University of Cambridge

History of Lake District Tourism

The English Lake District is an area of great natural beauty located in the north of England. The area is famous for its amazing beauty and peaceful landscapes. Its popularity has always been partly due to its rich cultural past involving three famous Lakes poets – of whom more in a moment!

The Lakes also hosts England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and deepest lake, Wast Water. All of these qualities have made the Lake District one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.

Back in the late 17th century, walking and hiking breaks in the Lake Districts were mostly enjoyed by people who lived near or in the local area, since they could easily reach the beautiful valleys and mountains the area has to offer.

But things had to change – and they did, when, in 1778, Thomas West wrote his pioneering guidebook about the Lake District, a new development which promoted visitors and brought hundreds of travellers to the area. The popularity of the region grew so much that in the late 18th century the local authority responded by erecting viewpoints and “station houses”, which allowed visitors to see and experience some of the Lake District’s most stunning views and landscapes.

Wordsworth wrote his first guidebook to the Lakes in 1810, and over the years this developed into a five volume work which became an invaluable tool for travellers. Of course Wordsworth also drew poetical inspiration from the Lake District – more on this in a moment!

In the early 19th century, tourism in the Lake District started booming thanks to the establishment of railway links in areas such as Kendal and Windermere. These railway links made the Lake District much more accessible to working people. To accommodate the huge numbers of visitors, new attractions and facilities were introduced; for example, the powered motor vessels on the lakes let people see a world they would never have dreamed of only a few years before, and contributed to massive economic growth in the local area.

In the early 1950s the Lake District got national park status so as to help preserve its natural beauty from unhealthy commercial and industrial influences. The new motorway – the M6 – which was built along the east side of the area made the Lake District even more accessible by car; something of a mixed blessing, with over 14 million people travelling to the Lake District each year!

Interestingly, the Lake District is Britain’s second largest tourist attraction, with people coming from all over the world. And still, to this day, the boats on Lake Windermere are one of the most successful tourist attractions in England!

Tourism adds tens of millions of pounds to the local economy every year. And even though many people now enjoy going abroad on their holidays, the enduring appeal of the Lakes will ensure millions of people continue to visit in the years ahead.

As we mentioned, the Lake Poets – especially Wordsworth – were instrumental in promoting Lake District tourism through their depiction of the glorious scenery. The “Lake Poets” is the collective name for a group of iconic poets who all lived in the Lake District during the late 18th and the early 19th century: Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

All three poets drew inspiration from the spectacular landscapes in the Lake District to create some of their most famous works. And all three men were major influences in establishing the Romantic Movement.

William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in April 1770. The place of his birth has now been renamed Wordsworth House. From 1779 until 1787 he attended Hawkshead Grammar School; there he had his first experience of writing and reading poetry which he practiced extensively thanks to encouragement from his teachers. He often walked into the countryside and got his inspiration from the Lakes scenery which surrounded him. After his years at the small village grammar school in Hawkshead, one can only imagine how he felt when he departed for Cambridge university.

In 1795 while Wordsworth was staying in Dorset, he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. This was the beginning of a stimulating and creative relationship. Wordsworth travelled extensively throughout his life, especially in Europe and the Alps, but always returned to the Lake District; indeed, he passed away at Grasmere in 1850.

Robert Southey was born in Bristol in 1774 and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Devon in 1772. They became immediate friends, and when they met Wordsworth, the group known as the Lake Poets was founded. They became poetical pioneers of the Romantic Movement.

Between the three of them, they helped revolutionize this period in English poetry, and the Lake District was the perfect backdrop for their inspiration – as it has continued to be to this day, for artists as diverse as William Heaton-Cooper and Beatrix Potter.

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