Home to the Lake District National Park, Cumbria is known for its breath-taking natural beauty, with glacial lakes, rugged mountains and majestic forests, and for its ancient monuments, from Hadrian’s Wall to the mysterious prehistoric stone circles that pepper the landscape. It has been the inspiration for artists and poets alike, and is the perfect place to relax and lose yourself in the majesty of the natural world.
Most people come to Cumbria to visit its many beautiful lakes, which were carved into the landscape by glaciers millions of years ago. The largest and best-known include Windermere, Ullswater, Derwent and Coniston, all beloved for their water sports and lake cruises, but there are also many smaller lakes, or ‘tarns’, offering more peaceful and secluded walks.
The larger lakes are premier destinations for water sports and boating activities of all kinds. Several marinas can be found along their shores, as well as various activity centres offering equipment hire and instructors for all levels of ability. Try stand-up paddle boarding on Ennerdale Water, windsurfing along the shores of Windermere, or hiring a rowing boat to follow in the wake of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons on Coniston Water.
If you’re looking for a less energetic way to enjoy the waters, Windermere, Derwentwater, Coniston Water and Ullswater all offer lake cruises. We particularly love Coniston’s Steam Yacht Gondola, a fully restored Victorian steam yacht with open-air seating and a plush first class saloon. Fans of vintage travel will also enjoy the steam trains of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, which travel 3.5 miles from the southern tip of Windermere along the picturesque Leven Valley.
The countryside around the lakes is popular with walkers, with a varying landscape from lush green pastures and peaceful river valleys to windswept hilltops. There are plenty of pretty picnic spots en route, or you can call into a country pub for a spot of lunch and a pint of local ale. Try one of the many lakeside walks, or head to nearby Grizedale Forest, which boasts forest trails for walkers and mountain bikers, and also doubles as an outdoor exhibition space, with sculptures hidden among the trees.
For the serious walker, Cumbria’s rugged terrain offers various peaks to conquer, including England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike, which stands 978 metres above sea level. Scaling the fells can sometimes be tough, but the view from the top is always worth it, and it’s a great way to put the little worries of the world below into perspective!
Cumbria was the inspiration for fell-walker and author Alfred Wainwright, whose handwritten and illustrated Guides to the Lakeland Fells introduced a generation of enthusiasts to the area. If you want to see what the fuss is all about, why not start with the 8km Haystacks circular walk? This moderate climb is said to have been Wainwright’s favourite, and with views over Buttermere, Crummock Water and the central fells, it’s easy to see why.
If you’re already a fell-walking convert, a visit to the Great Langdale Valley is a must. Surrounded by craggy fells, there’s a different peak to conquer every day, and the villages back down in the valley are some of the prettiest in the Lake District.
The fantastical landscape of Cumbria has inspired poets, writers and artists, and there are several ways that you can follow in the footsteps of some of the area’s more famous inhabitants, and hopefully get inspired yourself.
For many people, the Lake District has become almost synonymous with the Lake Poets, and with William Wordsworth and his ‘dancing daffodils’ in particular. As well as enjoying the landscape that inspired much of his poetry, Wordsworth fans will be spoilt for choice with monuments to the great man. These include his childhood home in Cockermouth, his former school in Hawkshead, and his family homes at Dove Cottage, Allan Bank and Rydal House. On a more poignant note, you can also visit Dora’s Field, which was planted with daffodils in memory of the poet’s late daughter, and Wordsworth’s grave can be found in St Oswald’s churchyard in Grasmere.
Another famous Lake District resident, Beatrix Potter’s beautifully illustrated books have been delighting children for generations, while her conservation efforts helped to maintain the idyllic landscape of her adopted home. Potter left much of her property to the National Trust, and you can visit Hill Top Farm, where she wrote 13 of her 23 children’s books, stopping for lunch at the nearby Tower Bank Arms, which features in Jemima Puddleduck. For art lovers, The Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead features an annually changing exhibition of her original drawings and illustrations, while Beatrix Potter World, in Bowness-on-Windermere, recreates famous scenes from the stories, so kids can explore Peter Rabbit’s garden and Mrs Tiggywinkle’s laundry room.
Cumbria is an area rich in history, with evidence of Viking, Roman and Neolithic settlements. Transport yourself back to a forgotten time with a visit to the places built by our distant ancestors, and discover more about how they lived.
Many place names in Cumbria speak of Norse origin, with endings such as -by, meaning ‘village’, -thwaite (clearing), -dale (valley) and fell (hill or mountain) all deriving from the Norse language. The area is famous for its large number of Norse crosses found in local churchyards, with great examples to be found at Bewcastle, Hexham, Irton, Ruthwell and Gosforth.
A few centuries earlier, the area was an important site for occupying Roman forces, as it marked the border between England and unconquered territory in Scotland. Hadrian’s Wall, which was built across the length of the border in 122 AD, can still be viewed in parts today, with the Birdoswald Roman Fort boasting the longest continuous remaining stretch. There are also many other Roman remains in the area, including Hard Knott, a raised fort overlooking the Roman road, and a former bath house at Ravenglass.
Delving even further into the past, there is also evidence of prehistoric settlement in Cumbria, with a staggering 50 stone circles in the area, which include some of the oldest in the country. One of the oldest and most impressive can be found at Castlerigg. Thought to have been built around 3000 BC, it comprises an outer circle of 38 standing stones, with an inner rectangle made from 10 further stones. The configurations of the stones are thought to have significant astronomical alignments, so it may have been used for early astronomy, geometry, or for ceremonial purposes.
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History, culture, natural beauty - Cumbria has it all. Whether you’re learning to windsurf or geeking out with a book of poetry, the Lake District offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and a chance to truly relax. Bring your four-legged friends along with our pick of the top dog friendly hotels in the Lake District, and whoever you're travelling with, remember... just hoo it!