Things to Do in Lake District
With an area of 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers), Ullswater is England’s second largest lake and one of its most beautiful, thanks to its zigzag shape and stunning setting. The area surrounding the lake is also famous for inspiring Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” sometimes also called “Daffodils.”
There are numerous neolithic stone circles in the Lake District and nearby areas, the most popular being at Castlerigg. This more-or-less round grouping of 38 boulders, with a rectangle of 10 more joining the inner edge of the circle, dates back some 5000 years, making it even older than Stonehenge. And like Stonehenge, the arrangement of Castlerigg Stone Circle is clearly linked to movements of the sun and moon, although the original ceremonial purpose of the stones is lost in time.
The stones themselves are impressive; add the majestic backdrop of Skiddaw, Blencathra and other mountains and you can see why this site has drawn admirers for millennia. An ideal spot to contemplate the mysteries of the past amidst the serenity of nature.
Children’s author Beatrix Potter lived in the 17th-century Hill Top farmhouse for most of her life, and bequeathed it to the National Trust on the condition that it was left “as if I had just gone out and they had just missed me.” The farm was a huge source of inspiration for Potter, who based many of her much-loved books here.
One of the most-popular tourist attractions in the Lake District, “the Tarns,” as the locals call it, is a picturesque area visited by over half a million tourists per year since the 1970s. Rightfully so: not only is this an area of outstanding beauty, but it’s also yet another gem bequeathed to the National Trust by Lake District aficionado Beatrix Potter.
A tarn is a mountain lake that was formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier, which is later filled with rain or river water. Despite being an icon of the Lake District, Tarn Hows is not typical of the region in terms of landscapes; surrounded by thick conifer woodlands, the actual tarn is partly artificial, having been created by James Garth Marshall in the 1850s. It consists of three distinct tarns, which merged in the 19th century.
Located in the low-level valley nestled between the villages of Coniston and Hawkshead, Tarn Hows is now just more than half a mile long (just under 1 km) and 820 feet (250 meters) wide, and contains five islands. It is fed at its northern end by numerous valleys and basin mires and drained by several waterfalls that cascade down the Glen Mary Bridge.
Hikers and trekkers will enjoy the accessible 1.5-mile (2.4-km) path that circles the tarn, while fauna enthusiasts will appreciate the heavy presence of Galloway cattle and Herdwick sheep.
With its battlements, turrets, and arrow-slit windows, the neo-gothic Wray Castle is straight from a storybook. Originally built in 1840 for a Liverpudlian doctor and his heiress wife, the estate once served as a vacation home for the family of children’s author Beatrix Potter and is currently owned by the National Trust.
Despite its diminutive size at just over 1 km long, Rydal Water’s strong literary connections have cemented its status as one of the Lake District’s most visited spots. Wordsworth’s Seat, overlooking the western bank, was renowned as the poet’s favorite viewpoint, while nearby points of interest include Nab Cottage, once home to Thomas Quincey and three of Wordworth’s former homes – White Moss House, Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage.
One of the few boat-free lakes, Rydal Water makes a perfect spot for open-air swimming during the warmer months, while the lakeside hills are at their most beautiful in spring and autumn, when fields of wildflowers and colorful foliage add a rich range of hues.
A wild stretch of grassy peaks, oak woodlands and rolling sheep pastures hugging the banks of the River Derwent, the rugged beauty of the Borrowdale Valley is undeniable and its central location at the heart of the Lake District makes it a prime through-route for hikers. Linked by the Honistor Path to Buttermere Valley in the West and Derwent Water and Keswick in the north, the scenic valley passes through the villages of Seatoller, Borrowdale and Rosthwaite, and lies en route to the famous peak of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.
It’s Borrowdale's unique landscape, sculpted by ancient glaciers, that is its biggest draw, and natural highlights include the narrow ravine known as the Jaws of Borrowdale, the nine-meter-tall Bowder Stone, the Lodore Waterfall and the vast woodlands, which host an impressively diverse ecosystem and a large variety of birds.
With its three lakes framed by a seemingly expanse of rolling hills and craggy peaks, Buttermere Valley is one of the Lake District’s most striking landscapes, and it’s been a popular spot for walkers and nature enthusiasts since the 18th century.
