Celebrated for its vast and awesome bodies of water surrounded by majestic fells, Lakeland’s other claim to worldwide fame are the writers and luminaries, who were excited and influenced by its wonderful landscapes.
The Lakes are teeming with the inspirational vistas which fired some of Britain’s greatest creative minds, and we have chosen the best for you to explore...
He ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ in the Lakes, and indeed the poet William Wordsworth declared the Lake District to be “the loveliest spot that man hath found.” One of our nation’s most beloved poets, he made Dove Cottage in Grasmere his family home from 1799 – 1808. Today, the little cottage transports visitors back to the early nineteenth century with its stone floors, warmed by open fires and the opportunity to view Wordsworth’s personal belongings. You can explore the garden he created with his sister, and tempt your inner genius by sitting where the great man himself composed some of his most celebrated works. And after all that contemplation, be sure to visit the tearoom for afternoon tea served with homemade scones. His most dedicated fans should also head next door to the Wordsworth Museum to view the greatest collection of his letters, journals and poems in the world. A further short walk from here will take you to his grave in St Oswald’s churchyard.
Arguably our most famous, and a best-loved children’s author the world over, Beatrix Potter made the Lake District, and specifically Hill Top Farm, her home.
The 17th century farmhouse, bought in 1905 with the proceeds from her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was bequeathed to the National Trust by Beatrix along with 4,000 acres of farmland and countryside upon her death in 1943. The house is a fascinating insight into the artist and writer herself as it is much as she left it, with the Trust boasting that every room includes a reference to a picture in one of her famous tales. The cottage garden is lovely and children will especially enjoy the vegetable garden (is Mr McGregor lurking?) and following clues around the garden trail.
Also in Hawkshead is the Beatrix Potter Gallery where you can feast your eyes on her beautiful artwork and learn more about Beatrix as a farmer and conservationist. Her legacy was particularly important in saving the endangered, endemic Herdwick sheep, in turn helping to ensure the survival of the Lakeland landscape as we know it today.
One of the most influential and radical thinkers and voices of the Victorian age, John Ruskin chose to spend his retirement in the Lakes. Poet, critic, artist, conservationist, social philanthropist and revolutionary, Ruskin made Brantwood his home until his death in 1900 from influenza. The house commands a breathtaking position, with huge windows overlooking Coniston Water and although Ruskin chose never to show his art professionally, many of his finest drawings and watercolours are on display here. There are also extensive gardens, which are particularly impressive and colourful in spring and autumn. Ruskin was a great advocate of the painter Turner and became a creative influence on younger artists. This outstanding man also championed the principles of our modern-day welfare state. He is buried at St Andrew’s Church and you can contemplate more of his fascinating mementoes at the Ruskin Museum, both in Coniston.
Long, shallow and often dotted with bobbing white boats, is beautiful Bassenthwaite in the wild and secluded northern Lakes. Set sail and see if you can spy Excalibur glinting in its depths. Bassenthwaite is thought to be Alfred Lord Tennyson’s inspiration for the lake into which the iconic sword was thrown, in one of his most famous poems, Morte d’Arthur. Completed in 1842, the poem drew heavily on Thomas Malory’s 15th century epic of the same name and critics suppose that the poet wrote it in grief at the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Tennyson is believed to have stayed at the commanding Mirehouse, which overlooks Bassenthwaite, and the house and its gardens are open to the public today. The busier and world-famous Windermere is also an important literary location for Tennyson aficionados. It’s here that he is famed to have recited parts of an early version of the poem to friends, from a little red book on a calm May day in 1835.
It has launched generations of aspiring adventurers on many an expedition across Coniston Water in the years since it was first published in 1930. Arthur Ransome’s children’s classic Swallows and Amazons was famously inspired by the landscapes around Coniston. Peel Island, rising in the southern end of Coniston Water models the perennially exciting Wild Cat Island, and the exotically-named Kanchenunga is probably the Old Man of Coniston. Arthur went to school in Windermere and learned to sail himself on Coniston Water. He wrote most of the Swallows and Amazons series in the Winster Valley, just south of Windermere and much of everyday Lake District life is woven into the dramatic escapades of the children and Captain Flint. Bring Arthur’s adventures to life by clambering up The Old Man, or hire a boat or canoe to explore Wild Cat...Peel Island yourself.
Postman Pat, with his black and white cat, felt he was a very happy man. And no wonder, trundling around the gorgeous grassy hills and vales of Greendale chatting to a host of friendly folk. His creator John Cunliffe, a life-long lover of the Lake District was living in Kendal in the southern Lakes when he first penned his delightful stories about a Postman called Pat, his little red van, and cat Jess, in the 1980s. John has said he based Greendale on the still unspoilt valley of Longsleddale, just a few miles north of Kendal. Even today, the sheep outnumber the people by thousands and it’s a tranquil spot for a stroll. Pat fans might like to check out Kendal’s Beast Banks post office, now closed, which inspired Mrs Goggins’ shop and the 13th century Kendal castle is a fantastic viewpoint to appreciate the rolling swathes of green loved so well by the world’s most contented postie.