Cumbria is a very large county in northwest England, nearly all of it is rural. The Lake District is England’s largest national park, home to not just the biggest body of water (Lake Windermere, which confusingly is not actually a lake). There are campaigns to stop sewage being pumped into it by water companies who pay out dividends to investors, but won’t invest in better water treatment.
Recently named England’s most beautiful national park, recently, there has been a big campaign to stop the local water board spewing untreated sewage into the water (which could harm swimmers and dogs) while millions of pounds of dividends have instead been given out to shareholders.
This area is not just the rainiest in England (be sure to take wellies and a good raincoat!) but also home to all of our country’s highest mountains (Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain, though there are many higher mountains in Wales and Scotland). Other mountains here are the Old Man of Coniston (neither are very easy to climb) along with beautiful walking scenery, if you prefer to remain on lower ground! You could of course always take a paddleboat out, or enjoy a trip on a steamer. This area is very popular with tourists but is (along with Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon) suffering with overtourism, which leads to traffic gridlock in high season.
Wordsworth is from here (so was his sister) and you can even visit the house where they lived in Grasmere, a pretty town that looks up to the mountains mentioned above. Although the main town of Windermere gets all the attention, venture out to smaller pretty villages. And nearby is the gorgeous quiet seaside resort of Grange-Over-Sands.
Carlisle is the only major town, with a few smaller towns nearby including Penrith, a nice market town. Near the border to Scotland, this is also fairly close to Hadrian’s Wall.
Cumbria has far more sheep than people!
Along with 500,000 people, Cumbria is home to 3 million sheep! Although farmers have a constant battle with foot diseases, due to the grass rarely drying out in winter. The main breed is Herdwick sheep, suited to the climate in isolated Cumbrian Fells, and counted by farmers using the yan-tan-tethera method, a kind of rhyme that uses rounds of 20 (also used in ancient times to count knitting stitches!)
If you take countryside walks, follow the Countryside Code. This uses common sense to keep yourself and dogs safe near wildlife and livestock (and keep them safe from dogs). In summary;
- Follow local signs, and keep to marked paths. Leave gates & property as you find them and do not block access.
- Follow farmer advice if animals are being moved. Do not touch or feed horses or livestock. Call a farmer or RSPCA if you see creatures in distress. Do not touch farm machinery.
- Do not light fires and have outdoor BBQs. Do not disturb wildlife or nesting birds, nor disturb ruins or historic sites.
- Keep dogs under control and in sight, and pick up the poop. Put dogs on leads on Open Access land (a legal requirement between 1 March and 31 July). This is for your dog’s safety too, as farmers can legally shoot dogs that worry sheep.
- Report any concerns to your local tourism information centre
Check weather forecasts before you begin (conditions can change quickly – turn back if need be). Take care on hills and slippery paths (wear non-slip walking shoes). Wear warm visible waterproof and take a flask with hot tea! Learn to read a map and compass!
Don’t judge farmers, many have financial needs (Farming Community Help can help with free food for livestock and other goods).
rewilding the beautiful Lake District
Wild Fell is a book by ecologist Lee Schofield, who is leading efforts to breathe life back into two hill farms and 30 square kilometres of sprawling upland habitat in the remote eastern fells of the Lake District. It was a tragic day for the nation’s wildlife when England’s last lonely golden eagle died in an unmarked spot here. But the right has already begun to restore the landscape. Lee and his team are restoring damaged wetlands, meadows and woods and each year, the landscape is becoming richer, wilder and better able to withstand the shocks of a changing climate.
But in this contested landscape, change is not always welcome. So success relies on finding a balance between rewilding and respecting cherished farming traditions. This is not just a story of an ecosystem in recovery, but also a personal story of connection to place, and the highs and lows of working for nature, amid fierce opposition.
Read Lost in the Lakes, a book by travel writer Tom Chesshyre who explores towering mountains, wide-open valleys and magnificent lakeland (stopping off at a cosy inn or two along the way) on a 379-mile hike around the Lake District. From Penrith to Ullswater (via Keswick, Cockermouth, Coniston, Grasmere and Windermere), he puts on his walking boots and sets forth along the trails, drawn onwards by the dramatic scenery.
Across landscape that inspired the Romantic poets, he takes in remote parts of the parkland that many tourists miss – enjoying encounters with farmers, fell runners and fellow hikers. While staying in shepherds’ huts, bothies and old climbers’ hotels along the way. And even going for a (chilly) dip in Derwentwater. This is the Lake District seem from its walking paths – with just a backpack and an open mind.
Brief Encounter is regarded as one of the best films ever, about a middle-aged couple who unexpectedly fall in love (in real life, Celia Johnson was married to the brother of Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond novels). Shot at Carnforth Station (far enough away to shut down filming, during air-raid warnings), the bridge where the couple meet is in nearby Langdale.
the world’s favourite pudding – from Cumbria!
Did you know sticky toffee pudding is the world’s favourite dessert? It’s also popular in Australia and New Zealand, where it’s called steamed date pudding. The recipe is thought to have first been created in the Cumbrian town of Cartmel. Serve with vegan custard, cream or ice cream. Read up on food safety for people & pets.
Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding (So Vegan) makes use of leftover windfalls and unlike proper toffee apples, is less likely to pull your fillings out! Sweetened with Medjool dates.
This recipe for vegan sticky toffee pudding (The Veg Space) uses palm-oil-free vegan butter. Make in muffin tins for mini-puddings or in a cake tin for a large pudding to cut ‘sticky slices’ for guests!
This sticky toffee pudding (The Happy Pear) is made with ‘coconut toffee’ but tastes more of treacle than coconut. Serve with toffee sauce drizzled on top and vegan vanilla ice-cream.