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The romantic idyll of the Lake District has long attracted writers and poets. It has a particularly strong connection with 18th and 19th century English literature, so it’s no surprise there’s something of a cultural legacy to explore. Its most notable son William Wordsworth was responsible for much of this association, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Ruskin. The mixture of pastoral beauty and rugged mountain areas, where Coleridge wandered seeking solace from anxiety and depression, has proven endlessly inspirational to artists.
Given the scenery, the Lake District is an understandably popular holiday destination for families, walkers and outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s also possible to take a more cultural break in the Lakes. There are many excellent museums, galleries and historic attractions, all with stunning views from the windows as you’d expect. In addition, there are a growing number of more contemporary arts events taking place regularly, such as the spectacular Lakes Alive open-air theatre and street arts events held every summer. 2013 also sees the launch of the first ever Lakes Comic Art Festival, the Lake District’s version of popular European comic festivals.
Five cultural attractions with splendid Lake District views
Allan Bank, former home not only of Wordsworth but also National Trust founder Canon Rawnsley, sits on a hill above Grasmere and has recently been restored and opened to the public for the first time. It has been left undecorated, so visitors are encouraged to leave comments written on the walls, adding to the relaxed atmosphere and making it popular with kids. As well as the tangible history of the house itself, there are extensive grounds home to red squirrels and deer. Follow woodland and garden walking trails, and enjoy the views over Grasmere. A visit to Allan Bank can be combined with a visit to Wordsworth’s other Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, or a trip to his grave at St Oswald’s church in the village.
In a commanding position overlooking Windermere, Blackwell is an immaculately preserved historic house and an artwork in itself. Designed by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott as a holiday home for brewery owner Sir Edward Holt, Blackwell is a showcase of the Arts and Crafts movement, and is furnished by pieces from some of the leading Arts and Crafts studios and designers of the time. Blackwell is now a culturally important arts centre, with some rooms adapted for use as galleries, which hold frequent exhibitions, talks and lectures. The house and gardens are free to be explored at will, and there are splendid views across Windermere towards the Coniston fells.
Brantwood is the former home of art critic, painter, writer, thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin, set in a 250 acre estate on the shores of Coniston. It is kept as a home, and is filled with many of Ruskin’s possessions and art, giving a unique insight into his personal space. There are changing exhibitions in the Blue Gallery, as well as outdoor theatre, lectures and concerts. The gardens and steep sided estate offer walking trails for all abilities, with terrain ranging from meadow and ancient woodland to high open fell.
Mirehouse is a historic house and estate on the shores of Bassenthwaite, with many literary connections and associated displays and exhibitions. On show are manuscripts and letters from Francis Bacon, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Southey, as well as furniture and portraits. The extensive grounds offer a maze, bee garden, a poetry walk and woodland playgrounds, or you can simply wander by the shore of Bassenthwaite, which is technically the only lake in the Lake District.
Grade I listed Muncaster Castle is a family owned castle in the western Lake District, with stunning views from the garden terraces across to the Lake District’s (and England’s) highest mountains. Reputedly haunted, the castle is still lived in by the Pennington family, who have resided there since 1208. Muncaster is packed with history and memorabilia, and the gardens and woodlands are home to many endangered plants and trees. Muncaster is also home to the World Owl Centre, headquarters of the World Owl Trust, with over 40 different species on display.