Welcome to the Lake District
The Lake District is the poetic heart of England. Its mountains, lakes, ravines, waterfalls, dales, fells and ancient woodlands have inspired some of the finest verses of some of the greatest poets in the English language: in particular the Romantic Poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, sometimes known collectively as the Lake Poets. Today the The Lake District´s connections with these literary greats provide another draw over and above the splendors of nature and the welcoming picturesque towns of this famed region.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
Daffodils, William Wordsworth (*on passing Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater)
The Lake District’s inspirational landscape has been millions of years in the making. Its dramatic valleys and mountains came into being with the collision of the European and American tectonic plates over 300 million years ago. Thereafter millions of years of weathering and the effects of climate change sculpted the land, the final touches being put in place by the mile deep glaciers of the last ice age which moulded the regions U-shaped valleys and retreated to leave the region’s lakes (more commonly referred to as meres, as in Buttermere, or waters, as in Hayeswater).
Lake Windermere, The Lake District
The first human visitors probably reached the Lake District shortly after the great thaw and used the flint tools made at sites such as Eskmeals. Over the next eight thousand years henges (such as that at Penrith) and bronze and later iron artefacts testify to the inhabitants growing sophistication. Nonetheless, by the time the Romans reached Britain in 43 AD, the loose confederations of tribes centred around hill forts such as Dunmallard Hill and Maiden Castle were no match for the invaders from the south.
In 78 AD the Romans fortified their conquest of the region by building a fortress at Carlisle. A later policy of consolidating the existing empire led to the construction of Hadrian’s Wall from (122-132 AD), perhaps the most magnificent of the Romans’ legacies in Britain, stretching just short of eighty miles from the Solway Firth in the west, to Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east. Today Hadrian’s Wall is the north of England’s biggest tourist attraction.
When the Romans finally abandoned the wall in 399 AD the power vacuum led to centuries of instability. The Lake District passed into the hands of kings of the western Britons, who lost out to the Saxons in the 7th century, who in turn were invaded by the Vikings shortly afterwards. It was in this early period that Beowulf, England’s earliest poem, established the Lake District as a poetic location with stanzas relating to the mythical Water Haggs which dwelt in the regions lakes.
By the 11th century the area was dominated from the north by the powerful kings of the Scots, but soon it was taken by the new Norman kings of England. Border disputes were never really settled and through the centuries warfare between the two kingdoms gave way to border raids, in which local lords plundered those lands which fell out-with the protection of their own king. With the Union of Crowns of 1603, the Lake District saw peace for the first time in over 2000 years.
In the 18th and 19th centuries populations moved away from rural areas such as the Lake District and became ever more concentrated in the growing industrial towns. The cold logic and reason of the Enlightenment were increasingly being rejected by those who felt that man’s place was amongst nature, as opposed to the stinking heat of the factories of the industrial revolution.
This vocal group became known as the Romantic Movement and at its vanguard were the Lake Poets; William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and Robert Southey (1774-1843). The Lake Poets were so called, as they all lived in Lake District around the turn of the 19th century and found their inspiration in the area, which they so admired and formed the subject matter of so much of their work.
Of the Lake Poets Wordsworth was unique in being born in the Lake District, at Cockermouth close to Bassenthwaite. He met Coleridge in Bristol in the 1750s, the two poets becoming great friends. They both moved to the area at the tail end of the century, Wordsworth to Dove Cottage in Grasmere and Coleridge to Greta Hall, ten miles distant, beside Keswick. Southey, who had befriended Coleridge at Oxford, while making plans for the foundation of a Utopian Community in Pennsylvania, at last abandoned this lofty, if impractical idea, and followed suit. Southey too would live at Greta Hall; the two poets would marry sisters.
This group inspired each other in work which favoured the more common speech of the day, expressed longing for equality and protest against slavery. Today the beauteous surroundings of the Lake District, which provided the context for much of their work, remain haunted by the nobility of their ideas and the immortality of their words.