Its landscape has served as the backdrop of memorable movies and has inspired illustrious poets and formidable writers. Celebrated artists have captured its rural landscape on canvas. William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and J.M.W. Turner have all been captivated by the dazzling beauty of the region. With the first human settlement dating back 5,000 years, the Lake District National Park, located in the northwest of England, boasts the highest mountains and the deepest lakes in the country. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, the national park attracts tourists from around the world.
Situated within the park’s 912-square-mile expanse are numerous towns and villages. Some are quiet and remote hamlets, while others are larger and bustling with activity. All have their own unique personalities. Keswick, Windermere, Grasmere and Ambleside are just a few of the more popular destinations, and public transportation serves them well. Having a car, however, holds the advantage of exploring on your own timetable. Many of the Lake District’s best-loved places can easily be reached by bus, boat or bike, and the region attracts walkers and hikers of all physical abilities.
Because of its many attractions and year-round calendar of events, the resort town of Keswick is one of the more popular destinations amongst tourists. A captivating market town, Keswick charms with its quaint shops and bakeries; abundance of pubs; and Derwentwater, one of the more prominent bodies of water within the Lake District National Park. Walk all or part of the lake’s 9-mile circumference, take in the views with a picnic along the shore or dive into a variety of watersports. Whether it’s tea and cake you fancy or a handmade meat pie and a pint, you’ll find it in one of the many hotels along the lake or within the town center.
The Saturday market in the heart of Keswick has an unbroken history of more than 740 years. To this day, local vendors gather to sell their handcrafted clothing and leather goods alongside stalls offering fruits, vegetables, English pastries and savory pies. The market, which encompasses most of the town center, runs Saturdays year-round and Thursdays from mid-February through December.
A short drive from Keswick lies the village of Grasmere, famous for Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth family home. From 1799 until 1808, William and his wife, Mary, along with William’s sister, Dorothy, resided in the cottage. Once Mary gave birth to their third child, the Wordsworths moved to larger quarters in the nearby town of Ambleside. The cottage is filled with the family’s personal possessions, and a visit to the gardens is included in the ticket price. Tours of the cottage, offered March through December, give a glimpse into the family's day-to-day life. Just around the corner, you’ll find St. Oswald’s Church, founded in 642 by King Oswald of Northumbria. In the southwest corner of the churchyard are a collection of tombstones, including the graves of the Wordsworth family.
Grasmere Gingerbread, a small stone bakery just down the lane from Dove Cottage, was established in 1854. Operated today by third-generation owners, the shop specializes in sweet yet spicy ginger biscuits. The owners are still baking from the original recipe created back in the 1850s by their ancestor and Victorian cook, Sarah Nelson.
There are many options for booking a stay in both Keswick and Grasmere. Numerous guest houses, inns and hotels are conveniently located in the town center with others nestled in the countryside. Pubs serving traditional English dishes such as Cumberland sausage and homemade steak pies are easy to access, and the district is well-known for its world-class breweries when it comes time to quench your thirst.
To fully appreciate the Lake District, one must leave the towns, shops and markets behind and head straight for the hills. The beauty of this region lies in its terrain of verdant rolling hills, centuries-old dry-stone walls, views of shimmering lakes, and lush valleys dotted with farmhouses and grazing sheep.
Upon a stretch of moorland 3 miles from Keswick is Catbells Fell, a popular destination for a day hike. Approximately 8 miles round trip, the hike takes you up a modest elevation of 1,480 feet with a vertical, rocky ascent toward the top. The sweeping vistas are at once breathtaking and vast. With a broad expanse of open landscape and very few trees, one can appreciate an abundance of natural beauty in every direction. In early fall, colors of gold and burnt umber intensify the green of the valleys. The view from the top of Catbells takes in a glorious panorama that includes Bassenthwaite Lake, Skiddaw Fell and the town of Keswick.
There is parking available near the route to the summit, or for 2 pounds you may opt to park in the small lot at Littletown Farm. The farm proprietors at the guest house with a restaurant and bar will pack you a lunch to go or serve you upon your return. Two friendly Jack Russell terriers wander the grounds, and bleating sheep can be seen and heard from behind a stone wall.
“The loveliest spot that man hath found,” is how Wordsworth described the Lake District during the time he walked its paths and contemplated its many peaks and valleys. So pack a copy of his poems, along with your hiking boots and camera, and be prepared for a holiday to remember.