The United Kingdom is lucky to have one of the world's most famous national parks. Visitors come in their millions to enjoy the unique scenery, breath taking views, walks, rides and drives of the Lake District National Park.
As the park becomes ever more popular, we have searched high and low in the heart of the lakes for the primary facts and figures and places to visit in the Lake District which make this natural wonder the treasure it is.
Lake District Overview
Also known as the Lakes, or Lakeland, the District is in Cumbria, north west England. It was given the status of National Park on May 9th, 1951.
This was part of the National Parks movement which grew up in Britain after World War II. It is the largest of the 13 National Parks in England and Wales and is also a World Heritage Site.
Latest figures show that about 15.8 million people visit the Lakes each year. Most of these visitors go to enjoy the peaceful, beautiful scenery which Lakeland offers. This was one of the main reasons National Parks were created; as a haven from noise, air and other pollutionsSome visitors use the park for other reasons. The lakes themselves offer the chance of group or individual boat trips and other water-based activities.
These can cause erosion, as well as disruption. It is one of the challenges of the National Parks to get the balance right between peace and recreation.
Lake District Facts
- The National Park covers 912 square miles, or 2,362 square km
- In terms of area, this is 583,747 acres or 236,234 hectares
- From north to south, the Park spans 40 miles, or 64 km
- From east to west, it covers 36 miles or 58 km
- There are 16 designated Lakes in the Park, and many more Tarns
- It is home to more than 150 high peaks
- England's only four mountains are in the District
- The Park houses England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike
- It includes six National Nature Reserves
- It is also home to 100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Where is the Lake District?
This link shows the National Park in its location in western and southern Cumbria:
Getting to and from
Accessing and getting around the lakes is straightforward enough if your organised.
If you're travelling by road, there are plenty of options depending where you're coming from:
- M6 – for access from the North or South, the M6 has junctions in the Lakes at Kendal (J36), Penrith (J40) and Carlisle (J42-44).
- A66 – passes through Lakeland from East to West, from Scotch Corner to Workington on the Cumbrian coast, passing through Keswick.
- A686 – a more minor A road with superb scenic views. From the East, the A686 starts in Corbridge in Northumberland and takes you to Penrith on the outskirts of the Lakes.
Many visitors to the area enjoy using the train to get to, from and around the National Park:
- The West Coast Main Line has three stations with access to the Lakes: Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme
- The Carlisle and Settle line is a recently restored and extremely scenic way of accessing the District from Yorkshire. It has 11 stations, with a link to Leeds.
- The Cumbrian Coast Line links the towns of West Cumbria with the Lakes and Carlisle. The stations accessing the Lakes are Ravenglass, Foxfield and Arnside.
- The Lakes Line is perfect for travel within the National Park. It has stations at Oxenholme, Kendal and Windermere.
- The Tyne Valley Line links the North East of England from Newcastle upon Tyne to the Lakes with stations at Carlisle, Wetheral and Brampton.
Lake District Lakes (Full List)
The answer to the question “how many lakes in the lake district?” is not a simple one.
The question should be “How many actual lakes are there in the Lake District?” There are 16 bodies of water in the National Park which are designated as Lakes. However, the area also has many other bodies of water called Tarns. It is also home to some major reservoirs, due to the high amount of rainfall in Lakeland.
