By Victor Block
Viewing a high country landscape accentuated by a blanket of yellow, the poet William Wordsworth in 1804 described the scene as "a host of golden daffodils." To Alfred, Lord Tennyson people walking in the same region "by zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock, came on the shining levels of the lake."
When I arrived in the Lake District tucked into the northwest corner of England, I soon understood why poets and other writers waxed so eloquent. Begin with lakes and rugged mountains, thick forests and fields outlined by stone walls where countless sheep graze. Lace the setting with river valleys and embellish the picture with a stunning coastline.
Despite the area's name, only one of the 16 major bodies of water —Bassenthwaite, a challenging tongue-twister — is actually called a lake. The others are known as waters, tarns and meres. Whatever their designation, they're squeezed between the highest mountains in the country, filling valleys that were carved out by the advance and retreat of glaciers some 2 million years ago. Adding to the appeal is that so much natural beauty is contained in an area only about 35 miles wide and slightly more from north to south.
Each body of water has its own unique appeals and attractions. At 11 miles in length, Windermere is England's longest lake. Its shore is lined by 18th- and 19th-century Victorian mansions, some of which now serve as guesthouses and small hotels.
Bassenthwaite once was called Bass Lake, and it still provides fishermen with good catches. A somewhat ominous story is told about Wastwater, where bodies have been found in its dark depths.
Steamboats connect villages that overlook Ullswater, and a gentle footpath joins the towns. Another walking trail circles Grasmere, which William Wordsworth, who lived there for 14 years, described as "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found."
Hiking attracts many visitors to the Lake District. An extensive network of well-marked trails crisscrosses the area, and small wooden "Footpath" signs point the way throughout the region. There are paths suitable for every ability, preference and level of stamina. Walking trails often lead past farmhouses, skirt fields planted with crops and cut across meadows filled with grazing sheep. Here and there an enterprising farmer has opened a small tearoom to serve hikers seeking rest and refreshment.
The choice of inviting towns provides another reason to visit the Lake District. Kendal has earned the unofficial title of "Gateway to the Lakes." A warren of narrow alleyways recalls a period beginning in the 13th century, when they provided safety for residents from raiding parties. Other attractions include the ruins of several castles, the newest of which was built in the late 12th century.
The adjoining towns of Windermere and Bowness offer a long list of recreational activities. The Bowness waterfront on Lake Windermere is lined by restaurants and shops. Nearby is the Hole in t' Wall, a 16th-century pub so named, the story goes, for an opening made by a blacksmith who worked next door through which he retrieved his pints of ale.
Keswick was granted a king's charter as a market town in 1276, and its marketplace has teemed with activity since then. It has been a popular vacation destination since the 18th century.
The charming village of Grasmere is associated with its most famous former resident, William Wordsworth. It's one of a number of towns that relate chapters in the story of the Lake Poets. They were a group of writers who lived in the area around the turn of the 19th century and, inspired by its beauty, described it in their works. The three main Lake Poets were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, who is best known as the author of "The Story of the Three Bears," the precursor to the Goldilocks tale.
Places associated with those talented wordsmiths are as varied as the attractions that still draw people to the area. Wordsworth lived in a cottage at the edge of Grasmere from 1799 to 1808 and spent the final 37 years of his life in a rambling old house in the village of Rydal.
Both Coleridge and Southey lived for some time in Keswick. Other well-known poets and writers visited the Lake District, which served to embellish its reputation even more. Alfred, Lord Tennyson spent his honeymoon at Coniston, and John Ruskin helped to popularize that village after he purchased a mansion nearby.
Today a growing number of travelers are following the footsteps of those creative types to create their own memories of the English Lake District. They're discovering the reasons why that tiny locale has so entranced visitors for centuries.
WHEN YOU GO
England being England, where you stay can become part of the travel experience. Scattered about the Lake District are top-rate hotels, enticing small inns and, of course, charming B&Bs.
For information about visiting the Lake District visit www.golakes.co.uk.
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.