Lake District, Cumbria, England: Spring Visit, Stunning Scenery, Lake Cruises and Train Ride; Inspiring Literature
The Lake District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
In the Spring of 2019, we visited The Lake District. ‘Good luck with the weather!’ they all said.
The Lake District, also known as The Lakes or Lakeland, is England’s largest National Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits in the northwest corner of England, in the county of Cumbria, close to the west coast. The west of England tends to have more rain and any mountainous region will also attract precipitation. Therefore, we didn’t expect to have wall to wall sunshine.
Well, we got it! Our April week was sunny and warm so we were privileged to see the mountains and valleys in all their glory, free of mist and bathed in varying yellow hues from sunshine to shade.
One of the spectacular sights of this region in Spring is a bright yellow patchwork of daffodils, my favourite flower. The large trumpets nod reverence to the sun and lift the soul. They abound in hedgerows, woods, fields and verges. They jump out at you round a bend, maybe in someone’s garden or as ready-made bunches in the grass.
Wordsworth's Host of Golden Daffodils?
Mountains, Valleys and Lakes
As a result of geological activity over the ages, the Lake District has a varied landscape of U-shaped valleys and steep, sharp ridges. It has England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its deepest and longest lakes. The ancient volcanic rock does not allow seepage, so the valleys (formed from glacial activity) have stored large volumes of water.
‘The Lakes’ are individually named ‘lake’ or ‘water’ or ‘mere’ and the smallest are referred to as ‘tarns’.
In fact, there is traditionally only one Lake - Bassenthwaite. It’s the most northerly of the Lakes and one of the shallowest.
Of the 16 main lakes, Windermere is the largest and longest. Wastwater, a glacial lake and the deepest in England, has its surface 200 feet above sea level and its bottom over 50 feet below sea level! (the ‘wast’ is pronounced with an ‘a’ as in ‘was’ and with a soft ’s’)
Rugged Mountains, Sweeping or Plunging Valleys and Deep Lakeland Waters
Ambleside is a small town at the northern end of Lake Windermere. It is a cosy, friendly place, with granite stone architecture and open spaces, all sheltered by cradling steep crags. Amble down to the Lake or stroll around the shops. A museum, library and art gallery enable the visitor to learn about the town and its surroundings from Roman occupation up to the present, including watercolours by Beatrix Potter.
Another literary figure, the poet and writer William Wordsworth, occupied the post of Collector of Stamps for Westmorland and had his office in the Old Stamp House on Church Street. His job was distributing official stamps for legal documents and collecting the excise duty on their sale. This gave him sufficient means to be able to continue writing his poetry.
Scenes of Ambleside
This is a pretty village and one of its claims to fame is that Wordsworth, along with his brother, went to Hawkshead Grammar School between the ages of 9 and 17 (1778-1787). It was then one of the best schools in England. Wordsworth carved his name on one of the desks, still there for all to see.
Wordsworth was born in the Lake District and kept it close to his heart, returning to live and work there.
Beatrix Potter lived near here, in a cottage called 'Hill Top', a couple of miles from Hawkshead. Here she wrote her Tales of Peter Rabbit and others, using the location for many of those stories. She illustrated these herself, being not only a writer but also an accomplished artist, as mentioned above.
Cottages in Hawkshead
Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater via Brothers Water
Returning from Hawkshead gives you the opportunity of going via Kirkstone Pass. A narrow road over the mountains, often shut in winter, it has breath-taking panoramas, dips and crags. The road can be hazardous and upwards from Ambleside it is known as 'The Struggle'!
Kirkstone Pass is so called as there is a stone which resembles a church steeple on the roadside near the inn at the top of the pass. 'Kirk' means 'church' in old Norse. It is the Lake District's highest pass open to vehicles, having a gradient in some places of 1 in 4 (1 foot incline for every 4 feet in length).
It winds its sometimes weary path up and over, down to Brothers Water and eventually to Ullswater. Narrow with passing places, it's not a road for the faint-hearted.
Kirkstone Pass Descent to Brothers Water
Bowness on Windermere
Take a stroll around busy, friendly Bowness. It's alive with visitors and traffic and the breeze off the lake brushes your cares away. The quayside is buzzing with steamers passing to and fro on Windermere, entertaining us all and providing unique views of this splendid region.
Steam Cruise on Lake Windermere, down to Lakeside
The steamers are traditional wooden boats with funnels to direct the steam up and away. They chug along the waters and, provided you have suitable clothing, you can enjoy the breezes and occasional spray off the lake.
They take you back to the days of Arthur Ransome's 'Swallows and Amazons', full of romance and nostalgia. There is a canopy to shelter us from wind and rain but today it's glorious, the sun bathing the crags, hills and shoreline, sparkling on the lake, accentuating the ripples from the bow and the frothy wash from the stern.
It's a round trip of about 45 minutes, with varied scenery; some shore-line houses and several vistas of deep valleys and high crags offering stout walking or lazy fishing on the perimeter.
Impossible not to touch the polished tan wood of the rails and decoration of this transport. It has an architecture of its own, carved, inlaid, moulded and curved with love and skill. The metal funnel belches a little as it provides our energy; energy to carve the waves and energy to watch, listen, take in a whole panoramic vista, our brains awash with vibrant scenery, birdlife and life-sustaining, deep waters.
Steam Train from Lakeside to Haverthwaite
Steam engine Repulse was waiting for us at Lakeside, with its red and cream carriages inviting us to an afternoon's leisurely journey to Haverthwaite Station.
