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back to Book Reviews

The English Lakes: A History
by Ian Thompson
ISBN: 9780747598381
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing


The English Lakes - A HistoryThe 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



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