Day 34 – Dumfries to Bowness-on -Windermere


How many lakes make up the Lake District? There are two answers: there are nineteen major bodies of water in the beautiful mountainous region in the north west corner of England that has inspired artists and poets since the Lakeland Poets brought the region to the attention of the newly affluent and mobile public, who began to visit in large numbers with arrival of the railway in 1847. However the pedants will by now be screaming at me that there is only one lake in the Lake District: Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others are either meres, like Windermere and Grasmere, or waters like Rydal Water and Ullswater.


The landscape for which the Lake District is famous is quite spectacular and rather different from anywhere else in the world. Reminiscent of the mountains of New Zealand, or North Wales, this beautiful and varied landscape is a little softer, more pastoral. It has the highest annual rainfall in Britain, which contributes to its lush green slopes, and to the rivers and streams that feed into the large bodies of water that give the area its name. The biggest of these is Windermere, a twelve mile long ribbon of deep water that has been used for speed record attempts including Sir Henry Segrave’s ill-fated though successful record of 98 miles per hour set in 1930, though he and his co-pilot died when their boat capsized on its third run.


It was to the Lake District that Beatrix Potter came when sales of her children’s books gave her financial independence. She married a local solicitor, and as Mrs William Heelis she bought farm after farm, and became an authority on the hardy local Herdwick sheep, noted for their chocolate brown to grey wool and brilliant white faces, which make them look quite comical. In 1942 she was named president of the Herdwick sheep breeders association, but sadly died before she could take up the office. The National Trust, whose first president was a friend of hers, now owns and cares for the farms she left behind, which is a large part of the reason why this beautiful part of the country remains mostly unspoiled and as lovely as it was when Beatrix Potter fell in love with it.


There’s far too much to say about the Lake District and countless books have been written eulogising it, including the one by William Wordsworth. I would just like to elaborate on a story that I touch on in one of my online published stories, Winter Holiday.


Although tourism became a major source of income after the middle of the nineteenth century, determined travellers had been attracted there from fifty years earlier by the work of landscape artists such as Edwin Landseer, and the Lakeland Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. Aspiring poets and artists travelled there in order to try their hand at producing work to rival the pictures and writing that had the literati in London and elsewhere all of a lather. We need to remember that the names Wordsworth and Coleridge carried the same kind of cachet then as Beckham, or Gaga does today. The lakeland poets and the landscape artists were the superstars, the celebs of their day.


One of the young aspirants who was drawn to the Lake District was the twenty-one year old painter Charles Gough. He arrived from Manchester in April 1805 and planned to walk over the imposing and dangerous Helvellyn mountain to the picturesque village of Grasmere at the head of the lake of the same name on April 17th. Apparently he would have taken a guide but the local militia were on exercise (Britain was at war with Napoleon’s France) and suitable guides were unavailable. With youthful lack of caution he went anyway, and was never seen alive again. Three months later a local shepherd heard a dog barking and found Gough’s little dog Foxie standing guard over the skeletal remains of her master on the banks of Red Tarn, a glacial pool below the treacherous Striding Edge, from where it is surmised Gough must have fallen.


The dog had survived, had given birth to a pup which sadly had not survived, but the body of the young painter was reduced to bones and torn clothing. Some at the time assumed that the dog had taken sustenance in death from the man who had provided her with sustenance in life, but the mystery and romance surrounding the poor lad’s death inspired Landseer and others to paint their impression of the scene found by the shepherd, without reference to the likely reason for the dog’s health.


In my story I made Gough a poet not a painter, and I named the pub where some of the story takes place The Fallen Poet.


Today the Olympic Torch Relay will leave Scotland and pass through Carlisle before heading for the West coast, passing through Workington and Whitehaven before doubling back inland to Keswick, and then passing Helvellyn on its way through Grasmere village and ending up at Bowness-on-Windermere.


7 responses »

  1. Sorry my post has arrived a little late in the day I was having computer problems, which turned out to be brain problems. Got it sorted now, although my screen seems to be showing my post is up twice now…

  2. Interesting point (which I don’t actually know the answer to, in spite of being up for a pedantry award *g*) – is Coniston also a lake? It used to be known as Thurston Water, but now I seem to remember it’s Lake Coniston, or Coniston Lake, to save confusion with the village.

    And – I was there, at Bowness, last night (waves *g*) and saw the torch! It came across the lake from Ambleside on the steamboat Tern, the oldest of the working launches on the lake which was built in 1898. The weather was dreadful – drizzle followed by torrential rain – but in some ways that made it more atmospheric as Tern loomed up out of the mist flanked by its two dragonboat escorts, with the torch-bearer standing right at the front so the flame lit up the bow like a beacon. It was surprisingly emotional – at least until someone’s kids elbowed their way in front of us and started blowing vuvuzelas down my ear. LOL

    Lovely sad story there about the poet.

    • I wish I’d been there with you. Glad you saw the torch, and on the Tern, too!

      Going by Wikipedia (possibly not the ultimate arbiter on the matter) Coniston is correctly named Coniston Water, but is generally just called Coniston by the locals.

      On the general point, this is what professor Wikipedia has to say:
      “Only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere are meres, tarns and waters, with mere being the least common and water being the most common. “

  3. Thanks for the info on Coniston! Of course you could further baffle the readers by mentioning that the largest tarn (Devoke Water) is bigger than the smallest lake (Brothers Water)… *runs away*

    Love the picture of the Herdies, btw. And, um, we’re getting a fair dollop of that highest rainfall in England RIGHT NOW. Squelch.

    • I’m supposed to be going to an open air concert at Westonbirt Arboretum this evening, but the weather is so dreadful I’m thinking that’s probably been called off.

      My mother was a child during World War 2 and was sent from her home in West Wickham, Kent (on the flight path to London) to stay with her aunt in Cockermouth, Cumberland, and therefore grew up with an abiding love of the Lake District, particularly the more isolated and rugged northern parts, and also a deep knowledge of country ways. As a result her children were brought up with all sorts of Lakeland words and sayings in our vocabulary, an inheritance that I value to this day, no matter how clarty the weather.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s