Must see places in the English lake district

The English Lake District is a beautiful part of the country. With stunning scenery and lakes scattered everywhere around you, its like another world. It has a bit of everything that England has to offer – determined, impressive mountains towering above you (even when you’ve been climbing for an age already), green forests that immerse you in a wonderland of dappled light and whispering leaves, open fields of classical English countryside, manicured and cared for, and wild rocky cliff faces, their magnificence tumbling down upon you even as you pray their stones will not. And, of course, the Lakes, the tarns, the streams, the abundance of water everywhere. The lakes that lie so still and flat and glassy, undisturbed by your presence until, shivering, you step into the icy blackness and plunge beneath the surface, momentarily stopping your heart. The tarns that are silent and secluded, where you might meet a few fellow hikers up in the hills are special, but the more famous lakes – such as Windermere – have gained their fame for a reason – a reason no amount of noisy tourists or boating traffic can tame. Water does something to everyone – you can see how happy the children are as they splash around, screaming out at the cold, and how elated that stag group is as they roar around on their motor boats, and how peaceful that solo fisherman is, water slurping at the knees of his waders as he nods a quiet greeting to a singular canoeist in a bright yellow kayak, moving across the water with no more noise than the steady, regular splish of his oar breaking the surface of the stillness. Sailboats are reflected in converse, changing shape as the waves break. The water can be so changeable. Constant only in its beauty, it can be coloured anywhere from phosphorescent green, to deep choppy blue, to an even mysterious black. The lack of tides does not mean that these waters are inactive – they can still seethe, still create choppy, – peaks, or gentle, undulating ripples, still do a staccato dance as the rain plummets down to their surface, bouncing back up on itself with the force of two bodies of water, joined and united in the wildness of the elements.

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Wastwater, the deepest lake at 260ft, is a 3 mile long expanse of intense, stern water surrounded by the magnificent heights of the mountains that frame the almost desolate Wasdale Valley. Scafell Pike itself, the tallest mountain in England, stands guard on the edge of this striking span of wild water, contained by the tumbling black screes of the mountains on the south-east side and edged on the other side with a narrow, winding road, hugging the shoreline over modest peaks and troughs and scattered with sheep who seem to feel a stronger claim to possession than the motorised cars that whistle round its blind corners, distracted by the beauty of the landscape. No-where is the fluctuating nature of the lakes as evident as here – on one day forbidding and choppy, mist crowning the mountains, the water revelling in its waves. Then the next day transformed with a beautiful blue hue, sparkling in the sunlight, washing tenderly at the rocky shoreline where crowds of tourists gather, paddling in the shallows, messing around on floats or striking out for an exhilarating, life-affirming swim. Because this place really does have that power. It, quite simply, makes you feel alive. As you paddle out, the first shock of cold leaves you and there is a sense of pure exhilaration at overcoming the temperature and breaking out of the daily drudgeries of life – it is coming back to nature at its most sensual. From the very centre, you can look down to one end and see the point where the mountains meet, look to one side and see the few, distorted trees bending to hold on to the precipitous mountain ridge they are nestled on. If you make it to the other side, you can sit at the base of the screes, resting on centuries old bits of broken rock while you catch your breath and marvel at the all-encompassing current of life running through you, and through all the wonder around you.

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Stickle Tarn is a much smaller waterhole, but its location, accessed via a reasonably steep hike up from the Langdale valley, means it has the triple charm of a sparkling pool, a magnificent view, and a sense of achievement too. The clouds scudding overhead move spotlights and shadows over the fields, farms, waterfalls and wild countryside below. The greens are ever-changing, highlighted and downgraded on the whim of the weather, the sun beating down one minute and a savage wind whipping your face the next. A mother and her family of ducklings – at least 6 or 7 – trundle round the banks, pecking at the grasses, the babies boldly investigating, climbing up and falling down over grassy tussocks and reeds while their mother floats along contentedly, unperturbed. There is a tiny island in the middle of the tarn, not much more than a rock with some greenery and an almost unmoving bird on it – clearly, this particular spot holds a charm for him too. Further extensions of the hiking paths lead onwards and upwards to either side of the lake, and the mountains continue to loom majestically above the twinkling surface. The view goes on forever, across hills and valleys, roads and houses and lakes. You can even see the famous Windermere from here.

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Windermere may be busy, but it’s also big. There are always bits of it that you can find that are quieter. Over on the west side of the lake, a small beach area can be reached by a narrow, twisting road (quite a lot of these around here!). Secluded when we arrived there in the late afternoon, a small bay with shallows reaching out for quite a distance is edged by trees and hidden from the busier, boat-dominated  parts of the lake. A family of geese swim by in v-formation, leaving trails behind them in the water – like much more elegant airplanes. As I’m swimming they all rise in unison, and take off in flight low across the water, then rising up and off into the expansive sky above. From the shore its pretty, from the water its stirring. Teenage girls on a motor boat roar by, singing out loudly to a song on the radio, announcing their arrival with the sound of an engine to break the silence and leaving behind the waves of their wake that rock me gently within the water. I swim back across the small bay in peace to where my boyfriend is doing time-lapses on the shore. This place is a haven for photographers and swimmers alike.

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Coniston water, next to Windermere, is much more peaceful. A family of swans – two parents and a signet – are the only ones to share it with us this time. It starts rainy (as it so often is in this part of the world) with the rain rupturing the surface of the water, filling the world with a grey mist. But the rain soon clears up, and the sun arrives, leaving a sparkling trail on the water as it sets, flaring out over the crystalline surface. As it goes down, rich oranges and blues fill the sky and the water simultaneously, each a mirror of the other but with one inverted – enriched with the ripples of the recent rain and the trails of the happily swimming swans.

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On our last evening we find a hidden spot up the hill, looking out over Derwentwater. You can see it all, in its entirety, and also Bassenthwaite lake in the distance, slumbering sleepily in a haze of silver. As the sun goes down and the light changes, colours posses the landscape in a transformation of character. From sunny and blue, to peaceful silver, to delicate orange and deep purple. The view is breath-taking when you suddenly come upon it through the trees, over the crest of the hill. And once you discover it, its hard to leave. It’s very tranquil and secluded up here, looking out over the world. All the people down below, behind the lights twinkling in the windows, are hidden from sight and the world seems vast, wild and uninhabited.

Words Copyright Bonnie Radcliffe.

Photos Copyright Liam McCarthy.

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