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Development of tourism in the Lake District National Park

Early visitors to the Lake District who travelled for the education and pleasure of the journey include Celia Fiennes who in 1698 undertook a journey the length of England, including riding through Kendal and over Kirkstone Pass into Patterdale, published in her book Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall. In that book, she recorded her experiences:

'As I walked down at this place I was walled on both sides by those inaccessible high rocky barren hills which hang over one’s head in some places and appear very terrible; and from them springs many little currents of water from the sides and clefts which trickle down to some lower part where it runs swiftly over the stones and shelves in the way, which makes a pleasant rush and murmuring noise and like a snowball is increased by each spring trickling down on either side of those hills, and so descends into the bottoms which are a Moorish ground in which in many places the waters stand, and so form some of those Lakes as it did here. '

In 1724, Daniel Defoe published the first volume of A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. He commented on Westmorland that it was:

'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. '

Towards the end of the 18th century, the area was becoming more popular with travellers, and in 1778 Father Thomas West produced A Guide to the Lakes, which began the era of true tourism. In his book West stated that the intention was:

'To encourage the taste of visiting the lakes by furnishing the traveller with a Guide; and for that purpose, the writer has here collected and laid before him, all the select stations and points of view, noticed by those authors who have last made the tour of the lakes, verified by his own repeated observations. '

Viewpoints or "stations" were created 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. At some of these stations, buildings were erected to help this process. The remains of Claife Station (on the western shore of Windermere below Claife Heights) can be visited today. Built in the 1790s, the windows of the drawing room were the Station's most celebrated feature; each had a different aspect, viewed through different coloured glass to enhance variations in weather and seasons. The tinted glass in these windows was intended to recreate lighting effects in the landscape. Yellow represented summer, orange was for autumn, light green for spring, and light blue for winter. There was also a dark blue for moonlight and a lilac tint to give the impression of a thunderstorm.

Tourists were encouraged furthermore to look at the views through a Claude-glass, a mirror which framed the landscape and allowed it to be more picturesque, literally more like a picture. This picturesque way of viewing the landscape was further popularised by books by the Reverend William Gilpin including Observations, relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the year 1772, on several parts of England; particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland published in 1786, and Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape (1792).

William Wordsworth published his Guide to the Lakes in 1810, and by 1835 it had reached its fifth edition, now called A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, and this book was particularly influential in popularising the region.

The Kendal and Windermere Railway was the first to penetrate the Lake District, reaching Kendal in 1846 and Windermere in 1847. The line to Coniston opened in 1848 (although links to the national network were not complete until 1857); the line from Penrith through Keswick to Cockermouth in 1865; and the line to Lakeside at the foot of Windermere in 1869. The railways, built with traditional industry in mind, brought with them a huge increase in the number of visitors, and thus contributed to the growth of the tourism industry. Railway services were supplemented by steamer boats on the major lakes of Ullswater, Windermere, Coniston Water, and Derwent Water.

The growth in tourist numbers continued into the age of the motor car, when railways began to be closed or run down. The formation of the National Park in 1951 recognised the need to protect the Lake District environment from excessive commercial or industrial exploitation, preserving that which visitors come to see, without (so far) any restriction on the movement of people into and around the district. With visitor numbers still growing, and the impact of cars and walkers’ boots obvious among many other hazards, but tourism now central to the vitality of the region, getting that balance right is more important than ever. Finding it has in recent years sometimes been controversial, as in the imposition in 2005 of a ten miles an hour speed limit on Windermere, thus ending a long tradition of motorboat-racing and waterskiing. These and other activities, such as riding the tracks over the fells on trails motorcycles, are seen by some as incompatible with quieter pursuits such as walking, and the debate about whether certain activities should be forbidden continues. At the start of 2006 the Lake District National Park Authority began a year long search for a new vision to guide its work for the next 25 years.

Amongst the area's many attractive towns are Grasmere (once home to William Wordsworth), Ambleside and Windermere.

Looking across Ullswater
Looking across Ullswater

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