The Lake District National Park in the northwest of England is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the British Isles. Embellished with verdure, forests and mountain peaks - all teeming with animal and birdlife - there’s no other place like it in the country. Steeped in history and myth, the Lakeland (as it’s also known) has attracted creatives, athletes and those who really appreciate landscapes with legendary beauty for centuries. The sweep and splendour of the region bewitches all that spend time here. Stay in a self-catering cottage in the Lake District, so you can make the most of your next visit to this wonderful British holiday destination.
The Lakes are the region’s centrepiece and there are 16 in total. However, only one of them is such by name - Bassenthwaite Lake is the only one; the remaining 15 are described as meres, hows or waters. In our guide, we introduce the ten most prolific aquatic bodies in the National Park, offering you a chance to discover the best viewpoints, walking trails, places to eat nearby and even some suggestions on where to stay during your Lake District holiday.
- Bassenthwaite Lake
- Coniston Water
- Ennerdale Water
- Wast Water
- Crummock Water
Area: 5.75 sq. miles Maximum depth: 67 metres Length: 11.25 miles Width: 1 mile
The largest and most famous of all, Windermere can be found in the southern part of the Lake District National Park. Some of the region’s busiest towns are on or very close to its shoreline and they include Windermere (town), Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside. The lake contains 19 islands, of which the private Belle Isle (off Bowness) is the largest (40 acres). No visit to Windermere is complete without a boat trip. Buy a ‘Freedom of the Lake Pass’ a 24-hour pass which gives the bearer access to all-scheduled sailings on the lake. The cruises are colour coded in the main and travel to different places around the lake including the Windermere Jetty Museum.
The recently rebuilt museum houses a collection of 40 important boats including Margaret, the world’s oldest surviving yacht; Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat; Esperance, the inspiration for Captain Flint’s boat in the book, Swallows and Amazons. If you love historic boats, this place is superb. Some world records for water speed records were broken on Windermere in the 1930s (by Sir Henry Seagrave) and in the 1950s (by Norman Buckley).
In popular culture, gamers may know Windermere as it was used in the hugely popular Tekken I; children who saw the 2017 film Peter Rabbit will be looking out for filming locations around the lake, and in Ambleside too. Finally, Windermere hides a beguiling secret, it might just be home to the Loch Ness Monster’s publicity-shy sister Bownessie. Described as giant and serpentine – so far, she has only come up for air on camera once or twice.
Windermere is a destination for fans of fine dining. If you are staying near Windermere, pay a visit to The Samling which is a Michelin-star awarded establishment. Boasting a panoramic view of the lake and the mountains beyond, the dishes that make up the menu are just as amazing. Many of the ingredients are bred or grown on the 67-acre estate in which The Samling is located. Book ahead to avoid missing out on one of Lakeland’s best eateries.
Also, stop in at The Village Inn and Bar, a lively yet laidback choice where you can enjoy a drink in the company of Buddhist effigies. Or for decent pub grub, try The Albert which is also in the centre of Bowness. Ambleside offers the quirky delights of the twin cinema-diners of Zeffirelli’s and Fellini’s where you can dine and follow your meal with a movie.
Stay at: The Pavillion at Applethwaite | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 1 dog
Area: 3.5 sq. miles Maximum depth: 63 metres Length: 7.5 miles Width: 0.75 miles
Several lakes in the UK lay claim to being the fabled and hallowed site where the sword Excalibur was betrothed to King Arthur in the legend. Historians and fans of the Arthurian legend are among the many who travel to the shores of the Lake District’s second-largest. The largest settlement on the lake is Glenridding, which is a popular base for mountain climbers and hillwalkers. You can easily reach England’s third-highest peak, Helvellyn, from the village too. Other villages include Pooley Bridge, Howtown, Sandwick and Watermillock.
Wayfarer’s love the Ullswater Way, which is a 20-mile trail that circumnavigates the lake. Don’t miss the thundering, plummeting flow of the awesome Aira Force, a National Trust managed waterfall of sensational beauty, close to the shore. You can enjoy the lake from the water too, as Ullswater is famous for its steamboats. You can board the chartered vessels at Glenridding’s jetty.
Ullswater was a favourite of the poet William Wordsworth, and is also associated with the slavery-abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson and racer, Donald Campbell, who broke the water speed world record here in 1955 in his Bluebird K7. For gastronomes, head to The Inn on the Lake, for AA rosette award-winning cuisine, or for something a little less formal there’s bags of choice in Ullswater’s villages that include varied establishments like Fellbites (closed in the Winter), The White Lion, and Granny Dowbekin’s Tearooms.