Also, only one of the Lakes actually has the word “Lake” after it. Here are the 16 largest by area:
1. Windermere - 14.8 square kilometres
2. Ullswater - 8.9 square kilometres
3. Derwentwater - 5.5 square kilometres
4. Bassenthwaite Lake - 5.3 square kilometres
5. Coniston Water - 4.0 square kilometres
6. Haweswater - 3.9 square kilometres
7. Thirlmere - 3.3 square kilometres
8. Ennerdale Water - 3 square kilometres
9. Wastwater - 2.9 square kilometres
10. Crummock Water - 2.5 square kilometres
11. Esthwaite Water - 1 square kilometre
12. Buttermere - 0.9 square kilometres
13. Grasmere - 0.6 square kilometres
14. Loweswater - 0.6 square kilometres
15. Rydal Water - 0.3 square kilometres
16. Brotherswater - 0.2 square kilometres
Windermere is one of the largest Lakes in the UK and in the largest lake in the National Park. It is over 18 km long and surrounded by mountains. It is also about 67 metres deep, which means it can offer many water based activities including the Windermere Lake Cruises. For more tranquil pursuits, you could try fishing for the Arctic Char, European Eel, Common Minnow, Atlantic Salmon or Brown Trout which live in the Lake. For more information on all you need to know about Fishing in this stunning spot, check out Lake District Fishing.
The second largest of the Lakes, Ullswater is almost 12 km in length and 63 metres deep. William Wordsworth was inspired to write “Daffodils” while wandering lonely as a cloud in the surrounding fells. There are a number of water based activities on offer, including the famous Ullswater Steamers, traditional steam powered cruisers. Helvellyn, one of the most famous Lakeland Fells, is nearby.
Derwent Water is known as “Keswick's Lake,” as the town lies just to the north of the lake, an easy 10 minute walk away. If you like walking, Derwentwater is about 8 miles or 13 km to get all the way around. From Keswick to the north, the entrance to Borrowdale at the south of the Lake is about half this distance. There is also the option of the Keswick Launch, which takes you round the entire Lake in about 50 minutes.
Lake District Tarns
The difference between a Lake and a Tarn is a great subject for conversation with locals. The word “Tarn” comes from Old Norse, and loosely means “pool.” Generally speaking, Lakes are much longer than they are wide, whereas Tarns may not be. They are relatively hard to access compared to the Lakes. If you like walking, finding Tarns is an excellent way to challenge yourself and check out WalkLakes for a wide range of trails and hills to explore throughout the Lake District.
Some Tarns in the National Park have more water than Lakes. These are the largest:
1 Devoke Water
2 Overwater Tarn
3 Brothers Water
4 Tarn Hows
5 Loughrigg Tarn
6 Little Langdale Tarn
7 Blea Tarn (Langdales)
8 Yew Tree Tarn
9 Watendlath Tarn
10 Tindale Tarn
11 Talkin Tarn
12 Sunbiggin Tarn
13 Mockerkin Tarn
1. Devoke Water
Devoke Water is the largest Tarn in the National Park, and one of the highest. It sits on Birker Fell, at 223 metres above sea level. It has a slightly abandoned feel, with the nearest road being almost 1 km away to the east. There is a bridle track linking the Tarn to the road, and a stone boathouse by the water's edge. The Black Beck flows from the north west of the Tarn to the River Esk.
2. Overwater Tarn
This Tarn has no public access, but there are wonderful views of it and the surrounding countryside from the gentle hills which surround it. The Tarn lies in the middle of the National Trust owned Stockdale Hall Farm. It is a haven for a huge range of plants, which thrive from not being disturbed. From an eastern vantage point above Overwater, you can see the Solway Firth on a clear day. A truly unspoiled part of the north western National Park.
3. Brothers Water
Brothers Water is a secluded Tarn surrounded by fells in the eastern part of the National Park. It lies in a network of challenging fell side paths and is a welcome reward if you're feeling the strain. The Tarn lies at the north end of the Kirkstone Pass. It is home to the rare Schelly fish, as well as a healthy trout population.
Lake District Mountains
Home to England's only mountains, the National Park also has some of the highest mountains in the UK. It also has hundreds of high points which go by other names, the commonest being “Fell.” The definition of “mountain” used to be any hill top over 3,000 feet above sea level, which is about 914 metres.
