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Quick Guide to the North Lakes
The North Lakes landscape is one of dramatic fells and gentle valleys. Its 2 lovely small towns, Keswick and Cockermouth, are just 13 miles apart and there are several villages, including Bassenthwaite, Braithwaite and Threlkeld, and the even more rural Caldbeck, Lorton and Grange. There are 2 impressive lakes, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake, the reservoir Thirlmere, and the exquisite smaller and quieter lakes of Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater.
Keswick is a very popular tourist destination, a bustling market town in a fantastic setting between Derwentwater, Blencathra and Skiddaw and is the favourite centre for Lakeland climbers, fell walkers and water sports enthusiasts. Many of the shops here are geared towards outdoor activities and there are numerous cafe’s, pubs and restaurants. There is a huge variety of good value, high quality holiday accommodation here: b&b’s, guesthouses, hotels and self catering cottages as well as hostels and campsites. Despite the wide choice Keswick gets very full on bank holidays and at peak season so it’s advisable to book in advance. For top quality small theatre productions visit the ‘Theatre by the Lake‘ right by the boat landings on Derwentwater, just a very short stroll from Keswick town centre.
Derwentwater is the only lake in the area with motor launches. You can take a trip all round the lake or stop off at various points, have a walk, and rejoin the boat. Brandlehow woods, with 2 launch piers, was the National Trust’s first land purchase. Rowing, sailing and motor boats and canoes can be hired from the 2 marinas on Derwentwater or rowing and motor boats from the boat landings near Keswick. Several water sports companies offer canoeing on the lake. Rowing boats may also be hired on Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater.
Borrowdale, the valley at the southern end of Derwentwater, is a climbers’ mecca as well as drawing visitors from all over the world to walk in its wild beauty, particularly in the autumn when the ‘Borrowdale colours’ are at their finest. Villages in the valley are Grange, Rosthwaite, Seatoller and Seathwaite, all providing places to stay. Some of the Lake District’s most idyllic Glamping is available in Yurts and Bell Tents in Grange and Seatoller.
Back o’ Skiddaw is the land behind the mountain of that name and contains the villages of Ireby, Caldbeck, Mosedale/Mungrisdale and Hesket Newmarket. This is a quieter, more traditional Lakeland but still offers a sprinkling of accommodation and pubs and walking amid superb scenery.
Cockermouth is a pretty tree lined Georgian ‘Gem Town’ at the confluence of the rivers Derwent and Cocker, surprisingly undiscovered by most visitors to the Lakes. Best known as the birthplace of the poet William Wordsworth, it is a good base for exploring the small northern lakes of Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere. It is famed for its large number of small independent shops selling a whole range of things, particularly antiques, books and speciality foods. Cockermouth is fast becoming the ‘cafe culture’ centre of this area and is also home to Jennings Brewery, the Kirkgate Arts Centre and the Taste Cumbria Food Festival (September).
Between Keswick and Cockermouth are 3 mountain passes – Whinlatter, with forest activities and attractions for young and old, Newlands Pass, and Honister Pass with its slate mine tours and, for the adventurous, a Via Ferrata. Bassenthwaite is also between the 2 towns and is home to the Lake District Wild Life Park and the Osprey Viewing Point.
There is plenty of history in the area too. A small selection are Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, one of the finest in the country, the quirky Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick, and Wordsworth House in Cockermouth.