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A unique landscape and the largest national park in England, the Lake District is home to the tallest mountain in England, its deepest lake, and a wealth of incredible wildlife and heritage. It’s a magnificent region which draws writers, artists and photographers year-after-year and has inspired countless visitors over the centuries.

Altogether there are 16 lakes that make up the region’s great lakes, that doesn’t account for the many other small bodies of water scattered throughout the fells, valley and settlements. Besides the expanses of lakes across the region, this undulating landscape hides a plethora of waterfalls, rivers, and streams for you to stumble across if you ever take the time to explore this remarkable destination.

Read on to find out all about the most famous 16 lakes the Lake District is renowned for, from the majestic waters of Windermere to the smallest of all the great lakes, Brothers Water.

Windermere - holidaycottages.co.uk

Windermere - 14.8 square kilometres

Stretching 10.5 miles long, 1 mile wide and running 220 feet deep, Windermere is the largest lake in England.

This legendary body of water is one of the Lake District National Park’s most popular among water sports enthusiasts and holidaymakers who often head to the waterside towns of Bowness-on-Windermere, Ambleside and Windermere Village.

Ferries run back and forth across this glistening body of water, the perfect way to take in the towering fells that surround Windermere, and stop off at a variety of quaint villages set on the banks of this impressive lake. If you’d rather get active, then hop aboard a kayak and paddle your way across the water, try your skills water skiing, or simply wild swim in this scenic destination – the perfect way to entertain children on family holidays!

Windermere is also known for the many attractions that border it including Brockhole-on-Windermere, The World of Beatrix Potter, and Treetops Lake District – a big reason why this is such a popular holiday destination. Walking and cycling along its shores is another fantastic way to explore this beautiful area. There are plenty of easy footpaths you can follow, or if you’d prefer a challenge, hike your way up Orrest Head for breathtaking views of the lake and beyond.

Ullswater - holidaycottages.co.uk

Ullswater - 8.9 square kilometres

Up in the north-eastern corner of the Lake District seek out beautiful Ullswater, the second-largest of the region’s great lakes.

At 9.5 miles long and 250 feet deep, this majestic body of water is far more remote than Windermere offering an idyllic destination for travellers to visit. Ullswater offers up impressive fells that create a dramatic skyline to the south and far-reaching views for anyone who dares to hike them, while rural countryside provides a more scenic backdrop to the north.

Glenridding is a characterful village set on the southern shores that is popular among walkers who travel here to conquer England’s third-highest mountain, Helvellyn. Meanwhile, the beautiful northern village of Pooley Bridge sits beside the mouth of the River Eamont which flows into Ullswater and offers a tranquil country haunt for holiday escapes.

Sail across this z-shaped body of water aboard one of the Ullswater Steamers which can take you by a few of the scenic villages and iconic attractions in the area such as Aira Force Waterfall and Glencoyne Bay, home to William Wordsworth’s famous daffodils.

Again, you can swim or kayak in these exquisite waters, or trek your way along the lakeshore following the 21-mile Ullswater Way.

Derwentwater - holidaycottages.co.uk

Derwentwater - 5.5 square kilometres

With Catbells standing out against the horizon to the west and the characterful town of Keswick set on the northern bank, Derwentwater is a dramatic destination and known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’. The lake itself is 3 miles long, comparatively short next to our first two great lakes, but it’s far better known for its moody scenery which changes with the seasons.

Sail out to one of the four islands, all cared for by the National Trust, on a canoe or rowboat for a Swallows and Amazons-style adventure. Otherwise, this is another top spot for water sports – enjoy swimming, SUP or ghyll scrambling and find many more activities at Derwent Water Marina.

Keswick Launches offer cruises across Derwentwater; take in the towering fells reflected in the rippling waters of this beautiful lake on a gentle boat ride from Friars Crag. Disembark at one of the eight jetties along the way including Ashness Bridge where you’ll discover an ancient packhorse bridge with views across Derwentwater to Bassenthwaite, and Lodore Falls where you can visit the beautiful waterfall once written about by Robert Southey in his poem, The Cataract of Lodore.

