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A guide to the Lake District

A guide to the Lake District's lakes

Content Team 30 March 2021

There are officially 16 lakes in the Lake District, though these are complemented by many other bodies of water including tarns and reservoirs. Each lake has its own special character, scenery, and attractions, so you're bound to find a favourite or two amongst them! Read on for our guide to the Lake District lakes.

Bassenthwaite Lake

Bassenthwaite Lake

It might be hard to believe, but Bassenthwaite Lake is the only officially named lake in the whole of the Lake District! That’s because the rest are either meres or waters. Found in the north-west of the national park, between Cockermouth and Keswick, the waters are very peaceful because the only boats allowed on there are those belonging to members of the Bassenthwaite Sailing Club.

There is a nature reserve each on its north-west and south-east side, while Whinlatter Forest rises up to the south-west. On its northeast bank you will find lovely St Bega’s Church and nearby is Mirehouse stately home, The Lake District Wildlife Park, Lakes Distillery, and Dodd Wood. If you’re very lucky, at the right time of year you might even see the rare ospreys fishing on the lake!

See our holiday cottages around Bassenthwaite Lake.

Buttermere

Pretty Buttermere is a little lake surrounded by grand scenery! Overlooked by imposing fells - including Haystacks, Alfred Wainwright’s favourite - its location is fantastic for both experienced fell walkers and gentle amblers. A path around the lake is just 4.5 miles long across the easy, low-level countryside and makes a wonderful family-friendly walk for a couple of hours. Kids will love the Victorian tunnel on the northeast side, and see if you can spot the handsome Highland cattle that graze in the area.

Buttermere village includes a wonderful ice cream parlour, café, and two pubs. One of these, The Fish Inn, was once home to ‘The Maid of Buttermere’, a famous beauty mentioned in the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge, amongst others.

Browse our holiday cottages in Buttermere.

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Found in the glorious South Lakes, Coniston Water is perhaps best known as the location of Donald Campbell’s infamous final water speed record attempt. It's also popular thanks to the incredible scenery, easy access to the fells, and options on and around the water.

Coniston village is overlooked by several mountains, including one with a rather wonderful name: The Old Man of Coniston. You can sail the lake on a heritage Steam Yacht Gondola, or why not hire a boat and explore for yourself? There are plenty of options on dry land, too, with the likes of The Ruskin Museum and Brantwood House on its shores. Or why not discover some famous filming locations used in the likes of The ‘A’ Word and Swallows & Amazons?

Take a look at holiday cottages around Coniston.

Elterwater

Elterwater is an unusually shaped lake in the valley of Great Langdale that flows into Windermere via the River Brathay. The name itself means ‘lake of the swan’ (or swan lake, if you will!) and whooper swans still winter there.

This small but pretty lake makes for a fabulous walk with wonderful views. If you’re a lover of trees and waterfalls, then you will adore the area. Colwith Force to the south tumbles through oak woodland and is an impressive sight to see. Alternatively (or as well as - it’s not far to walk!), Skelwith Force is a much shorter but no less impressive fall amongst the woodlands to the south-east of the lake.

As well as waterfalls to admire, the path around the lake takes you through tranquil woodland, open fields, and alongside the glittering lake, eventually opening up to amazing views of the Langdales. It’s a truly spectacular place.

Have a look at cottages in Langdale.

Crummock Water

Crummock Water

Crummock Water is the twin of Buttermere - they were once one big lake! Separated over thousands of years by debris carried down the mountain by streams, they now each have their own unique character and points of interest.

Towering over either side of Crummock are the fells of Melbreak and Grasmoor, which make for fantastic hikes. For an easier but no less rewarding walk, pull on your boots and head to spectacular Scale Force, the highest single-drop waterfall in the Lake District! Alternatively, during spring you must visit the wonderful hidden valley of Rannerdale to see the spectacular carpet of bluebells covering the open fell (please take care not to trample the flowers). For refreshment, head back to Buttermere village for a pint at one of the two pubs, a cake at the café, or homemade ice cream at Syke Farm Tea Room.

