Highlights of England: The Lake District

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Highlights of England | Lake District

The Lake District is the glittering crown jewel of England’s countryside and sure to capture any traveller’s heart with its magic. Picture expanses of lush meadows swathed in flowers and shimmering blue lakes against craggy peaks and you’ll have some idea of the kind of beautiful scenery you can expect from exploring the Lake District.

The Lake District or Lakeland is a mountainous region in the north-western part of England, located in the country of Cumbria. The Lake District National Park, which incorporates 2,243 km2 of the region, was established in 1951 and today it remains the largest national park in England. In 2017 the entire area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its beauty, farming techniques and the inspiration it has provided over the years to famous writers, poets and artists. The region is also home to the tallest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, the largest lake in England, Windermere Lake, and the deepest lake, Wastwater.

Wast Water, Lake Disrict
Wastwater, the deepest lake in England

Lake District Holidays

A Lake District holiday presents a plethora of opportunities to explore the great outdoors and it is not hard to see why it is one of England’s most popular destinations. From lake cruises and hikes, to mountain biking and train journeys that snake through the landscape, there are plenty of ways that one can become acquainted with the breathtaking scenery of the region. Whether you are a hiker or prefer to stroll, there are an endless variety of walks to enjoy. Two of England’s long-distance walking paths, the Cumbria Way and the Coast to Coast Path, pass through the Lake District National Park. Over half of the land in the Lake District is classified as Open Access, which means people are free to walk, picnic, birdwatch, run and climb where they want.

Many of our Odyssey tours offer the chance to explore the Lake District, including our Ireland and Lake District Walking Tour, the English Literature and Art small group tour, our Wainwright Walking Trail and the Villages of England tour. On these Odyssey Traveller walking holidays, a guide will lead the tour on walks best suited to the interests and abilities of the group. On these tours, we are usually based in a village, such as Keswick, so travellers can leave their luggage at the hotel and enjoy the fresh air and hiking without being weighed down by a big bag. Our accommodation choices are cosy and comfortable, giving you the perfect place to relax and recuperate after a day of walking. There is a lot of choice in the Lake District, from ‘Miles without Stiles’ routes designed for less confident walkers, to the unplanned routes across open access areas. The Lake District’s official website is a great resource to discover more about what this region has to offer.

Lake District, Ullswater
A adult woman stood on Hallin Fell in the English Lake District with Ullswater far below.

The Fascinating Geology of the Lake District

Catbells, England tours
Mountain ridges and leftover glacial features in the Lake District

The Lake District is dominated by mountains and steep-sided valleys of volcanic rock, resulting from a series of submarine eruptions 520 million years ago. As underwater volcanoes erupted, volcanic rocks were formed from the ash and lava and these became some of the highest mountains in the region. Later, earth movements would move different rocks to create the craggy landscape of Lakeland. Glacial activity during the last Ice Age then shaped and carved valleys, creating the lakes and other landscape features that have made the region so famous. It is because of this geological history that the lakes (or ‘meres’ as they are also known) lie in broad U-shaped valleys framed by knife edge ridges such as Helvellyn’s Striding Edge. Exploring the Lake District you can spy these glacial features and see traces of how the land was sculpted by water. As the climate became warmer and wetter, deciduous forests grew, creating the verdant green rolling hills. In the Lakelands north, the high fells (the local term for the hills and higher mountains) are composed of old sedimentary rocks including slates; the central regions to the south of Keswick but north of Ambleside are mainly tough volcanic rock; and to the south around Coniston and Windermere, softer sedimentary rocks are exposed.

Until the mid-19th century, the Lake District was not the travellers’ haven it is today. In 1724, Daniel Defoe famously described the area as ‘barren and frightful’ but the interest of other writers in wild landscapes soon drew attention to Lakeland. In 1847, railway was introduced to Windermere and this soon brought tourists to the region. Windermere village grew around the railway station and today it remains the entry point many visitors and a base for sightseers. The namesake lake is around two and half kilometres away and a great way to see the region is a cruise down the lake, often described as the spine of the Lake District.

