The publication of Thomas West’s ‘Guide to the Lake District’ in 1778 can be seen as the beginning of the tourism industry in the Lake District. Previously, the perception of the Lakes was one of a brutal and savage place.
Ever since, the Lakes has been an inspiration for writers, painters and poets; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s first recorded ascent of Broad Stand on Scafell in 1802 is regarded as the first recreational rock climb. In 1822 Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of poet William, also climbed and wrote about Scafell Pike.
By 1912 renowned Keswick photographer Ashley P. Abraham described the Lake District as containing ‘more natural beauty, more literary associations and more diversity of charm than any other similar area of the whole of the Earth’s surface.’
Today lots of people come to enjoy one of the most beautifully scenic areas in the world. The geology, climate and man’s influence on the landscape over the years have crafted a compact juxtaposition of mountain, valley, lake, river, fell and forest. The cultural aspect of the area is also fascinating and aesthetic; with its white-painted cottages and stone built hill farmhouses, stone arch bridges and dry stone walls.
South East Lakes
This part of the Lakes has a gentler feel than the rest of the National Park; the peaks are not as high and there are fewer crags and rocky outcrops. The area has two of the longest lakes of the area with Windermere at 10.5 miles and Coniston at 5.2 miles long.
This is the busiest part of the Lakes but you don’t have to go too far from the tourist honey pots to find quiet inspiration.
Alfred Wainwright was so inspired after a walk up Orrest Head on his first visit to the Lakes in 1930 that it directed the rest of his life.
Despite the modest height of the fells surrounding Windermere and Coniston lakes there are plenty of good spots to go with a camera. For panoramic views from higher vantage points go to Brant Fell, Gummers How and Latterbarrow above Windermere, Brock Barrow above the south end of Coniston or Scout Scar and Whitbarrow in the south east of the area.
Nestled in hollows there are many beautiful tarns and small lakes with fine backdrops including Tarn Hows and Kelly Hall Tarn, both spectacular in their own way.
Coniston is Swallows and Amazons country and Arthur Ransome connections pop up time and again along the dramatic east shore with its classic jetty shots.
The central Lake District has a concentration and variety of scenic viewpoints to rival anywhere in the world. Today the grassy fells are the home of the Herdwick sheep, said to have been introduced by the Vikings. White painted stone farmhouses contrast against the vivid green fields in the valley bottoms. Dry stone walls divide the fields and snake up the hillsides.
Grasmere and Rydal were home to William Wordsworth. He and his fellow Romantic poets and artists sought inspiration in the valleys, lakes and fells. Ambleside is the main tourist town in the area with alternating cafes and outdoor shops lining the grey slate streets. It’s an ideal base for exploration of this part of the District.
Centrally placed Loughrigg Fell is not a high mountain but its location means it is ideally positioned to give superb views over the valleys and hills all around.
The distinctive Langdale Pikes hover over the deep U-shaped Langdale valley and provide a dramatic backdrop to many a photograph.
Little Langdale is a beautiful quiet enclave that was once a busy intersection for traffic across the region. Slaters Bridge is a slender and photogenic centuries-old pack horse bridge. Slate mining was an important industry here, Cathedral Cavern being a remarkable remnant of this. It’s a great option in the unlikely event of a rainy day!
South West Lakes
Hardknott Pass is one of the steepest roads anywhere and affords tremendous views into the mountains all around. The road passes by the remains of a 2000 year old Roman fort, perched, erie-like above the Esk Valley.
The Duddon Valley is a quiet enclave where you are unlikely to be crowded out. Forget souvenir shops and bustling towns, think emerald pools and water-worn rocks, lonely farmhouses and mountainous backdrops.
Between the Duddon and Eskdale valleys is a remote and wild moorland offering superb views across to the high central peaks. The relatively easy access of Devoke Water belies its ‘out in the wilds’ feel.
La’al Ratty is rated as the most beautiful train journey in England. It meanders from the coast at Ravenglass to Eskdale Green, it’s a romantic way to access the hills or visit the Jurassic Park-esque Stanley Ghyll river valley.
Wastwater was voted as Britain’s Favourite View and that same view has long been used as the emblem of the National Park. The Wasdale Valley is surrounded by lofty peaks with Scafell Pike, England’s highest, at the head of the vale.