Find your perfect holiday cottage near Crummock Water.

Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Derwentwater is simply spectacular! Perhaps the most iconic body of water in the North Lakes, it’s surrounded by the fell Catbells, the ‘jaws’ of Borrowdale, and the popular market town of Keswick. There’s a huge amount of things to do here from walking, outdoor activities, shopping, eating out, boating, going to the theatre, or simply enjoying the breathtaking views.

Dotted with small islands - one with a house on it! - Derwentwater is remarkably peaceful, despite its popularity. You could spend the day walking the whole circumference of the lake, hop on a launch and sail to one of several jetties, enjoy a dip in the water, or simply pick a spot for a picnic and watch the world go by.

Browse all of our cottages around Derwentwater in Keswick and Borrowdale.

Esthwaite Water

This little lake is perhaps overshadowed at times by Windermere and Coniston Water, which sit on either side of it and are considerably larger. However, that’s no reason not to visit! If you’re into your fishing, this could be the lake for you, as it’s stocked with trout, pike and roach and includes facilities for both boat and bank fishing.

Esthwaite Water is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and was Beatrix Potter’s favourite lake (you might see one of Jeremy Fisher’s descendants hopping about!). Although much of the surrounding countryside is privately owned, you can still enjoy nearby walks from the village of Near Sawrey, Hawkshead and Moss Eccles Tarn.

See our nearby cottages in Coniston and Windermere.

Haweswater

Haweswater

Haweswater was once a much smaller lake, but the building of a dam in the 1920s flooded two small villages and created the larger reservoir that we see now. During dry spells, you can even spot remnants of the old villages! Though the building of the dam was controversial, it was the world's first hollow buttress dam and was considered the forefront of modern engineering at the time.

Nowadays, Haweswater is a tranquil place, not often visited by tourists, and therefore perfect if you’re looking to escape the crowds. Thanks to this lack of disturbance, the surrounding area is home to interesting wildlife including badgers and red deer.

Find your perfect holiday cottage near Haweswater.

Loweswater

Loweswater is a particularly tranquil lake. Lesser known than many of the others on this list, it is nonetheless very beautiful. Ancient woodland surrounds it and the trees on the south-west shore hide a ‘secret’ waterfall, a tiny pebble beach, and even rope swings! There’s plenty of wildlife hiding in the woods, too, and you may even be lucky enough to spot a red squirrel!

There is, of course, wonderful walking, too. Enjoy a flat potter through fields and into the woods, or head up onto the fells instead. There’s a particularly lovely route with a bench where you can sit, take a moment, and admire the views.

See all of our cottages in Loweswater.

Thirlmere

Thirlmere

Thirlmere was two separate lakes until it was dammed and made into one single reservoir in the 1800s. Helvellyn towers over the eastern shore and the views from the 10-mile route around the lake are simply beautiful.

If you don’t fancy the full walk, then there are easier routes through the surrounding mixed woodland, or more experienced walkers might want to head up to the Hill Fort on Raven Crag. Whichever direction you go, you’ll see fewer people than at the other, better-known lakes. Despite its central location, Thirlmere remains a quiet and peaceful place.

Rydal Water

Rydal Water is a tiny little lake between Grasmere and Ambleside. At only 0.75 miles long, it's the smallest on our list, yet still has bags of character and lots to offer! There are strong connections here to William Wordsworth, who once lived at nearby Rydal Mount: you can visit his home, which is still owned by the Wordsworth family, and see how it looked when the famous poet occupied it. Also well worth a visit is Rydal Hall and Rydal Falls.

On the far side of the lake on Loughrigg Fell are the remains of a quarry, including Rydal Cave. It’s a pleasant walk to get there, and you can head into the depths of the large cave by means of stepping stones over a flooded pool. Just do be aware of occasional loose rock falling from the ceiling. Keep an eye out for the fish, too!

Your walk can continue on past Grasmere lake into the village, or head back to the Badger Bar for a delicious meal.