Visit Puzzling Place or the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick for something a little unusual or go walking in this fantastic destination. The Derwentwater Walk runs for 10 miles and offers up flat and easy paths that encircle the lake so anyone can make the most of the astonishing sights of the area. You could also stop by one of the cafes and restaurants found en-route to refuel along the way. For a bit more of a challenge, climb up the iconic Catbells fell and take in remarkable far-reaching views of Derwentwater and other glistening lakes beyond.

Bassenthwaite - holidaycottages.co.uk

Bassenthwaite Lake - 5.3 square kilometres

Despite what you may expect, Bassenthwaite Lake is the only official lake of the region - in name at least - with all the other bodies of water being referred to as meres or waters. This 4-mile-long expanse is the northernmost of the great lakes and is astonishingly peaceful with no major settlements on its shores – perfect if you enjoy that little extra space and exclusivity during days out.

As the shallowest lake in the Lake District with the deepest part being 70ft, it’s a popular spot for wild swimming and you can go canoeing and kayaking as long as you get a permit first. There is no public access to the eastern shore except via the attraction of Mirehouse, a country house and gardens with woodland and playgrounds that children will love exploring.

Skiddaw rises to the north of the lake offering excellent hiking and breathtaking views for anyone who decides to venture up into the summit of this fell. Even though this mountain towers an impressive 931 metres in height (making it the sixth largest in England), it’s one of the more accessible climbs although should still be attempted with a degree of fitness and caution.

This lake is also a true wildlife haven with a major regeneration project having taken place to ensure the environment was brought up to a good quality, protecting the rare vendace fish and ospreys who reside here. The Lake District’s first wetland nature reserve sits at the northern end of Bassenthwaite.

For a more magical trip, visit Elva Plain Stone Circle, a Neolithic site on the southern slope of Elva Hill whose name is an old Viking term meaning place of the elves. Legend has it this hill has a secret gateway to a fairy kingdom - so on your walk to this ancient stone circle, keep an eye of for sprites and other mischief makers hiding in the brush.

Coniston Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Coniston Water - 4.0 square kilometres

At 5 miles long and a measly half-mile wide, Coniston Water is a long narrow lake yet one of the most popular largely due to its proximity to its neighbour, Windermere.

Coniston village is set right at the top of this lake and boasts a few places to eat, and you can hop aboard the National Trust’s own Steam Yacht Gondola, once used by wealthy Victorians.

It appears to be a prerequisite that, to be counted as a great lake, you need a similarly impressive fell nearby and Coniston Water’s majestic mountain is the Old Man of Coniston which dominates the north-west of this locale. Begin in Coniston Village to climb this popular fell or discover another of the many walks that crisscross this popular destination, for example, the Coppermines Circular or the family-friendly Grizedale Forest.

It’s a favourite for fishing and historically an important fish source for the monks of Furness Abbey who owned much of the region in the 13th and 14th centuries. These days, fishing is free and fisherman (and women) can expect to catch perch, pike, trout and charr on a peaceful day by the lake.

This lake is also a favourite among writers, with John Ruskin having lived on these shores - visit The Ruskin Museum for a glimpse into the writer’s life – and author, Arthur Ransome having based parts of Swallows and Amazons on and around this magical lake.

Haweswater - holidaycottages.co.uk

Haweswater - 3.9 square kilometres

Now onto the highest of the region’s lakes! The 4-mile-long Haweswater Reservoir was originally a natural lake and controversially transformed into a reservoir due to an increase in water demand.

Today, it supplies around 25% of the North West’s water and it is the location of the first hollow buttress dam in the world. In order to make way for the increase in size, Mardale village was flooded – you can still see the ghostly remains of this village when the waters are low.

