About the Lake District

The Lake District is famous for its mountains, lakes, history and lovely villages. Much of the area is very popular but it is easy to get away from the crowds if you know where (and when) to go. The scenery is simply stunning.

Mountains, Lakes and Villages of the Lake District

Yew Tree Cottage & the Coniston Fells
Yew Tree Cottage & the Coniston Fells

The Lake District has the best mountain and lake scenery in England.

Deep valleys and towering mountains dominate the views of any visitor to the Lake District.  The main centres of population lie on the central spine (the A592). Here the attractive towns of Keswick, Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere are the main draws. Away from the roads though is real Lakeland, found in the many valleys, beside the lovely lakes and dominated by the towering mountains. Explore the area to gain a full appreciation of how good it really is.

Map of the Lake District

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For more information on the different areas of the Lake District just refer to the region listing on this page.

Geology of the Lake District

Blind Tarn on Dow Crag
Blind Tarn on Dow Crag

School lessons do work! Clearly I remember having the geology of the Lake District explained. I particular remember how the area was divided in to three distinct rock types, effecting closely the type of landscape we walk in today.  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 similar hard rock Silurian Slates dominate the bedrock.

Between these lie 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. Violent volcanic eruptions simply blew the land apart. What remained was the hard volcanic ash and rock which form the mountains of today. Many geologists compare it to the volcanic islands of the western pacific. It does make for some tough walking underfoot.

Styhead Tarn
Styhead Tarn


Throughout the Lake District the drainage is poor, principally due to the hard impervious rock. Only at places such as Whitbarrow to the south does the more porous limestone create a dryer landscape (the water having disappeared underground. However it is the 3 periods of glaciation which creates and shapes much of the landscape we see today. The glaciers scoured great grooves out of the central Lake District with U shaped valleys of hard rock filling with water that has nowhere to escape to. Wastwater is a wonderful example of this but most of the lakes and tarns were also formed this way.


More recently the power of the British weather (rain) has created more localised V shaped rivers, mainly found on the mountain sides. Even though the valleys would have been wooded in the past they have thin soils making the uplands and most of the lowlands suitable only for sheep farming.

Looking at any map of the Lake District brings many to see the valleys forming the spokes of a wheel. The best guess is that this was due to the greatest or most recent volcanic eruption taking place near the Scafell massif. Therefore the land falling away from here creates the spokes.

History of the Lake District

Little Town, Newlands
Little Town, Newlands

Sheep Farming

This is a harsh landscape from which to make a living in. Sheep farming has been the mainstay over the past 800 years (probably introduced by the Vikings) and has at periods in history been a success. Today the pre-eminate breed is the tough, but sadly unproductive Herdwicks.  Farmers recently have had to diversify. The landowners either make more use of their lower lands and the richer soils of the valley by introducing cattle and other livestock. Or more likely adapting to the ever increasing numbers of tourists. This may be through cottage industries or renting out barns and farmhouses.


Mining has always prospered in the Lake District, even from Roman times. Lead, copper and zinc formed the earliest mines. The unique graphite that formed the charcoal for the first pencils came from Borrowdale in the 18th century. It has since found fame at the Keswick pencil museum. Lake District slate has been used for building materials for over 200 years and (along with white stone wash) gives the villages and towns much of the character that makes it so attractive. The mine at Honister Pass is still working and producing the bluer Westmoreland slate. It is now a very popular tourist attraction.

Windermere & the Langdale Pikes
Windermere & the Langdale Pikes


History in the Lake District has been littered with famous figures. The three ‘Lake Poets’ who lived at the beginning of the 19th century have left their own legacy. Not just 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 It was certainly not a place to visit. Through their poetry and their flamboyant lifestyles they raised the profile of the area. It was only after they died that the Victorians started coming to the Lakes in larger numbers.

John Ruskin, the powerful literary figure spent his later life at Brantwood House on the banks of Coniston. Ruskin was an inspiration behind the founding of the National Trust  One of the Trusts earliest supporters was Beatrix Potter who lived at Hill Top Farm near Hawkshead. Today the National Trust own roughly one third of all Lakeland. Other worthy figures who contributed to the lakes were the climber Chris Bonnington, guide book write Alfred Wainwright and legendary fell runner Joss Naylor.


The Best Guide Books..still
Wainwright – Box Set
More info

Tourism is now the largest employer in the Lake District. Walking, climbing and water sports are all very popular. However most visitors just come to enjoy the beautiful scenery, visit the shops and cafes and some of the many historical houses of the area.

See Also

About the Yorkshire Dales

About the North York Moors