The Lake District at a Glance: A Quick Guide to the English Lakes

The Lake District - Morning Mist in Kirkstone Pass
The Lake District - Morning Mist in Kirkstone Pass. ©Ferne Arfin

Claims to fame:

The Lake District, in England's Northwest, is a vast national park, carved out by glaciers about 15,000 years ago. It has:

  • four mountains over 3,000 feet including England's highest
  • about 50 lakes and tarns, including England's biggest and England's deepest
  • connections with leading literary figures, including Wordsworth, Coleridge and de Quincey.
  • been attracting visitors for hundreds of years - dating back to intrepid lady diarist Celia Fiennes in 1698
  • inspired England's most famous fell walking guides - The Wainwright Guides.


Lakeland statistics and superlatives:

The Lake District is England's only true mountain region. The national park covers 885 square miles (33 miles north to south, 40 miles east to west) - about 85 percent of the area of Rhode Island.

Among its outstanding features:

  • Windermere, England's biggest natural lake is 10.56 miles long, a mile wide and about 220 feet deep.
  • Wastwater, England's deepest lake has a surface 200 feet above sea level and a bottom 50 feet below sea level.
  • Scaffell Pike, at nearly 3,209 feet, is England's highest mountain - called a fell - and considered to be one of the hardest of the UK's high peaks to get to.


Cities, Towns and Roads in the Lake District:

Although the Lake District is England's most densely populated national park, there are no cities,large towns or major road routes. The M6 Motorway skirts the eastern edge of the national park and passes through, or near, these regional gateway cities and towns:

Within the Lake District National Park, Keswick at the head of Derwentwater, and Windermere, are the largest towns with good facilities for shopping, tourist information and accommodations.

Principal Lakes:

There are more than 50 lakes and tarns - high mountain lakes held in the crests of mountain formations called cirques. The lakes range from the Victorian pleasure grounds of Windermere to the dark and brooding Wastwater at the foot of Scaffell Pike. These are the principle destination lakes of Lakeland:


Fell Walking in the Lakes:

The word fell comes from the Old Norse word fjall for mountain. One of the most popular pastimes in the the Lake District is fell walking. The challenges range from hills around Keswick and Derwentwater that are little more than modest uphill walks of a couple of hundred feet, to difficult scrambling hikes to the top of Scafell Pike.

Because the Lakeland fells are virtually bare and preside over vast, U-shaped valleys, the rewards of fell walking are the spectacular views.


Alfred Wainwright and the Lakeland Fells.:

Between 1952 and 1966, Alfred Wainwright, considered by many to be the father of fell walking, set out to walk 214 Lake District Peaks and write about them in seven, carefully handwritten and illustrated walking guides. These books have now become British classics.<p> In the summer of 2007, to mark the centenery of Wainwright's birth, six million people watched the BBC2 Series Wainwright Walks. Walking in Wainwright's footsteps opens up some of the best routes and views in the Lakes.

  • A Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells - Compare Prices
  • Wainwright's "Eight Lakeland Walks" is now available as a podcast. Compare Prices


Literary Lakeland:

The Lakes are linked to:

    The Lakeland Steamers:

    Many of the lakes in the region became popular vacation destinations in Victorian times. A popular activity was cruising a lake on a large steamer or a smaller steam driven yacht or launch. Many of these have now been refurbished and take passengers on the lakes year round. Here's where to find the best:

    When to go:

    Summers are crowded in the Lake District. There are few roads and those are narrow and wind through valleys and mountain passes so traffic can be a real problem during July and August. Go, if you can, in spring or autumn, when the color of the landscape is at its best.

    Winter also has its charms - there is little snow, except on the highest ground and the lakes don't usually freeze. Steamers on Lake Windermere and Ullswater cruise all year round.

    Keep in mind though that winter fell walking is only for well equipped walkers with plenty of experience. Some of the higher road passes can ice up in winter.

    Five More Cool Things to Do in the Lakes:

    1. Visit a great garden- Try the National Trust gardens at  Acorn Bank or Sizergh Castle
    2. Snoop around a house - like Arts & Crafts influenced Blackwell or the 400-year-old farmhouse, Townend
    3. Sniff out some fish - at the Aquarium of the Lakes
    4. Go underground - at Rheged, the world's largest grass roofed building, a tourism center with shopping, exhibitions, family fun and loads of movies about the Lake District on a giant screen.
    5. Make your mark - at the Cumberland Pencil Museum charting the history of the pencil from the discovery of Borrowdale graphite in the 1500s.

      See views of the Lake District

      Not sure whether you'd enjoy a visit to the Lake District? These pictures will give you some idea of what to expect: