The Lake District National Park
by Paddy Dillon

It is generally accepted that the concept of 'national parks' dates from 1810, when the poet William Wordsworth published his 'Guide to the Lakes'. In it, he said that "persons of pure taste throughout the whole island, who, by their visits (often repeated) to the Lakes in the North of England, testify that they deem the district a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy."

The establishment of the Lake District National Park was, however, a long time coming, and the world's first national park was created in 1872 at Yellowstone in America - and even then only after much lobbying by the visionary Scotsman John Muir. Legislation for the establishment of national parks in Britain was dogged by controversy and the outbreak of World Wars, but finally, the Lake District National Park was designated in 1951.

There are major differences between national parks in Britain and national parks in other parts of the world. Throughout the world, national parks are generally stateowned properties, where the state has effective control over access, recreation and conservation. There may be a permit system in operation, and when a certain number of people have entered the park, access is denied to all others. In Britain, the national parks are not state-owned, and generally access, recreation and conservation are dealt with under planning legislation. There seems to be no limit to the numbers who can get into a national park - subject only to traffic jams!

In many parts of the world, and also according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, British national parks are not recognised as national parks at all. The nearest national park to Britain is actually in the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, and beyond to the Killarney, Burren, Connemara and Glenveagh National Parks. In Ireland, national parks are completely state-owned and controlled, and are consequently quite small as the state has only limited purchasing powers. Furthermore, the first national park to be established in Ireland, near Killarney, was in 1932 - nearly twenty years ahead of Britain.

It is true that some people travel all over the world, and then return to the English Lake District and declare that it has no equal. David Bellamy and others would say that it is being 'loved to death' and it is the case that increasing visitor pressure is causing problems. The true countryside lover would visit in the quiet seasons, treading with care and contributing to the upkeep of the region. There are many organisations lobbying for conservation, but bodies such as the Conservation Volunteers are the ones you would generally see out in all weathers trying to repair the damage already inflicted.

The National Trust also put work teams out on the fellsides, and it is interesting to see the history of the Lake District National Park and that of the National Trust running side by side. The National Trust is a century old, and owes its very existance to Lakeland devotees such as Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Octavia Hill, as well as to the support and property given to them by people such as Beatrix Potter. The National Trust owns, or at least leases and manages, a quarter of the area of the national park. The National Trust bought Brandelhow Woods near Derwent Water in 1902. One of the things still confusing many visitors are the terms National Park and National Trust. A national park is essentially a protected landscape, while the National Trust is a charity dedicated to protecting landscapes and historic properties.

It's an uphill struggle, but national parks are slowly getting to grips with the fact that by their very existance they are drawing people into areas where they sometimes cause problems. Some hill farmers would tell you that the wrong two words were chosen - 'national' (which makes people think they own the area) and 'park' (which makes people think they can do what they like). There is no problem with visiting an historic house - you pay a fee on entry and from that fee any essential maintainence work is covered. When you walk the hills, you do so free of charge, but someone has to foot the bill for any damage this causes. It is in everyone's interest to contribute towards the protection and preservation of our protected areas, for our own immediate use, and for the use of those following after us.

Around The Lake District National Park

Many years ago, the most sensible way to reach the Lake District (before anyone coined that term) would have been by the 'oversands' route taken by the mail coaches from Lancaster. In effect, this route is still possible, though not from Lancaster, and only in the company of the 'Crown Guide' who will lead you safely across the quicksands and tidal channels. Proceeding northwards, you would pass former coppice woods which were once cut for charcoal manufacture, and then you would reach extensive forested areas around Windermere and Coniston. Beyond this - the Lakeland Fells in all their splendour.

It all rather depends on what you are looking for, as the Lake District seems to have something for everyone. It is well known for its exceptional range of long and short walks, and virtual freedom to roam in the higher fells. Here you will find all of England's highest mountains, and many other heights which prove to be quite easily accessible. Long distance walkers can pass through the area from Ulverston to Carlisle following the Cumbria Way, and there are plenty of other suggested longer walks.

Casual strollers can sample a short stretch of lakeshore path beside most of the larger lakes, and for a little more effort they can climb uphill in search of the more elusive tarns which are sprinkled across virtually every fell. There are easy, waymarked trails through the established forests at Grizedale and Whinlatter, as well as level walks such as the Keswick Railway Path.

You can build a particular theme into your explorations, such as searching for places associated with William Wordsworth - even to the extent of using his oft-republished 'Guide to the Lakes'. There were the other 'Lake Poets' such as Coleridge, Southey and De Quincey - the latter one actually writing 'Recollections of the Lakes and Lake Poets'. Start trailing around after any or all of these and you will come across Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, Hugh Walpole, Charles Dickens and Harriet Martineau - who wrote 'The Complete Guide to the English Lakes'.

Knowing which guidebooks to select from the groaning bookshelves depends largely on what you are looking for, as there are dozens added to the bookshop shelves every year. The walking guides may well be dominated by the best-selling Alfred Wainwright, but prospective readers are advised that these are horribly dated. Bookshop browsing is best reserved for a rainy day, but with a bit of luck you won't get too many of those. You can pick up 'rivetting facts' as you travel around - such as the fact that Seathwaite is the wettest place in England!

Places To Visit

Brockhole: The Lake District National Park Visitor Centre. Ideal place to go to find out all about the history and heritage of the national park. The centre is within an old house set in wonderfully wooded grounds with lakeshore access to Windermere.

