A Literary Tour of Britain’s Largest National Park, Home to England's Lake Poets

Updated on August 30, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis has visited Lake District many times. It's an area to which people feel drawn back, as were the famous writers in this article.

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Grasmere, from Helm Crag, Southern Lakes, CumbriaThe Lake District is in Cumbria, North West EnglandPikes Crag,Scafell Pike, the highest point in the Lake District.
Grasmere, from Helm Crag, Southern Lakes, Cumbria
Grasmere, from Helm Crag, Southern Lakes, Cumbria | Source
The Lake District is in Cumbria, North West England
The Lake District is in Cumbria, North West England | Source
Pikes Crag,Scafell Pike, the highest point in the Lake District.
Pikes Crag,Scafell Pike, the highest point in the Lake District. | Source

In England's north-eastern county of Cumbria is the largest and most lovely of Britain’s National Parks—the Lake District—also known as Lakeland, or simply as The Lakes. The Lakes, a World Heritage Site, is a paradise for ramblers and a magnet for tourists. People travel to the lakes and the mountains of the area for a raft of outdoor activities or simply to bask in the beauty of the landscape. Others are literary tourists following the trail of famous writers who have been inspired by the Lake District.

This article will discuss the following authors and their connections with The Lakes:

  • John Ruskin
  • Beatrix Potter
  • William Wordsworth
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Robert Southey
  • Arthur Ransome
  • John Cunliffe

The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.

— Alfred Wainwright,The Western Fells

The Lake District National Park is England's largest and covers:

2362 square kilometres

912 square miles

583,747 acres or

236,234 hectares

Width (west to east): 58 km or 36 miles

Width (north to south): 64 km or 40 miles

It was to the Southern Lakes that I brought my youngest son for short vacations when he was a schoolboy, staying several times at a youth hostel on the shores of Lake Windermere. More recently I stayed at a sixteenth-century inn, complete with log fires, in the picturesque and historic village of Hawkshead, from where I spent time exploring the local area, walked in the hills, visited Kendal, and took the spectacular route further north for a day in Keswick.

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Narrow Lane in Hawkshead Village with pots and hanging baskets in bloomBeatrix Potter Gallery, HawksheadThe Grammar School in Hawkshead (now a museum) that was attended by the young William Wordsworth Source: By Nessy-Pic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3] St. Michael's Church, Hawkshead
Narrow Lane in Hawkshead Village with pots and hanging baskets in bloom
Narrow Lane in Hawkshead Village with pots and hanging baskets in bloom | Source
Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead
Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead
The Grammar School in Hawkshead (now a museum) that was attended by the young William Wordsworth Source: By Nessy-Pic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3]
The Grammar School in Hawkshead (now a museum) that was attended by the young William Wordsworth Source: By Nessy-Pic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3]
St. Michael's Church, Hawkshead
St. Michael's Church, Hawkshead

A Visit to John Ruskin's Home on Coniston Water

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a writer, poet and artist, perhaps best known as an art critic and for championing the works of the artist J.M.W. Turner. His former home, Brantwood House, is now owned by a private trust and is open to the public. The house contains a number of Ruskin's own paintings and is a centre for the arts. Various courses for artists, writers and poets are held during the summer season.

Many years ago, my son and I walked from Hawkshead, through the wooded hills and across pastureland to the house, situated on the eastern shore of Coniston Water. I was carrying a map and a compass (essential equipment when walking on open land in the Lake District) but, being a relatively inexperienced navigator, still managed to stray off route. It turned out to be a long walk of around 9-10 miles for a child. Mine, after sitting down in the middle of a field and refusing to walk any further, had to be revived with Kendal Mint Cake—instant energy from a bar of what is fundamentally mint-flavoured sugar. Tooth-rotting stuff but delicious and good in emergency situations! I was immensely relieved, after cresting the brow of the hill, at the sight of our destination.

