What Makes the Lake District a World-Class Destination?

© Ice Nine

To mark their recent Great Landscapes Week, conservation charity Friends of the Lake District invited a range of guest bloggers to answer the question 'what makes the Lake District a world-class visitor attraction?'. A campaigner against the proposed Whinlatter gondola, Jon Derry, offers a local perspective here.

This article first appeared on the FLD's own Great Landscapes Week blog

As Chair of the NoGo Gondola group I'm determined to stop the National Park Authority allowing an alpine style cable car ride to be built from Thornthwaite up to Whinlatter Forest Centre and beyond.

Is the prospect of ever more tourism development casting a shadow over the Lake District?    © Dan Bailey
Is the prospect of ever more tourism development casting a shadow over the Lake District?
© Dan Bailey

Despite the importance to the Cumbrian economy of 19 million annual visitors, the Lake District is emphatically not an 'attraction' in the Disney sense. Besides, with 40,000 people living and working here, the Lakes have always been far more than just an attraction. So why would Friends of the Lake District use the word?

Perhaps because it prompts us to question what we want the Lake District to be. Or maybe because they (like me) object to the Lake District National Park Authority's support of artificial attractions like zip wires and gondola rides. Do the LDNPA believe it's the only way to appeal to international tourists or the young? Or are they are simply caving in to pressure from the tourism lobby? Either way, if these developments go ahead they will compromise the very things that make this place world class.

So what are those things?

Unspoilt Beauty

Despite man's presence over millennia our lakes, mountains, moors and valleys remain largely unspoilt and beautiful. Just looking at them will bring you joy and peace. I'm writing this at Skiddaw House Hostel looking east across the 'Back o' Skiddaw' towards Carrock Fell. If you haven't been, go. Our unspoilt beauty is the jewel in the crown which we must protect. It's that simple.

Beauty and tranquillity are here in abundance, but they're easily spoiled. Photo: Stuart Holmes  © Ice Nine
Beauty and tranquillity are here in abundance, but they're easily spoiled. Photo: Stuart Holmes

Natural and Cultural History

On our way up to Skiddaw House yesterday, we watched a young cuckoo being fed by its surrogate warbler parents. A lifetime first for me and an unforgettable moment (my decision not to take a telephoto lens will also stay with me forever…). On the culture front, we all want a bit of what inspired Daffodils, Rogue Herries, Peter Rabbit and The National Trust don't we? And in my case, an answer to the eternal question 'does anyone actually eat Kendal mint cake?'

Leisure and Adventure

Quite simply, this is the ideal place to look at, sketch, paint or photograph a uniquely beautiful landscape; OR you can walk, run, climb, camp, cycle, sail, kayak, swim, paraglide on it, in it or over it! How much fun can you handle?

Paraglider over Blencathra - there's already plenty of excitement on offer in the Lakes! Photo: Stuart Holmes  © Ice Nine
Paraglider over Blencathra - there's already plenty of excitement on offer in the Lakes! Photo: Stuart Holmes


Nowhere half as beautiful as the Lakes is 15 minutes from a major motorway junction, two hours from Manchester, three from Birmingham and three (by train) from London. I first appreciated this at the age of eight, when my father - who viewed 'motoring' as a leisure pursuit in itself - brought us here for a day from our home in mid Staffordshire. We breakfasted at Windermere, visited every major lake (traversing Wrynose, Hardknott, Honister and Kirkstone passes along the way - I'm not joking), had tea in Keswick and were still back home in bed by 10pm that night. There was no one quite like my Dad for 'a little drive' and there's no top-draw destination quite so accessible as the Lakes!


Another unique quality of the Lakes is how small it is. Unlike Scotland, you don't need to drive half a day to reach the start of your walk or climb. And the mountains are small enough to get up and down in a day, offering amazing views, ridge and horseshoe walks and a true sense of achievement, even for those (like me) who are now built more for comfort than speed. The Alps are too big for me except on skis - but not the Lakes!


When we visited the Isle of Mull recently, I was astounded by how few footpaths there were, in spite of Scotland's fabled right to roam laws. We must cherish our footpaths, because this myriad network, created by shepherds, traders and soldiers over centuries, is our veinal system, allowing people to 'flow' freely all over the Park. It's really special.

Jumping for joy on Glaramara  © Ice Nine
Jumping for joy on Glaramara
© Ice Nine

These all combine to make the Lake District a 'world class' destination – and without any artificial infrastructure or fixed equipment you'll note (beyond the roads and trails, which have been here for centuries). Visitors and locals alike love The Lakes because here it's easy to experience one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world - without disturbing it in any way.