The tranquil Buttermere village makes the obvious basecamp, but most visitors come to hike the scenic lakeside trails or scale the surrounding peaks, which include the 851-meter Grasmoor and 806-meter High Stile, as well as Scale Force, England’s highest waterfall. Honister Pass is the main road running through the valley and during the summer months, swimming and rowing are popular activities on the lakes.
Affectionately nicknamed “Queen of the Lakes,” Derwentwater is a quintessential Lakeland spot. With the Cat Bells fell to the west, Friars Crag promontory to the east, and Borrowdale valley to the south, the lake offers a variety of stunning vistas, while its marinas, islands, and hiking trails provide plenty of activities for visitors.
Towering 978m over the surrounding lakelands, the craggy peak of Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain and it’s long been a popular challenge for hikers. Located at the heart of the Lake District National Park, Scafell Pike is one of a string of high fells that run between Wast Water and Buttermere lakes, including the nearby High Stile, Red Pike and Great End.
Tackling the mighty peak is a manageable challenge for hikers with a reasonable fitness level and can be completed in a day. The most popular route sets out from Seathwaite and follows the scenic Corridor Route from Sty Head to Lingmell Col, before climbing to the summit of Scafell Pike – an approximately 7-hour round-trip hike.
More Things to Do in Lake District
The Lake District’s third-largest lake, Coniston Water is known for its depth and its scenic surrounds, which offer prime conditions for water-based activities. The area’s human history reaches back to the Bronze Age, and more recent notable locals include Victorian thinker John Ruskin and the writers Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter.
Famously described by Wordsworth as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’, Grasmere has high credentials and the powder-blue lake, bordered by emerald green hillsides and lush woodlands, is certainly among the most attractive in the Lake District.
Grasmere’s fame means it’s also one of the National Park’s top destinations and huge crowds flock here during the summer months to walk around the lakeside, paddle around the lake on a rowing boat or kayak, or explore the eponymous village, renowned for its handmade chocolates and gingerbread. Grasmere is also a popular stop for literary fans, with top attractions including the Wordsworth family graves and Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, both former homes of Wordsworth and preserved as museums.
Built in the second century, Hardknott Roman Fort sits at the summit of a steep mountain pass. Remnants of old walls, a parade ground, and a commander’s villa still stand, though they are somewhat upstaged by panoramic views of Eskdale Valley and the surrounding mountains.
The Beatrix Potter Gallery is a popular destination for families and all fans of the famous author’s children's books. This 17th-century building in the town of Hawkshead, in the Lake District, was once the office of Potter's husband, the solicitor William Heelis, and now houses much of her original artwork.
The Lake District is famous for its dramatic high mountain passes, and few are steeper or more winding than the notorious Wrynose Pass, often described, along with the adjourning Hardknott pass, as one of Britain’s most difficult roads. Climbing around 281 meters in just over 3 km, the Wrynose Pass might be a rollercoaster ride, but it’s also one of the most thrilling ascents in the Lake District, serving up astounding views over the surrounding peaks.
The single-track road can be travelled by car, mountain bike or on foot, and weaves through the mountains between Duddon Valley and Little Langdale, to its highest point at the Three Shire Stone – a famous landmark marking the boundary between the historic counties of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland.
A beautifully restored medieval market town tucked hidden in the valley between Esthwaite Water and Windermere, Hawkshead is one of the Lake District’s most traditional and picturesque villages, characterized by its striking white-washed buildings, grey slate roofs and cobblestoned sidewalks.
Wander around the car-free center, where you can explore the 15th-century St Michael's parish church, see the former grammar school that William Wordsworth attended, and visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery, before browsing the small, family-run shops or eating at one of the historic pubs.
One of the Lake District’s largest lakes at 6.4 km in length, Bassenthwaite Lake is best known for its abundant native wildlife, now preserved as part of the region’s only wetland nature reserve. Osprey, Grasshopper Warbler, Curlew, Greylag and Meadow Pipit are among the bird species that frequent the wetlands, while the lake is also one of two places in England to see the rare vendace fish.