It's essential to be prepared for rain when walking in the Lake District—and rain it did! Entering the packed bistro that adjoins the house we were met by clouds of condensation, created by the clothing of the walkers who were sheltering there to dry out. Walking boots and waterproofs are the essential kit in the Lake District. I invest in clothing designed to meet the demands of variable weather and which is made to last.

Mugs of hot chocolate and irresistible cakes revived us in preparation for a fascinating tour of the house (Ruskin was a genius). We then strolled the short distance down to the banks of Coniston Water and caught the ferry for the thirty-five minute trip across to Coniston village. Where, unfortunately, it was still raining. The peak of the Old Man of Coniston was shrouded in mist and again we retreated to a cafe where, luckily, we encountered another guest from the Queen's Head, who offered us a lift back to the inn. The following day we were both too exhausted to do very much and after a long lie-in spent time looking at the attractions that the picturesque village of Hawkshead offers. I guess the moral of my anecdote is that one should not undertake ill-prepared or overly ambitious rambles in Lakeland—especially with a young child in tow.

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Grizdale Forest, Southern Lake District, CumbriaBrantwood House, John Ruskin's home by Coniston WaterA view of Coniston Water from Brantwood HouseThe steam ferry on Coniston Water
Grizdale Forest, Southern Lake District, Cumbria
Grizdale Forest, Southern Lake District, Cumbria
Brantwood House, John Ruskin's home by Coniston Water
Brantwood House, John Ruskin's home by Coniston Water
A view of Coniston Water from Brantwood House
A view of Coniston Water from Brantwood House
The steam ferry on Coniston Water
The steam ferry on Coniston Water

The Old Man of Coniston is 2,634 feet (803 m) high, and lies to the west of the village, dominating the skyline. It's a hard walk to the summit and not for the physically unfit. It can sometimes be very cold on the top and cloud cover can descend quickly. Anyone about to tackle the walk should make sure that they have suitable clothing and that they have told someone about their intended route.

On the 4th January 1967, Donald Campbell was instantly killed a split second before breaking his own water speed record in his jet-powered boat, the Bluebird K7.

He was travelling at more than 300mph (483 km/h) on Coniston Water when the boat was catapulted 50ft (15m) into the air after its nose lifted.

Beatrix Potter's Gift to the Lake District

After spending childhood holidays in the Lake District the children's writer and artist Beatrix Potter left her home in London to settle there. It was in the Lake District that Beatrix drew inspiration for her stories of the exploits of Peter Rabbit and his friends, beloved by generations of small children—including myself, my own children and, now, my grandchildren. Her beautifully illustrated books have never been out of print and have prompted a huge spin-off of all manner of items associated with the characters that she created. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds the world's largest collection of her drawings.

Beatrix was also a dedicated conservationist and a sheep farmer. She bequeathed the considerable acreage of land that she had gradually acquired to the National Trust so that it would be preserved in perpetuity.

When Beatrix Potter died in 1943, she bequeathed her 14 farms and 4,000 acres of land in the Lake District, complete with livestock, to the National Trust.

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Hilltop House, Sawrey, Cumbria. The home of Beatrix Potter (Mrs Hellis) and her husband.Beatrix Potter's Peter RabbitRupert Potter, Beatrix Potter and Betram Potter
Hilltop House, Sawrey, Cumbria. The home of Beatrix Potter (Mrs Hellis) and her husband.
Hilltop House, Sawrey, Cumbria. The home of Beatrix Potter (Mrs Hellis) and her husband. | Source
Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit | Source
Rupert Potter, Beatrix Potter and Betram Potter
Rupert Potter, Beatrix Potter and Betram Potter | Source

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth, one of the greatest and most loved of England's Romantic poets, was born into a well-heeled family at Cockermouth. When his mother died his father sent him first to Hawkshead Grammar School (established 1585) and in 1787 to St. John's College, Cambridge University. After graduating from university Wordsworth, accompanied by his sister and a close friend, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, travelled extensively in Europe, eventually returning England and settling permanently in the Lake District in 1799. Wordsworth's home at that time was Dove Cottage, in Grasmere. Another friend, the writer Robert Southey, lived nearby. Together Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey became renowned as the Lake Poets.