Stay at: Woodland Retreat | Sleeps: 6 guests plus 2 dogs
Area: 2 sq. miles Maximum depth: 22 metres Length: 2 miles Width: 1.25 miles
Derwentwater is close to Keswick and is very picturesque thanks to the forest-covered fells that roll down to the shoreline around much of lake. The lake is fed by the River Derwent which runs into the lake, and there are several beautiful islands up and down it. One of the islands is inhabited, dominated by Derwent Island House, a private residence managed by the National Trust.
There are many walking trails around the lake and the surrounding hills. You can also pick up boats from various landing stages around the Derwentwater like Keswick, Portinscale and the Lodore Falls. Hire out one of the colourful rowing boats for a leisurely potter around the lake; sail to one of Derwentwater’s islands and indulge in a real ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adventure.
Keep an eye out for a large sculpture, the Centenary Stones, by the lakeside at Calfclose Bay by Peter Randall-Page. It was commissioned by the National Trust in 1995 to commemorate the centenary of the charity’s founding. Carved into ten segments from a massive volcanic rock boulder, then arranged into a fan-like structure, there is a patterned image depicted on each one. Another beauty spot to head for is at Friar’s Crag, a small peninsula that juts out into the lake. Keswick is a lovely town to explore with several great eateries to try out after you’ve walked your feet off.
Stay at: Rose Cottage | Sleeps: 3 guests plus 1 dog
#4 Bassenthwaite Lake
Area: 2 sq. miles Maximum depth: 21 metres Length: 4 miles Width: 0.75 miles
Lying at the foot of Skiddaw, and close to the town of Keswick, Bassenthwaite Lake is the northernmost body of water in the Lake District National Park. Fantasy fans will be pleased to hear that the lake is the home of magical creatures, with the lake playing host to two secret fairy sites. The first is Castle How Fort, an Iron Age hillfort and the second is the Elva Hill at the edge of the lake. Legend has it that a doorway to another world lies hidden there. For a fairy-themed adventure in the fells, visit Hardknott Pass (an old Roman road), Fairy Rock on the coast at Saltom and the Fairy Steps, located in the picturesque little village of Beetham.
A fast dual carriageway runs at the western side of the lake. The lay-bys are well-loved by photographers and bird watchers hoping to observe osprey and other birds of prey that hunt here. The lake is teeming with fish including salmon and trout. Herons and cormorants are also a common sight on Bassenthwaite Lake.
One of the best views of Bassenthwaite can be seen by taking the minor road from Braithwaite village that leads up to Whinlatter Pass. Also visit the former home of the poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mirehouse, which sits on the lake’s eastern shore. At the northern end of the lake, you can find Dubwath Wetland Nature Reserve, home to grasshoppers, warblers, curlews, greylags, geese, reed buntings, meadow pipits and other species.
Stay at: Bobtail Cottage | Sleeps: 4 guests
#5 Coniston Water
Area: 2 sq. miles Maximum depth: 21 metres Length: 4 miles Width: 0.75 miles
Coniston Water is the third largest by volume but fifth largest by area in the Lake District National Park. Fun can be had on the lake as it is popular with anglers and those who love a spot of boating. Book a trip aboard the beautifully restored Gondola, a Victorian steam-powered yacht. Coniston Water will be forever known as the backdrop to Donald Campbell’s fateful attempt to break the world speed record. His final endeavour led to his untimely and tragic death in 1967 when the Bluebird K7 faltered whilst travelling at a speed of over 320mph.
In the village of Coniston, you can see the wreck of the Bluebird, which was recovered from the bottom of the lake in the 2000s. Fans of Arthur Ransome’s famous children’s book, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ will already know that these waters and their shoreline inspired the story’s locations. Make sure you stop in at Brantwood, the home of the Victorian-era philosopher John Ruskin.
High above the lake is a viewpoint and landmark The Old Man of Coniston, a Lake District natural attraction that is hugely popular with mountain climbers and fell-walkers. The remains of abandoned slate mines and spoil tips are a significant feature of its inclines. The Old Man is great for photo opportunities if you want a view of the spectacular lake below.
Stay at: The Kennels | Sleeps: 5 guests plus 2 dogs
Area: 1.5 sq. miles Maximum depth: 57 metres Length: 4 miles Width: 0.5 miles
The reservoir of Haweswater hides a secret; when the valley was flooded in 1929 it degazetted two villages: Mardale Green and Measand. In times of extreme drought, when the waters recede, the foundations and ruins of the settlements can still be seen, and it is this curious fact that draws in visitors to the Lake District’s sixth-largest lake. Haweswater is largely inaccessible and its beauty unspoilt. Its locales attract birdwatchers and fishermen. Supplying over a quarter of the water to the cities, towns and villages of the northwest, Haweswater and Thirlmere fulfil an important quota.