Here are the top ten highest points in the Lakes and some of the biggest mountains in the UK, defined as they have been for centuries, but with facts about the mountains in metric heights:
1. Scafell Pike at 978 metres
2. Scafell at 964 metres
3. Helvellyn at 950 metres
4. Skiddaw at 931 metres
5. Great End at 910 metres
6. Bowfell at 902 metres
7. Great Gable at 899 metres
8. Pillar at 892 metres
9. Nethermost Pike at 891 metres
10. Catstycam at 889 metres
1 Scafell Pike
Scafell Pike is the highest of the four mountains in England. It is part of the Southern Fells region of the National Park and is owned by the National Trust. Thousands of people attempt to climb the mountain every year, mostly successfully, although rescue teams are sometimes called out.
It is believed that the mountain was first climbed by the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 19th Century. The mountain's popularity with visitors is leading to erosion of paths and a rise in rubbish. Volunteer Rangers work hard to maintain the mountain's stunning beauty.
Not to be confused with Scafell Pike, Scafell is the second highest mountain in England. It is separated from the former by a natural feature called Mickledore col or ridge.
Although not quite as high as its neighbour, from some approaches Sca Fell is more difficult to climb. The great ridge which separates the two is the head of two river systems, Wasdale and Eskdale. The dramatic landscape is testament to the geological forces that created the Lakes.
The third highest English mountain, Helvellyn is the tallest peak in a range of the same name. Unlike the Scafell mountains, it is easier for walkers to ascend, and has access paths from all around. It was originally formed as the result of huge volcanic activity, which produced the rocks which make it up.
These were then eroded over tens of thousands of years by glaciers, which have left Helvellyn surrounded by three huge coves. The mountain has spectacular views and is one of the most popular in the Lakes for this reason and its relatively easy access.
Fells in the Lakes
Apart from the bodies of water which give it its name, Lakeland is famous for its Fells. Many of its highest peaks have the name “fell” in them, and the Lakeland Fells are a huge range of glacial features carved out of the land during the Ice Age.
What is a Fell?
Basically, a Fell is a hill. Like Tarn, the word derives from Old Norse, in this case “fjall,” meaning mountain. Lakeland is predominantly made up of Fells and Dales, the latter being the glacial valleys between the ranges of Fells.
While there are hills and dales in other parts of the country, notably Yorkshire, the Fells and Dales of the Lakes are particularly dramatic and often very steep. Because the valleys are so steep and deep, they collect a huge amount of water.
Cumbria is also home to some of the highest rainfall in Europe. Moisture from the Irish Sea tends to blow eastwards and condenses over the high peaks. Both of these natural conditions make the Lakes what they are.
The Lakeland Fells
The Lakeland Fells are categorised to this day by the descriptions given to them by Alfred Wainwright MBE. Between 1955 and 1966, Wainwright published guides to the Fells which cover all of Lakeland in the most amazing detail. If you are a keen walker and want to explore the Lakes, Wainwright's Guides are by far the best way to start.
Certain parts of the area are more challenging for the walker than others, but all offer spectacular views and great exercise. Wainwright divided The Lakeland Fells into the following 7 regions:
1. Eastern Fells
2. Central Fells
3. Northern Fells
4. Far Eastern Fells
5. Southern Fells
6. North Western Fells
7. Western Fells
1. The Eastern Fells
The Eastern Fells have the lakes Ullswater to their north east, Thirlmere to the west and Grasmere to the south. Brothers Water Tarn is also on their eastern edge. Helvellyn is located in the west central part of the range, which rises most gently from the north.
There are well paved waterside paths and roads, and footpaths leading through the fells themselves. There are no major towns in this part of the Lakes.
2. The Central Fells
The Central Fells are located to the west and south of the Eastern Fells, across Thirlmere and stretching to the Lakeland town of Ambleside. The range is bounded to the south by the River Brathay, and to the west and north west by the River Derwent and Derwentwater.
The major Fell in the range is Tarn Crag, at 551 metres above sea level. Although the Central Fells are not the tallest of ranges, they are some of the most dramatic, especially the Langdale Pikes in the south west.
