1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lake District

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LAKE DISTRICT, in England, a district containing all the principal English lakes, and variously termed the Lake Country, Lakeland and “the Lakes.” It falls within the north-western counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire (Furness district), about one-half being within the first of these. Although celebrated far outside the confines of Great Britain as a district of remarkable and strongly individual physical beauty, its area is only some 700 sq. m., a circle with radius of 15 m. from the central point covering practically the whole. Within this circle, besides the largest lake, Windermere, is the highest point in England, Scafell Pike; yet Windermere is but 10½ m. in length, and covers an area of 5.69 sq. m., while Scafell Pike is only 3210 ft. in height. But the lakes show a wonderful variety of character, from open expanse and steep rock-bound shores to picturesque island-groups and soft wooded banks; while the mountains have always a remarkable dignity, less from the profile of their summits than from the bold sweeping lines of their flanks, unbroken by vegetation, and often culminating in sheer cliffs or crags. At their feet, the flat green valley floors of the higher elevations give place in the lower parts to lovely woods. The streams are swift and clear, and numerous small waterfalls are characteristic of the district. To the north, west and south, a flat coastal belt, bordering the Irish Sea, with its inlets Morecambe Bay and Solway Firth, and broadest in the north, marks off the Lake District, while to the east the valleys of the Eden and the Lune divide it from the Pennine mountain system. Geologically, too, it is individual. Its centre is of volcanic rocks, complex in character, while the Coal-measures and New Red Sandstone appear round the edges. The district as a whole is grooved by a main depression, running from north to south along the valleys of St John, Thirlmere, Grasmere and Windermere, surmounting a pass (Dunmail Raise) of only 783 ft.; while a secondary depression, in the same direction, runs along Derwentwater, Borrowdale, Wasdale and Wastwater, but here Sty Head Pass, between Borrowdale and Wasdale, rises to 1600 ft. The centre of the 15-m. radius lies on the lesser heights between Langstrath and Dunmail Raise, which may, however, be the crown of an ancient dome of rocks, “the dissected skeleton of which, worn by the warfare of air and rain and ice, now alone remains” (Dr H. R. Mill, “Bathymetrical Survey of the English Lakes,” Geographical Journal, vi. 48). The principal features of the district may be indicated by following this circle round from north, by west, south and east.

The river Derwent (q.v.), rising in the tarns and “gills" or “ghylls” (small streams running in deeply-grooved clefts) north of Sty Head Pass and the Scafell mass flows north through the wooded Borrowdale and forms Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite. These two lakes are in a class apart from all the rest, being broader for their length, and quite shallow (about 18 ft. average and 70 ft. maximum), as distinct from the long, narrow and deep troughs occupied by the other chief lakes, which average from 40 to 135 ft. deep. Derwentwater (q.v.), studded with many islands, is perhaps the most beautiful of all. Borrowdale is joined on the east by the bare wild dale of Langstrath, and the Greta joins the Derwent immediately below Derwentwater; the town of Keswick lying near the junction. Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite occupy a single depression, a flat alluvial plain separating them. From Seatoller in Borrowdale a road traverses Honister Pass (1100 ft.), whence it descends westward, beneath the majestic Honister Crags, where green slate is quarried, into the valley containing Buttermere (94 ft. max. depth) and Crummock Nater (144 ft.), drained by the Cocker. Between this and the Derwent valley the principal height is Grasmoor (2791 ft.); southward a steep narrow ridge (High Style, 2643) divides it from Ennerdale, containing Ennerdale Water (148 ft. max. depth), which is fed by the Liza and drained by the Ehen. A splendid range separates this dale from Wasdale and its tributary Mosedale, including Great Gable (2949 ft.), Pillar (2927), with the precipitous Pillar Rock on the Ennerdale flank and Steeple (2746). Wasdale Head, between Gable and the Scafell range, is peculiarly grand, with dark grey screes and black crags frowning above its narrow bottom. On this side of Gable is the fine detached rock, Napes Needle. Wastwater, 3 m. in length, is the deepest lake of all (258 ft.), its floor, like those of Windermere and Ullswater, sinking below sea-level. Its east shore consists of a great range of screes. East of Wasdale lies the range of Scafell (q.v.), its chief points being Scafell (3162 ft.), Scafell Pike (3210), Lingmell (2649) and Great End (2984), while the line is continued over Esk Hause Pass (2490) along a fine line of heights (Bow Fell, 2960; Crinkle Crags, 2816), to embrace the head of Eskdale. The line then descends to Wrynose Pass (1270 ft.), from which the Duddon runs south through a vale of peculiar richness in its lower parts; while the range continues south to culminate in the Old Man of Coniston (2633) with the splendid Dow Crags above Goats Water. The pleasant vale of Yewdale drains south to Coniston Lake (5½ m. long, 184 ft. max. depth), east of which a lower, well wooded tract, containing two beautiful lesser lakes, Tarn Hows and Esthwaite Water, extends to Windermere (q.v.). This lake collects waters by the Brathay from Langdale, the head of which, between Bow Fell and Langdale Pikes (2401 ft.), is very fine; and by the Rothay from Dunmail Raise and the small lakes of Grasmere and Rydal Water, embowered in woods. East of the Rothay valley and Thirlmere lies the mountain mass including Helvellyn (3118 ft.), Fairfield (2863) and other points, with magnificent crags at several places on the eastern side towards Grisedale and Patterdale. These dales drain to Ullswater (205 ft. max., second to Windermere in area), and so north-east to the Eden. To the east and south-east lies the ridge named High Street (2663 ft.), from the Roman road still traceable from south to north along its summit, and sloping east again to the sequestered Hawes Water (103 ft. max.), a curiously shaped lake nearly divided by the delta of the Measand Beck. There remains the Thirlmere valley. Thirlmere itself was raised in level, and adapted by means of a dam at the north end, as a reservoir for the water supply of Manchester in 1890-1894. It drains north by St John's Vale into the Greta, north of which again rises a mountain-group of which the chief summits are Saddleback or Blencathra (2847 ft.) and the graceful peak of Skiddaw (3054). The most noteworthy waterfalls are–Scale Force (Dano-Norwegian fors, foss), besides Crummock, Lodore near Derwentwater, Dungeon Gill Force, beside Langdale, Dalegarth Force in Eskdale, Aira near Ullswater, sung by Wordsworth, Stock Gill Force and Rydal Falls near Ambleside.