Buttermere in the Lake District
Buttermere in the Lake District

Lakes and Literature: The Villages and Sights of the Lake District

As the name suggests, the region abounds with lakes. Windermere may the best the largest but all of the lakes could vie for the title of most glorious. West of Windermere you will find Coniston Water and Wastwater; Derwent Water and Lake Buttermere are both impossibly scenic with multi-hued water and lovely wooded islands. However, potentially the most majestic lake is Ullswater, the second largest lake of the region and spellbindingly clear. It is thought have inspired William Wordsworth’s most famous poem ‘Daffodils’ and Wordsworth is, in part, responsible for the Lake District’s fame today. In 1799, Wordsworth made the village of Grasmere is home and many other Romantic poets soon followed such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey.

Dove Cottage, the home of Wordsworth
Dove Cottage, the home of Wordsworth

Grasmere is a village around 30 minutes by bus from Windermere and was described by Wordsworth as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. Today, it is home to many Wordsworth attractions including Dove Cottage. Dove Cottage began its life as The Dove and Olive Bough Inn in the early 17th century but was later converted into a residence and became the home of William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and, later, his wife, Mary until they moved to Rydal Mount nearby. The cottage is now a museum commemorating Wordsworth’s life as well as providing an excellent example of a small rural home from the time. Many interesting items and writings pertaining to Wordsworth’s life are on display at the Wordsworth Centre next door. Wordsworth, his wife and Dorothy, as well as Coleridge’s son, are buried in the graveyard of the beautiful 13th century St. Oswald’s Church, a short walk from Dove Cottage.

North of Grasmere you will find Keswick, a quiet town that lies beside the 5 km long Derwentwater which Southey called the most beautiful of English lakes. An old market town, it became home to the world’s first pencil factory and the famous Derwent coloured pencils which used graphite from nearby Borrowdale. Here you can visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, a quirky way to discover the history of Keswick and pencils! Just a few kilometres southeast of the village, you will find the standing stone circle at Castlerigg, evidence that the people of the Neolithic Age lived and settled in Lakeland.

Keswick and Derwent Water, Lake District, England
Keswick and Derwent Water, Lake District, England

Wordsworth and the Romantic poets are not the only literary legends of Lakeland. The region was also home to the much-loved children’s author Beatrix Potter and you can visit Potter’s old home, a 17th-century cottage called Hill Top that is a short drive from the village of Hawkshead. Hill Top inspired much of Potter’s work and she adored the Lake District, purchasing additional farms throughout her lifetime to preserve not just the places of extraordinary beauty but also those heads of valleys and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development.

Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter, near Hawkshead
Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter, near Hawkshead

If you’re looking for a holiday where you can see a treasure trove of natural beauty, from rocky cliffs and dramatic peaks, to rolling green hills, country lanes and quaint villages, then the Lake District may be the perfect destination for you. An experience like no other, you will be following in the footsteps of Romantic poets and millions of other curious travellers, curious to wander through the most amazing pocket of nature. There are many tours of England but a holiday to the UK would not be complete without the chance to see one of its most glorious heritage sites.

Related Tours

A program that explores some of the visual stunning scenic landscapes of Northern Ireland and the Lake district of Britain that have inspired painters and writers over the centuries. The program spends 9 days in each country enjoying a daily walking program through these historic landscape accompanied by local guides all with stories to tell and share. The walks require a good level of fitness. We typically stay at comfortable small hotels of character in both locations in village or small towns.

19 days
British Isles
Departing Aug

This small group tour allows the traveller to come to a greater appreciation of the long history of art and literature in England. We visit many of the places which inspired the great English writers and painters through the ages. With such an enormous field to choose from, our tour concentrates on the period before the Second World War and concentrates on just some of the many people significant in these fields. H

22 days
British Isles
Departing Jun

This historic walk covers around 300 kilometres of often rugged terrain, from St Bees on the west coast of England to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast. For Odyssey Travellers this small group tour along Wainwright Walking trail allows you to explore this beautiful area of England on foot. However, for those people interested in only walking some of the trail, or unsure of their ability to cover the whole distance, you may choose to walk as much or as little as you wish. 


27 days
British Isles
Departing Jun, Aug, Sep