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Lake District

 ‘…a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy’

The above words were written in 1810 by the renowned Romantic Poet, William Wordsworth, in regards to his beloved Lake DistrictHailing from Cockermouth and later returning to the Lakes with his sister Dorothy, Wordsworth was one of a number of such poets that saw the beauty in its untamed and remote landscapes, many of which inspired some of his greatest works. At this time however, such areas like the Lake District were privately owned and legally inaccessible for the general public, reserved for members of the gentry and upper classes.

Over the years the desire to explore such beauty spots grew, as did the amount of disputes between landowners and walkers. After the Mass Tresspass of 1932, the swell of support for the ‘Right to Roam’ could no longer be ignored by the government and in 1951, the first National Parks were established.

The Lake District was one such park and in the 67 years since it was founded it has grown to become the largest National Park in the UK, covering 2362 square kilometres, welcoming 18.41 million visitors a year. Despite this huge number, there are many areas of the park that remain peaceful and remote, offering plenty of new adventures and activities for even the most seasoned of Lake District Explorers.

Read on for our selection of  7 of the Lake District’s hidden gems…

1. Cathedral Cavern (Near Coniston)

Cathedral Cavern

One of a number of our hidden gems that are part of the Lake District’s fascinating industrial past, this group of interconnected former slate quarries are most commonly known for the main chamber, the Cathedral Cavern or Cathedral Cave. The entrance to these tunnels lies above the beautiful valley of Little Langdale, somewhat off the beaten track.

Owned by the National Trust, the caves are open to the public but at your own risk, as the collection of signs by the entrance point out. Follow the tunnels through to the impressive Cathedral Cavern, a wonderfully illuminated, 40-foot-high hollow, the roof of which supported by a centralised slate column leaning to one side.

2. Muncaster Castle (Near Ravenglass)


A magnificent castle that has been home to the Pennington family for 800 years, Muncaster is bursting with history and fascinating stories. Believed to have been built on Roman foundations, the castle that we see today has undergone a number of renovations, with the original having been built in the late 13th century.

The castle is also said to be one of the most haunted in Britain, with a number of resident ghosts including Tom Fool or Thomas Skelton, the last jester of Muncaster Castle and Mary Bragg, a young woman from Ravensglass who was murdered nearby. Tour the ghostly castle or enjoy the picturesque gardens, the hawk and owl centre or the meadowvole maze.

3. Stanley Ghyll Force (Near Coniston)

Stanley Ghyll Force

A popular beauty spot for tourists during the Victorian era, this terrific waterfall is now much quieter, offering a tranquil destination for walkers following the trail from the Dalegarth Station to the quaint village of Boot. The water of Stanley Ghyll Force drops an impressive 60 feet into the narrow gorge below, a rocky area with numerous high ledges and precipices populated by glorious purple rhododendrons.

4. Merz Barn (Near Ambleside)

Merz Barn

Kurt Schwitters was a significant figure within European Dadaism, an art and literary movement that rebelled against the social, cultural and political values of the time, otherwise known as artistic anarchy, his influence can be seen in numerous artists such as Richard Hamilton and Damien Hirst.

Forced to flee Nazi Germany after his work was condemned as ‘degenerate’, Schwitters landed in Scotland in 1940 and was detained as an enemy alien. After interment on the Isle of Man with numerous other German exiles (many of which were artists and intellectuals), upon his release he became part of the London art scene before relocating to the Lakes in 1945.

The Merz Barn lies in the heart of the Langdale Valley and was Schwitters’ last sculpture and installation, inspired by the Cumbrian landscape. Unfinished due to Schwitters’ death in 1948, the complete wall was later removed and placed in Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery for safe keeping, however the Merz Barn is still free to visit in Langdale.

For further information on opening hours, please check with the Merz Barn


5. Hodge Close Quarry (Near Coniston)

Hodge Close Quarry

Like the Cathedral Cave, Hodge Close Quarry lies in the Tiberthwaite Valley and was created by mass slate quarrying in the 19th century and small scale quarrying the 1960’s. From ground level, the site drops approximately 300 feet, the lower portion of which is now filled with water and measures about 150 feet.

The site is popular with divers, as well as rock climbers and abseilers, who enjoy the 150 feet of sheer, unfenced cliff face. Hodge Close Quarry is certainly a beautiful sight, albeit somewhat eerie. If you approach the edge of the quarry from one of the tunnels and take a picture the caves reflected on the water create the likeness of a skull. Take a look at the image above, tilt your head or smartphone and you should see the famous Hodge Close Quarry Skull.

Take care, Hodge Close Quarry can be dangerous, especially in wet weather when the ground is slippery.

6. Pendragon Castle (Near Kirkby Stephen)

Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle is thought to have been originally founded by Uther Pendragon, the father of the legendary King Arthur and according to folklore, Uther met his death with 100 of his men after the Saxon invaders poisoned the castle well.

The current castle was actually built in 1660 by Lady Anne Clifford, while the original castle was thought to have been built by Sir Hugh de Morville at some point during the 12th century. 500 years after the supposed Arthurian era. De Morville is most well known for being one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170.

Pendragon Castle is on private land, but can be accessed by an entrance gate located on a small road.

7. Bridge House (Ambleside)

Bridge House

Built in the 17th century by the Braithwaite family to access their lands and to store apples from their orchard, Bridge House has since been used for a number of different purposes over the consecutive centuries.

The property sits over Stock Beck in Ambleside town centre and consists of one room downstairs and one room upstairs accessed by an outer staircase. It is said that the property was built in such an odd location to avoid land tax, over the years it has had a number of uses, including being a home to a family of 8.

In the 1920s Bridge House was under threat and in need of a great deal of repair work, a group of local supporters (including William Heelis – Beatrix Potter’s husband) raised £1,244 to save the iconic relic. It is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.

For more holiday inspiration, take a look at our Lake District Travel Guide.

Images Courtesy of: neil hanson (CC 2.0); sleeper369 (CC 3.0); Les Hull (CC 2.0); John Slater (CC 2.0); David Dixon (CC 2.0); Steve Partridge (CC 2.0).

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