Beneath the popular tourist spots of the lake district lies a wealth of heritage
Discover the English Heritage Sites of The Lake District
HISTORIC PLACES TO VISIT IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
A UNESCO World Heritage site
The English Lake District finds itself in illustrious company with the likes of the Taj Mahal, Yellowstone National Park, the Galapagos Islands and the Serengeti National Park – but we think our beautiful part of the world more than holds its own against anywhere else.
Roman forts and settlements, stone-age remains, historic houses and gardens, mysterious stone circles, ruined abbeys, remnants of an industrial past, a landscape shaped by farming – the Lake District’s rich history has it all in.
Here’s our rundown of eight historic places to visit in the Lake District on your next trip. And, even better, when you get here, you can plan your days out from the comfort of one of our lovely holiday cottages. Now, let’s go back in time…
1. Lake District Roman Ruins
The Romans arrived in Britain in 43 AD and began to conquer the country. By the end of the 1st century AD, they had conquered most of England and Wales, and Cumbria, in the Lake District, was no exception.
The Romans built a network of forts and roads across Cumbria to control the territory and exploit its natural resources, such as lead and copper. The Lake District was also an important strategic location, as it controlled the passes over the Pennines to the east and the Irish Sea to the west.
Some of the most notable Roman ruins in the Lake District include:
Ambleside Roman Fort
You can find what remains of Ambleside Roman Fort in a strategic location next to the lake at the north end of Windermere.
Most experts on the Roman Empire believe it was built during Hadrian’s reign to guard the road from Ravenglass to Brougham and to act as a base for supplies for the soldiers stationed nearby, but there is evidence of an earlier wooden fort.
What can you see now?
The remains of three buildings: the large granary, the substantial two-storey commandant’s house, and the headquarters, which included offices, store rooms and a strong room underneath a small temple to look after the regiment’s money.
You can also look at some of the artefacts that have been found during previous excavations at the nearby Armitt museum.
Hardknott Roman Fort
We can’t imagine being stationed at Hardknott Fort was any Roman soldier’s idea of a dream posting. Remote, windswept, and freezing cold in the winter (and not too sun-drenched the rest of the year either), it was crewed by troops who were used to the far warmer climes of the eastern Adriatic. On the plus side, they did have a spectacular view across the Eskdale Valley.
The well-preserved foundations of several buildings can still be seen: the bathhouse, barracks, headquarters and the commandant’s building.
Built during Hadrian’s reign, it became an important site again years later when Marcus Aurelius was calling the shots. Just be careful on the drive up – while the scenery is spectacular, the road is steep, winding, narrow and just a little bit scary.
Ravenglass Roman Bath House
A ruined ancient Roman bath house belonging to a 2nd-century Roman fort and naval base (known to the Romans as Itunocelum).
The bath house is described by Matthew Hyde in his update to the Pevsner Guide to Cumbria as “an astonishing survival“. The still-standing walls are 13 ft (4 m) high, there are patches of the internal rendering, in dull red and white cement, and traces of the splayed window openings remain.
The bath house is located about 15-20 minutes’ walk from the village of Ravenglass. There is a signposted path from the main car park in the village. You can visit from 10am to 5pm daily, except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Admission to the bathhouse is free for English Heritage members. Otherwise, there is a small admission fee for adults and children.
The path to the bath house is unpaved and can be muddy in wet weather. The bathhouse itself is also not accessible for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility.
2. Lake District Stone Circles
The Lake District is home to a number of stone circles, dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages (c. 3000-1500 BC). The purpose of stone circles is still a mystery, but they are thought to have been used for a variety of purposes, such as religious ceremonies, astronomical observations, and burial sites.
The most famous stone circle in the Lake District is Castlerigg Stone Circle, which is located near Keswick. Castlerigg is one of the largest and most well-preserved stone circles in Britain. It consists of 38 stones, arranged in a circle with a diameter of about 30 meters.
Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick
Who doesn’t love the mystery of an ancient stone circle?
Just a short walk from the centre of Keswick, in a dramatic location surrounded by mountains overlooking the Thirlmere Valley, Castlerigg Stone Circle is one of Britain’s most important stone circles – and one of its most popular, with thousands of visitors every year.
Neolithic in origin, it’s believed to date from around 3000 BC, which makes it one of the earliest remaining circles. With 38 stones still standing, some around 3m (10 feet) tall, you can still clearly see the entrance to the circle thanks to the presence of two huge upright stones.
Nobody knows for sure why it was constructed, and perhaps we’ll never know, but there is a theory that it was once a meeting place for axe trading.
Swinside Stone Circle, near Millom
From a stone circle (Castlerigg) that attracts many thousands of visitors to one that is visited far less – but, in many ways Swinside Stone Circle near Millom in Broughton in Furness is just as impressive.
There are 55 stones still standing here, in a 90-metre diameter circle.
There’s a bit of a trek to get there, but it does take you through some lovely, peaceful countryside. Neolithic in origin and constructed from local slate, Swinside is on private farmland but you can get a really good close view of it from the public footpath that runs nearby.
Also known as Sunkenkirk, legend has it that local people wanted to build a church from the stones, but every time they tried, it was destroyed by the Devil.
Long Meg and Her Daughters, Little Salkeld, near Penrith
One legend has it (and there are several) that Neolithic Long Meg and her rocky offspring were once a coven of witches turned to stone by a wizard for dancing wildly on the Sabbath. And apparently, from certain angles and in a certain light, Long Meg resembles the profile of a witch. You be the judge.