As well as wildlife watching, Bassenthwaite Lake is a popular spot for sailing, canoeing and fishing (for which a license is required) and the surrounding valley has ample opportunities for hiking, including the popular peaks of Skiddaw, the Lord's Seat and Ullock Pike, all of which offer spectacular views over the lake.
England’s deepest lake and the focal point of one of the Lake District’s most striking vistas, Wastwater is best known for its rugged screes – the rocky cliff faces that plummet into the water along the east bank. With its inky blue waters and backdrop of craggy peaks, including Red Pike, Great Gable and Scafell Pike, England’s highest Mountain, it’s easy to see why the remote lake was named “Britain's Favorite View” back in 2007.
The main activity at Wastwater is hiking and a network of trails run along the waterfront and out into the surrounding mountains and Wasdale Valley, or else it’s possible to rent a kayak or canoe to cruise around the lake (sailing and motor boats are banned).
Originally built to carry iron ore from the mines to the coast, the tiny Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway has been chugging through the Lake District since 1875. Ride the railway between Dalegarth and the coastal town of Ravenglass to admire landscapes that encompass sheep-dotted pastures, woodlands, ridges, and rocky outcrops.
A holiday in England wouldn’t be complete without visiting a haunted and historic castle. Cue Muncaster Castle and Gardens, a lavish 800-year-old property that is still lived in by members of the Pennington family, owners of the estate since the Middle Ages. Located in the idyllic Western Lake District and overlooking the Esk River, the castle was constructed in 1208 — it could, however, be much older than that; it is suspected that the castle was built over foundations dating back to the Roman era.
Because of its key location along the Scottish–English border, Muncaster Castle features a fine example of a 14th-century peel tower, which was endemic to the area and intended as a watch tower where signal fires could be lit by the garrison to warn of approaching danger. Once described as “a gateway to paradise” by John Ruskin, the castle’s Terrace Walk features verdant flora and a meadow maze.
One of the main particularities of the castle, outside its exceptional architectural heritage, is the presence of a ghost who goes by the name of Tom Fool, court jester. Rarely seen but frequently sensed, his playful spirit has been playing tricks on Tapestry Room visitors for well over four centuries.
Lake District wouldn’t be the same without its important literary heritage. The glorious scenery over both Grasmere and Windermere lakes certainly provides an inspiring environment for writers from all over England. Such was the case for poet William Wordsworth, who lived in Rydal Mount with his family for the greater part of his life, from 1813 until his death in 1850. This house is where he revised much of his earlier works and penned the final version of his celebrated poem “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud,” commonly known as “Daffodils.”
The house, which belongs to the poet’s direct descendants, is now open to the public. It retains a strong lived-in, family atmosphere that is typical of English cottages. The Tudor-style cottage retains its original flagged flooring and oak beams, which contrast nicely with the modern additions of the mid 1700s, such as the drawing room and the library.
Wordsworth’s print is omnipresent throughout the property; a keen landscaper in his free time, he designed the layout of the 4-acre (1.6-hectare) garden himself, saying that the luscious grounds and the writing hut he built were his informal office. Additionally, first editions of his writings and portraits and knick-knacks of his can be found inside the house.
Bowness-on-Windermere, or simply Bowness, is one of the main tourist hubs of the Lake District. Located on the banks of Lake Windermere, the town’s picturesque Victorian architecture and good transport connections make it the ideal starting point to explore the surrounding region.
Despite being the largest and central lake of the Buttermere Valley, Crummock Water is often overlooked in favor of neighboring Buttermere Lake, but there are plenty of good reasons to visit both. Measuring around 4 km in length, hiking around the lake from Buttermere takes around 3 hours and takes in highlights like Scale Force, England’s highest waterfall, which feeds into the lake, and the view from the lakeside Rannerdale Knotts.
Rowing, kayaking and canoeing are all popular pastimes on Crummock Water, but the clear waters are also ideal for swimming during the summer months and the abundance of brown trout and salmon make it a popular choice for fishing.
Built in 1879, this 34-room hotel served as a vacation rental for the family of Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator responsible for Peter Rabbit. Potter fell for Lindeth Howe and eventually went on to purchase the property. Inside, you can admire references to the hotel’s literary heritage, including a book wall and animal-inspired details.
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