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The English Lake District Through the Eyes of a Victorian Traveler.

Updated on August 8, 2015

Rippling streams


" If any think that we have painted too fair a picture of the Lake District, and that we love it fanatically, let them come and see" ---H. Martineau {1840}

The Lake District is famed the world over for its outstanding natural beauty. Since the advent of the Lake District National Park this region of Cumbria in the North west of England, is one of the most visited regions of the country.

Modern day transportation make the Lake District { often referred to simply as the Lakes} accessible to all who wish to be there. Fell walkers, Mountain climbers, Sailing and Water Enthusiasts, Nature lovers, and any one who just want to spend time taking in the breath taking beauty, converge on the region in vast numbers.

The best known lakes such as the 'big three' Windermere, Coniston Water and Ullswater can become particularly busy during the summer months. The Victorian era saw the lakes becoming more popular with tourism being encouraged. However, it was only the 'well heeled' who could afford to have the privilege of touring this beautiful region of England.

Here in this article I look at the Lake District through the eyes of a Victorian traveler. As mentioned tourism was in its infancy and not yet available to the masses. It is an interesting insight to the Lake District at that time, which was far different than the present day region, both in the number of visitors and changes that have occurred since then.

Queen Victoria

During the reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901 { the Victorian Era} tourism was in its infancy.
During the reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901 { the Victorian Era} tourism was in its infancy. | Source

Accomadation on offer to our Victorian traveler

Here I refer to a guide book of the Victorian era that stated the charges of Hotels and private lodgings during the 1800's. It states during the season, which extended from May to November, the charges of two shillings {ten new pence} for breakfast { including meat, fish etc}; Two shillings and six pence for dinner, and one shilling and sixpence for tea.

A private sitting room is charged at two shillings and sixpence per day. In some cases servants are charged in the bill. We quote what may be considered the proper payments when they are not:-Nine pence per day for waiter,sixpence per day for chambermaid and three pence a day for boots. If the stay is longer than a day, the total payment should be one shilling per day.

The charges for private apartments of a very good order, are from ten to twelve shillings per week, for each room, which includes attendance. Sitting room fire and the use of a kitchen fire extra.

Windermere and it environs

During the 1700's there was only one meaning to the word Windermere, it meant a lake lying among the mountains, and so secluded that it was some distinction even for a traveled man to have seen it.

By the 1800.s Windermere had a Railway station, a Post Office and a Hotel-a thriving village and a populated locality. travelers arrived by means of the Railroad from Kendal, having been dropped off at the Oxenholme Junction { now on the West Coast mainline} , by the London train, from the south or by the Edinburgh and Carlisle train from the north.

Oxenholme Junction in 2009

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3.0 unported license | Source

Railways only skirted the region in Victorian times.

The railways at that time only skirted the Lake District, but did not penetrate it. The montane regions of the then Cumberland and Westmorland had for its nucleus a cluster of mountains. there are the loftiest peaks and deepest ridges and shallower veils, and these in turn by others, till the uplands are mere hills and the valleys scarcely sunk at all. It was into these exterior undulations that the railway penetrated.

When the traveler or horse back rider arrived in the region he was able to see certain reaches of Lake Windermere from Orrest Head, lying in front of him. As a general rule the Lake was approached by foot. The old coach road over Orrest Head and the railway met at the new village of Windermere from where the road from Bowness descended, winding for about a mile and a half, striking the shore at a point rather more than half way up the lake, and impressive mountains that display a stunning scenery at its head.

Orrest Head with lake in the background

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 1.0 generic license. Permission CC.BY.
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 1.0 generic license. Permission CC.BY. | Source

From Orrest Head

From Orrest head which is on the eastern side of the lake, our traveler would see a beautiful panoramic view. A idyll cottage roof, surrounded by a cluster of trees in the fore ground. grey rocks strutting out from the sward on the opposite side of the hedges. Directly in front of him he would observe overlapping hills, range behind range with the waters of the lake lapping below.

he would very probably have been introduced to the stories conveyed by the locals. One such popular story of that time was that of one Joshia Brown who, a century earlier, made a name for himself by welcoming beggars into his home.There he supplied them with meat and lodgings. He referred to them as his 'Jolly companions'.

The hill to the right of Orrest Head was known at that time as Elleray. All the way up the views were worthy of his attention However, from the summit { about 650 feet above the lake} he would encounter what was regarded as the finest view afforded by the region. The whole length of the Windermere Lake extended before the observer, which at that time, would have been extraordinary breath taking. This with the surrounding hills and woodlands, and the imposing peaks at its head. To the west the ' old man of Coniston', with Bowfell and the Langdale pikes to the north west. Fairfield to the north, with Loughrigg lying as a mere dark ridge. To the north east Troutbeck, along with its peaks would have been observable.

' The old man of Conciston'

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3.0 Unported license | Source

Looking below

Looking below him our traveler would have seen the woods from which houses peeped out , and on a height of the opposite shore Wray castle, built as a private house in the Gothic revival style in 1840. { this is now a National Trust property, open to the public from April until November}. Further north he would see Brathay chapel {Brathay village} set down near the mouth of the valley,

Between Loughrigg and the Lake, at its head, the white houses of Clappersgate, with the Chateau-like mansion of Croft Lodge conspicuous above the rest. This view was similar to the view afforded from the hill behind the Windermere Hotel, which was reached by the lane turning off from Orrest Head.

