Visiting Britain’s National Parks: The Lake District

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Whether you’re thinking of visiting Britain this year or like me, you’re a local thinking of staying at home, Cumbria’s Lake District National Park offers scenery rarely surpassed elsewhere in Europe. The region, established as a National Park in 1951, is known for its distinctive landscape of greystone farmhouses, lakes and rugged mountains known here as fells – a word derived from the time of the Vikings.

Most visitors to the Lake District National Park arrive from the M6 motorway via Kendal. This is also the route of the rail access to the central Lakes with the line terminating at the busy town of Windermere which along with its neighbouring town of Bowness on the shore of Lake Windermere is one of the most popular destinations in the region. Here though I shall outline where the main tourist centres are as well as give a few – not too biased – ideas on some of the best places to visit.

Following the main A591 north from Windermere you will come to Ambleside, another popular destination situated at the northern end of Lake Windermere. A far more rewarding way of travelling though is to take the lake steamer which serves as a regular water taxi between Bowness and Waterhead near Ambleside. Theboat service also heads down to the Lake’s southern end at Lakeside where you can visit the Aquarium of the Lakes – busy at holiday periods but worth the visit – go midweek if you can! North of Ambleside you will come to Rydal then Grasmere where Dove Cottage – once the home of William Wordsworth – is to be found.

The A591 continues to the market town of Keswick set below Skiddaw by the shores of Derwentwater with its many wooded islands. From Keswick, minor roads lead into the deep enclosed valley of Borrowdale which cuts into the mountains to the South. Borrowdale is the start point for hikes up the lowest and the highest of the Wainwrights – Castle Crag and Scafell Pike respectively. The Wainwrights – for the non fellwalker – are the fells or mountains of the Lake District as categorised by AW Wainwright the author of what are still – in the opinion of many – the best guidebooks to walking in Lakeland.

Another popular outing from Keswick is to visit Castlerigg Stone Circle – an ancient monument that graces the walls of just about every Lakeland art gallery! In real life it is in a truly wonderful setting overlooking the hidden valley of St Johns in the Vale. As with any popular spot though – if you can go when everyone else is somewhere else, you will better experience the atmosphere of the place!

Best Price fitness equipment from Sweatband, click hereThe other main town within the National Park, is Coniston, situated somewhat out on its own, more or less due West of Windermere by Coniston Water. Coniston Water was the scene of Donald Campbell’s tragic water speed record attempts and his memory is honoured by the town’s beer Bluebird – as good a pint as you will find anywhere. Coniston or Ambleside are good bases for those wishing to visit Langdale, the popular hiking destination dominated by the jagged outline of the Langdale Pikes. Equally, the literary tourist can easily visit the nearby Brantwood – John Ruskin’s former home – and Hill Top Farm, the home of Beatrix Potter.

Lake district

The western Lake District is somewhat cut off from the popular tourist centres by the wild and mountainous nature of the intervening country but therein lies part of its appeal. The valley of Wasdale – home of England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike and its deepest lake Wastwater – is one of my own favorites anywhere and the vista of Great Gable’s rocky pyramid seen from Wastwater was actually voted “Britain’s Favorite View” in a television poll. These western dales though, have a certain wild beauty that contrasts with the pretty lanes and villages of Grasmere and Rydal.

Another spectacular mountain scene is to be found in the Buttermere Valley with the half mile high wall of High Stile falling to the still waters of Buttermere. Between these two valleys lies Ennerdale where – in in the upper reaches of the valley – you will find a sense of real remoteness as you will in the upper part of Eskdale further to the South.

Another of my own favorites of the Lake District is in the East of the region. Ullswater is perhaps the most beautiful of the lakes, extending for 10 miles from Pooley Bridge to Patterdale at the base of Helvellyn. Only a few small villages including the charming Glenridding line the lake shore with much of its length being woodland and open fellside. Ullswater too can be traveled by lake steamer – a highly recommended trip. From a remote beach amongst the trees the view up towards the head of the lake is wonderful in any weather and When the rain sweeps the fells and the cloud curtains the high tops, it doesn’t dull the scene – it just adds drama.

I haven’t mentioned all that the Lake District has to offer here as that would take too long for somewhere I have been visiting since childhood, but I hope That I’ve given some ideas. My own reason for visits is to walk in the mountains or cycle quiet tracks and lanes but equally there is plenty to occupy the water sports enthusiast, the wildlife watcher or the historian.

Written by Pete Buckley.

Main photo by Doug Sim – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. Secondary photo by Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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