If you’ve found yourself in the Lake District National Park, you’ll know that it’s full of superlatives. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is packed with exceptional places, inspirations and spots that will simply take your breath away. We’ve put together this collection of fascinating Lake District facts to encourage you to explore a little further in this gloriously wild and wonderful area of north west England.
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- 1 Introducing the Lake District
- 2 Lake District Facts: The Superlatives
- 3 Lake District Facts: The Lakes?
- 4 Lake District: Facts About Trees, Woodland and Wildlife
- 5 Lake District Facts: A Place For Inspiration
- 6 Lake District Facts: Visitors
- 7 Lake District Facts On Food
- 8 Quirky And Interesting Lake District Facts
- 9 More Places To Visit In North West England
Introducing the Lake District
The second UK National Park to be established (after the Peak District), the Lake District covers 912 square miles (2362 square kilometers) of North West England. Nestled between the coast to the west, Carlisle to the north, Lancaster to the south and The Pennines to the east, the National Park is 40 miles tall and 36 miles wide. There’s a whole lot of exploring to be packed into that space. It’s the largest National Park in England and Wales, and the second largest in the UK after the Cairngorms.
The Lake District National Park has more than 55,000 hectares of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. You’ll find 16.510 archaeological sites, 1779 listed buildings and 28 conservation areas. If you’re a fan of rainy days, you’ll also want to know that Seathwaite, England’s wettest place (a magnificent 3552mm of rain each year) is here to test your best rain gear.
Lake District Facts: The Superlatives
England’s Highest Mountain
Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, is one of the Lake District’s famous sites. Standing 3210 feet tall, it is made up of igneous rock (you’ll hear more of the Lake District’s volcanic past later) and is one of the peaks that make up the Three Peaks Challenge.
There is open access to Scafell Pike and the surrounding peaks. A popular destination for walkers, Scafell Pike has many walking and climbing routes to the summit. The shortest route to the top is from Wasdale Head. The summit itself was gifted to the National Trust in 1919 by Lord Leconfield:
“in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War 1914–1918”
The name for Scafell comes from the Old Norse for bald summit. Also in the Lake District, you’ll find many more significant peaks for walking and climbing including Scafell, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Great End, Bowsfell, Great Gable, Pillar, Nethermost Pike and Catstycam.
The Deepest Lake: Wastwater
Those high peaks come with equally deep valleys. Wastwater, the deepest lake in England, has some 243 feet of inscruitable depths. This is a glacial lake, with the surface of the lake being some 200 feet above sea level. The steep slopes at its south west end are known as The Screes. They rise about 2000 feet (200 being below the lake’s surface) and are the result of erosion and ice on the rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group. In 2007, Wastwater was named Britain’s favourite view.
The Longest Lake: Windermere
Windermere is one of the best known spots in the Lake District, and is one of the first places to encounter arriving from the south. Since 1847 when the Kendal and Windermere Railway first began to bring visitors to the Lakes, this has been one of the country’s most popular places for visitors. A ribbon lake formed by glacial retreat, Windermere is long and narrow, measuring ten and a half miles in length.
In the heavy rains of 2009, the water level in Lake Windermere rose 157cm. Windermere contains around 300 billion litres of water.
One of the interesting Lake District facts is that the village of Windermere does not sit on the lake, being half a mile distant. Instead you’ll find the village of Bowness-on-Windermere hosting boat trips and visitor facilities on the lake. If you’re, like me, enthralled by the potential of small islands, you should note that there are 19 within Lake Windermere. The largest, Belle Isle, is privately owned.
Passenger services of launches and steamers run the full length of the lake. from Lakeside Railway Station in the south to Waterhead Bay near Ambleside to the north. Five large boating clubs based on the lake mean that you’ll never be short of watercraft to watch from all parts of the lakeside. In 1930 Sir Henry Seagrave broke the world water speed record here, becoming the first person to hold the land and water speed records simultaneously.
Read More: Places To Visit In The Lake District
Lake District Facts: The Lakes?
There’s only One Lake
A staple of pub quiz questions, there is actually just one lake in the Lake District: Bassenthwaite.
