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by Ian Thompson
Published by Bloomsbury
The Lake District is one of the top tourist
attractions in the UK, currently with over
12 million visitors annually, but it has not
always been so and at one time it was
spurned by polite society.
Dr Ian Thompson of Newcastle University was
born and brought up in Barrow-in-Furness on the
south-western corner of Cumbria. From his street
he was able to see across to Millom where the
author Norman Nicholson lived, and at school in
the 1960s, he used to read Nicholson’s poems and
he fell in love with the Lake District as a result. He
later trained as a landscape architect.
The initial chapters of the book describe how the
early explorers were less than complimentary
about the region’s charms. Celia Fiennes, a feisty
traveller in the late 1600s, had very little positive
to say about this area in her fine memoir. She
described the local cottages as looking like places
for cattle to shelter, referring to them as ‘villages of
sad little hutts made up of drye walls, only stones
piled together’. And fifty years later, in 1726, the
author Daniel Defoe described the region as being
‘all barren and wild, of no use or advantage either
to man or beast’.
The book highlights the changes in attitude that
followed a growing fascination with the Alps in
the middle of the 18th century and then, as travel
in Europe became restricted because of the
Napoleonic wars, a search for areas within the
United Kingdom with similar scenic beauty. Within
a few decades, there was a complete turnaround
in the public’s view of places to visit and the Lake
District became a favoured tourist destination.
Ian Thompson looks at the cultural history of the
Lake District from the time of Wordsworth, De
Quincy and Southey through to the creation of
the National Trust, the formation of the National
Park, and the current bid to have the region
declared a World Heritage Site. He describes
how recent writers such as Wainwright and
Harry Griffin, and various climbers, artists and
conservationists have in their different ways added
to the allure of the Lake District.
The book is generously illustrated with colour
photographs, including many taken by the author.
Prior to reading this book, I thought I already had
a good knowledge of the Lake District but this
book has further opened my eyes to its beauty
and its history.
reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2