About the Lake District

For more details on the different areas click on the links below.

Lake District

View the Lake District Walks on a map (opens in a new window)

Valleys, Lakes and Villages of the Lake District

Geology of the Lakes

History of the Lakes

Useful Links

Valleys, Lakes and Villages of the Lake District

Views towards Skiddaw

Views towards Skiddaw

The Lake District has the best mountain and lake outlook in England. The scenery is unsurpassed with stone walls crawling up the fells, pretty white washed cottages and farms reflecting in the many lakes, villages and towns providing local crafts, tea shops, traditional inns and all set to the backdrop of the mountains. Tourism predominates here and the central spine from Keswick to Windermere does become busy but travel further afield and the crowds fade and tranquility takes hold.

Geology of the Lake District

Corrie of Blind Tarn

Corrie of Blind Tarn

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.

Scree Slopes on Great Gable

Scree Slopes on Great Gable

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

Tourists on Walla Crag

Tourists on Walla Crag

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 at periods in history been a success. 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.

The Pinder Loweswater

The Pinder Loweswater

Away from the landscape it is people, individuals who have made their mark. The 3 poets who lived at the beginning of the 19th century have left their own legacy, not only in poetry, but also by how they lived their lives and the clear love they felt for the area. 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 only after they died that the Victorians started coming to the Lakes in larger 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 make for one of the most popular attractions within the area.

Tourism now is clearly dominant and it is easily the best employer in the Lake District. 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 centres (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.

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

 

See Also

About the Yorkshire Dales

About the North York Moors