Wray Castle

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3.0 unported license | Source

The Croft clustered by trees

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Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic license | Source

Map of Windermere {over 50 years old}

The map is an ordnance Survey map over 50 years old thus it is in the Public domain.
The map is an ordnance Survey map over 50 years old thus it is in the Public domain. | Source

The Village of Windermere

The village of Windermere was described at that time as ' nothing like that is to be seen anywhere else'. Although still a young village. it had ,as previously mentioned a Hotel and Post Office but also a public newsroom and library, and a gallery of pictures, chiefly by resident artists representing the scenery of the District.

The new buildings [all of them were new} were of a dark, grey stone of the region, and several of them were of a Medieval style of architecture. there was the church of St,Mary and schools belonging to it, with steep roofs of curiously shaped slates, both of which the parsonage overlooked. There was also the college of St.Mary, standing in a prime position between the main road and the descent to the lake. It had a distinguishing square tower. The building was intended to be a place of education for the clergy. However, this venture failed to materialise. thus under the management of Mr.G.Hale Puckle { I love that name} M.A. of St.Johns College, Cambridge and B.A. Irving,M.A.of Emmanuel College, was turned into one of the most successful Seminaries in the country.

The first gate way beyond the church was that of St,Mary's Abbey {which was also newly constructed} and the adjoining gate opened onto a footpath through Payrigg wood to the lake. During my research I came upon a description of this very path which I will share with the reader--" It is a pleasant, shady path of about half a mile, passing at its lower, a rock stream with picturesque falls, and ending on the shore of the lake at Miller Ground Bay. This is the widest part of the lake , and our visitor would have been glad to see it from this point." Here a few boats are kept for hire and tourists staying at Windermere would have found this a convenient starting place for many a pleasant trip. the quiet beauty of the bay would have suited our traveler if he preferred it to the more frequented landing places.

The trees on the right were known as Calgarth woods, planted by Bishop Watson. Skirting the lake was a quiet path leading along its margins to Calgarth. Our traveler would have to have walked this path during dry weather, however,for it was prone to flooding after rain.

Lake Windermere in the mist

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Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported license | Source

Map of the Lake District

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Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license. | Source

In the next in this series

In the next article of the English Lake District Through the eyes of a Victorian Traveler I will join him on a walk from Windermere to Bowness.

Thank you for reading


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, DDE, thank you, your kind comments are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful and interesting sight and useful information to any reader.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      alancaster 149 thank you once again for your input. Since you posted your comment, I have changed the map of the lakes again ,for what I consider to be a more informative one. Alfred Wainwright indeed was a pioneer of this region and he wrote, as you are aware, some excellent books describing the walks. However, I am trying to keep to historical facts and references from the Victorian era. There again there is no harm in bringing him into the articles when the opportunity arises.

      like you I enjoyed the series with Julie Bradbury very much. Best wishes to you.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      You've excelled, DAL! Not one but two maps - I call that industrious. A comparison between the 1953 OS map and a current one might show up a few changes.

      Keep up the good work, and while you're up in Wainwright territory you might bring him into the equation. His books have become popular again, as indicated by interest in Julia Bradbury's series of programmes on the Yesterday channel (freeview) on his walks. There might not be any harm in using one of his maps, as long as you credit him for the image.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Brenda nice to hear from you, its been to long. Thank you for your usual kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Brenda L Scully profile image

      Brenda Lorraine Scully 5 years ago from Ireland

      You make me so home sick, beautiful article.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      livingsta, Thank you for your appreciated comments. The Lake District is a beautiful place but many of the popular parts tend to get over crowded. However, there are still regions that are quieter but obviously more remote. Best wishes to you.

      Hi alancaster149 how are things going in London? You are right , the Lake District as fallen victim to its own popularity. The Japanese seem to love Beatrix Potter. looking through the yes of a Victorian traveler makes me wish I could have been with him to admire the lakes as they should be seen ,uncrowded and beautiful. Thank you for your additional information.I have a great respect for your historical knowledge. In a future hub I will be looking at the steamboat journeys of the Victorian era surveying Windermere. I will try to add a map as you suggest, thank you appreciated. Best wishes to you.

      Tiorilynn---Thank you for your kind comments they are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 5 years ago


      i've never been to such a place but it looks absolutely beautiful

      the information that you have included and the photo helps it to look

      even more amazing.

      Voted up

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      When we travelled through Windermere a few years ago - even at the end of October, half-term for schools here - parking was impossible until we'd reached the bottom end of the lake, opposite the preserved Furness Railway line to Barrow-in-Furness. 'The Lakes' have fallen victim to their own popularity, if you ask me, ever since Wordsworth extolled his field of golden daffodils. Enid Blyton changed the map a bit when she bought a property in the area, restored outbuildings and erected accommodation for her workers on the farm she established (now owned by the National Trust, I think). Various other Victorian public figures acted as 'magnets' for an enquiring and increasingly mobile public. By Edwardian times (1901-1910) the tourist visiting pattern had been established for the region, aided by 'char-a-bancs' (early touring coaches with banked seating) and Sunday timetabling on the railways. Now there is a ferry service at the south end of Lake Windermere that links the eastern shore with the western and steam-hauled services. Add to that scores of Japanese and German tourists, and you have the classic Bank Holiday Syndrome ('if this is Sunday afternoon it must be Windermere', to paraphrase a more famous source).

      Nice write-up, DAL. Do you think a map of the Lakes might not come amiss, just to give our visitors an inkling of where they've got to head for if they're not moving with 'the herd'?

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Awesomely beautiful. I am in love with this photo "Lake Windermere in the mist". I have heard about how beautiful the Lake District is and it is on my list of places to visit. Thank you for this hub with interesting facts from the 1800s. Votes up and sharing!