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Under An English Heaven – The Lake District

Cumbria County, UK

Buttermere From Fleetwith Pike ‘The Lakes’, as the area is called, is a National Park in the county of Cumbria in northwest England. It’s probably the single most beautiful area of the British Isles, so it’s strange that its reputation is somewhat muted in the States. People who have heard about the area often know it as the home of the nineteenth-century poet Wordsworth. But there’s a lot more poetry to the Lakes than the sort you find in college libraries.

For a start, the National Park might just as legitimately be nicknamed ‘the Mountains’. Some of the highest hills (or ‘fells’ as they’re known locally) in England surround the lovely, long blue lakes. If you’re an experienced hiker you can have great fun on hills with such wonderful names as Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Blencathra. Make sure you are experienced, though, and that you have warm waterproof clothing plus a map and compass and knowledge of how to use them. The maritime climate of the Lake District is notoriously changeable and unpredictable. Freezing, driving rain can appear apparently out of nowhere on an otherwise bright sunny day, and low cloud scudding across the hills can leave inexperienced hikers completely lost.

Misty Keswick
Misty Keswick But don’t worry – if you’re not a walker there’s lots of other things to see. The pretty market towns of Ambleside and Keswick each sit at the head of a lake: Windermere and Derwentwater respectively. Although they get very busy in summer, both places are delightful places, full of quaint of stone houses and pubs. You can take steamer trips from both towns, which is something not to be missed. Some of the best views in the Lake District are to be had from the middle of lakes!

Eating and drinking in the area can also be a real treat. Some of the best pubs in the UK are to be found in the Lakes, many of them serving top-flight food as well as excellent English beer. In recent years a trend has sprung up in the UK for ‘gastro-pubs’ – inns that serve high-quality food as well as great beers. Some of the best pub food in the country, as well as a great traditional pub atmosphere, can be found in the Queens Head in Hawkshead, a small, pretty village nestling between Windermere and Coniston Water.

Farmhouse in Cumbria In general the southern part of the National Park is more populous than the north. Windermere Village and Bowness-on-Windermere have more or less merged over the past few decades into one resort on the shores of the region’s biggest lake. Bowness, especially, feels more like a seaside town than an inland vacation destination. There are lots of things to do for adults and kids alike.

Probably the best way to stay in the Lakes is to rent a holiday cottage for a week. Sure, there are lots and lots of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, but nothing quite beats having your own home from home, especially if it’s an old-fashioned timber-beamed cottage halfway up a fellside. Holiday cottages are also a much better bet for families with kids, as most have at least some land or a garden attached for younger members to run around in.

Church in Cumbria Public transport in the area is not that great, so it’s a good idea to join an organized tour or hire a car. If you’re driving, beware: some of the roads are very steep and winding, and if you happen to be visiting the area in winter there can also be a problem with ice. If you’re fit and active a great way to get around within regions of the National Park is to hire bikes. But make sure that you really are fit and active, because some of the hills are long and steep. And don’t forget to wear the helmet that the hire shop will give you. There’s no requirement to wear a bike helmet in English law, but you’d be pretty silly not to.

Lowester, Cumbria Perhaps the greatest charm of the Lake District consists in simply being there. The sights are fantastic, from a storm rising over Ullswater to tiny Dove Cottage, the home Wordsworth shared with his sister, Dorothy. But the atmosphere is what really makes the place: the great pleasures are simply sitting by the side of a lake, eating ice cream, or outside a pub on a warm summer evening having a pint, watching the English crowds go by. Although it’s very accessible from the rest of the UK and international airports, the Lake District National Park is like a little world, a little civilization all to itself.

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