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. http://www.bruinscave.org.uk/Winter%20Holiday%20by%20Bruin%20Fisher.html
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.