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Valleys, Lakes and Villages of the Lake District
The Lake District has the best mountain and lake scenery in England. The scenery is unsurpassed with stone walls crawling up the fells, pretty white washed cottages and farms reflecting in the many lakes and the villages and towns providing local crafts, tea shops, traditional inns and some more practical shops. Tourism predominates here and the central spine from Keswick to Windermere can become packed but away from here the crowds fade and tranquility takes hold.
- Keswick & the North
- Grasmere & Ambleside
- Windermere, Kendal & the South
- Buttermere & the NW lakes
- Coniston and Hawkshead
- Wasdale, Eskdale & the Duddon Valley
Geology of the Lake District
School does work! Clearly I remember the lessons which explained the geology of the Lake District and in particular how they were divided in to 3 different rock types. To the north were the harder and oldest rocks called the Skiddaw Slates. They have been formed when sands and muds on the ocean floor were compacted and squeezed to form steep sided but rounded fells of the Keswick and Ullswater areas. Similarly to the south around Windermere and Coniston the Siluruan Slates were formed and these have formed lower lands but similar hard rock as that in the north. In the middle are the Borrowdale Volcanics series. These rocks, which form the central belt of high craggy peaks such as Scafell Pike and Great Gable, were formed about 450 million years ago when violent volcanic eruptions blew the land apart leaving hard volcanic ash and rock to form the mountains of today.
Throughout the Lake District the drainage is poor, leaving plenty of standing water or wetter bogs, particularly with the hard volcanic rock. Only at Whitbarrow to the south does the more porous limestone make an appearance. Due to the violent nature of the Volcanic series of rock glaciation was able to create a greater impact than anywhere else in the country. The glaciers scoured great grooves out of the central belt with u shaped valleys of hard rock naturally being filled by the water that cannot escape. Wastwater is a wonderful example of this but most of the lakes and tarns were also formed this way. Away from the central belt more recent water erosion creates v shaped valleys on a smaller scale; there are plenty of examples but one that springs to mind is to the east of Dunmail Raise. Even though the valleys would have been wooded in the past they are now bare, either rock or through thin acidic soils which are only really suitable for sheep farming.
Looking at the map of the Lake District brings to mind the spokes of a wheel and the best guess is that this was due to the greatest or most recent eruption taking place at the centre point near the Scafell massif and therefore the land falling away from here.
History of the Lake District
This is a harsh landscape to make a living in and clearly there is limited ways of making use of the land. Sheep farming has been the mainstay over the past 800 years (possibly brought over by the Vikings) and has been fairly successful. However for the sheep to survive they need to be tough and although Herdwick sheep are certainly this, sadly their commercial output, in terms of quality of wool and lambs, has always been a little limited. Farmers recently have had to diversify; whether by making more use of their lower field and the richer soils of the valley by introducing cattle and other livestock or more likely utilizing the tourist by developing farmhouses and barns in to cottages and bed and breakfasts.
The other industry that has survived through the ages is Mining; even the Romans were at it. Lead, copper and zinc were the earliest mining operations, the unique graphite that formed the charcoal for the first pencils came from Borrowdale in the 18th century but probably the best known mining operations concerns slate. Lakeland slate has been used for building materials, particularly roofs, for over 200 years and (along with white stone wash) gives the area some of the character that makes it so attractive. The mine at Honister Pass is still working and producing the bluer Westmoreland Slate but has also been set up as a tourist attraction – a visit to nearby Fleetwith Pike will also show the industry in operation.
However it is people who are probably the best known aspect of history in the Lake District. The 3 poets who lived at the beginning of the 19th century have left their mark, not only in poetry, but also with their lives and clear love for the Lake District. Prior to the arrival of Samuel Coleridge, Robert Southey and William Wordsworth many people perceived the Lakes to be rather dark and unfriendly, certainly not a place to visit. Through their poetry and their flamboyant lifestyles they raised the profile of the area and it was really the Victorians who started coming to the Lakes in such large numbers. Around the same time John Ruskin, who lived at Brantwood on the banks of Coniston founded the National Trust (who own roughly 1/3 of the land in the Lake District) and one of its earliest supporters was Beatrix Potter. Properties that these famous residents of the Lake District lived in are all available for viewing and are one of the most popular attractions within the area.
Tourism now is clearly dominant and fairly much everyone who lives and works in the Lake District has some involvement. Sometimes the roads do become very busy and parking is often very difficult to find (and expensive) but once you break away from the main traps or visit them at quieter times there is so much to see and do, and that is before venturing on to the fells and valleys with their wonderful walking.
Early 20th century pictures reproduced courtesy of Francis Firth collection.
Useful Links giving additional information
Large selection of good quality cottages in the Lake District from Holiday Cottages
Up to date news and information is available from Lake District enthusiast Alan Hands
MET office mountain area forecast for the Lake District
Suggestions for a caravan holiday in the Southern Lakes Click here
Campervan holidays are a good way of seeing the area. Click here