The Lake District has just been announced as a new UNESCO World Heritage site. From artistic inspiration to outdoor adventure, here are 5 reasons why it made the grade - and why you should visit
Yacht on Ullswater (Cumbria Tourist Board)
Just calling it the ‘Lake’ District is a little misleading. There is an abundance of water here, but there are also great peaks, valleys and rolling hills.
The Lake District was shaped by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the glaciers sculpting and carving out U-shaped valleys, some of which filled with water to create the vast lakes the area’s now famous for.
One of the most popular ways to get out on the shimmering lakes is with a 'steamer' ride on Windermere or Ullswater, a gentle step back in time, or take a cruise on Coniston Water, the third largest lake in the Lake District, where parts of the recent Swallows And Amazons was filmed.
The South and Central Lakes area is also where you’ll find characterful villages and towns, like Grasmere, Hawkshead, Ambleside and Bowness.
Keswick is a popular base and start point for hikers and climbers, with striking Skiddaw mountain as a backdrop, while road-trippers might want to take a drive down the A591 from Keswick on what’s been named ‘Britain’s best driving road’.
There are plenty of other kinds of natural beauty to discover, from England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, to the woodlands of Grizedale Forest.
Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in Grasmere (Cumbria Tourist Board)
Lake District residents must be a bit sick of hearing it, but William Wordsworth's Daffodils poem, starting with the much-quoted line “I wander’d lonely as a cloud” has come to stand as the archetypal Lake District poem, a tribute to the area’s natural beauty.
The Lake District’s dramatic mountains, lakes and valleys landscapes have providing inspiration to poets, writers and artists for centuries, not least in the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose celebration of the Lake District helped lay the groundwork for a later conservation movement. The popular Beatrix Potter books were also set here. It’s possible to visit Potter’s home and Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived.
Great painters have also tried to capture on canvas the unique landscapes and light, including John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner.
Nature may remain the big draw, but there’s still a thriving cultural scene, with artworks set in the mountains and sculptures hidden among the forests, abundant art and photograph exhibitions and galleries, and festivals covering everything from literature and comic book art to comedy and theatre.
For music, the annual Keswick Jazz and Blues Festival returns in May for it’s 26th edition, with Franz Ferdinand, Manic Street Preachers and Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds at July's Kendal Calling festival.
Local produce served at Askham Hall (Cumbria Tourist Board)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s bickering and Bond impressions over fancy grub and fine wine at the likes of Holbeck Gyhll in Windermere, for the first series of The Trip, did no harm in putting the Lake District firmly on the map for foodies.
Cumbria was also a rising Must-Do for gastronomic adventurers, though, the Lake District now home to four Michelin-starred restaurants, including chef Simon Rogan’s two Michelin-starred L’Enclume, which also featured in The Trip.
There are humbler, non-Michelin pleasures to be had, too, including Grasmere’s handmade gingerbread. Most people are familiar with the love-it-or-loathe-it Kendal Mint Cake, but far fewer have tried Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. This is a place to explore, from farm shops and bakeries to craft breweries and classic English pubs.
The Lake District’s reputation is hardly surprising, given the thriving farming culture and the abundance of fresh produce to be found here. In particular, you’ll find two indigenous breeds of sheep, the Herdwick and the Rough Fell, both popular additions to local menus.
Hill farming has helped shape the Lake District for over 1000 years and still defines the region’s culture and landscapes, from popular shepherds meets to the stone walls that give the area it’s ‘timeless’ look.
Via Ferrata in Honister Slate Mine (Cumbria Tourist Board)
It will face stiff competition from the likes of the Cairngorms National Park in in Scotland, but the Lake District is attempting to position itself as the Adventure Capital of the UK.
Home to England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, there’s certainly no shortage of ways to get outside and enjoy the region’s nature, from hiking and cycling to kayaking abseiling. This being the Lake District, home to England’s deepest lake (Wastwater), there are also plenty of ways to get wet, including open water swimming, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or a good old-fashioned rowing boat. Intrepid folks might like to dive in for the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere.
Author and fellwalker Alfred Wainwright helped blaze a trail for hikers, putting the many peaks and views on the map.
The Lake District also has a reputation as the birthplace of modern rock climbing, with everything from gentle scrambles to testing technical challenges, as well as indoor climbing centres and an indoor ice wall. The thriving climbing culture is celebrated with two annual mountain festivals, Keswick Mountain Festival and Kendal Mountain Festival, while Honister is also home to the UK’s first Via Ferrata.
These country roads, villages and rugged landscapes also call out to be explored on two wheels. Cyclist should seek out the Lakes and Dales Loop cycling route, a 196-mile circular loop taking in some of the best of Cumbria and Yorkshire Dale National Parks, Eden Valley, Morecambe Bay and West Cumbria.
The list goes on, from horse-riding to bushcraft and plenty of other fine ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
Red squirrels (Nurture Lakeland)
In the ever-popular Lake District, there’s often no shortage of sightings of the common species ‘tourist with a camera stepping off a tour bus’. Around 43 million visit Cumbria each year.
With high mountains, wetlands, lakes, peat bogs and native woodland, this area is populated by more interesting and rare species though. The endangered red squirrel is native to the Lake District’s woodlands, making this one of the last remaining places in the UK where they can still be found in the wild.
The Lake District National Park is home to other rare wildlife, including red deer, Peregrine falcons, Arctic Char fish and Britain’s only nesting pairs of Golden Eagles and Ospreys. There are eight National Nature Reserves, over 100 SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), and other nationally and internationally important wildlife sites. Other protected species that populate the area include Barn Owls and the Natterjack Toad.
Red deer stag, Martindale (National Trust)
Plantlife, including unique kinds of moss and lichen, and habitats, from grassland to upland heaths, also come under the protection of the National Park.
As a consequence of Wordsworth and the Romantic movement, as well as painters like John Ruskin, the Lake District saw a rise in public popularity and an interest in protecting the area. Development, such as reservoirs, extended train lines and deforestation, was met with protest, lobbying and fundraising to buy threatened land, forming a groundbreaking land conservation movement with global impact.
America’s John Muir, the ‘father’ of National Parks, was influenced by the environmental thinking of Wordsworth and Ruskin.
The founders of the National Trust were inspired by the Lake District too. Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the Trust's three founders, lived in Grasmere and was a student of Ruskin. With development of nearby Grasmere Isle looking possible, Rawnsley saw a need for an organisation to protect landscapes and, together with kindred spirits Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter, set up the National Trust in 1895.
Today, the Trust owns (or has an arrangement in place to protect) around a quarter of the Lake District.
The Lake District is currently bidding for UNESCO World Heritage status, which would place the Lake district in international importance alongside the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Tower of London, Mount Fuji and the Great Barrier Reef. The decision will be made by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in July. For more information or to back the campaign, go to lakesworldheritage.co.uk.
For more on the Lake District and Cumbria, see www.golakes.co.uk.
Main image: Ullswater (Cumbria Tourist Board).