The English Lake DistrictCategory: Land + People
By F. J. Monkhouse
The English Lake District comprises a compact piece of country, little more than thirty miles across and nearly 900 square miles in extent. In it lies a remarkable assemblage of bold ridges and deep valleys, smooth slopes and rugged crags, tiny tarns and deep lakes, gashed ravines and plunging waterfalls, scree-strewn hillsides and green meadows, sweeping stretches of heather and bracken-covered valley-sides.
The most characteristic feature of the Lake District is naturally the lakes themselves. The sixteen major lakes lie on the floors of the glacially eroded valleys, and so partake of their pattern and shape; they are usually long and relatively narrow, and trend more or less towards the north and south from the drainage-axis of the dome.
The lakes vary enormously in depth. The deepest is Wastwater, where 258 ft has been sounded, although the water surface lies at exactly 200 ft above sea-level. Rydal Water, on the other hand, is a shallow reed-covered mere on the uneven floor of the broad valley extending northward. Haweswater has been artificially enlarged and deepened by a dam in order to increase the lake storage capacity.
It is evident that the Lakeland hills afford only limited economic possibilities. Agriculture is for the most part restricted to sheep-farming, and flocks of the small hardy Herdwicks are kept on the hills; it is significant that the average number of animals which can be sustained on the poor hill-pastures is less than one per acre. At the heads of the valleys are lonely farms, buildings of rough grey stone roofed with heavy slate slabs. Around the farms are small fields on the valley-floors, sown with some oats and roots, and grass for hay; they also provide sheltered grazing for the lambing ewes in spring. The mosaic of tiny fields surrounded by stone walls stands out, especially in spring, when the brilliant green of the improved pastures contrasts with the drab yellows and browns of the hill-sides beyond. But this valley-pasture is so limited that the hill-farmers are obliged to send away many animals to winter, either to the lower valleys on the margins of the uplands or even farther.
Sheep-farming has been directly responsible for another] feature of the landscape, the dry-stone walls which run for , miles over the hills, sometimes ascending unbelievable steep slopes to their very summits. They separate the valley-pas- tures from the fell-grazing, and demarcate the various properties. Today many are in a bad state of repair, mainly because the art of their construction has nearly died out, and they are being replaced by wire fences. The walls do serve a useful purpose in providing shelter for the sheep, especially during periods of snowfall. Many of the sheep-farms have a cow or two, and larger dairy herds are kept in the lower valleys, especially near the tourist resorts.
The ancient rocks contain numerous mineral veins, some of which have been worked sporadically for centuries.
Today the main extractive industry is quarrying. The beautiful green slates of the Borrowdale Volcanics are still worked at Hanister, and granite is quarried wherever the intrusions outcrop near reasonable communications. An interesting example of industrial inertia is provided by the famous pencil-mills at Keswick; they initially used graphite mined in Borrowdale; now that this source is exhausted, all the raw materials must be imported.
The Lake District receives, at any rate from the point of view of the holiday maker, a regrettably high rainfall, as would be expected from situation of this upland area near the west coast. Seathwaite in Borrowdale, accredited with being the wettest inhabited place in England, has a mean annual rainfall of 130 inches, while some of the shortterm gauges indicate that over 200 inches is received in the higher country. The district thus affords a valuable source of pure soft water. Manchester utilizes two lakes, Thirlmere and the enlarged Haweswater.
Finally the Lake District forms one of the most popular holiday-districts in Great Britain, capitalizing the beauty of its lakes and mountains. Its several small towns — Keswick, Ambleside, Windermere and Coniston and its attractive villages live almost entirely by the “tourist-industry”. Almost every farmhouse “takes in visitors” to supplement the limited income from sheep-rearing.
One reason for its popularity is its accessibility, both by rail and road. Fortunately, however, much of the Lake District is still the preserve of the walker and climber, whether he prefers to traverse the dale-heads around the centre of the massif by the interlinking cols and passes, or to indulge in the joys of high-level ridge-walking, or to climb on the many fine crags.
From The English Lake District, I960, Sheffield.