A mosaic of dry stone walls divides the vivid green fields in the flat valley bottom at the head of the Wasdale Valley. The high peaks attract a lot of weather but the combination of scenery and changing light is what makes the area so spectacular.
North West Lakes
The north west is a beautiful, remote and unspoiled area of rugged beauty, regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the Lake District. The Buttermere valley in particular has long been a favourite with photographers.
The three Lakes of Buttermere, Crummock and Loweswater as well as Ennerdale in the adjacent valley form part of the radial drainage system emanating from the high central peaks. Glaciers once poured down these valleys creating the landscape we see today.
Classic scenes abound including the Buttermere pines below Haystacks, the lone spindly birch tree at the west end of Buttermere, Scale Force, the area’s tallest waterfall, fields of bluebells at Rannerdale and many more.
As you move west towards the coast the mountains drop away in stature but provide superb viewpoints looking back into the high fells and valleys. Low Fell is just such a location with amazing views down the Crummock Valley, framed by Grasmoor and Mellbreak with Great Gable and High Stile beyond.
Ennerdale is a beautiful, remote and quiet valley far from the crowds. Overlooked by high craggy mountains, Ennerdale has a character not unlike a Scottish glen.
The picturesque market town of Keswick is the ideal base for exploring the Northern Lakes. The town is located on the shores of Derwentwater at the end of Borrowdale, arguably both the most beautiful lake and valley in the District. Within easy walking distance from town are the boat landings and Friars Crag.
The bulky massifs of Skiddaw and Blencathra form the backdrop to many of the local views. Latrigg is a grassy lump of a hill overlooking the town which is a relatively easy walk but gives almost aerial views over Keswick and down the Borrowdale and Newlands Valleys.
Top marks go to Neolithic man for the siting of Castlerigg Stone Circle, a better place to catch a sunrise or sunset is hard to imagine. Nearby Tewet Tarn is a quieter close by option.
A drive around Derwentwater is spectacular, especially with a side trip to Ashness Bridge, Surprise View and Watendlath, but a fun option is to explore by a combination of launch and foot. You get the best of both worlds with great photographic potential from both the shore and the boat.
The ascent of Catbells is one of the most popular hill walks in the Lakes. For a photographer the best times to be here are early or late when you may well be rewarded with spectacular light or cloud effects and the crowds have returned to their lodgings.
North East Lakes
Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District. At its eastern end, Pooley Bridge is somewhat of a tourist magnet but take an early or late lakeshore walk for peace and quiet and to catch mountain reflections or golden hour light.
Close to Pooley Bridge is the classic view of the Duke of Portland Boathouse. On cold and calm autumn mornings there is often a low mist on the water. As the sun rises over the ridge of High Street the first rays paint the boathouse in a golden light.
William Wordsworth found his daffodil inspiration on the 15th of April 1802 whilst on a walk with his sister Dorothy along the lakeshore from Aira Beck to Glencoyne. This ‘host of golden daffodils’ flowers every spring and makes a beautiful foreground subject.
Aira Force is a rich mine of photographic potential. The waterfall itself is dramatically sited in a gorge below a stone arch bridge. In the right light look out for the Aira Rainbow.
Lanty’s Tarn and Keldas offer a high tarn and lookout over the lake and hills. The walk to Silver Point follows some of Ullswater’s loveliest shoreline along to one of the lake’s finest views. On the south shore, Hallin Fell and Martindale offer solitude and splendour.
The village of Hartsop retains its 17th century character with stone built cottages and spinning galleries. Nearby Brothers Water is a shallow lake which means it readily calms when the wind drops to give superb reflections.
Haweswater reservoir is quiet and secluded enough to be the home of England’s only resident golden eagle. The Old Corpse Road leading to Swindale climbs up from the roadside and gives outstanding views of the upper reservoir, valley and fells. In drought conditions parts of the old village of Mardale are revealed including the old village stone arch bridge.
Getting to the Lake District
Whilst getting to the Lake District is now easy by various means, the complex topography means getting around is not so straight-forward. There is a reasonable network of public transport in the area and we encourage its use over the car but, in some cases, there is no other option.