Stay at: Moss Beck Cottage | Sleeps: 4 guests
Area: 1.25 sq. miles Maximum depth: 40 metres Length: 3.75 miles Width: 0.25 miles
Thirlmere, like Haweswater, is also a man-made reservoir. When it was constructed, villagers in Wythburn and Amboth were relocated when the waters rose - their homes lost forever beneath the surface. 2,000 acres of coniferous woodland cover the slopes that surround much of the lake, and visitors are welcome to explore the waymarked paths. It’s a real treat to see the resident wildlife around Thirlmere, sightings of the lesser-spotted red squirrel and red deer are reasonably common here. See if you can spot Helvellyn to the east of Thirlmere, and plan walks to one of the many stunning fells and peaks westward like Armboth Fell and Raven Crag, where you can enjoy amazing panoramas and views of Thirlmere and beyond, far below.
Stay at: Thirlmere 16 | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 2 dogs
#8 Ennerdale Water
Area: 1 sq. miles Maximum depth: 45 metres Length: 3 miles Width: 0.75 miles
In spite of it being located on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Trail, Ennerdale Water is relatively unknown compared to some of the other larger lakes in the National Park. Due to the lack of public road access and the swathes of Forestry Commission-managed land, there are comparably fewer visitors to this lake than others in the region. With views of the several of the Lake District’s best-loved peaks and fells like Great Gable, Green Gable, Brandreth, High Crag, Steeple and Pillar, Ennerdale Water is one of the most beautiful secret spots in the area.
A curious fact to regale your walking partner with if you visit Ennerdale, is that the former US president Bill Clinton proposed to his wife Hilary on the banks of the lake. Head here for green views and unbridled calm – it’s possibly the Lake District’s most romantic spot.
Stay at: Low Dale Park | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 3 dogs
#9 Wast Water
Area: 1 sq. miles Maximum depth: 79 metres Length: 3 miles Width: 0.75 miles
If the moon’s surface had lakes, they would probably look like Wast Water. One of the starkest and remotest lakes in the National Park, a walk around its edge is a hard-won achievement. It’s a wonderful spot and is staggeringly beautiful in its purity and simplicity. The deepest in the Lake District National Park, it is known to scuba divers, who favour its clear depths and challenges. At the northern head of the lake is a hamlet, Wasdale Head with a nice pub, the Wasdale Head Inn.
Described by Wordsworth as ‘stern and desolate’, don’t let his words divert you if you like a challenge and an alternative to the busier more developed lakes. Its environs offer the most compelling and memorable views; showcasing the lonely peaks of Red Pike, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain. The outline of the three peaks that stand at the eastern end of the lake (Lingmell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable) was selected to represent the graphic symbol for the Lake District National Park. Owned by the National Trust, the lake is located in some of the best climbing country in the National Park, so bring your boots.
Stay at: The Woodsman Cabin, near Ulverston | Sleeps: 6 guests
#10 Crummock Water
Area: 1 sq. miles Maximum depth: 44 metres Length: 2.5 miles Width: 0.5 miles
Crummock Water is home to the highest waterfall, Scale Force (170 m), and its water is also used for supply at towns on the Solway Coast, like Maryport and Workington. This very pretty lake lies at the foot of Grasmoor Peak and offers wayfarers exceptional views from the waterside. You can hire a rowing boat at Crummock Water if you wish to explore the lake further.
You can enjoy a lovely walk from Lanthwaite Wood car park to see one of our favourite views in the Lakes. The woodland, where you can spy red squirrels, opens out onto a wide panorama of the majestic Crummock Water. Look out over Grassmoor, Rannerdale Knotts, Red Pike and Mellbreak. Wild swimmers love the sheltered shingle beach by the slate boathouse. A trail around the outside of the lake is 9 miles long and thoroughly worth your time and effort – it’s magnificent if not a little bit of a challenge – dress well for the occasion as it can be boggy.
Stay at: Honeysuckle | Sleeps: 7 guests plus 3 dogs
The other lakes:
The remaining six lakes are: Esthwaite Water, Grasmere, Buttermere, Loweswater, Rydal Water and Brothers Water (formerly Broadwater). Each of these amazing lakes have their own network of nature trails about them. For the ultimate break to the Lake District, why not book a long holiday and visit all 16 of the regions wonderful bodies of water, each as majestic and bewitching as the next. We all have our special lake, which one will be yours?
*Lake measurements rounded up to the nearest 0.25m.
Before you set off and go touring this vast and beautiful region of England, take a look at our range of self-catering holiday cottages throughout the Lake District. Find the perfect holiday property to provide the right backdrop for your Lakeland adventure, whether you plan to go boating, hiking or mountain climbing. Search our collection today.