There are so many stories about the Lake District, it's difficult to choose just one. So instead we've put our ten favourite myths and legends about the Lake District together for you to decide which is your favourite!
Gnomes in Wasdale
One of the wildest valleys in the Lake District, Wasdale boasts England’s highest mountain (Scafell Pike), deepest lake (Wastwater), smallest church (St Olaf’s), and biggest liar (the competition is held every November in the Santon Bridge Inn).
Legend has it that there are a family of garden gnomes living at the bottom of Wastwater. These are periodically removed by police divers to prevent accidental deaths by curious divers but they keep mysteriously reappearing. The last time they reappeared their garden was recreated just a few metres below their abode.
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Fairies in Lamplugh
If you look at the register of deaths in the parish of Lamplugh between 1656 and 1663, there are all sorts of strange goings on. Seven parish members died through being ‘bewitched’, while a further four people were ‘frightened to death by fairies’. I wonder if this was an explanation for suicide or mental health issues, neither of which were allowed in those days.
Another man died in a duel where the weapons used were a frying pan and pitchforks, while two more died after being knocked on the head at a Cockfight. Yet another was attacked by the parson’s bull. Two others died from drinking Mrs Lamplugh’s cordial water: I doubt we’ll ever know what really happened there!
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The Lake at Bassenthwaite
While the Lake District National Park has 19 lakes and reservoirs, it’s a well-known fact among locals that only one of them is a true lake – the rest being ‘meres’ (e.g. Windermere) or ‘waters’ (eg. Crummock Water). And that, of course, is Bassenthwaite Lake, which is around 4 miles long and ¾ of a mile wide.
However, it’s not such a well-known fact that it wasn’t always called Bassenthwaite Lake. Maps in the 18th century call it Bassenwater and sometimes Broadwater.
Take a look at our cottages near Bassenthwaite.
Coffins in Ambleside
Did you know that all over Cumbria, villages are connected to each other via ‘coffin routes’. These are ‘roads’ used in medieval times to carry the dead back to their original home village.
These ancient routes make for good walks, and one of the best ones is the old Coffin Route between Ambleside and Grasmere. If you see a nice flat rock, that was most likely a coffin resting point for those carrying the coffin.
Incidentally, if you stay at Low Millgillhead in Lamplugh, you will find a coffin resting point in the garden! I wonder if the house was once an inn…
Browse our cottages around Ambleside.
Spices in Grasmere
Grasmere is renowned for its totally delicious Sarah Nelson gingerbread. Did you know, though, that Cumbria’s well-known foods (gingerbread, Cumberland sausage and sticky toffee pudding included) have come about because of the spices bought back from the Caribbean to Whitehaven. It is thought that ships would take slaves from Africa to the Caribbean, and then bring back tobacco, cotton and spices from the Caribbean to Whitehaven.
Whitehaven was England’s second largest port back in the mid 1700s.
See our self-catering cottages in Grasmere.
Lunatics in Irton (near Eskdale)
People get very excited about the ancient site where St Paul’s Church stands in Irton (near Eskdale). The ancient Irton Cross stands in the churchyard and has been there since the early 9th century.
What I love about Irton Church, though, is the plaque by the font, which tells the story of Robert Wilfred Skeffington-Lutwidge, a local landowner who also happened to be a commissioner in lunacy down in London. He was commissioner, that is, until a lunatic hit him on the head. He died, but his story lives on.
As an aside, my favourite gravestone is in Muncaster Church and tells the story about a 14-year-old boy who died while amusing himself with a gun down by the river. His dad had bought him up here from London while he oversaw the restoration of the roof of Muncaster Castle.
There is also a gravestone in Kirkby Lonsdale church that tells the story of a young man, known by the name of John Smith, supposedly native of Italy but who knows, who drowned in the river in 1869. The gravestone was erected by his fellow workers as a token of their respect for him. I wonder what his name really was.
Cheese in Keswick
Nobody really knows where the name Keswick comes from, but my favourite speculation is that it’s from the Old English word “Cese” which means “cheese”, combined with the Scandanavian ‘wick’, meaning dwelling. Quite literally ‘Cheese Town’.
Vikings had a big influence in Cumbria: the Cumbrian dialect is very similar to modern Norwegian words. You’ll also see a lot of place names end in ‘thwaite’: this means ‘clearing’ – so Bassenthwaite means ‘clearing in a basin’ and Thornthwaite presumably means ‘clearing of thorns’.
If you’re interested, my favourite cheese shop in Keswick is in the hidden shopping alley, Pack Horse Square, behind Friar’s chocolate shop. It’s called Fond Ewe!
Monks in Borrowdale
Did you know that large parts of the Borrowdale valley were owned by the monks of Furness Abbey in medieval times? They made an absolute fortune selling wool from the sheep who grazed the land there. There is a plaque that tells you all about it in the village of Grange-in-Borrowdale.
Incidentally, the double bridge that leads into Grange-in-Borrowdale is where the last witch of Cumbria was drowned!
For more historical information about Borrowdale, read a book called Thornythwaite by Ian Hall (fiction, based on fact).
Take a look at our cottages in Borrowdale.
Witches in Salkeld
It is said that there was a witch who lived in a village called Salkeld, which is near Penrith. Legend goes that she was turned to stone for dancing wildly on the Sabbath instead of treating it with respect. Her daughters were turned to stone too and you can now visit the site of this mystic spot at the stone circle called Long Meg and her Daughters. The number of stones in this circle is disputed, although many people think there are 69 of them. It is said that if you count the stones correctly they will come to life!
It’s a bizarre place: a farm track runs right through the middle of it!
If you’re visiting, take a trip to Colonel Lacy’s caves while you’re there: it’s a lovely walk by the river, with caves at the end, carved out for Colonel Lacy so he could impress his guests!
Take a look at our holiday cottages around Penrith.
Destruction in Haweswater
In the early 1930s, inhabitants were told that they had to leave their village. Coffins were dug up from the graveyard and taken somewhere else. Once everyone had gone, Royal Engineers came in and used the village as demolition practice, blowing up the buildings. The stones from these buildings were then re-used to build a water take-off tower after the whole village was flooded to create a reservoir to serve Manchester and the North West of England with water.
Occasionally, when a drought strikes, parts of Mardale village are revealed and you can walk over the stone bridge and through the village ruins.
Discover our cottages around Haweswater.
Curious to find out even more about the Lake District and Cumbria? Take a look at all of our self-catering holiday cottages and come and discover a whole world of interest and beauty!
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