On the origin of the Lake District

The area we now call the Lakes was once much wilder.

An early traveller through the Lakes was Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) who undertook a journey on horseback across the region in 1698,. She noted on Kirkstone Pass,  “inaccessible high rocky barren hills, which hang over one’s head in some places and appear very terrible”.

And her descriptions of Cumbrian rural poverty were far from the idyll portrayed by the Romantic poets a century later.

I came to villages of sad little huts made up of dry walls, only stones piled together… there seemed to be little or no tunnels for their chimneys and no mortar or plaster within or without. For the most part I took them at first sight for houses or barns to fodder cattle in… There is sad entertainment – that sort of clap bread [a type of flat oatmeal bread] and butter and cheese and a cup of beer all one can have. They are eight miles from a market town, and their miles are tedious to go both for illness of way and length. From The Development of Tourism – The Lake District – Icons of England

Daniel Defoe wrote in 1724

the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself; the west side, which borders on Cumberland, is indeed bounded by a chain of almost unpassable mountains which, in the language of the country, are called fells.”

But this view was not to last. Towards the end of the 18th century, the area was becoming more popular with travellers, partly the result of wars in Continental Europe, which restricted travel there. In 1778 Father Thomas West produced A Guide to the Lakes, sometimes said to be start of modern tourism. West recommended viewpoints where tourists could enjoy the best views of the landscape, being encouraged to appreciated the formal qualities of the landscape and to apply aesthetic values. Later, William Wordsworth in 1810 published Guide to the Lakes, which proved particularly influential in popularising the region. Then came the train and the motor car….

And in the twentieth century WH Auden understood the social construction of the Lakes when he asked:

“Am I to see in the Lake District, then,

Another bourgeois invention like the piano?”. Here

The painting above: J. M. W. Turner Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower (1798). ‘Cromackwater’ is Turner’s spelling; the place is now known as ‘Crummock Water’. From here. See also “Turner had visited the Lake District in 1797. This view of Buttermere could be described as an exercise in a moderate version of the SublimeTate Collection

See also Wikipedia

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