Historic Cumbria and Lake District Guide

by Ben Johnson

Facts about Cumbria

Population: 500,000
Famous for: The Lake District, Lake Windermere, Hadrian’s Wall
Distance from London: 4 – 5 hours
Local delicacies: Cumberland Sausage, Grasmere Gingerbread, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Kendal Mint Cake
Airports: Carlisle Airport
County town: Carlisle
Nearby Counties: Northumberland, Yorkshire, Lancashire

Welcome to Cumbria and the Lake District, a very popular tourist destination with its mountains, lakes and fells. The Lake District is England’s largest National Park and offers great opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Here you will find Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain and Wastwater, England’s deepest lake.

Explore England’s second largest lake, Ullswater, by Victorian steamer. These elegant ladies of the lake have been transporting mail and passengers up and down the water since 1849. A little known fact is that in the Lake District, there is actually only one lake: Bassenthwaite Lake. The other lakes are named ‘water’ like Ullswater and Derwentwater, or ‘mere’ like Grasmere and Windermere.

The lakeside villages offer independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, and the Cumbrian countryside is dotted with country hotels and cosy inns.

The stunning scenery of the Lake District has drawn visitors for centuries. The poet William Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage near Ambleside for 14 years. His cottage is now a museum of his life and works. Beatrix Potter, author of the ‘Tale of Peter Rabbit’, also lived near Ambleside, at Hill Top. ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’ at Bowness-on-Windermere is a popular family attraction.

Cumbria is rich in historic sites and attractions. One of the earliest stone circles and certainly one of the most dramatically situated, is the Neolithic Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick. There are Roman sites in the county too, including another site in a spectacular location; Hardknott Roman Fort. This isolated and remote Roman outpost is well worth a visit, not just for the archaeology but also for the views over Eskdale! Hadrian’s Wall also runs through Cumbria; the longest continuous remaining stretch of the Roman wall can be seen at Birdoswald Fort at Gilsland near Brampton.

Later castles in this area have been built using stone from the Roman wall, including the now-ruined 14th century Triermain Castle and Bewcastle Castle, built on the site of a Roman fort.

Regional delicacies include Kendal Mint Cake, popular with climbers, mountaineers and even polar explorers as a source of energy. The favourite English dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding is said to have originated in the 1960s at the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District. Cumberland sausage is traditionally sold in the form of a ring rather than in links, and is seasoned with herbs and spices, especially pepper. Cumberland sausages can be bought by both weight and length: they can be up to 4 feet long!

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