This lake is set in the valley of Mardale and its surroundings are quite beautiful with towering fells all around and a wealth of wildlife on its banks and throughout the Haweswater Nature Reserve. Peregrines, Dippers and Redstarts have all been spotted in the area, making it a great place to visit for birdwatching, and deer that live on the estate too. It is home to the exceptionally rare Schelly, a fish that dates back to the Ice Age and is only found in four lakes worldwide – all within the Lake District!

On a walking adventure through the area you could pass by rivers, heath, bog, forest and meadows, there’s a variety of environment on these shores. A 10-mile route will lead you around the perimeter of this lake or you could take the shorter (but steeper!) walking route up to Blea Water tarn. All-round this is another wonderfully quiet and peaceful location for a day out, visit for exclusivity and to discover this superb wildlife haven.

Thirlmere - holidaycottages.co.uk

Thirlmere - 3.3 square kilometres

Another manmade reservoir, Thirlmere was created by flooding the villages of Wythburn and Amboth in 1894 with only Wythburn church left on the lakeshore as a reminder of the settlement.

This 4-mile-long lake is known for the coniferous forest planted 100 years ago that lines its banks, covering 2,000 acres of landscape and producing a natural wonderland that wildlife and humans can enjoy in equal measure. Follow public footpaths through the magical woodland and keep your eyes peeled for red deer grazing between the trees and red squirrels scampering up trunks.

The 950-metre-high Helvellyn mountain lies to the east and is a fantastic destination for a walk. You’ll soon leave the forest behind on a hike up this fell and as you climb higher, beautiful views across the lake and the Skiddaw Range will be revealed.

Ennerdale Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Ennerdale Water - 3 square kilometres

Quite possibly the quietest lake in the whole of the Lake District, Ennerdale Water is the place to head to if you want to get away from it all.

It’s 2.5 miles long and can be found in the far west of the region, wonderfully remote and hidden from the world and is the only lake not to have a road run along the full length. With a permit you can canoe or kayak in the clear waters, taking in the serenity of this unique location.

Swim in the shallows, walk 7.5-mile route around the shore, or enjoy fly-fishing on its banks. This pristine lake contains a wide variety of fish, deer, otter and red squirrels can be spotted in the area, and there are over a hundred species of birds to look out for.

Wastwater - holidaycottages.co.uk

Wastwater - 2.9 square kilometres

At 260 feet deep, Wastwater is the deepest lake in all of England and boasts what could be considered the Lake District’s most iconic view: Lingmell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable which all stand together to the east of the lake.

The epic views don’t stop there, as a lake set in Wasdale Valley, there is plenty of undulating landscape creating unique horizons and the impressive fells of Red Pike and Kirk Fell also add to the drama. 

Many venture out to this lake during a visit to England’s highest mountain, Scarfell Pike, while there are plenty of walking trails, ranging from easy, family-friendly tracks to challenging hikes, for walkers to choose from in the area.

While here you could visit England’s smallest church (St Olaf’s Church), stop by the famous mountaineering pub The Wasdale Head, or grab the bike and head out on one of the mountain biking trails that cut through this impressive valley.

Crummock Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Crummock Water - 2.5 square kilometres

This rocky-bottomed lake is set between Loweswater and Buttermere, with steep sides of beautiful Skiddaw slate. Grasmoor Peak towers to the east and Mellbreak to the west with many streams running down the mountainside and feeding into this lake. It’s the perfect conditions for waterfalls and Scale Force – the largest falls in the region at 170 feet high – can be found to the south.

At 2.5 miles long and just three-quarters of a mile wide, Crummock Water offers a dramatic destination for walking or rowing with boats for hire the along the shores.

Esthwaite Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Esthwaite Water - 1 square kilometre

Another inspirational destination, being thought to have inspired Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, the small but exquisite 1.5-mile-long Esthwaite Water is a true sanctuary nestled between ever-popular Windermere and Coniston Water.