The remaining watery spaces are known as either waters or meres. On that list you’ll find Windermere, Ullswater, Derwentwater, Coniston Water, Haweswater, Thirlmere. Ennersdale Water, Wastwater, Crummock Water, Esthwaite Water, Buttermere, Grasmere, Rydal Water and Brotherswater.
Exploring The Tarns
We mustn’t forget the tarns. Named from the Old Norse for a pool, tarns are small mountain lakes (although some are bigger than lakes). Some of the best known tarns include Blea Tarn, Little Langdale Tarn, Overwater Tarn, Stickle Tarn, Tarn Hows and Yew Tree Tarn. If you want to experience true tranquility, sitting at the side of a ripple-less tarn, clear and still, is a fine way to feel at peace with the world.
Haweswater, itself a natural body of water, provided the solution to population growth in the early twentieth century. More drinking water was needed, so two small villages in the surrounding valley were cleared and the valley dammed. Houses, churches and the Dun Bull Inn were demolished. The valley was flooded in 1935 to enlarge Haweswater. In times of drought and low water, the remains of the buildings can be seen. Water from Thirlmere travels 100 miles on an aqueduct to a million homes in Manchester.
Lake District: Facts About Trees, Woodland and Wildlife
Lake District Woodland
Twelve per cent of the Lake District National Park is covered with trees and woodland, making this a green space. Around a third is managed by the Forestry Commission. Nearly half of the trees are described as broadleaf woodland. The National Trust looks after 5835 ancient trees, among them yews, which can live for 4000 years. You can see the work undertaken to measure the Grand Fir of Skelghyl, one of the tallest trees in England and taller than Nelson’s Column. The view from up top’s pretty spectacular too.
Wildlife of The Lake District
This is home to some of the rarest wildlife in the UK. Here you’ll find colonies of red squirrels, particularly around Grasmere. The Lake District is also home to red deer, peregrine falcons, barn owls, Natterjack toads, and nesting pairs of Golden Eagles and Ospreys.
Lake District Facts: A Place For Inspiration
In 1810, the poet William Wordsworth published his Guide To The Lakes. It’s difficult to understand now, but at the time, wild open spaces were seen as alien and scary. So Wordsworth, himself entranced with the area, was responsible for bringing many visitors.
The Lake Poets
“For oft, when on my couch I lieIn vacant or in pensive mood,They flash upon that inward eyeWhich is the bliss of solitude;And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.”William Wordsworth: I wandered lonely as a cloud
It’s not just about Wordsworth either, nor his daffodils on the shores of Ullswater. The inspiration to be found in the Lakes is so great, a whole group – the Lake Poets – sought to fire their imaginations there. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was known to stride the fells, muttering bits of unfinished work to himself.
The well-loved children’s author made her home at Hill Top, now open as a visitor centre. It was designed to be “left as though she had just gone out to the post”, a charming concept and one that focuses on the lifestyle of the time. You’ll gain an insight into favourite characters such as Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin here.
I See No Zombies: Film Locations In the Lake District
The Danny Boyle Film 28 Days Later was filmed in Ennerdale. Here the characters found an escape from the zombie population. You’ll also find a digitally altered combination of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite playing Takadona in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Cult classic Withnail and I sees the two London actors exploring Crow Crag, better known as Sleddale Hall. The infamous shotgun fishing scene was filmed at the nearby River Lowther. Legendary children’s adventure Swallows and Amazons was filmed on Coniston Water, with Peel Island as Wild Cat Island.
If you’re a fan of Snow White and The Huntsman, Blea Tarn and the Langdale Pikes feature in the journey to reclaim the throne. Miss Potter, the story of Beatrix Potter, features many of the locations that inspired her including Loughrigg Tarn and Derwentwater.
Lake District Facts: Visitors
The number of visitors since Victorian times is tribute to the stunning impact the Lake District has on everyone who travels its green spaces. There are nearly 16 million annual visitors and 22 million day visitors to the Lake District National Park. To put this in perspective, that’s as if one in every four Brits took a day trip there.
One of my favourite lesser known Lake District facts is that aside from visitors, the Lake District is a sparsely populated place. Around 41,000 people live in the National Park. That’s around 40 people per square mile. The area is known for its little white cottages. They used to be treated with red lead, then traditionally limewashed in white to keep off the damp.