No one wants to see this change, so I'd like to finish by offering some final thoughts to those responsible for running the Park:

Please don't tinker with the Lake District

Our natural assets are already world class. Artificial attractions like zip wires and gondolas might make money for investors, but they aren't appropriate here; they won't create good jobs but they will erode the unspoilt beauty which is the jewel in our Lake District crown.

Don't treat the Instagram generation as a homogeneous group

Millions of young people are mindful, passionate about the environment and enjoy real outdoor activities. Let's target them, and let those who want fake adrenaline rides captured on selfies go to a theme park instead.

What isn't world class is our transport infrastructure

We need a strategic focus on the four Bs:

  • Buses (a comprehensive e-bus service to reduce car usage is critical)
  • Boots (maintaining our footpaths)
  • Bikes (more specialist trails which don't impede walking paths)
  • Boats (converting to electric is technically doable, and essential)

The LDNPA must lead, not dodge, the debate on over-tourism

Like Venice, Bath and Edinburgh, the Lake District must seriously consider a tourist tax to raise the millions needed to pay for e-buses and reduce car usage in the Park. The current voluntary donation scheme is tokenism and will achieve nothing.

21 Aug, 2019

I very much agree that there is something unique to the Lakes. It has a quiet beauty that is all its own, and retains corners for solitude and secret joys, despite its diminutive size. The proposed gondolas and zip-wires are just so much tat, a fad that will pass without leaving anything worth having.

I think economic development beyond tourism is important. Cuts to arts funding should be reversed and investment in cultural activities and businesses encouraged (e.g. to create and develop places like the Brewery Arts Centre of Kendal elsewhere - hubs and spaces for many other endeavours). Broadband projects should also be finished and extended.

Beyond this, cuts to adult colleges, libraries, healthcare and other public services also need to be reversed, with Cumbrian healthcare being in a dire state. The University of Cumbria has also, sadly, been failed by the Higher Education policies of the last decade - and perhaps beyond. The marketisation of HE has created an uneven playing field, and what could have been a vibrant source of employment and learning has become a shambling institution with a skeleton staff, hanging on for fear of soon becoming a white elephant. I also agree that significant investment in buses and trains is necessary, connecting Cumbria more smoothly and affordably to Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Glasgow. The current services are often late, don't operate often enough, start early enough, finish late enough or go to enough places. They are also ridiculously expensive - priced for the once-a-year tourist rather than Cumbrians or those who frequently visit from the surrounding area. A few weekends back I left Grasmere at 7pm (hardly late in summer) on a bus and found it took 4 hours to get home to Lancaster (a 1 hr car trip) - solely due to poor timetabling. Very frequently, a delayed train to Oxenholme fails to meet with the Windermere train, meaning hours of delay getting into Langdale or Coniston. Finally, housing is another major issue. You mention a tourist tax: the obvious target of this in my view should be the buy-to-let landlords, holiday cottages and air bnbs. More housing needs to be protected, too, against this through council ownership or protections that avoid sale for letting. I'm sure others can advance other ways of developing the Lakes, beyond these jottings. Instead, all Cumbria gets is a Disney makeover out front and hard and dirty industry from behind. Neither nuclear submarines nor gondolas make life in Cumbria better for ordinary people.

21 Aug, 2019

”...our lakes, mountains, moors and valleys remain largely unspoilt...”

Are you on crack? It’s about as unspoilt as Hyde Park in Leeds.

22 Aug, 2019

The Lakes is beautiful for sure, but with recent World Heretage status seems to be heading in a direction that will result in more cars, and less sustainable tourism. Roads and paths were built over centuries, now it seems to be frozen in time. As a cyclist who lives on the south edge of the lakes I rarely visit by bike. The infrastructure is shockingly bad. I have a vision of a network of cycle paths (taking up some of the land now used by the far too numerous sheep! Sheep numbers have doubled over the last 80 years.}

But car is king, for instance it is now cheaper for a car with four adults to cross the Windermere ferry than it is for 4 cyclists. A recent change in pricing meaning that 4 cyclists would pay £16 for a return journey. A doubling of the price. Such policies encourages car use and makes cycling even more unpleasant.

The routes into the lakes are as bad, bits of footpath pass as cycling routes, the potential for the cycle route over the arnside estuary to Grange is just being talked about.

22 Aug, 2019

The author's comments regarding footpaths is interesting. To my mind, the lack of footpaths (as he cites on Mull) is a good thing, and on my most recent visits to the Lake District, I've been horrified to see just how many footpaths there are, scarring the hillsides. It seems strange to assert the beauty of the unspoilt landscape and then to take pride in the network of footpaths.

22 Aug, 2019

Despite man's presence over millennia our lakes, mountains, moors and valleys remain largely unspoilt and beautiful

Hmmmmm surely sheep farming has changed the land beyond all recognition from what was once native woodland to pasture

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