The Lake District is situated in the north west of England. The M6 motorway skirts the eastern side of the area and provides the man access point if coming from the north or south
There are two main exits off the M6. Exit 36, just south of Kendal, leads to the A591 and A590 and is the best access point for the South East, South West and Central Lakes.
Exit 40 at Penrith leads to the A66 and A592 giving access to the North East, North and Northwest Lakes. The A66 takes you west to Keswick with access to Borrowdale, Buttermere and Ennerdale. Wasdale and Eskdale in the South West Lakes can be accessed from either the north or south, both involve a bit of a drive.
It would be fair to say the Lake District has a reputation for its weather, at least certain forms of it. The variability over a relatively short time period is often striking too; a local saying goes: ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute!’
When is the best time to visit the Lakes?
Historically the driest months are April and May and the wettest is December. This however is of no practical use to you as you shelter from the pouring rain in late spring. Long term averages are meaningless on a day to day basis.
There is one generalisation that may help avoiding the worst of any weather. With the prevailing south westerlies, the further east you go the more chance you will have of escaping the rain and finding some sun. Likewise if the wind is from the east, go west to get the rain shadow effect and find the best weather.
There is huge variability and predictions are only good for a few days in advance. It’s important to check the forecast the night before you venture out.
Spring: March, April, May
Temperatures begin to rise after winter but the weather is often very changeable. Early spring can be wet and still very chilly and late snow is not uncommon. Rivers can be in spate, and the lakes are normally full. With all this weather it’s a great time for dramatic skies, passing storms can give some impressive effects. Historically, May is the sunniest month of the year with the least amount of rain.
The bracken is still dark brown on the fells which gives great contrast to the green valley bottoms and if the mountain tops are snowy. Mid to late March brings out the daffodils, a good time to wander lonely as a cloud on the shores of Ullswater. Other early spring flowers are marsh marigold, primrose and wood anemone. Bluebells start blooming in late April but are best in May.
Summer: June to September
T-shirt weather? Potentially, but bring your umbrella and a jacket just in case. It can be sunny and hot but it may still rain about half the time. Summer haze can reduce air clarity on some days but you will often be rewarded with a pink sunset. Remember the sun sets in the north west at this time of year and won’t go down until after 9pm (it rises around 5am).
Summer is very green, it’s good to get a contrast with a blue sky and white cumulus clouds scudding by. With long daylight hours and bright harsh light in the middle of the day, it’s best to be out early and stay out late. In this way you will also avoid the majority of other people in the main tourist season.
Autumn: October, November
The season for rustic colours when the trees and woodlands turn from green to multi-coloured reds, browns and yellows, accompanied hopefully by misty mornings and clear days. The time and intensity of autumn colour varies from season to season, but the peak of colour usually lasts a few weeks around the latter part of October into November, before the wind strips the trees bare.
The bracken starts to die back in September and, by late October, it has painted the lower fells a reddishbrown. Late October also often sees the first snows of winter covering the mountain tops
Where to go? Choose any location with trees and forests and you’ll be richly rewarded. Thirlmere, and Buttermere for larches, Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests for mixed woodland, Borrowdale for broadleaf woodland. Also try the National Trusts Sizergh
Castle and the Lake District National Park’s Brockhole visitor centre.
Winter: December, January, February
It is rare that it doesn’t snow in the Lake District, but whilst the valleys on average get 20 of days of snow a year the mountain tops typically get 50 days a year. Frosts are common at this time of year and so are days when fog fills the valleys all day. This is the time to get out on the fells and above the cloud.
Daylight hours are short – around eight hours with sunrise often after 8am, then sunset just after 4pm. With the sun hardly rising above the horizon and some valley bottoms not seeing any direct sun.
If there is a prolonged cold spell, with frost and snow it is a photographers paradise. In the valleys, frost coats grasses and bracken, tarns freeze and morning mist whisp across the surface of the lakes. On the fells, rime frost is deposited by damp icy winds onto fence posts and blades of grass.
High pressure conditions are not uncommon giving a few days of light winds and stunning morning lake re ections. The low sun casts long shadows. Snowdrops usually pop their heads up in late January to February and in early March rhododendrons start to ower amongst winters grey cloak.