10 must-see historic sites in the Lake District holiday cottages

10 must-see historic sites in the Lake District

Julie Smith 22 February 2021

Who said history is boring? The Lake District is rich in history going back thousands of years, and it's amazing to think how those living and working in the Lakes long before us were responsible for shaping the landscape we know and love today. Cumbria boasts historic remains in some of the most spectacular settings in the country - here are a few places you can't afford to miss!

1. Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick

Just a short car journey or 30-minute walk from Keswick, Castlerigg Stone Circle is said to be one of the most atmospheric and dramatic stone circles in the UK, and you can see why! Overlooking the Thirlmere Valley, the ring of around 40 stones (the exact number is still being debated) is surrounded by beautiful Lakeland fells. We've noticed that the light and colours of the mountains are never the same twice, making it a photographer's paradise. Castlerigg is possibly one of the country's earliest stone circles too, thought to have been constructed during the Neolithic period in around 3000 BC. If you're just passing the area, there's a small car park next to the stone circle, but there are some superb walks nearby too.

View our properties in the Keswick area.

2. Long Meg and Her Daughters, Little Salkeld, Penrith

Long Meg and Her Daughters, Little Salkeld, Penrith

Long Meg near Penrith is the third largest stone circle in the country. Standing at 12 feet tall, Long Meg is a red sandstone pillar and the tallest of the 59 stones, of which 27 still remain upright. Legend has it that Meg was a witch, and that she and her daughters were turned to stone when the daughters danced mischievously on the Sabbath! It is also said that in the 19th century the local landowner, Colonel Lacy, instructed the stones to be cleared. Just as they were about to be blown up however, thunder and lightning erupted from nowhere and in terror the workmen abandoned their plan! Different reasons are given depending on who you ask, but whatever you do, don't try to count the stones twice!

3. Ravenglass Roman Bath House

Ravenglass Roman Bath House

A third of a mile from Ravenglass Station lie the remains of the bath house belonging to Ravenglass Roman Fort. The fort was established in AD 130 and the 4-metre-high walls make the bath house one of the tallest remaining Roman structures in Britain! There's a public car park in Ravenglass itself, but for a fun alternative to the car, we absolutely love the La'al Ratty (Ravenglass and Eskdale) steam railway, which is 7 miles long and links many fabulous walks and places of interest.

Take a look at our cottages in Ravenglass.

4. Hardknott Roman Fort

 Hardknott Roman Fort

The 3-acre Roman fort at Hardknott is one of the most remote forts in the country, and was built in the second century under the rule of Emperor Hadrian. The fort has stunning views across the Eskdale Valley - just imagine what it would have been like to guard against the enemy in such an imposing and windswept location! If you're not on foot, there is space to park nearby, just off the Hardknott Pass. It goes without saying that the Hardknott Pass is a drive on which you'll see the most incredible scenery, but it's not for the faint-hearted behind the wheel!

5. Ambleside Roman Fort

Ambleside Roman FortImage credit: DimplePatel / Shutterstock.com

Situated at the north end of Windermere lake near Waterhead, the Ambleside Roman Fort also dates back to the 2nd century and was probably built under the rule of Emperor Hadrian. Its remains can clearly be seen on your visit, and its design and location next to the lake suggest it may have been a supplies base for Roman soldiers in the area. The Ambleside, Hardknott and Ravenglass forts were all originally linked by a Roman road. You can get to the fort through Borrans Park, which is a beautiful public park set on the lakeside and the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic.

6. Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

Although just north of the Lake District itself, we couldn't ignore the iconic World Heritage Site Hadrian's Wall, which spans 73 miles from coast to coast. The wall was again built during the rule of Emperor Hadrian nearly 2000 years ago, and still remains in parts - now that's quality building work! English Heritage has a wealth of information online on how to enjoy the area, including maps, trails and event listings.

The longest remaining stretch of Hadrian's Wall can be seen at Birdoswald Roman Fort in Brampton, where you can also explore the remains of the fort itself. There's an exhibition at the site and a tearoom full of treats to tempt anyone along who isn't so keen on history!

If heading this way, you should also make time to see nearby Lanercost Priory (with another tea room), which was built in the 12th century and is now also cared for by English Heritage.

7. Shap Abbey

Shap Abbey

Shap Abbey was founded at the end of the 12th century by the Premonstratensian order of canons, and is situated in a peaceful setting on the edge of the River Lowther. The community at Shap Abbey wasn't large, but it was wealthy and owned lands throughout Westmorland. Today you can take a walk around the ruins and find out about the site's history from interpretation panels placed here by English Heritage.

8. Furness Abbey, Barrow-in-Furness

Furness Abbey, Barrow-in-Furness

Furness Abbey in Cumbria 

Just south of the Lake District, Furness Abbey is set in a woodland valley near Barrow-in-Furness and is one of the grandest ruins of its type in the North West. According to English Heritage, the abbey was founded by Stephen, who later became King of England, and was the second richest Cistercian abbey in England.

You can take a walk around the red sandstone ruins, which date back mostly to the 12th and 13th centuries, and find out more about the abbey's history in the visitor centre. There are some lovely walks nearby, and you could enjoy a picnic outside the visitor centre or treat yourself to something scrumptious at the nearby Abbey Mill Coffee Shop, which overlooks the abbey itself.

9. Brougham Castle, Penrith

Brougham Castle, Penrith

Standing in an idyllic setting next to the River Eamont, Brougham Castle was founded in the 13th century. We think it's one of the most exciting historical sites in the Lake District because you can climb the spiral stairwells and explore the fascinating passages of the four-storey keep for yourself. From the top there are beautiful views across the Eden Valley, and you can look down onto the outline of the neighbouring Roman fort. Brougham is also the perfect place for a family picnic!

View our fabulous properties in the Eden Valley.

10. Force Crag Mine, Braithwaite, near Keswick

Force Crag Mine, Braithwaite, near Keswick

At the head of the Coledale Valley, Force Crag Mine was the last working metal mine in the Lake District. At first it mined for lead and, later on, zinc and barites, before finally being abandoned in 1990. You can see the mine, which is now a scheduled monument, by walking just under 3 miles up the mine track, near to Coledale Beck, from the village of Braithwaite. The National Trust opens the processing mill on just five dates during the year, so visit them online to see if you're in luck!

There are many other historic sites in the Lake District that we didn't include in our top 10, so if we've not mentioned your favourite, let us know on social media - we love to see your photos and comments on Twitter and Facebook!

In the meantime, you can find the perfect cottage from which to begin your Lake District adventure by using our search facility online. And if we've got you hooked on all things historical, take a look at our guide to the top 10 historic houses and gardens in the Lake District, which includes Britain's oldest surviving garden and one of the country's most haunted castles...

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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