Sit and unwind on the banks or head out by boat and cast out a line as this lake is a trout fishery, also offering pike fishing in the winter. If you take a trip to these waters during the summer months, you’ll be amazed by the water lilies which completely cover the lake’s surface, no wonder this lake held a special place the heart of Wordsworth.

Buttermere - holidaycottages.co.uk

Buttermere - 0.9 square kilometres

Beautiful Buttermere is 1.5 miles long and provides a scenic spot filled with an atmosphere of tranquillity.

In the summer, find your own private spot on the banks and enjoy picnics surrounded by the quiet serenity of this wonderful destination in the Lake District. Escape to the shores of this western lake for pleasant family walks and pebbly beaches where you can paddle in the shallows or try skimming pebbles on the water’s clear flat surface. You can fish for charr in the lake and take a boat out on the water or follow walking trails that traverse the natural landscape.

The northern shore happens to be home to a particularly photogenic tree, the most photographed in all of the Lakes, a spindly birch that somehow survives in this wild environment.

Grasmere - holidaycottages.co.uk

Grasmere - 0.6 square kilometres

A true favourite among locals and visitors, this particularly scenic lake was once described by Wordsworth as ‘the loveliest spot that man hath found’.

Less than a mile in length, this small lake neighbouring Rydal Water to the west, is a magical place to explore and you can find a whole host of wonderful attractions in the village of Grasmere to the north of the lake. Visit Faeryland for tea and to hire rowboats, drop by Wordsworth’s old home of Dove Cottage, and head to National Trust-managed Allan Bank to stroll through the woodlands.

If you venture out on a walk around the perimeter of Grasmere, you should be able to spot Grasmere Island, a wildlife haven covered in trees and that was recently gifted to the National Trust after 100 years in private ownership.

Loweswater - holidaycottages.co.uk

Loweswater - 0.6 square kilometres

Unspoilt and hidden in a remote spot in the far west of the Lake District National Park, Loweswater is a unique place to escape to for an adventure. Just less than 1 mile long and half a mile wide, this is a great choice for walkers.

Grab the hiking boots and stroll around the shoreline where a wonderful accessible path is part of the Miles without Stiles project – meaning this trail is suitable for pushchairs and those with limited mobility.

You’ll pass through Holme Wood, a wildlife haven where you can look out for deer and red squirrels, and see the magical waterfall of Holme Force too. This unique lake also happens to be the only one in the national park where the water flows into the park and away from the sea!

Rydal Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Rydal Water - 0.3 square kilometres

One of the smallest yet most popular lakes in the national park, Rydal Water boasts a place that is believed to be Wordsworth’s favourite spot to sit and take in the remarkable landscape. Today this scenic spot is named ‘Wordsworth’s seat’ and can be reached via The Rydal Water Walk.

The 2.8-mile walk can take you past Dove Cottage and Rydal Cave where you can find a pool fish of small fish inside. You could go for a jog around this delightful route or go bird watching and see what you can spot.

To the east of this lake you’ll discover Rydal Mount and Gardens, yet another special place associated with Wordsworth as it was once his family home and boasts a beautiful house, garden and tearoom for you to investigate.

Brothers Water - holidaycottages.co.uk

Brothers Water - 0.2 square kilometres

Finally, we have the smallest lake in the Lake District National Park, Brothers Water, which is half a mile long, a quarter of a mile wide and no more than 70 feet deep.

Small and beautiful, it lies in the picturesque Hartsop Valley at the northern end of Kirkstone Pass, the highest pass in the Lakes.

Similar to Esthwaite Water, this small body of water is carpeted with lily pads during the summer months which hides a population of trout and the rare schelly. This idyllic location draws wildlife who can live in peace in the surrounding landscape - keep a look out for birdlife including chaffinches, willow warblers and pied flycatchers.

Take an easy stroll around Brothers Water, enjoy a dip in the cool waters, and stop for a picnic to make the most of this tiniest of great lakes.

To discover the magnificent great lakes for yourself, take a look through the Lake District getaways over at holidaycottages.co.uk and find a wonderful retreat.




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