3. The Northern Fells
The Northern Fells are a range just to the north of the major Lakeland town of Keswick. They have Bassenthwaite Lake to the west and include Over Water Tarn to the north west. The two major Fells in the range are Skiddaw and Blencathra.
Skiddaw is the fourth highest mountain in England, at 931 metres above sea level. Blencathra is nearby and stands at 845 metres. While not as tall, it is much more challenging and inaccessible. While these two Fells are the most famous, there are 25 other climbs throughout the range.
4. The Far Eastern Fells
The Far Eastern or Outlying Fells are a range of 36 fairly gentle climbs at the edge of the National Park. Bounded by Ullswater to the north west and surrounding Haweswater Reservoir, the Fells thin out to the south west towards Ambleside.
Probably the easiest part of the Lakeland Fells for the novice walker or hiker, the highest point of the range is High Street, at 828 metres above sea level. The rest of the Fells are mainly concentrated around Ullswater and the Kirkstone Pass.
5. The Southern Fells
The Southern Fells contain the highest peaks in the National Park. Some of the most challenging and beautiful walks, Fells and Dales lie in this area. Bounded to the west by Wast Water and Wasdale, both Scafell Pike and Scafell rise in the north central part of the range.
To the south east is the beautiful Lakeland village of Coniston, at the head of Coniston Water, home of many water speed world record attempts. There are about 40 Fells in total in this part of the Lakes, and many Tarns connected by high passes throughout the area. Stake Pass is located to the north east of the range, part of the Cumbria Way footpath which connects Coniston to Keswick. See the top walks around Coniston here.
6. The North Western Fells
The North Western Fells are a range of 29 climbs which are on average quite low in altitude compared to other parts of the Lakeland Fells. The range is located to the north of the Buttermere and Borrowdale valleys.
Bounded to the south west by Crummock Water, and to the east by Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, these Fells offer a relatively gentle introduction for Fell walkers. The two most famous and popular climbs are Grasmoor to the south west and Grisedale Pike, overlooking Whinlatter Forest Park.
7. The Western Fells
The Western Fells are a range of 29 peaks in quite a compact area. They are bounded by Buttermere to the north east and Wasdale to the south east. The highest and most famous Fell in the range is Great Gable, which stands 425 metres above sea level. It has a sister Fell, Green Gable, which walkers often find less challenging.
The Fells in this range have been eroded over time so that they present a lot of naked rock, making the landscape quite unique. To the west of the range, the Lakes give way to the coastal plain. The position of the Western Fells gives views of both the sea and the Lakes.
Why is the Lake District so Popular?
The Lakes were chosen to be a National Park because the area was already very popular with ramblers. These were people who campaigned to open up the British countryside for the general public, so that its natural beauty could be protected and enjoyed by all.
The Lakes were the second such area to gain protected status, after the Peak District in the North Midlands. Since opening, Lakeland has proved the most popular of all English National Parks. Over the last 60 years, the appeal of the Lakes has grown for many parts of the community.
The Lakes offer a huge range of unique natural features. As well as a number of different landscapes, this also includes wildlife and plant life. If you are searching for birds in the area, Cumbria Bird Club cover all you need to know on where to look.
Because the area has been protected for so long, it has proved friendly to many plant and animal species which are in some cases very rare.
As well as its famous bodies of water, Lakeland has protected ancient woodlands which are themselves home to rare, native animal and plant species.
With the destruction of natural habitat elsewhere in the modern world, these areas become more valuable as time passes.
The Lakes have an extremely diverse range of habitats. Its upland areas of fresh water nurture wetland life of all kinds.
As well as extremely rare species of fish, there are areas of heath, coastal estuaries and a huge variety of trees, from native to pine.
With the growth of the environmental movement, more and more visitors to the Lakes have come to appreciate and look after these precious resources. Visitor groups, tours and individuals arrange trips and stays with this in mind.