The Victorian carriages have such charm with their intricate decoration. You're in a timewarp as you trundle along and view scenery likewise unchanged since those times. Only the grand holiday folk would take a steamer or a train then but we were the lucky ones now, to travel in their footsteps.
Majestic steam engines belch steam to surround the trees in fleeting mystery, and toot their way past brook and meadow, shouting at those witnessing the scene to watch and stand back to remember the past, revel in what it brought us and wonder at its technological, surely more beautiful than more modern rail transport!
More daffodils nodded 'good day' from the shade of copses and river banks, wishing us safe arrival at our stately destination.
Lakeside Station, 'Repulse' and Journey to Haverthwaite
Keswick is a market town which nestles in the mountains within the Lake District National Park. It hosts the Cumberland Pencil Museum, its own Museum and an Art Gallery. Derwent Water is to the south of the town.
I love visiting a town on market day. The positive buzz of activity is fun and vibrant. This one was a mixture of local produce and tourist souvenirs, good quality ones.
On a clear day it's at full capacity as vendors and visitors alike make hay while the sun shines. I'd bet that twice the amount of money is made in good weather. Most areas of any county have their local specialities, be they grown or hand-made. That's what makes a souvenir so special; seeing it on a shelf at home or finding it in a drawer takes you straight back to that place on that day, to relive part of your holiday and make you smile.
Steam Cruise on Ullswater
Our journey took us on a winding country road to the far end of Ullswater where we waited for the steamer to take us back from steep valleyed mountains to ever more open water by broad fields down to a level shoreline. The waters broadened and civilisation came closer. I realised I wasn't keen to become part of it again, at least not so soon.
More scenery to make us gasp, to inspire the inner soul; more depths of water to lull us into a dreamy trance. It left us not wanting to reach the far jetty where we would have to step from the ever-moving craft onto terra firma and thus leave our tryst with nature, our time suspension, to resume our lives which hold us to the here and now.
As the mountains became a misty grey background, so the waters broadened, the vista became brighter, greener, more lush in the pastures which allowed homes, boat-houses by the shore and clusters of yachts, the latter tacking on the calm lake, just enough wind to keep them moving.
A long jetty came into view and all too soon the journey was over. Such an experience, though, is not forgotten as it fades from view. You can dream on the Lakes, you can fancy you're in 'Swallows and Amazons', exploring the unknown, you can be bold, brave and adventurous. You can also just drift and lose yourself in the very heart of an ancient land, in the power of the elements and become one with your history.
The Lakes have inspired many a writer, famous or not. The three who are most connected with the area, for me, are William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome.
I have already mentioned Wordsworth and Potter so let's find out a little about Arthur Ransome. My favourite of the three, he wrote 'Swallows and Amazons', 'Secret Water' and others. He was at school in Windermere and learned to sail on Coniston. His stories are based around a group of children sailing on these lakes.
Before that, Ransome was also a journalist, an autobiographer and a spy! As a foreign correspondent in WW1 he covered the Russian Revolution and was recruited by MI5 as a spy to provide information on the Bolsheviks.
He settled in the Lakes in 1925, with his wife. Many of the locations in his stories reflect real places in the area. I read and re-read those books as a child and they transported me to a world of nature, exploration and adventure - one reason why I'd always wanted to visit The Lake District.
Ransome's 'Cormorant Island' on Windermere?
Wildlife - Red Squirrels
Wildlife abounds in the Lakes. Our hotel was in Shap and situated down a narrow lane, in a sheltered hollow with a scattering of houses, giving the illusion of being in the middle of the moors.
Adjacent was a small forest, also isolated from any other trees in this exposed region. This isolation gave us an unexpected advantage of being able to see the Red Squirrel. Smaller than the grey, this charming animal is now scarce in England due to a disease passed to them by the grey. They can be found in a few protected pockets of the country and this is one of them, due to the expanse of the moor making it nigh impossible for the grey to reach. What a bonus for us!
They were fed at 8 o'clock each morning but could be seen often during the day if you walked up the valley and kept a keen lookout. Clever creatures, they've long ago worked out how to get the feed from the cages and their actions are fascinating. Being fairly tame but not over-trusting, several of them allowed us a glimpse - a delight and a privilege.
I spied this hen pheasant in the bushes whilst following the Red Squirrels. At first, it seemed a patch of lighter foliage beneath the trees. It moved and I could see one eye. One second more and she emerged further, maybe catching the confidence of the squirrels.
Not a rare sight anywhere in England but to be closer than usual, and see the hen rather than the cock, pleased me. She was shy, pale and far less significant than the male, but she made me smile and I thanked her.
On the last day of our stay, outside the hotel beside the sparkling stream bubbling over the rocks, we spied a Grey Wagtail. Having tails which bob or 'wag', they are aptly named. I had often seen the common wagtail which roosts in small trees in most of our towns but his flash of yellow caught my eye; I had never seen this type before.
He flitted after insects on land and water. He stayed still for just a few seconds at a time. Time for me to 'click' if I was quick! A final delight on our final day.
Grey Wagtail on the Moors
Not To Be Missed!
I urge anyone to visit the Lake District. It is majestic beauty. It is pure inspiration. It is rugged nature and sweeping open skies. You will be moved, inspired, encouraged to explore further. There are opportunities to walk, climb or take a tour. You can be as isolated or as included as you wish.
This was my first visit and it won't be my last. I revel in the wilderness of such places. I absorb the air, gasp at the panoramas and feed my heart and soul with all the glory of nature.
On the Moors
Do you enjoy the countryside?
Have you visited The Lake District?
© 2019 Ann Carr