Ullswater

Ullswater

Ullswater is thought by many to be the most beautiful of the Lake District lakes. Stretching for 11.8 km in a long ribbon, it’s home to some of the best walking in the national park. Imposing Helvellyn towers over the lake, with the dramatic ridge of Striding Edge forming part of its most popular walking route. The High Street fells and Red Screes also offer much-loved mountain walks.

If you want to take in the scenery without the hiking, then you’re in luck! Ullswater is surrounded by some lovely villages such as Glenridding and Pooley Bridge (check out Chestnut House, which sells 400 gins as well as other local produce and gifts). Or why not take an easy walk to Aira Force? For the history buffs amongst you, the area is swimming in interesting sites including stately homes, stone circles and spectacular ruins. Alternatively, why not hop on a heritage Steamer and take a relaxing tour of the water by boat?

We have lots of holiday cottages around Ullswater.

Grasmere

Grasmere is well known as the once-home of Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. It’s also where delicious Grasmere Gingerbread® is made!

This lake is small – at only one mile long and half a mile wide - but very popular. In the Central Lakes, it’s surrounded by incredible scenery and has easy access to some of the best sites of the national park. Head to the wonderfully named ‘Faeryland’ to hire a rowing boat and set off onto the water: there’s a pretty island in the centre of the lake that you can take a turn around (though this is privately owned by the National Trust, so please don’t land there). If you’re a walker, there’s a lovely route that will take you around Grasmere, past Rydal Water, and back to the village along the corpse road.

Browse our holiday cottages in Grasmere.

Wastwater

Wastwater

Wastwater  is the deepest lake in England at a whopping 74 metres - that's nearly as tall as Big Ben! It’s found in Wasdale, which itself is a valley of extremes, also being home to England’s highest mountain (Scafell Pike) and its smallest church (St. Olaf’s).

The lake offers up an impressive view thanks to the imposing screes that rise out of the water along the whole southeast side. It’s also a favourite starting point for hiking the Scafells, and many experienced hikers can be seen heading up there, as well as up paths to the other high fells of the area.

Despite that, Wastwater is still a relatively peaceful place to visit. Its imposing presence has inspired generations of visitors, and the valley is the birthplace of British climbing.

Find a cottage near Wastwater.

Windermere

Windermere

Windermere is probably the best known and most popular lake in the whole of the Lake District (and the whole of England!). It’s also England’s longest lake, stretching for over 18km.

If you’d like a taste of just about everything that Lakeland has to offer from one place, then head to Windermere. Bowness and Ambleside are bustling towns that retain a traditional feel and offer easy lake access, while villages like Windermere and Hawkshead are also well worth a visit. The western banks are less populated and offer a taste of the famous Lake District tranquillity.

For getting onto the water, you can take a lake cruiser, hire your own boat, or even jump right in and go swimming! There are lots of attractions, too, including the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, Lakes Aquarium, Wray Castle and Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s former home.

See our cottages around Windermere.

Ennerdale Water

If seclusion and real tranquillity are what you’re after from your Lake District lakes, then Ennerdale Water is the place to head for. Remote and with no public roads entering the valley, you will have to rely on foot, bike or horseback to explore this area!

The most westerly of the lakes, Ennerdale Water stretches for 2.5 miles and is surrounded by woodland and towering fells. Nearby Pillar Rock is famous in the world of climbing as the place where pioneers of Lake District climbing practised their ascents in the 1820s. It has a range of climbing routes to suit all abilities.

The walk around Ennerdale Water is relatively flat, apart from some scrambling on the south side, but can be surprisingly tiring. However, it is well worth any effort for the silence, amazing views, and utter tranquillity. At the end of it, why not head to Ennerdale Bridge village and The Gather, a wonderful community-run café and gift shop.

See our holiday homes around Ennerdale Water.

Stay at a self-catering holiday cottage in the Lake District

So there you have our guide to all the official lakes in the Lake District. Are you excited to explore and discover a new one? Or perhaps you have a long-standing favourite that you return to again and again? Either way, you can use our cottage search to find your perfect nearby holiday cottage. Before you set off on your holiday, 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 adventure, whether you plan to go boating, hiking or mountain climbing. Search our collection today.

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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