Standing almost four metres (12 feet) tall, Long Meg is an imposing presence over the largest stone circle in Cumbria (and one of the largest in the country) and stands apart from the main circle – she’s also made from local sandstone.
In contrast, her daughters are made from rhyolite, a type of granite. Does this suggest that Meg was constructed at a different time? Nobody knows for sure, but mysterious markings found on Long Meg that face away from the main circle suggest it may be a possibility.
What we do know is there are 59 stones remaining, 27 of which are still standing, and that Wordsworth was a fan, writing about the ‘family forlorn’ in his poem “The Monument Commonly Called Long Meg and Her Daughters”.
Other notable stone circles in the Lake District include:
Swinside Stone Circle
Swinside is a remote stone circle, located in the Duddon Valley. It is a well-preserved circle with 55 stones.
Birkrigg Stone Circle
Birkrigg is a concentric stone circle, meaning that it has two rings of stones. It is located on Birkrigg Common, near Ulverston.
White Moss Stone Circles
White Moss is a complex of over 50 stone circles, located on a moorland plateau near Scafell Pike.
3. Mines in The Lake District
Metal mining has a long history in the Lake District, dating back to the Roman era. It played an important role in the economy of the Lake District. It provided jobs and income for many people in the region. However, metal mining also had a negative impact on the environment. The mines produced a lot of pollution, and the mining waste was often dumped into rivers and streams.
The metal mining industry has had a significant impact on the Lake District. It has shaped the landscape, the economy, and the culture of the region. The remains of the metal mining industry can still be seen today, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Force Crag Mine, Braithwaite, Near Keswick
You can see the evidence of Cumbria’s important long history of mining all over the county.
Coal, lead, zinc, copper, haematite, slate, and graphite have all been mined here, and Cumbria’s mining heritage likely dates back to Roman times.
Well worth a visit is Force Crag Mine. In a gorgeous location above the village of Braithwaite, near Keswick, it was the last working metal mine in the Lake District, finally ceasing operations in 1991.
Lead and then zinc were mined there, and much of the mining machinery remains. You can visit the outside of the mine at any time of the year, but if you want to take a look inside at the machinery, tracks and tramways, you’ll need to check for one of the National Trust’s occasional open days.
Coniston Copper Mines
The Coniston Copper Mines were some of the largest and most important copper mines in Britain. They were in operation from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Greenside Mine was a major copper mine in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was also one of the most polluted mines in the Lake District.
Honister Slate Mine
Honister Slate Mine is a slate mine that is still in operation today. It is one of the deepest slate mines in the world.
4. There are three abbeys in the Lake District
All three abbeys were dissolved during the English Reformation in the 16th century. In addition to the three abbeys, there are also a number of other monastic sites in the Lake District, such as ruins of friaries and priories. However, these sites are not typically referred to as abbeys.
Furness Abbey, near Barrow
Dating back to around 1123 and built from local sandstone, Furness Abbey was put up by order of Stephen, a French nobleman, and future King of England.
Drawn by Turner, admired by Wordsworth, and visited by Queen Victoria and a young Theodore Roosevelt (not at the same time), its history is rich and the grand abbey was once the second-wealthiest and most powerful Cistercian monastery in England.
What remains today is looked after by English Heritage and is still an impressive sight that gives you a good sense of its previous grandeur. It’s said to be haunted, of course – there are tales of a headless monk, a vanishing monk, and a white lady – and there are rumours that the Holy Grail is hidden in a secret tunnel underneath the ruins.
Holm Cultram Abbey
Holm Cultram Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey that is now a ruin. It was founded in the 12th century and was one of the most important abbeys in the north of England.
Lanercost Priory is a former Augustinian priory that is now a parish church. It was founded in the 12th century and is located on the banks of the River Eden.
5. castles of the lake district
There are a number of castles in the Lake District, dating from the Norman Conquest to the 17th century. The castles were built for a variety of purposes, including defence, control of trade routes, and display of wealth and power.
The castles of the Lake District offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history. They are also popular tourist destinations, offering visitors the chance to explore their ruins, learn about their history, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Some of the most notable castles in the Lake District include:
Sizergh Castle, near Kendal
Time to get medieval. 26 generations of the Hornyold-Strickland family have lived at Sizergh Castle since it was built in the 14th century, and while it’s now looked after by the National Trust, the family still lives there.
As well as the main castle building, which is filled with important artefacts and rare oak furniture from the Elizabethan period when the castle was extended, you can also enjoy the extensive landscaped gardens, refuel at the modern café, and let the kids loose in the wild play area with its climbing wall, rope swings and balance beams.
You can even pick up a book from the second-hand bookshop to take back to your accommodation.
Lowther Castle is a ruined Gothic castle located near Penrith. It was built in the 17th century and was once one of the largest and most luxurious castles in England.
Muncaster Castle is a family-owned castle located near Ravenglass. It was built in the 14th century and is still inhabited today.
Brougham Castle is a ruined Norman castle located near Penrith. It was built in the 11th century and was once one of the most powerful castles in the north of England.
Carlisle Castle is a Norman castle located in the city of Carlisle. It was built in the 11th century and was an important strategic stronghold.
Kendal Castle is a ruined Norman castle located in the town of Kendal. It was built in the 12th century and was once the seat of the Barons of Kendal.
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