th century, half the world textile industry's bobbin supply came from the Lake District area.
Over the past century, tourism has grown rapidly to become the area's primary source of income.
Development of tourism
Early visitors to the Lake District who travelled for the education and pleasure of the journey include Celia Fiennes who in 1698 undertook a journey the length of England, including riding through Kendal and over Kirkstone Pass into Patterdale , published in her book Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall. In that book, she recorded her experiences:
- As I walked down at this place I was walled on both sides by those inaccessible high rocky barren hills which hang over one’s head in some places and appear very terrible; and from them springs many little currents of water from the sides and clefts which trickle down to some lower part where it runs swiftly over the stones and shelves in the way, which makes a pleasant rush and murmuring noise and like a snowball is increased by each spring trickling down on either side of those hills, and so descends into the bottoms which are a Moorish ground in which in many places the waters stand, and so form some of those Lakes as it did here.
In 1724, Daniel Defoe published the first volume of A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. He commented on Westmorland that it was:
- the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself; the west side, which borders on Cumberland, is indeed bounded by a chain of almost unpassable mountains which, in the language of the country, are called fells.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the area was becoming more popular with travellers, and in 1778 Father Thomas West produced A Guide to the Lakes, which began the era of true tourism. In his book West stated that the intention was:
- to encourage the taste of visiting the lakes by furnishing the traveller with a Guide; and for that purpose, the write has here collected and laid before him, all the select stations and points of view, noticed by those authors who have last made the tour of the lakes, verified by his own repeated observations.
These "stations" were viewpoints where tourists could enjoy the best views of the landscape, being encouraged to appreciated the formal qualities of the landscape and to apply aesthetic values. At some of these stations, buildings were erected to help this process. The remains of Claife Station (on the western shore of Windermere below Claife Heights ) can be visited today. Built in the 1790s, the windows of the drawing room were the Station's most celebrated feature; each had a different aspect, viewed through different coloured glass to enhance variations in weather and seasons. The tinted glass in these windows was intended to recreate lighting effects in the landscape. Yellow represented summer, orange was for autumn, light green for spring, and light blue for winter. There was also a dark blue for moonlight and a lilac tint to give the impression of a thunderstorm.
Tourists were encouraged furthermore to look at the views through a Claude-glass, a mirror which framed the landscape and allowed it to be more picturesque, literally more like a picture. This picturesque way of viewing the landscape was further popularised by books by the Reverend William Gilpin including Observations, relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the year 1772, on several parts of England; particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland published in 1786, and Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape (1792).
William Wordsworth published his Guide to the Lakes in 1810, and by 1835 it had reached its fifth edition, now called A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, and this book was particularly influential in popularising the region.
The Kendal and Windermere Railway was the first to penetrate the Lake District, reaching Kendal in 1846 and Windermere in 1847. The line to Coniston opened in 1848 (although links to the national network were not complete until 1857); the line from Penrith through Keswick to Cockermouth in 1865; and the line to Lakeside at the foot of Windermere in 1869. The railways, built with traditional industry in mind, brought with them a huge increase in the number of visitors, and thus contributed to the growth of the tourism industry. Railway services were supplemented by steamer boats on the major lakes of Ullswater, Windermere, Coniston Water, and Derwent Water.
The growth in tourist numbers continued into the age of the motor car, when railways began to be closed or run down. The formation of the National Park in 1951 recognised the need to protect the Lake District environment from excessive commercial or industrial exploitation, preserving that which visitors come to see, without (so far) any restriction on the movement of people into and around the district. With visitor numbers still growing, and the impact of cars and walkers’ boots obvious among many other hazards, but tourism now central to the vitality of the region, getting that balance right is more important than ever.
The Lake District is intimately associated with the history of English literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. In point of time the poet whose name is first connected with the region is Thomas Gray, who wrote a journal of his Grand Tour in 1769. But it was William Wordsworth who really made it a Mecca for lovers of English poetry. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains, first as a schoolboy at Hawkshead , and afterwards living in Grasmere (1799-1813) and Rydal Mount (1813-50).
In the churchyard of Grasmere the poet and his wife lie buried, and very near to them are the remains of Hartley Coleridge (son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge), who himself lived for many years in Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere. Robert Southey, the friend of Wordsworth, was a resident of Keswick for forty years (1803-43), and was buried in Crosthwaite churchyard. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for some time in Keswick, and also with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. From 1807 to 1815 John Wilson was lived at Windermere. De Quincey spent the greater part of the years 1809 to 1828 at Grasmere, in the first cottage which Wordsworth had inhabited. Ambleside, or its environs, was also the place of residence of Thomas Arnold, who spent there the vacations of the last ten years of his life; and of Harriet Martineau, who built herself a house there in 1845. At Keswick Mrs Lynn Linton (wife of William James Linton) was born in 1822. Brantwood , a house beside Coniston Water, was the home of John Ruskin during the last years of his life.
In addition to these residents or natives of the Lake District, a variety of other poets and writers made visits to the Lake District or were bound by ties of friendship with those already mentioned above. These include Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Hugh Clough, Henry Crabb Robinson, Thomas Carlyle, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Felicia Hemans, and Gerald Massey.
Almost the only instance of its kind in English literature is the Lake School of Poets. Of this school the acknowledged head and founder was Wordsworth, and the tenets it professed are those laid down by the poet himself in the famous preface to the edition of Lyrical Ballads which he published jointly in 1800 with Coleridge. Wordsworth's theories of poetry – the objects best suited for poetic treatment, the characteristics of such treatment, and the choice of diction suitable for the purpose – may be said to have grown out of the soil and substance of the lakes and mountains, and out of the homely lives of the people, of Cumberland and Westmorland.
25 highest fells
The 25 highest fells, of those selected by Alfred Wainwright, are:
- 1. Scafell Pike, 978 m / 3210 ft
- 2. Scafell, 965 m / 3162 ft
- 3. Helvellyn, 951 m / 3118 ft
- 4. Skiddaw, 931 m / 3054 ft
- 5. Great End, 910 m / 2986 ft
- 6. Bowfell, 902 m / 2960 ft
- 7. Great Gable, 899 m / 2949 ft
- 8. Pillar, 892 m / 2926 ft
- 9. Nethermost Pike, 891 m / 2923 ft
- 10. Catstycam, 889 m / 2917 ft
- 11. Esk Pike, 885 m / 2903 ft
- 12. Raise, 883 m / 2896 ft
- 13. Fairfield, 873 m / 2863 ft
- 14. Blencathra, 868 m / 2847 ft
- 15. Skiddaw Little Man, 865 m / 2837 ft
- 16. White Side , 863 m / 2831 ft
- 17. Crinkle Crags, 859 m / 2818 ft
- 18. Dollywagon Pike , 858 m / 2815 ft
- 19. Great Dodd, 857 m / 2807 ft
- 20. Grasmoor, 852 m / 2795 ft
- 21. Stybarrow Dodd , 843 m / 2772 ft
- 22. St Sunday Crag , 841 m / 2759 ft
- 22. Scoat Fell , 841 m / 2759 ft
- 24. Crag Hill , 839 m / 2753 ft
- 25. High Street, 828 m / 2717 ft
More extensive lists of fells can be found on the list of fells in the Lake District and in the list of Wainwrights.
More lakes, tarns and reservoirs can be found on the list of lakes in the Lake District.
Guide to the Lake District from Navito UK - Introduction to the Lake District plus searchable database for locating Lake District pubs, hotels and other businesses and a book shop for maps and books about the Lake District.
Photographs of the area
The literature section is based on text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 15:32:07
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04