Coast-to-Coast England

The Lakes District
The Lakes District
The Lakes District

Notice, first off, that they don't call it "The Mountain District." They call it the Lakes District. The Lakes, for short.

As for what you're about to do, they call it hill walking. Sometimes, fell walking. Never hiking, climbing, or mountaineering. But it's worth considering the English penchant for understatement. These are, after all, the people who refer to dangling by from one crampon on an ice slope as a"bit of a tricky spot."

What's the big deal, you ask? After all, we're talking about elevations of 2,000, 2,500, 3,000 feet, max. If you're used to the lung-busting altitudes and multi-thousand-foot elevations of, say, the American West, chances are that you're not inclined to take a three-thousand foot peak seriously.

Get ready to adjust your attitude about altitude.

Okay, these aren't the Alps we're talking about. But they are most definitely mountains. Perhaps they have a grander appearance than their elevations would suggest because they are almost completely deforested. Maybe if they were covered with a soft blanket of deciduous trees, they wouldn't look so fierce, craggy, forbidding, stark. But centuries of woodcutting for housing, shipbuilding, and fuel made them bare; more centuries of grazing kept them that way. The only large patches of green you're likely to see are the skirts of carefully planted conifer plantations that sit in orderly formation along the lower slopes, their rows and columns as orderly as a battalion of soldiers.

The Lakes District is enclosed as one of England's national parks. National Parks are an American idea that has made its way back across the Atlantic, but on the other side of the pond, it has been adapted to fit the realities of the English countryside. Farms, small communities, pastures, tourist facilities, and undeveloped highlands all coexist within the park boundaries. English national parks aim to preserve not only the natural features of an area, but also its traditions. Here, that means restoring some of the centuries-old dry stone walls that march across valleys and mountains, contour lines notwithstanding.

If you've got extra time, plan to spend it in the Lakes. Hundreds of miles of public footpaths wander around the lakes and over the mountains (oops — hills). But be warned: annual rainfall exceeding eighty inches, near-constant mud, and steep trails make for some challenging walks. Plan your mileage accordingly.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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