The local economy benefits from £1.4 billion visitor spending. Agriculture is the next biggest sector of the local economy.
Lake District Facts On Food
As you’d expect from a place where agriculture is the second biggest industry, food is a big part of Lake District life. So what can you expect to eat from traditional and local food?
This is like no other sausage I have seen in the UK. It’s a swirl of a sausage, traditionally being coiled into the Catherine Wheel of the banger business. Spiced with both black and white pepper, it’s a feisty number made from diced rather than minced meat, giving a chunkier texture. It was recognised as a protected local food in 2011.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Burned up plenty of calories on the fells? Then you may need a sticky toffee pudding, made of a sponge with figs or dates crowned with a toffee sauce. And yes, it’s pretty sticky. It was invented by Francis Coulson at Ullswater in the 1970s. You’ll find it in Ullswater or Cartmel,
This sticky and spicy delight was a favourite of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. You can still buy and enjoy it today in Grasmere.
Read More: Traditional Foods Of England
Quirky And Interesting Lake District Facts
Dry Stone Walls
There’s a whole art to dry stone walling, as I found out when I tried it on an archaeological dig site. Think of it as a heavy three dimensional jigsaw – and one that needs ballast at the bottom – and you’ll get the idea. Dry stone walls in the Lake District were used to divide up farming land. This also had the benefit of keeping fields free of stones, which would interfere with the plough.
There are different types of fields in The Lakes:
- fields around farms in valleys known as in-by fields
- fields up on the fell sides, known as in-lake fields
- land above the highest dry stone wall, known as the open fell
Fells And Becks
Many of the names in the Lake District come from Old Norse words for landscape features. These include fells or hills and becks or streams and tarns or mountain lakes. You may also see a lot of place names with the suffix “thwaite”. This means a clearing.
I saw A Grey Sheep
That’ll be a Herdwick, reportedly brought to the Lake District by the Vikings. These are hardy sheep, great for the local environment. They’ll happily wander the fells by themselves. It’s called being “heafed to the fell”. The sheep graze heather and grass, and keep bracken and scrub from becoming overwhelming.
Don’t be surprised to meet more woolly wanderers. There are six times more sheep than people in Cumbria.
What’s with The Fireplaces In The Fields?
Some are ruins of cottages. But more are lime kilns, used to make lime by heating limestone. Lime served to offset acid soils, making them more fertile for farming. It saved time and energy to make lime where it was most needed.
The Frozen Lake
Windermere froze over for a period of six weeks in 1895. It was possible to walk from one side to the other. Windermere froze again in 1864, 1946 and 1963.
Innovative Street Lighting
Windermere was the second place in England – after Newcastle upon Tyne – to have electric street lights. Lights in Windermere and Bowness were powered by hydroelectricity from the water at Troutbrook Bridge.
Time For Viking Wrestling
Another part of Viking inheritance, traditional wrestling still takes place in the area. You’ll find Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling here each year.
Mass Protests This Way
You wouldn’t expect the tranquil Lake District to be the home of the mass protest. While the efforts of 500 ramblers on Kinder Scout in the Peak District are well known, we should also remember the similar protest in Keswick. Landowners were gradually closing off access to the fells. Henry Irwin Jefferson led some 2000 people to march, starting at a gate marked private. The subsequent court case led to paths being reopened. You’ll see Jefferson’s name on the main gate to Fitz Park in Keswick. The right to roam is enshrined for the 1342 miles of paths in the National Park.
Home Of The Pencil
Inspired to do a little sketching? Pencils were invented here. The mine at Seathwaite, where graphite was discovered in the 1550s, provided the raw materials. Keswick is home to the Pencil Museum. It has the longest colouring pencil in the world, just under 8 metres long and weighing in at a hefty 446 kilos. It’s yellow, in case you were wanting to test it out.
More Places To Visit In North West England
Not far south of the Lake District, you’ll find the university city of Lancaster. Lancashire and the Morecambe Bay coast are full of places to tempt the visitor. The nearby Forest of Bowland is one of our favourite secret spots in England. Head east, and you’ll be in the epic Yorkshire Dales National Park, where visitor numbers are lower, and the scenery is – to my mind – wilder. If you are short on time, why not check out our choice of 10 Day UK Itineraries, making the most of your time in the UK.
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