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The Lake District - the height of perfection
Lake District (Cumbria)
Member Name: silverbird44
Lake District (Cumbria)
Advantages: Magical scenery, walking for all abilities, so much to do!
Disadvantages: Can get a busy, sometimes hard to find parking
Anyone who's been kind enough to read the rest of my reviews will have noticed that I've been reviewing mainly mountains and national parks. I've been putting off this review because I knew it would be a big one - the Lake District is such a huge area, and with so much to write about! But this is the place that I learnt to love the outdoors, and so I knew I had to write this in the end, if only in the hope that it might persuade a few people to try this amazing place for themselves.
I apologise that this is a bit of monster, and also that it probably needs for detail - I hope to have got the main points across, and I'll tackle the places mentioned more completely later on. I hope this review is helpful to you!
- What and where?
The Lakeland National Park is located in Cumbria and at 885 square miles is the largest as well as the most celebrated of England's National Parks. Founded in 1951, it is a magical, glacier formed landscape consisting of lofty fells, narrow ridges and the many deep lakes that gave the region its name.
The landscape of the Lake District supports a specific group of animals, those that can cope with the hard conditions and can make a life on the high peaks and rushing rivers. In terms of large mammals, walkers can often see herds of red deer on the mountain sides in the quieter areas such as the Dalemain Deer Park on the Knab in the far eastern fells. Another treat in the same area is the small population of fell ponies, which occasionally appear on the ridges of such road less valleys as Fusedale, made safe from the walkers below by steep slopes of scree. The fells and lakes are also rich in bird life. The poster species are the osprey, seen from the RSPB viewing point above Lake Bassenthwaite during the Summer, and the golden eagle which often frequents the Haweswater reservoir. But if you are just out walking, you have a good chance of seeing other raptors like buzzards and kestrels, or the smaller species of finches and tits in the conifer plantations and crows spinning dizzily on the wind. And of course, for the lucky few, there is the glimpse of a red squirrel bouncing along the drystone walls.
It would also be churlish to talk about the Lakes without mentioning sheep, as you would be hard pushed to go five minutes without seeing one! I challenge anyone to go to the Lake District and not adore the Herdwick sheep!
- Notable towns
The largest towns in the region are actually outside the National Park boundaries, specifically Penrith and Kendall. Within the park itself, Keswick is probably the largest town, and a very attractive honeypot, although at the moment still recovering from the recent floods. Ambleside is another large settlement, and is near to the National Park Visitor Centre and Brockhole for those looking for information about the Lake District. Otherwise, most Lakeland settlements are quite small, like Buttermere and Pooley Bridge, with small shops, pubs and the odd bed and breakfast.
Obviously the main factor that draws tourists to the Lake District is the opportunity to walk in such a beautiful environment. There are countless well marked trails, both high level and low level, and walks can be tailored to all abilities. The area of the park means that you can spend a long time without covering the same ground more than once, although most walks bear repeating several times - I have been walking in the lakes since I was four years old, and there are still many hills that I'm yet to climb. The size of the park also has the other advantage that it is relatively easy to lose people. You can park at the low level, strike out into the hills and not see more than ten people in a day outside of the summer season.
- Key Summits
The 'big four' Lakeland hills are those over three thousand feet, in order of height Scafell Pike (England's highest mountain), Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. How fun these mountains are to climb depends on the route taken. Scafell Pike has a trudging up and down route which is both exhausting and dull, and only to be approached by the most determined peak bagger. Experienced walkers would be better to take the corridor route, which although more challenging is also a lot more fun! Helvellyn is a fabulous mountain, which can be climbed either on the easier route from Thirlmere or along its steep ridges (not for rookies!). All of these hills take a significant amount of effort, although they should not be out of reach for anyone with a good level of fitness and a bit of mountain sense.
As well as these four, there are several mountains which miss the three thousand metre cut by only a few hundred metres. One of these is Blencathra and her accompanying seven ridges, which mean you can climb the same mountain several times without walking in your own footsteps, while another is Great Gable, possibly my favourite mountain. Like Scafell Pike, the joy you get out of climbing Gable depends on the root taken. There is one walk you can do out of the Borrowdale valley which involves scrambling up a waterfall, walking across Green Gable and Brown Crag, before going through the evocatively named Windy Gap and scrambling up the side of Great Gable. We started this walk in sunshine, but by the time we reached Great Gable the clouds had descended and visibility was only a few metres. We ended up tracking across the rocky summit in a completely white world, with only the occasional gap in the mist revealing the valleys miles beneath us.
