Wast Water has the most dramatic scenery

The Lakes and Tarns of England’s largest National Park || Part 1

The Lakes and their Literary Landscape

The Lake District, a mountainous area in NW England, is often known as Lakeland or just ‘The Lakes’. It is England’s largest National Park, and a popular holiday destination with superb rock climbing and hiking trails for every level of fitness.

Lakeland takes the form of a circular upland massif containing England’s highest mountains, bisected by glacial valleys in a radial pattern – like spokes of a bicycle wheel.

Sixteen lovely lakes nestle in these valleys and there are also hundreds of smaller lakes (locally known as tarns), adding immensely to the district’s appeal.

This wonderful park was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2017. Not only does it contain England’s most beautiful scenery, but it also has an outstanding literary legacy from a host of famous authors and poets.

Throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, their various styles of writing and gifted descriptive powers consistently demonstrated their passion for this unique lake and mountain landscape.

Windermere and Coniston Water are in the south. Windermere is the largest lake, gently winding for 17kms from the high mountains at its apex to the sylvan beauty of Lakeside and the River Leven at its tip. Steamers and launches operate year-round from the busy town of Bowness and many different water sports are available to tourists.

Fishing is popular and keen anglers strive to catch arctic char from the deepest parts of the lake. Related to salmon, char tastes like a delicate version of sea trout.

Arthur Ransome based his famous book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ partly on Windermere and partly on Coniston Water – whose tiny Peel Island is undoubtedly Wild Cat Island in this classic children’s tale.

Coniston’s foremost literary connection, though, is John Ruskin. He was one of the great figures of the Victorian age, and a prolific writer, poet, artist, critic, social revolutionary and conservationist. He lived at Brantwood near the top end of the lake and was responsible for inviting other literary giants to enjoy the region’s charms, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The best way to appreciate Coniston Water’s many attractions is to take a ride on the steam yacht, The Gondola. This ‘Grand Old Lady of the Lake’ was built in 1859 and was the inspiration for Captain Flint’s houseboat in Ransome’s story.

Any trip north from Coniston should include a stroll besides Elterwater, a small but utterly charming lake, before slaking your thirst with a pint of local real ale in the nearby Britannia Inn, a quintessential Lakeland Pub.

Suitably refreshed, it is now just a short walk to Grasmere, which sits by a pretty lake of the same name. Grasmere was the headquarters of the famous Lake Poets in the early 19th century. The most influential figures were William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Wordsworth being the most renowned.

Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, was an auxiliary member and an inspiration to the others. However, her own work was only published posthumously, which was a great shame, as her journals are fascinating. Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, two of Wordsworth’s three homes in the area are open to the public and are pilgrimage centres for aficionados of his brilliant poetry. Rowing boats can be hired to explore the lake, but Grasmere is much better viewed from the many terrific walking trails in the surrounding hills.

A strenuous hike east from Grasmere through the Helvellyn range, mountains eulogized by Sir Walter Scott, brings you to Ullswater, generally regarded as Lakeland’s most beautiful lake.

Wordsworth wrote, “Ullswater, upon the whole, is the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords”. He was inspired to write his poem “Daffodils” after seeing a host of the flowers blooming by the lake.

The road north from Grasmere passes along the shores of tranquil Thirlmere, finally reaching the bustling town of Keswick and Derwentwater, the jewel of the northern lakes.

Beatrix Potter spent many summers in holiday homes overlooking the lake. The surrounding exquisite countryside provided much material for her world-famous children’s books. In later life, this extraordinary lady lived near Windermere at Hill Top, now owned by the National Trust. She became an ardent conservationist – years ahead of her time.

Hugh Walpole, the prolific 20th century novelist also loved Derwentwater, and lived at Brackenburn on the slopes of the shapely peak of Catbells, overlooking the lake. He was a popular local figure and used the scenery and atmosphere of Lakeland as background material in his books. “Rogue Herries”, a historical novel set in the Lake District, was a hit and he followed it with three sequels. All four novels were published in a single volume, distinctively called “The Herries Chronicles”.

The route northwest around Derwentwater through Borrowdale passes through beautiful woods and spectacular crags and eventually arrives at the district’s loveliest valley containing Buttermere and Crummock Water.

Nicholas Size, who was landlord of Buttermere’s Victoria Hotel in the 1920s, was also a keen historian. Following extensive research, he wrote an unusual historical saga that became a nationwide bestseller. Called “The Secret Valley”, it described the failed attempt by the Normans in the 11th century to conquer this tiny corner of England. The large Norman army was outwitted, ambushed and then routed by the local residents in Rannerdale, a side valley tucked between the two lakes. Part fact and part fiction, this book takes pride of place in our Lakeland collection!

Wild Wast Water is the most westerly of the lakes. It is also the deepest, is surrounded by the highest mountains and has the most dramatic scenery. Perhaps Wordsworth was a little harsh when he called it “long, stern and desolate”.

The shapely summits around the lake have fired up the imaginations of countless poets and painters, including the Chinese author and artist, Chiang Yee. Wast Water was his first stop on a Lake District tour that he later graphically described and illustrated in his amazing book “The Silent Traveller in Lakeland”.

The weather was unkind to Chiang Yee, but it didn’t dampen his spirits. Whilst he sat and watched a rainstorm approaching along the lake, he joyfully wrote: “In the remote distance, as far as my eyes could reach, there was no visible joining point between the sky and the lake. The ruffled shining surface of the water, with its reflection of clouds showed no break. A huge mass of cloud rolled forward like a dragon coming down from the Heavens”.

Like so many others, this visitor from China had become totally captivated by the beauty of his surroundings. He went on to fill his book with dozens of enchanting descriptions of lake country, and with considerable artistic flair, illustrated the pages with some stunning ‘Chinese-style’ paintings. In so doing, Chiang Yee made his own unique contribution to the Lakes Literary Landscape.

In Part 2, we head for the hills to discover some of the National Park’s most interesting and beautiful tarns.

By Nigel Wright
|| features@algarveresident.com

Nigel Wright and his wife Sue moved to Portugal 13 years ago and live near Guia. They lived and worked in the Far East and Middle East during the 1980s and 90s, and although now retired, still continue to travel and seek out new cultural experiences. His other interests include tennis, gardening and photography.

Wast Water has the most dramatic scenery
Buttermere and Crummock Water lie in Lakeland’s loveliest valley
Derwentwater sits below the shapely peak of Catbells
Thirlmere is perhaps the most tranquil stretch of water
Ullswater is regarded as the most beautiful lake
Grasmere is best viewed from one of the many walking trails
The charming lake of Elterwater and the Langdale Pikes
The Gondola was the inspiration for the houseboat in Swallows and Amazons
The sylvan beauty of Lakeside at the tip of Windermere