Laurels for the Lake District

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Having, over the years, spent many happy holidays in the Lake District, whether scaling the heights of Skiddaw, Coniston Old Man or Helvellyn (and staying at youth hostels in the days before they became more like five-star hotels!) or visiting an uncle (and aunt and cousins) who tended to his Christian flock from a church on the banks of Windermere, I was delighted to learn that the area has recently been awarded Unesco World Heritage status. Although there are just over 1,000 other sites across the world that have received similar recognition for their special cultural, historical, physical or scientific significance - including the Taj Mahal in India, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Machu Picchu in Peru - it remains quite a select group and the people who look after the 885 square miles that include parts of the traditional English counties of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland, as well as all those men and women who live and work in the area, should be tremendously proud.

More than 18 million people visit the Lake District each year, enjoying its spectacular scenery of valleys, fells and pikes, splashed with meres, tarns and waters, and exploring its world-famous literary heritage that includes such notable figures as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Sir Hugh Walpole, Alfred Wainwright, Arthur Ransome and Sir Melvyn Bragg. The Lake District is the site of England’s highest mountain (Scafell Pike), largest and deepest natural lakes (Windermere and Wast Water), home to a thriving population of the endangered red squirrel and - which is something I have only just found out - the only place in England (in Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake) where a freshwater fish called the vendace can be found!

Herdwick sheep, evidence of the important part that farming has always played, are another inescapable sight as you travel around the Lakes, dotted across fields where stone walls snake over the fells and stone farmhouses and outbuildings cluster together on the hillsides like self-contained medieval fortresses. Relics of the region’s industrial heritage are never far away, with the shattered remains of copper, lead and slate mines scarring the landscape. In Neolithic times the area was a huge producer of stone axes, and across the Lake District there are hundreds of archaeological sites associated with inhabitants from thousands of years ago: ancient tracks winding over the mountains, mysterious stone circles and burial mounds, Roman forts, curious rock carvings etc. And, one of the most impressive relics of all: in the churchyard at Gosforth, measuring 14 feet in height, the tallest Viking cross in England with elaborate carvings that, most unusually, combine both Norse and Christian symbols.

The Lake District is rich in so many ways and has rightfully been celebrated countless times in poetry and prose. Here is a lovely excerpt from The Western Fells by Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991), the fellwalker, author and illustrator who immersed himself in the area and knew as much about it as any man who ever lived:

“The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.”

Incidentally, the front cover of our forthcoming autumn issue depicts a typical Lakeland scene: old stone cottages beneath the season-shaded fells at Little Langdale. You can arrange an annual subscription by clicking here.

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