In 1813, Wordsworth became the Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland. His improved financial situation enabled him to move his family a few miles to a larger house in Rydal. He lived at Rydal Mount and until his death in 1850 and was buried in the family plot at St. Oswald's Church in Grasmere.

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Dove Cottage, Grasmere The house is now owned by the Wordsworth Trust. The house, museum and garden are open to the public from the 1st March to the 31st OctoberGrasmere Lake. We hired a boat and rowed around the island and then climbed up to admire the view from a hillside, where daffodils were growing in abundance.Rydal MountSt. Oswald's Church, Grasmere 'The Fairest Place on Earth'Daffodils in Dora's Field, Rydal. Dora was Wordsworth's daughter, to whom he gave the field. After her early death the family planted hundreds of bulbs in her memory.
Dove Cottage, Grasmere The house is now owned by the Wordsworth Trust. The house, museum and garden are open to the public from the 1st March to the 31st October
Dove Cottage, Grasmere The house is now owned by the Wordsworth Trust. The house, museum and garden are open to the public from the 1st March to the 31st October | Source
Grasmere Lake. We hired a boat and rowed around the island and then climbed up to admire the view from a hillside, where daffodils were growing in abundance.
Grasmere Lake. We hired a boat and rowed around the island and then climbed up to admire the view from a hillside, where daffodils were growing in abundance. | Source
Rydal Mount
Rydal Mount | Source
St. Oswald's Church, Grasmere
St. Oswald's Church, Grasmere | Source
'The Fairest Place on Earth'
'The Fairest Place on Earth' | Source
Daffodils in Dora's Field, Rydal. Dora was Wordsworth's daughter, to whom he gave the field. After her early death the family planted hundreds of bulbs in her memory.
Daffodils in Dora's Field, Rydal. Dora was Wordsworth's daughter, to whom he gave the field. After her early death the family planted hundreds of bulbs in her memory. | Source

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

  • Writer, poet, literary critic, theologian
  • In 1798, together with Wordsworth published a collection of poetry, Lyrical Ballads, which is regarded as the foundation of the Romantic movement in poetry
  • In 1800 settled at Keswick in the Lake District with his family and friends
  • He was a houseguest of Wordsworth at Dove Cottage for eighteen months
  • In 1802, Coleridge took a nine-day walking holiday in the fells of the Lake District. He is credited with the first recorded descent of Scafell to Mickledore via Broad Stand
  • Well-known poems: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Love (the direct inspiration for John Keats' poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci)
  • Had a life-long addiction to opium, which was prescribed for him when a child to overcome his bouts of depression (it has been speculated in recent years that he suffered from bipolar disorder). This eventually took over his life and led to separation from his wife and a quarrel with Wordsworth.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge | Source

Robert Southey (1774-1843)

  • Poet Laureate 1813-1843
  • Robert Southey was connected to Coleridge by marriage. His wife and the wife of Coleridge were sisters. In 1803 the Southeys visited the Coleridges at Greta Hall, Keswick. John Southey's friendship with Wordsworth dates from that time. The Southeys remained at Greta Hall throughout their lives.
  • Southey lies buried in St. Kentigern's churchyard at Crosthwaite, Keswick. The monument inside the church has an inscription written by Wordsworth.

