By Victor Block
Viewing a high country landscape accentuated by a blanket of yellow, the poet William Wordsworth in 1804 described what he saw as “a host of golden daffodils.” To Alfred Lord Tennyson, people walking in the same region “came on the shining levels of the lake.”
When I arrived in the northwest corner of England which prompted poets and other writers to wax so eloquently, it didn’t take long to understand why. Begin with the magnificent scenery of lakes and rugged mountains, thick forests and rolling fields outlined by stone walls and hedge rows, where countless sheep graze contentedly. Top off the list with the region’s intriguing history and rich cultural heritage and it’s clear why the readers of Wanderlust magazine last year voted it the leading destination in the United Kingdom.
In a nod to the British fondness for quaint, colorful terms, only one of the 16 major bodies of water in the area — Bassenthwaite, itself a challenging tongue twister — is called a lake. The others are known as waters, tarns and meres.
Whatever their designation, they’re squeezed between England’s highest mountains, filling valleys that were carved out by the advance and retreat of glaciers. Each body of water has its own attractions.
At 11 miles long, Windermere is the longest lake in the country. The shore is lined by Victorian mansions that were built for wealthy families during the late 18th-early 19th centuries, some of which now serve as guest houses and small hotels.
Steam boats connect tourist villages that overlook Ullswater. Landlubbers may prefer the 6.5-mile foot path which connects the towns. Another walking trail circles Grasmere, and William Wordsworth, who lived in the town of the same name, described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”
Hiking attracts many visitors to the Lake District, and tempts those who go there for other reasons. An extensive network of well-marked trails crisscrosses the area, and small wooden “Foot Path” signs are encountered throughout the region.
Some trails cross farmland, past fields planted with crops and across meadows filled with grazing sheep. Others lead to inviting towns which provide yet another reason to visit the Lake District.
Kendal is largely a manufacturing town, but because of its convenient location is known as the “Gateway to the Lakes.” Many of its buildings were constructed of grey limestone, which accounts for its nickname, “Auld grey town.” Other attractions include the ruins of several castles, the newest of which was built in the late 12th century.
The adjoining resort towns of Windermere and Bowness together offer a long list of recreational activities for vacationers. The Bowness waterfront on Lake Windermere is lined by restaurants and shops. Nearby is the Hole In t’Wall, a 16th-century pub so named, the story goes, for an opening made by a blacksmith who worked next door through which he retrieved his pints of ale.
Keswick was granted a king’s charter as a market town in 1276, and its marketplace has existed since then. It became a popular vacation destination in the 18th century, and today tourism continues to be its principal industry.
Borrowdale, one of the most beautiful Lake District communities, lies in a river valley beneath wooded fells (hills) and Scafell Pike, not exactly an Everest but at a height of 3,210 feet, the tallest in England.
The charming village of Grasmere loses some of its appeal during summer, when hordes of sightseers arrive to visit landmarks associated with its most famous former resident, William Wordsworth. It’s one of a number of towns that relate chapters in the story of the so-called Lake Poets. They were writers who lived in the Lake District around the turn of the 19th century and, inspired by its beauty, described it in their works.
The three main Lake Poets were Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who penned “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) and Robert Southey, best known for as the author of “The Story of the Three Bears,” the precursor to the Goldilocks tale.
A number of other poets and writers also drew inspiration from the region and their words of admiration and adoration did much to put the Lake District on the destination map of a growing wave of visitors.
The places associated with this group of talented wordsmiths are as varied as the attractions that draw people to the area. Wordsworth lived in a cottage at the edge of Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, and spent the final 37 years of his life in a rambling old house in the village of Rydal.