Visiting Britain's National Parks - The Lake District

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Whether you're thinking of visiting Britain this year or like me, you're a local thinking of staying at home, Cumbria's Lake District National Park offers scenery rarely surpassed elsewhere in Europe. The region, established as a National Park in 1951, is known for its distinctive landscape of greystone farmhouses, lakes and rugged mountains known here as fells - a word derived from the time of the Vikings.

Most visitors to the Lake District National Park arrive from the M6 motorway via Kendal. This is also the route of the rail access to the central Lakes with the line terminating at the busy town of Windermere which along with its neighbouring town of Bowness on the shore of Lake Windermere is one of the most popular destinations in the region. Here though I shall outline where the main tourist centres are as well as give a few - not too biased - ideas on some of the best places to visit.

Following the main A591 north from Windermere you will come to Ambleside, another popular destination situated at the northern end of Lake Windermere. A far more rewarding way of travelling though is to take the lake steamer which serves as a regular water taxi between Bowness and Waterhead near Ambleside. Theboat service also heads down to the Lake's southern end at Lakeside where you can visit the Aquarium of the Lakes - busy at holiday periods but worth the visit - go midweek if you can! North of Ambleside you will come to Rydal then Grasmere where Dove Cottage - once the home of William Wordsworth - is to be found.

The A591 continues to the market town of Keswick set below Skiddaw by the shores of Derwentwater with its many wooded islands. From Keswick, minor roads lead into the deep enclosed valley of Borrowdale which cuts into the mountains to the South. Borrowdale is the start point for hikes up the lowest and the highest of the Wainwrights - Castle Crag and Scafell Pike respectively. The Wainwrights - for the non fellwalker - are the fells or mountains of the Lake District as categorised by AW Wainwright the author of what are still - in the opinion of many - the best guidebooks to walking in Lakeland.

Another popular outing from Keswick is to visit Castlerigg Stone Circle - an ancient monument that graces the walls of just about every Lakeland art gallery! In real life it is in a truly wonderful setting overlooking the hidden valley of St Johns in the Vale. As with any popular spot though - if you can go when everyone else is somewhere else, you will better experience the atmosphere of the place!

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The other main town within the National Park, is Coniston, situated somewhat out on its own, more or less due West of Windermere by Coniston Water. Coniston Water was the scene of Donald Campbell's tragic water speed record attempts and his memory is honoured by the town's beer Bluebird - as good a pint as you will find anywhere. Coniston or Ambleside are good bases for those wishing to visit Langdale, the popular hiking destination dominated by the jagged outline of the Langdale Pikes. Equally, the literary tourist can easily visit the nearby Brantwood - John Ruskin's former home - and Hill Top Farm, the home of Beatrix Potter.

The western Lake District is somewhat cut offfrom the popular tourist centres by the wild and mountainous nature of the intervening country but therein lies part of its appeal. The valley of Wasdale - home of England's highest mountain Scafell Pike and its deepest lake Wastwater - is one of my own favorites anywhere and the vista of Great Gable's rocky pyramid seen from Wastwater was actually voted "Britain's Favorite View" in a television poll. These western dales though, have a certain wild beauty that contrasts with the pretty lanes and villages of Grasmere and Rydal.

Another spectacular mountain scene is to be found in the Buttermere Valley with the half mile high wall of High Stile falling to the still waters of Buttermere. Between these two valleys lies Ennerdale where - in in the upper reaches of the valley - you will find a sense of real remoteness as you will in the upper part of Eskdale further to the South.

Another of my own favorites of the Lake District is in the East of the region. Ullswater is perhaps the most beautiful of the lakes, extending for 10 miles from Pooley Bridge to Patterdale at the base of Helvellyn. Only a few small villages including the charming Glenridding line the lake shore with much of its length being woodland and open fellside. Ullswater too can be traveled by lake steamer - a highly recommended trip. From a remote beach amongst the trees the view up towards the head of the lake is wonderful in any weather and When the rain sweeps the fells and the cloud curtains the high tops, it doesn't dull the scene - it just adds drama.

I haven't mentioned all that the Lake District has to offer here as that would take too long for somewhere I have been visiting since childhood, but I hope That I've given some ideas. My own reason for visits is to walk in the mountains or cycle quiet tracks and lanes but equally there is plenty to occupy the water sports enthusiast, the wildlife watcher or the historian.


Britain's Most Scenic Locations

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Britain's notoriously bad weather definitely does not dampen the spirits of the many thousands of tourists who visit the small island every year. Visitors from all over the world flock to the country's buzzing capital cities as well as its beautiful scenic locations throughout the year. So what are a few of the country's most well-known hot spots?

The Lake District This magnificent region of mountains located in North West England is an extremely popular tourist and holiday destination and is said to host some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world. In 1951, the vast majority of the region was classified as the Lake District National Park and is the largest national park in England as well as Wales. Its large impressive valleys and higher rocky fells tower over the lush green moorland and its breathtaking major lakes and reservoirs.