Of course, walking isn't just about peak bagging, or who would go walking in England?! There are many wonderful smaller hills commanding fabulous views, such as Hallin Fell and Catbells, or you can chose to shun the high fells in favour of a relaxing wander around the lake paths of Buttermere or Ullswater. The lake paths are brilliant because, being low level, they can be used as an introduction to walking for younger children, for an easy day's wander with a picnic, or as an alternative for days when bad weather makes the higher peaks off limits.
- Just a warning
At the risk of sounding preachy, I'm going to add this note to all of my walking reviews. Mountain weather and mountain ground are both unpredictable: however easy your planned walk, do not go out without a good map and compass, tough shoes and serviceable waterproofs. Walking and the outdoors are incredible, but they are also very powerful - make sure you treat them with respect!
- Other activities
For those who aren't into walking, or who fancy a little more variety, there are also plenty of other activities on offer. For a start, you can try something on the water - there are steamers on Ullswater, Coniston, Windermere and Derwentwater, and possibly others, or you can take out a sailing boat, motorboat, rowing boat or kayak. The region offers climbing for those who come equipped (and climbing courses for those who would like to learn), or there are plenty of easier places for those who just prefer a bit of easy scrambling or rock hopping. I've also seen plenty of people fell running, which is impressive if a little crazy, pony trekking and hang gliding. For those of a less energetic frame of mind, you can just for a drive and soak up the view. Be warned, though - the problem with mountains is that they specialise in steep gradients and sharp corners. Particularly 'interesting' roads are the one at Honister pass and the monster climb up to Kirkstone. Most cars will be fine with it, but it takes concentration!
- Notable attractions
If you have a rainy day the Lakes has a healthy dose of history. The Lake Poets are well known, and a visit to Dove Cottage near Grasmere is a lot of fun. There is also Beatrix Potter's house, or you can spend a day on one of the big estates such as Dalemain, which is a beautiful old pink stately home the estate of which still covers a large chunk of the Far Eastern fells. Just outside the National Park is Rheged discovery centre, which has an IMAX cinema and hosts exhibitions, usually with an outdoor theme. You can also try the Aquarium of the Lakes, which is unusual in being an entirely freshwater themed aquarium. For those who fancy something different, you can visit the Honistor slate mines, or have a go at their Via Ferrata. This is effectively like rock climbing, but with fixed cables and ladders which you can clip into, so making it suitable for beginners. All trips on the Via Ferrata are guided should be booked in advance.
The Lakes has become such a tourist area that you are spoilt for choice with accommodation. You could try camping, which is undoubtedly the cheapest option, and there are good campsites all over the national park. Alternatively for the money minded traveller, there are 23 youth hostels in and around the National Park, including the famous Black Sail, which is only accessible on foot. For those looking for a little more luxury, there are countless cottages, bed and breakfasts and hotels available, but I'm afraid I can't comment on these - we've stayed in the same cottage, the Fold at Hallin Bank in Martindale, every year and love it far too much to try anywhere else!
To sum up - bad points and good points
So after all that, the good points of the Lake District: stunning scenery, a huge range of walking, great wildlife, friendly people, well developed trails, plenty of accommodation and things to do on a rainy day. On the flip side of the coin, the beauty of this park does make it busy. Attractions can be packed in the summer season, and if you are after one of the big fells, you may need to arrive early to get into the car parks. But these are just little things which can generally be planned around.
I could never recommend anything other than that you should visit the Lake District. It is an inspirational place of unbelievable beauty, and one which I don't think I could ever fall out of love with. I've tried to give useful information in this review, but the fact is that you don't really get it until you've been there: like Dartmoor, and the Peak District, and other pieces of wild country, it just gets into your blood. You only need to stand on a high peak once, the wind the only noise around you, mountains and lakes and sun and sky bursting away in every direction, and you'll be hooked. So give the Lakes a go. You won't be disappointed.
- Further Information
The undoubted king of Lakeland writing is the late Alfred Wainwright - his books give a mountain by mountain break down of the whole Lakeland region, with practical information, great drawings and some very wry comments that will raise a grin. If you need a good map, the Ordnance Survey has a collection of detailed English Lakes maps which cover specific areas and can be bought from their website.
Thank you very much for reading :)
Summary: A place for everyone's to do list
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