The Northwest Part III: How to have a quieter Lake District experience
There is a way that you can experience the Lake District without the hustle and bustle of its major town of Keswick, Ambleside and Windermere.
Wordsworth’s line ‘One bare dwelling, one abode, no more’ might easily have been written about this isolated Langdale farmhouse which is only a couple of miles across the fells from the poet’s cottage at Grasmere where he lived for 15 years.
The road up Langdale from Ambleside, passing through Elterwater and Langdale villages, is one of the classic routes of the Lake District tour, culminating in the impressive view of the Langdale Pikes across Blea Tarn. The four main Langdale peaks; Pike of Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Loft Crag and Pavey Ark – are all above 2000 feet (600 m) but, in their solitude, seem much higher.
This view of Derwentwater emphasizes one of the great charms of the Lake District: the juxtaposition of a gentle, almost domestic, scene against the wild background of the fells.
At the edge of the lake near Friar’s Crag (Ruskin’s favourite viewpoint) there is a memorial plaque to Canon Rawnsley, a former vicar of Keswick, who was a co-founder of the National Trust in 1895. Much of the Lake District is in the Trust’s care.
Lake District connoisseurs are quick to desert some of the more popular lakes during holiday seasons in order to find the peace and solitude that is Lakeland’s great virtue. Loweswater is one of the smaller, less accessible but no less lovely lakes on the western fringe of the district.
Close to Crummock Water from which it is separated by Loweswater village, this view across the lake from the road through Crabtree shows Holme Wood dominated by the 1781 foot (542 m) peak of Caning Knott on Loweswater Fell. The circuit of Loweswater, using the road on the north side and lanes and footpaths through Holme Wood on the south, makes a very pleasant hour’s walk.
Some of the best views of Crummock Water, Buttermere and, on a clear day, Loweswater, are looking north from Fleetwith Pike (648 m). This can be accessed easily by a short footpath from the ever-popular car park in Honister Pass (54.511224, -3.199318). Here you can also visit the Honister Slate Mine, where you can learn about the heritage of the Lake District Slate industry.
The circular drive round Derwentwater (about 13 miles) requires the motorist to cross this beautiful stone bridge over the River Derwent at Grange, a small village a mile south of the lake in Borrowdale.
The Derwent rises on Scafell Pike and Great Gable above the Borrowdale fells behind Rosthwaite and, in times of heavy rainfall, it cascades down the valley, flooding the lower-lying land and turning Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake into one vast stretch of water.
A mile above the bridge, at the side of the road, is the Bowder Stone, a rock estimated to weigh 2032 tonnes (2000 US tons) which has at some time fallen from the surrounding crags. It appears to be finely balanced and the more daring are invited to climb a ladder to the summit to prove the point. Park in the Bowder Stone Car Park (54.541292, -3.155446) and use the footpath.
Five miles south of Kendal, Levens Hall welcomes visitors during the summer months. It is a fine Elizabethan house and in the unique gardens weird shapes abound and wild animals are tethered by their roots – for Levens Hall has the most noted topiary gardens in the whole of the north of England. Designed by Beaumont, a pupil of Le Notre, at the beginning of the eighteenth century when ‘clipping’ was all the rage, Levens Hall gardens have retained much of the original plan but flower beds and borders have been added to give colour to the box, holly, yew and beech ornamental trees.
So you’ve had your quieter Lakeland experience, now what? For the more gregarious north west experience, there is always Blackpool and Morecambe and the other Lancashire coastal resorts (not forgetting the Isle of Man) where the northerners show the rest of the world how they like to enjoy themselves. It is easy to be toffee-nosed about Blackpool, but northerners are very demanding people and for the food they like and the entertainment they enjoy the standards they demand are high.
Blackpool’s air, they say, is more like Guinness than champagne – a supportable theory when one considers that the exhilarating breezes from the sea must originate near Dublin where the better half of Black Velvet is brewed. Blackpool, whose tower is its trade mark and whose ‘Golden Mile’ must be the biggest money-spinner since the seaside was invented, is a rollicking, rumbustious resort on the Lancashire coast, very handy for the densely populated and highly industrialized areas of the hinterland.