Loch Lomond Loch Lomond is the largest area of water in the UK and its vast landscape is home to arguably the best scenery and forms of wildlife in Scotland. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, as it is officially called, is one of the main tourist destinations in Scotland as a result of its breathtaking natural scenery, with over 22 major lochs and 50 rivers. In addition to its scenery, the area also offers activities for all the family, from hiking and hill walking to canoeing and windsurfing.

Giant's Causeway The Giant's Causeway on the Northern coast of Northern Ireland is a very rare geological feature which is said to have around 40,000 columns, all interlinking with one another. The tops of the columns are the steps which hundreds of thousands of tourists walk over each year. Tourists from all around the globe are also attracted to this area's magnificent features surrounding the causeway, such as the massive giant's boot, giant's eye and chimney stacks to name but a few. The Giant's causeway tramway route which was re-opened in 2002 after being closed for two years has also attracted more visitors to the area.

These are only a few of Britain's major tourist locations, and there are many more to be discovered. Whether it be the stately homes and castles of Snowdonia in Wales, the rolling green hills and lochs of the highlands or the cosy towns and luxury hotels in County Durham, tourists are sure to be amazed at what Britain has to offer!

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How Not to Lose Your Way When Walking One of Britain's Highest Mountains

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For the inexperienced or novice walker there is only one recommended walk up Ben Nevis, two popular routes up Scafell Pike and six tracks up Snowdon. All these paths are well trodden, and where the way is not quite so clear (across scree or boulders) there are cairns which mark the way. Hundreds of people walk these paths each day during the late spring/summer months. So what could possibly go wrong?

Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable, and what at sea level will just be an inconvenient cloud passing over the sun, at higher points will be thick fog which can suddenly envelope the unsuspecting walker. And if you're at a critical point in your walk where you've got a junction of two or more paths to choose from, the sudden loss of any points of reference could cause you to make an error of judgement and take the wrong route which could mean you end up walking many more miles than expected.

Far worse, if you are walking on scree or boulders, and any discernable path suddenly vanishes underfoot, you may find yourself walking into danger on an unexpectedly steep slope, or worse, close to a crevasse.

Bad enough if you are alone or with other adults, but if you are walking with children the situation could be very frightening. What started out as a pleasant summer stroll in the sun could turn into a nightmare. Mountain rescue services are unfortunately well used to rescuing people who've got themselves lost, and not knowing what you are walking into could mean that you end up injured and need the assistance of emergency services too.

This disturbing picture is not painted to deter you from climbing one of the highest peaks in the UK, but just to make you consider how important it is to know where you are at all times on the mountains, and how to keep to the path you've chosen so you can get down again safely and in one piece.

A map and simple compass will probably only set you back about ten pounds, but could be a life saver. However, just having these with you will not help when the fog descends. You have to know a few simple steps on how to use them, and keep tabs on your progress as you go along. Map reading can be fun - and you will get to know the names of the places you are passing on your route.

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It's a good idea to practice with a map and compass at home to get the idea of how to use it. The first thing you need to do is to orient the map - this means holding it so North on the map is matching the North indicated on your compass. Take out your map at the start of your walk and locate exactly where you are You can do this by looking at the land marks, and laying your map out so that it matches the landscape. On your map there will be a declination diagram in the margin - this shows how many degrees to the left or right you need to adjust for the difference between north marked on your map, and true magnetic north. You should now link up the direction of travel line on the compass baseplate with the zero mark on the dial. Making sure the direction of travel points to north on the map rotate both map and compass until the magnetic needle points to the number of degrees that the declination diagram shows. If the diagram shows magnetic north as 5 degrees to the left, the compass needle should point 5 degrees left of zero. Once this is done, north on your compass is the same as north on your map.

A handheld GPS is the modern way to help you get you to where you want to go and back again, and some smartphones with GPS are able to download walking maps. However, even with technical help it's still advisable to take a map and compass with you. One benefit of a GPS is that if you or any of your companions have an accident when hiking your GPS will allow you to tell the rescue services exactly where to find you, and possibly save a life but you must remember that a GPS it is not 100% accurate, and could be several metres adrift. Just like Sat Navs used on the road can direct drivers down a one way street, you still have to use common sense with a GPS - it wouldn't be clever to follow it blindly off the edge of a cliff!

To be completely safe when climbing in the mountains follow these simple steps:

1. Check the mountain weather forecast before you leave - the Met Office have forecasts for all the mountain areas. Be sensible - if the visibility is very poor it's probably not the best day for your walk.

2. Make sure you have a map and compass with you, that you know how to use these, and that you orient your map at the start of the walk and check your position regularly.

3. Whether or not your phone has GPS, make sure your battery, and those of any companions walking with you is fully charged in case you need to call for help. A variety of networks would be useful as the signal cannot always be guaranteed.

4. Carry some emergency equipment with you - a torch in case you are longer on the mountains than you expected (those equipped to flash as a beacon in an emergency are recommended), and a foil blanket in case you fall and need to keep warm until help arrives. These are very cheap and small to fit in your rucksack.

Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, and other major walks in the UK are probably the safest as they are well marked and a lot of people walk them, but people still manage to get lost. If you want to walk up other mountains being equipped with a map and compass and the basic knowledge of how to use them is not optional, but essential.

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