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St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, CumbriaGreta Hall, Keswick, Cumbria. Former home of the Coleridge and Southey families. Many famous literary personalities visited Greta Hall – the Wordsworths, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, P.B. Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. Nowadays a B&BInscription on the memorial to Robert Southey in St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, CumbriaMemorial to Robert Southey
St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Cumbria
St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Cumbria | Source
Greta Hall, Keswick, Cumbria. Former home of the Coleridge and Southey families. Many famous literary personalities visited Greta Hall – the Wordsworths, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, P.B. Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. Nowadays a B&B
Greta Hall, Keswick, Cumbria. Former home of the Coleridge and Southey families. Many famous literary personalities visited Greta Hall – the Wordsworths, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, P.B. Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. Nowadays a B&B | Source
Inscription on the memorial to Robert Southey in St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Cumbria
Inscription on the memorial to Robert Southey in St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Cumbria | Source
Memorial to Robert Southey
Memorial to Robert Southey | Source

Arthur Ransome (1884-1967)

  • Writer and journalist best known as the writer of the Swallows and Amazons series of twelve children's stories, set in the Lake District and on the Norfolk Broads. The adventures of the children in the books, which are still in print, thrilled both myself and my children when we were young. Films based on the books were released in 1974 and, more recently, by the BBC in 2016. I recently watched the newer Swallows and Amazons film with one of my grandchildren - she was as enthralled by it as I had been sixty years ago by the books.
  • As a child Arthur was taken on frequent family holidays to Coniston Water, in the Lake District, where at a very young age he grew to love the water. It was here that he was taught to sail by W.G.Collingwood, who was the secretary of John Ruskin and himself a writer. Arthur developed a life-long interest in yachts and love for sailing, owning several boats during the course of his life.
  • Arthur attended the Old College prep school in Windermere.
  • Ransome spent some years as a journalist in Russia, reporting on the Russian Revolution, but in 1924 was able to return to the Lake District with his Russian wife. His first home in Lakeland was in the Winster Valley. Later he lived at Hill Top House in Haverthwaite.
  • Arthur Ransome is buried at St. Paul's Church in Rusland, Cumbria.
  • The Arthur Ransome Society was established in 1990 to encourage people of all ages to take part in outdoor activities such as sailing, walking and fishing.

Official Trailer of Swallows and Amazons

John Cunliffe (1931 -

John Arthur Cunliffe lived in Kendal for six years. Cunliffe was commissioned by the BBC to write a series of children's auto-stop cartoons and the small towns and villages in the area inspired the creation of his most famous children's character, Postman Pat.

Greendale, where Postman Pat is set, is based on the valley of Longsleddale, near Kendal. The tv show first aired in the early nineteen-eighties and became enormously successful, giving rise to opportunities for Postman Pat books and wide-ranging merchandising (one of my children insisted on sleeping in his newly-acquired Postman Pat slippers!).

Cunliffe himself became a celebrity in Lakeland to the extent that a room was dedicated to him at Kendal's Museum of Lakeland Life.

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Longsleddale - inspiration for John Cunliffe's Postman Pat Postman Pat visits Alton Towers (2014)
Longsleddale - inspiration for John Cunliffe's Postman Pat
Longsleddale - inspiration for John Cunliffe's Postman Pat
Postman Pat visits Alton Towers (2014)
Postman Pat visits Alton Towers (2014) | Source

The Weather in England's Lake District

Cumbria is the wettest place in England, but that is one of the reasons that it is lush and green for much of the year. Don't let the possibility of rain deter you from visiting; just take good, waterproof outerwear.

A
Hawkshead, Cumbria. A conservation area.:
Hawkshead, Ambleside LA22, UK

get directions

B
Windermere car ferry:
Ambleside LA22 0LZ, UK

get directions

C
Ruskin's House Coniston:
Brantwood, East of Lake, Coniston LA21 8AD, United Kingdom

get directions

John Ruskin's house, a museum with cafe, near Coniston Water

D
Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's home.:
Grasmere, Ambleside LA22 9SH, UK

get directions

E
Coniston Water car ferry:
Coniston LA21 8AN, UK

get directions

F
Rydal Mount, Ambleside:
Rydal Mount and Gardens, Rydal Mount, Ambleside LA22 9LU, UK

get directions

William Wordsworth's last home

G
The Old Man of Coniston:
The Old Man of Coniston, Coniston LA21 8HX, UK

get directions

H
Lake Grasmere:
Grasmere, Ambleside LA22, UK

get directions

I
Hill Top Hawkshead:
Near Sawrey, Ambleside LA22 0LF, UK

get directions

J
Greta Hall Cumbria:
Greta Hall, Main St, Keswick CA12 5NH, UK

get directions

Former home of the Coleridge and Southey families. Now a hotel.