Another huge development in modern, urban life has been the urge to live a healthier life. As more people try to incorporate exercise into their daily routines, they also look for breaks and holidays which will benefit their health.
The Lakes offer a huge range of opportunities to do just that.One immediate health benefit of being in Lakeland is the fresh air. Not only does it cover a huge area of the country, much of the National Park is high above any harmful air pollution.
Even without strenuous exercise, many people like to visit the Lakes simply for the clean air.The Lakes do encourage exercise, however. There are so many inviting walks, paths and cycle routes that thousands of visitors explore the area daily, throughout the year. A terrific club to check out is Kendal Cycling Club who are award winning and affiliated to British Cycling.
Modern waterproof clothing and equipment mean that even the Park's high annual rainfall does not put people off.There are many designated national and local routes marked throughout the Lakes.
These come in a variety of levels of difficulty. The National Park offers guided walking tours and has 48 special routes which have no obstacles. These “Miles Without Stiles” are designed for wheelchair users and those with buggies.
The Lake District Walker also provides guided tours with a vast range of trails to choose from, for all levels of ability and experience.
Holidays in The Lake District are very popular with visitors looking for adventure. There are organised groups approved or run by the National Park which are safe and exciting.
For those with more experience, there is easily enough room on the water and in the landscape to go it alone.
There are sailing clubs like the brilliant South Windermere Sailing Club and other organisations which offer water based activities of a more vigorous kind. There are charter boats available which are based on some of the larger lakes, especially Windermere.
This and other Lakes and rivers often offer the chance to go windsurfing, kayaking, wild swimming and canoeing.Many organisations within the Park offer climbing and abseiling days, ghyll scrambling, archery, guided mountain walks, orienteering and mountain biking. One of the best companies for all levels of ability are Climb365 which are a leading company based in the heart of the Lake District.
For families, some companies have adventure holidays based in the forests, equipped with rope ladders, Tarzan swings and zip wires.Much of the National Park is open to the public all year round.
With the choice of activities ever growing, so does its appeal to wider sections of the community. This includes families, corporate groups, people of all ages and abilities.
Accommodation: Where to Stay
As well as a huge choice of activities, the National Park also has an extensive choice of places to stay while you enjoy it. Whether you go in for the self catering lake district visitors often prefer, or like to be looked after, the choice is yours. Whichever you choose, the Park authority asks visitors to book ahead, to assist it and its users alike.
Here are some of the many self catering Lake District accommodation options available:
The lakes is a mega for people wanting cabins and lodges for holiday breaks, in fact this page about Lake District accommodation with a hot tub is the second most visited location we cover. Below we have listed some of the most popular properties from that page.
Camping is one of the most popular choices of Lake District accommodation with visitors to the Lakes. It offers the chance to pick your own spectacular view and leave when you feel like it. There are camping sites with their own pubs and shops, or many much more isolated spots if you so choose. There is also the option of sharing much larger sites with caravans and glamping pods.
There are many of these throughout the Lakes, and they are part of the landscape as they have often been around since the 1800s. There are large country houses to rent for weekends which often have spa facilities and swimming pools, as well as fantastic views. They are often used for occasions such as weddings. If you are not the camping type, a Country House Hotel may be just what you need.
The Park also has a range of modern hotels designed to meet specialist needs. These include boutique hotels and luxury establishments with full restaurant facilities.
Bed & Breakfast
Visitors to the National Park who choose to stay in a local Bed and Breakfast can take advantage of many of Lakeland's best features. B & Bs are often located in small communities away from the beaten track. Local owners have decades of experience in this type of business and offer personal service not always available in hotels. They can also help you plan day trips and give friendly advice.
Recommended B & Bs:
20 Top Lake District Attractions
Apart from the stunning scenery, there are many world famous places to visit in the Lake District. As the area has long been an inspiration for poets and thinkers, there are many sites associated with famous people. The Lakeland also has its own industrial heritage.
