Under An English Heaven – The Lake District
Cumbria County, UK
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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