Cumbria is located in northwest England is a lovely rural area with some of the nicest scenery in the country. Artists, musician and writers prefer this beautifly landscape as their home. There are many important historical attractions, like Hadrians Wall, Furness Abbey and the Carlisle Castle. The Lake District Park attracts visitors from around the world.
Cumbria, in the northwest of England, contains some of the most beautiful country in the land. The greater part (900 sq mi/2,300 sq km) of the region is taken up by the Lake District, a national park which attracts floods of visitors every year. In the south, the landscape is hilly and green; it grows increasingly dramatic and wild, however, the further north and west you go. England’s highest peak, Scafell (3,200 ft/979 m), and many other notable elevations surround the 16 fair-sized lakes, and the district boasts a wide variety of flora and fauna. There is something for everyone, and Kendal makes a good base from which to conduct explorations.
Kendal is the gateway to the Lake District. It first attained some measure of prosperity in the 14th century as a center of the wool weaving industry; its trademark product was the heavy cloth known as “Kendal green.” The medieval layout of the town endures in the narrow alleys that branch off the main street. The old stables in the 12th-century castle ruins now house the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry. Catherine Parr, later to marry Henry VIII, was born in this castle in 1512. Also worth a visit is the art collection at Abbot Hall, an 18th-century Georgian building, which includes watercolors by Turner and drawings by Ruskin, another Lake District regular.
From Kendal, take the A590 to Levens and Levens Hall, the largest Elizabethan house in the region, based on an earlier pele tower, a defensive tower typical of the border country. The house itself is interesting but even more fascinating are the gardens (especially the famous Topiary Gardens), which have not changed since the 17th century, much like those at Hampton Court, which happened to have been laid out by the same man, a certain Beaumont. From here, you can detour to see the 17th- and 18th-century houses in Cartmel, or the town’s Priory, the finest medieval building in the Lake District.
The picturesque little market town of Ulverston is the birthplace of Stan Laurel (1890-1965), commemorated in the Laurel and Hardy Museum.
The A590 ends at Furness Abbey. In the 12th century, this was one of the most important Cistercian abbeys in England. The monks were known for settling in idyllic surroundings, so it is hardly surprising that even as a ruin the abbey in the Vale of the Deadly Nightshade is still an impressive sight today. At Dalton-inFurness there is a watchtower which the Cistercian monks erected to protect the abbey against Scottish attacks.
Barrow-in-Furness dates from as recently as the last century; it’s one of those towns stamped out of the ground during the Industrial Revolution. Iron and steelworks sprang up here to supply the shipyards nearby. Today the docks are operated by the firms British Nuclear Fuels and British Gas, but the town’s glory days are past.
Lake Windermere: At Haverthwaite, the road crosses into the national park. Since 1847, the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway has been carrying passengers to Windermere, by steam or diesel, helping the region to become the most popular holiday destination in England. Crossing Newby Bridge, you come to Bowness-on-Windermere, an attractive village with a well-known lakeside promenade. In the high season Bowness gets quite crowded; not only is it a terminus of the ferry across the lake, but many boat and coach trips also start from here.
Above Bowness is the village of Windermere which owes its birth to the coming of tourism in the 19th century. Not surprisingly, it consists almost entirely of shops, hotels and boarding houses.
Lake Windermere itself is the longest (10 miles/ 16 km) and largest in England. Its name derives from the Scandinavian, Vinandr’s Mere. It’s surrounded by charming countryside, with woods and green hills divided up by dry-stone walls: a more pastoral setting than the landscapes of most of the district’s other lakes, where the dark volcanic stone creates a more sober, stark scenery, especially in the rain. Boating enthusiasts should peruse the Windermere Steamboat Museum and take a trip on the lake in the 1902 steam launch.
Above the western shore of Windermere is the village of Sawrey where, at Hill Top, Beatrix Potter lived and raised sheep after retiring as a writer of children’s books. Her house is now open to lovers of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and their friends; her original watercolors show her talent as an amateur naturalist. True fans should also take in the World of Beatrix Potter Exhibition in Bowness.
Ambleside stretches along the north shore of the lake and dates back to long before the tourists discovered the Lakes. The site of a Roman fort is nearby, one of a ring of military structures established around the central mass of high hills which the Romans did not bother to conquer. The one sight here is the Bridgehouse, built actually over the river to free its owner of the obligation to pay land tax. Ambleside is on the fringe of true hill country, the fells. In order to appreciate this landscape, you have to don a pair of sturdy shoes and hike. For routes, consult the works of Wainwright, who documented, in detail, every trail in the Lake District, easy and hard; his books are available in every local bookshop.
One must in this region is Grasmere. As well as being a village of great beauty it was home to the poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and his family. He is buried in St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. Just outside Grasmere is tiny Dove Cottage where he lived with his sister; next to it, the Wordsworth Museum houses manuscripts, paintings by Constable and Gainsborough and memorabilia of the Romantic movement. Nearby is Rydal, where the poet lived until his death. The house, Rydal Mount, still belongs to descendants of the family and contains many of the poet’s personal possessions. A more prosaic Grasmere highlight is Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread, a truly delicious confection unlike anything else known as “gingerbread.”
The Furness Fells: From Grasmere, the A593 leads to Coniston on Coniston Water. In nearby Brantwood lived another notable Lakelander: the writer, artist and critic John Ruskin (The Stones of Venice). His house commands a view of the highest mountain in the area, the Old Man (2,600 ft/ 800 m), which in turn offers the best panorama of Windermere, Coniston Water and also Scafell Pike and the sea.
From Coniston, the A593 leads to Duddon Sands by the sea and then turns right to Eskdale Green. The roads here are very narrow and in the high season very busy, so caution is advised, especially as sheep graze beside the road. Due to its proximity to the sea, the landscape here seems harsher, with barren slopes of gray scree contrasting markedly with the softer shapes of the eastern Lake District.
From Eskdale Green the route leads back to Grasmere and Ambleside via Hard Knott and Wrynose Pass. This round trip gives a good introduction to the most attractive places around Furness Fells.
The Northern Lakes: Going north from Grasmere, you come to Thirlmere, a lake surrounded by mountains and forests. Despite human intervention – the lake is dammed and the trees planted by man – it is still an attractive sight. On the hillsides, you can see traces of ancient industry, slate and lead mines; while the minute figures of rock climbers scale the cliffs. Before the road reaches Keswick, a track leads off to the right to Castlerigg stone circle, which is older than Stonehenge. From here there is a good view back to Thirlmere and north to Keswick.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, Keswick became an important mining town in the 16th century. Graphite was mined in nearby Borrowdale, and in 1832 the world’s first lead pencil factory opened in Keswick. The industry survives today and a survey of its history, as well as the methods of pencil manufacture, is presented at the Cumberland Pencil Museum.
South of the town is Derwent Water, which, in its unspoiled setting, is one of the most beautiful lakes in England. In the north is Ullswater, by whose shores Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud and saw the daffodils that inspired the poem.