Car Tour from Grasmere to Keswick in the Northern Lake District

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 GlenR

    Comments

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Such a beautiful area. I had been there but not for long. I want to go back and take walks, look into homes of some of my favourite writers.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      6 months ago from UK

      Hi, Jo. Best not to visit in the high season. I like Spring and Autumn best. Yes, the roads/lanes in the Lake District are narrow. I tend to park at my destination and travel by the local bus service, when possible. My favourite part of the journey there is crossing Lake Windermere on the car ferry - when it isn't too choppy.

      I'm travelling to Scotland in May - flying! It's too long a journey by road and the traffic on the A1 is a nightmare. Too many cars on this small island :)

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      6 months ago from Tennessee

      Well done, Glenis. Our trip there was certainly memorable, but very crowded. I remember also the narrow, narrow roads and lots of traffic. It made driving for us accustomed to driving on the other side of the road very tiring. When we left the Lake District on our way to Scotland we decided to get on the freeway and avoid the narrow roads. We stopped for the night in Westmorland. It so happens that we live near a place here in the States called Westmoreland.

      Thanks for the memories.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 months ago from the short journey

      Thank you for this lovely visit to the English Lake District! Enjoyed your anecdote as much as the interesting info you provided. Though the walk with your son was tough, oh what a wonderful memory you now have for the both of you to laugh about together. You've made me want to pack up and go across the pond for the summer.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      6 months ago from England

      Very impressive coverage, capturing the quintessential of the Lake District in all its beauty; your article certainly does it justice, and brings back many memories of our visits.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      6 months ago from UK

      I’m pleased that you enjoyed your introduction to this beautiful part of England, Charmaine. This was a mere snapshot. There is so much more to enjoy in Lakeland. Thank you for taking the time to post your comments.

    • profile image

      threekeys 

      6 months ago

      Wow! Wow! and Wow!

      How beautiful. How inspiring.

      A beautiful, natural area; and then to learn not only Peter Rabbit was given birth to there, but so many writers and poets found comfort and inspiration at the Lakes District

      Nature is close to Godliness, they say.

      Thankyou for taking me there today!

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      6 months ago from UK

      Did you notice that the daffodils in the picture are growing in Dora’s field? Wordsworth’s daughter had the same name as you. Pleased you enjoyed the article Ms. Weithers.

    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      What a pleasant read! Thanks for the information on the poets. The pictures are great too! "Daffodils" is one of my favorites by Wordsworth because it is so simple but so vivid in the descriptions of the flowers. Thanks for a wonderful presentation!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 months ago from Brazil

      Gosh, Glenis I hope so. We just need to sell our farm here.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      6 months ago from UK

      Are you planning to ever return to the UK, Mary?

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 months ago from Brazil

      I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation there, although walking those hills at 7 months pregnant was tiring. It's a place I'd love to return to. I can understand how many could be inspired to write whilst living or visiting there.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      6 months ago from UK

      Hello Thelma. Yes, the Lake District is awesome - even more so in the Northern Lakes, where the landscape is more rugged than in the south. We took crossed Windermere on the ferry, in both directions, and rowed at Grassmere. I am hunting for the photographs, which seem to have been misplaced. Thanks for you visit. I'm pleased you enjoyed a trip down memory lane.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 months ago from Germany

      Awesome! I have been there in Lake District ages ago and it was an awesome place to visit. We took a boat tour and it was just amazing. Thanks for reminding me those moments.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I can certainly see why it has been inspirational. Stunning locale!

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