Here are 20 sites worth seeing as part of your holidays in the Lake District:
1. Dove Cottage & The Wordsworth Museum.
In the heart of the Lakes by Grasmere, this cottage is where the famous poet Wordsworth lived and worked between 1799 and 1808.
2. Rydal Mount.
Another historic building linked to Wordsworth, this much larger house near Ambleside was the poet's family home.
3. Blackwell House.
Situated near Bowness-on-Windermere, this historic building is a reminder of the Arts and Crafts Movement pioneered by William Morris in the 19th Century.
A good friend of Morris, the great 19th Century philosopher John Ruskin bought this house near Coniston in 1871.
This National Trust owned farmhouse in Troutbeck is preserved to show what everyday life was like for Lakeland farmers around the end of the 17th Century.
6. Hawkshead Grammar School.
This preserved village school gives visitors the chance to sit at the very desk Wordsworth and his companions used as Lakeland schoolchildren.
7. Bridge House.
Another National Trust property, this Ambleside cottage spanning the Stock Ghyll beck was originally an apple shop.
8. Tarn Hows.
This is a Victorian beauty spot near Coniston created as part of the process of building a dam.
9. Aira Force and Ullswater.
This National Trust maintained natural feature runs from the Aira Force waterfall to the entrance to the Lake.
For all the waterfalls in the Lakes we wrote about it's here.
10. Surprise View.
This viewpoint of Derwentwater near Ashness Bridge is highlighted in guidebooks as it is so unexpected.
This Lakeland village is a living, working reminder of the way all such villages once were.
A perfect family visiting centre, Brockhole is on the shore of Windermere and has a large range of activities.
13. Hardknott Fort.
Located in the Fells next to the Hardknott Pass, this is a Roman ruin from the time of the Emperor Hadrian.
14. Beatrix Potter's House.
A National Trust property, the Beatrix Potter Gallery and Hawkshead are at Hill Top, near Esthwaite Water.
15. Muncaster Castle.
This historic landmark near Ravenglass is over 800 years old and is famous for its reputation as being haunted.
16. Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre.
A family visitor attraction near Penrith, this centre has qualified handlers with eagles, hawks, owls and many other birds of prey in a walled garden setting.
17. Honister Slate Mine.
Situated on the Honister Pass near Keswick, this is the last working slate mine in England, and offers guided tours.
18. Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
This industrial railway is known as L'aal Ratty and was first opened in 1875 to carry iron ore and has been converted to carry passengers.
19. Wray Castle.
Another family attraction, this imposing structure overlooks Windermere and has play areas complete with rope swings.
20. Lakes Aquarium.
Situated on the Windermere shoreline, this attraction has a range of exotic marine species, as well as a virtual diving bell.
Walks in the Lakes
There are so many possibilities for walks in the Lakes that visitors are spoilt for choice. A good way to help get the best from the walks in the area is to go to the experts for advice.
Here are some helpful websites:
Lakeland has much more to offer than just lakes. As we have seen, the area is a living example of what a National Park can be at its best. Far from standing still since it was formed in Post War Britain, the Lakes has grown with time to welcome all parts of the community.
That being said, its natural assets are what attract visitors the most. The Lake District mountains, meres and tarns that form the heart of the lakes make people decide to travel to Cumbria for their break, day trip or holiday rather than the continent or further afield. Lovers of nature and those looking for a healthy, refreshing getaway alike return to the Lakes time and again.
With the help of the National Park authority, landowners and the National trust, the integrity of The Lake District National Park remains secure. Increased tourism and recreation do present challenges, which sometimes need imaginative solutions. The Park has an army of volunteers and encourages visitors to participate in any way possible.
As the pressure for development grows ever higher, areas like the Lakes become ever more precious. While its mountains and lakes will not disappear, they do need looking after. Responsible visitors can now enjoy the National Park at most times of the year, hopefully this will remain so in the future.