The principal centres in the Lake District are Keswick (Derwentwater), Ambleside, Bowness, Windermere and Lakeside (Windermere), Coniston and Boot (Eskdale), all of which, except Ambleside and Bowness (which nearly joins Windermere) are accessible by rail. The considerable village of Grasmere lies beautifully at the head of the lake of that name; and above Esthwaite is the small town of Hawkshead, with an ancient church, and picturesque houses curiously built on the hill-slope and sometimes spanning the streets. There are regular steamer services on Windermere and Ullswater. Coaches and cars traverse the main roads during the summer, but many of the finest dales and passes are accessible only on foot or by ponies. All the mountains offer easy routes to pedestrians, but some of them, as Scafell, Pillar, Gable (Napes Needle), Pavey Ark above Langdale and Dow Crags near Coniston, also afford ascents for experienced climbers.

This mountainous district, having the sea to the west, records an unusually heavy rainfall. Near Seathwaite, below Styhead Pass, the largest annual rainfall in the British Isles is recorded, the average (1870-1899) being 133.53 in., while 173.7 was measured in 1903 and 243.98 in. in 1872. At Keswick the annual mean is 60.02, at Grasmere about 80 ins. The months of maximum rainfall at Seathwaite are November, December and January and September.

Fish taken in the lakes include perch, pike, char and trout in Windermere, Ennerdale, Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater, &c., and the gwyniad or fresh-water herring in Ullswater. The industries of the Lake District include slate quarrying and some lead and zinc mining, and weaving, bobbin-making and pencil-making.

Setting aside London and Edinburgh, no locality in the British Isles is so intimately associated with the history of English literature as the Lake District. In point of time the poet whose name is first connected with the region is Gray, who wrote a journal of his tour in 1769. But it was Wordsworth, a native of Cumberland, born on the outskirts of the Lake District itself, who really made it a Mecca for lovers of English poetry. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains, first as a schoolboy at Hawkshead, and afterwards as a resident at Grasmere (1799-1813) and Rydal Mount (1813-1850). In the churchyard of Grasmere the poet and his wife lie buried; and very near to them are the remains of Hartley Coleridge (son of the poet), who himself lived many years at Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere. Southey, the friend of Wordsworth, was a resident of Keswick for forty years (1803-1843), and was buried in Crosthwaite churchyard. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived some time at Keswick, and also with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. From 1807 to 1815 Christopher North (John Wilson) was settled at Windermere. De Quincey spent the greater part of the years 1809 to 1828 at Grasmere, in the first cottage which Wordsworth had inhabited. Ambleside, or its environs, was also the place of residence of Dr Arnold (of Rugby), who spent there the vacations of the last ten years of his life; and of Harriet Martineau, who built herself a house there in 1845. At Keswick Mrs Lynn Linton was born in 1822. Brantwood, a house beside Coniston Lake, was the home of Ruskin during the last years of his life. In addition to these residents or natives of the locality, Shelley, Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Clough, Crabb Robinson, Carlyle, Keats, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Mrs Hemans, Gerald Massey and others of less reputation made longer or shorter visits, or were bound by ties of friendship with the poets already mentioned. The Vale of St John, near Keswick, recalls Scott's Bridal of Triermain. But there is a deeper connexion than this between the Lake District and English letters. German literature tells of several literary schools, or groups of writers animated by the same ideas, and working in the spirit of the same principles and by the same poetic methods. The most notable instance–indeed it is almost the only instance–of the kind in English literature is the Lake School of Poets. Of this school the acknowledged head and founder was Wordsworth, and the tenets it professed are those laid down by the poet himself in the famous preface to the edition of The Lyrical Ballads which he published in 1800. Wordsworth's theories of poetry–the objects best suited for poetic treatment, the characteristics of such treatment and the choice of diction suitable for the purpose–may be said to have grown out of the soil and substance of the lakes and mountains, and out of the homely lives of the people, of Cumberland and Westmoreland.

See Cumberland, Lancashire, Westmorland. The following is a selection from the literature of the subject: Harriet Martineau, The English Lakes (Windermere, 1858); Mrs Lynn Linton, The Lake Country (London, 1864); E. Waugh, Rambles in the Lake Country (1861) and In the Lake Country (1880); W. Knight, Through the Wordsworth Country (London, 1890); H. D. Rawnsley, Literary Associations of the English Lakes (2 vols., Glasgow, 1894) and Life and Nature of the English Lakes (Glasgow, 1899); Stopford Brooke, Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's Home from 1800 to 1808; A. G. Bradley, The Lake District, its Highways and Byeways (London, 1901); Sir John Harwood, History of the Thirlmere Water Scheme (1895); for mountain-climbing, Col. J. Brown, Mountain Ascents in Westmorland and Cumberland (London, 1888); Haskett-Smith, Climbing in the British Isles, part. i.; Owen G. Jones, Rock-climbing in the English Lake District, 2nd ed. by W. M. Crook (Keswick, 1900).