Windermere Steamboat Museum: Plenty of nostalgia. Old steamboats in various states of repair, including many which are still lakeworthy. Swallows and Amazons fans can see some memorabilia associated with the childrens' adventure stories.

Bridge House: By the main road in Ambleside. This tiny house stands on a bridge and is a one-up-one-down place owned by the National Trust. The building has had many uses, and a cobbler once reared several children in it!

Hawkshead Grammar School: Where Wordsworth was educated. Hawkshead itself is delightfully cluttered, and you should try and locate Ann Tyson's Cottage, where Wordsworth lodged while he attended the grammar school.

Hill Top: Beatrix Potter's house at Sawrey, though she hardly had time to live there. Has had to be strengthened to cope with the sheer number of visitors. Beatrix Potter left land, farms and flocks of Herdwick sheep to the National Trust on her death.

Dove Cottage: Just off the main road at Grasmere, next to the Wordsworth Museum. Once lived in by Wordsworth from 1799 to 1813, and later by De Quincey. Restored and kept largely in the manner that Wordsworth would have kept it.

Rydal Mount: Another of Wordsworth's homes, uphill from the main road at Rydal. The poet lived here from 1830 to 1850 - the year in which he died. Also visit the family grave in St. Oswald's churchyard in Grasmere.

Pencil Museum: Just on the edge of Keswick - and a very off-beat museum. Tells the history of pencil manufacture from the days of Borrowdale graphite and local wood, although the materials to continue the industry are now all imported.

Moot Hall: In the centre of Keswick. Notable for its Tourist Information Centre, and evening slide shows about the Lake District. Also the starting and finishing point for the gruelling Bob Graham Round, covering many major Lakeland Fells in a set time limit.

Seatoller Barn: An interesting building in the tiny hamlet of Seatoller. Exhibits tell of the life and work of Borrowdale, which is largely based around sheep. The distinctive Herdwick is the indigenous breed, and this is being encouraged by the National Trust.

Raveglass & Eskdale Railway: Anyone who wouldn't enjoy a ride on this delightful narrow gauge railway along the length of Eskdale deserves to be barred from entering the Lake District. Not just a 'toytown' ride, but a genuine public transport service for the dale.

Muncaster Castle: Hidden behind extensive growths of rhododendron near Ravenglass. The castle itself is interesting, but there is also the owl-breeding programme carried on there, and nearby Muncaster Mill to visit.

Hardknott Roman Fort: Guarding the Hardknott Pass at the head of Eskdale, in view of Scafell Pike - England's highest mountain. The partially restored ruins fire the imagination, and you can find traces of the old Roman road crossing the pass.

Brantwood: On the shores of Coniston Water. Once the home of John Ruskin and now dedicated to explaining about his life and work. He was a notable art critic and social reformer. His grave is located in St. Andrew's churchyard in Coniston.

Ruskin Museum: Situated in the village of Coniston. Small, and not entirely dedicated to Ruskin. Has a few items of local interest and a few things associated with the ill-fated Bluebird water-speed record attempt in which Donald Campbell was killed.

Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre: For plenty of background information about the extensive forest, and what you can see and do there. Many interesting sculptures have been created in forest settings, if you would like to discover them.

Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway: Connects with the Windermere Steamboat services at Lakeside, which was all once a part of the Furness Railway empire, based on distant Barrow-in-Furness. Another place to fill handkerchiefs full of nostalgia.

Short Walks to Scenic Spots

Friars Crag: On the shores of Derwent Water and easily reached from the centre of Keswick. Rated very highly by John Ruskin, whose nanny took him there when he was very young. There is a monument to Ruskin and a splendid view of the fells beyond the lake.

Buttermere: The complete shoreline walk takes only a couple of hours and is accomplished from a lovely little village set beneath towering fells. On a calm day there may be wonderful reflections in the lake - especially towards the head of the lake.

Stanley Force: Tucked away in a ravine in Eskdale, with easy access from the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. The powerful fall plunges into the ravine, which is overhung by trees and clothed in an interesting selection of ferns.

Tarn Hows: Extremely popular, so visit it in the quiet seasons. In winter it may freeze over and allow you to skate across its surface. Formerly, there were three small pools of water, but a small dam raised the level to the feature you see today.

Tilberthwaite: Off the main road between Coniston and Langdale. Features include a fine waterfall in Tilberthwaite Ghyll, and a nearby disused quarry with a flooded lower section and a man-made cave at Hodge Close which is known as The Cathedral.

Blea Tarn: There are many Blea Tarns around the Lake District, and this one is perched on the gap in-between Little Langdale and Great Langdale. There is easy access from the roadside, and yet you feel as if you are among the higher fells.

Grasmere: Walk around the village, then walk around the lake. Not all the shoreline has access, but there are some good stretches away from the village, and you could climb onto the higher-level Loughrigg Terrace for a fine view back towards the village.

Troutbeck: An amazing and straggling village off the main road from Windermere to Patterdale. Many fine 'statesmen's' farmhouses, plus two interesting pubs. A great place to enquire into the vernacular architecture of the Lake District.

Aira Force: "That torrent hoarse" is how Wordsworth described it. Lies off the road between Patterdale and Pooley Bridge. Walkways, steps and footbridges allow you a close-up view of the fine waterfalls in this rocky ravine.

Keswick Railway Path: Runs between Keswick and Threlkeld. Mostly a level path, as it was created from the former railway line. Navvy huts now serve as shelters, and there are a series of information boards along the way. Many fine 'bowstring' bridges to cross.

This article originally appeared in Countrylovers Magazine in Spring 1996