How Was the Lake District Formed?

The Geological and Cultural History of The Lake District

Unveiling the time-worn tales of the Lake District, where geological wonders intertwine with rich cultural heritage.

Unveiling the Geological and Cultural History of The Lake District, Cumbria.

Prepare to be awestruck as we take you on an extraordinary journey through the hidden secrets of The Lake District’s Geological and Cultural History!

Delve deep into the past, spanning over an astonishing 500 million years, and witness the earth’s turbulent dance of volcanic eruptions, glacial forces, and tectonic shifts that have shaped this magnificent landscape with its rugged mountains and glistening lakes, a testament to the might of ancient glaciers during the last Ice Age!

But the story of The Lake District is not merely written in stone; it’s etched in the heart of human civilisation. Step into the footsteps of ancient souls as we reveal traces of Stone Age habitation, intertwined with the rich tapestry of Celtic, Norse, and Anglo-Saxon tribes that once thrived here.

Today, The Lake District beckons adventurers, nature lovers, and cultural enthusiasts from across the globe, offering a harmonious blend of breathtaking natural beauty, exhilarating outdoor activities, and an unforgettable immersion in its cultural treasures!

How the Lake District Formed

The mountains of the Lake District

The mountains of the Lake District were formed over millions of years by a combination of geological processes, including:

The collision of tectonic plates

About 500 million years ago, the Lake District was located at the edge of a continent called Laurentia. This continent collided with another continent, Gondwana, and the force of this collision caused the rocks in the Lake District to be folded and uplifted. This uplift created the mountains that we see today.

Volcanic activity

About 450 million years ago, there was a period of intense volcanic activity in the Lake District. This volcanic activity produced the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, which is a group of rocks that make up the base of the mountains in the Lake District.

Erosion by glaciers

During the last ice age (around 12,000 years ago), glaciers covered much of the Lake District. These glaciers were very powerful and they were able to erode the mountains, carving out the deep valleys that we see today.

The combination of these geological processes has created the beautiful and varied landscape of the Lake District. The mountains, lakes, and valleys are all a result of millions of years of geological activity.

What are your favourite Lake District fells?

Details of the geology

  • The rocks in the Lake District are made up of a variety of different types, including slate, sandstone, limestone, and volcanic rocks.
  • The mountains in the Lake District are made up of hard, resistant rocks, such as granite and gneiss. These rocks have been able to withstand the forces of erosion for millions of years.
  • The lakes in the Lake District were formed by glaciers, meaning many of these lakes are ribbon lakes.
  • The valleys in the Lake District are U-shaped, which is a characteristic of valleys that have been carved out by glaciers.

Countrystride #91: Geology of The Lake District

Take a listen to Coutrystride episode 91, in which they brave dark skies for a windy wander over Sale Fell to unearth the history of rock and glaciation in the Lake District.

Neolithic Life in The Lake District

Neolithic Life in The Lake District Was Very Different from Life Today.

The people who lived in the Lake District during the Neolithic period were hunter-gatherers, and they lived in small, temporary settlements. They would move around the landscape following the seasons and the availability of food.

Skilled Stoneworkers

The Neolithic people in the Lake District were skilled stoneworkers, and they made a variety of tools and weapons from stone. They also made pottery, and they used it to store food and water.

The Neolithic people in the Lake District also built a number of impressive monuments, including stone circles, standing stones, and cairns. These monuments are thought to have been used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

The Neolithic period in the Lake District came to an end around 2350 BC, when the people who lived there began to adopt a farming lifestyle. This change in lifestyle led to a number of changes in the way that people lived, including the development of permanent settlements and the growth of social hierarchies.

The Neolithic people who lived in the Lake District made a significant impact on the landscape. Their stone axes and monuments are still visible today, and they provide a glimpse into a way of life that is long gone.


  • Stone axes. The Lake District is famous for its greenstone axe factories, where thousands of axes were made from volcanic tuff. These axes were traded all over Britain, and they are a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Neolithic people who lived in the Lake District.
  • Stone circles. The Lake District is home to some of the most impressive stone circles in Britain, including Castlerigg Stone Circle and Swinside Stone Circle. These circles are thought to have been used for religious or ceremonial purposes, but their exact purpose is still unknown.
  • Cairns. Cairns are piles of stones that were often used to mark graves or other important places. There are many cairns in the Lake District, and they provide a valuable record of Neolithic life.

The Celtic occupation of the Lake District

The Celtic Occupation of The Lake District in Cumbria

The area was once inhabited by the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe that thrived in the region before the Roman conquest. Their legacy is woven into the landscape, leaving behind traces of their settlements, forts, and ancient pathways.

Metal worker and crafts people

The Celts were skilled in crafting intricate metalwork, and evidence of their craftsmanship can be found in the artefacts discovered throughout the Lake District. From ornate jewellery to impressive weaponry, their craftsmanship reflected their artistic flair and technical expertise.

Their connection to the land was profound, evident in the way they revered nature and its elements. The majestic lakes, rugged mountains, and lush valleys of the Lake District likely held spiritual significance for these ancient inhabitants.

Exploring the remnants of Celtic occupation in the Lake District offers a glimpse into a bygone era, inviting you to imagine their daily lives, traditions, and the unique way they interacted with this breathtaking landscape. It’s a chance to step back in time and appreciate the cultural heritage that has shaped this enchanting region.

Carvetii Celtic Tribe

The Carvetii tribe occupied/inhabited all of Cumbria and parts of north Lancashire, south-west Durham and south-east Dumfries & Galloway (Scotland).

At first, the Carvetii were grouped together with the Brigantes but they were later granted their own tribal council.

The Norse Occupation of The Lake District

The Norse Occupation of The Lake District in Cumbria

A significant era in the Lake District’s history, leaving enduring imprints on the region’s culture, place names, and heritage. The Vikings, renowned for their seafaring prowess and exploration, ventured inland to settle in this picturesque part of England.

A fusion of cultures

Their arrival brought about a fusion of cultures, blending the existing Celtic influences with Norse customs and language. Place names such as “Thwaite,” “Knott,” and “Force” bear testament to their Norse heritage, adding layers of history to the landscape, arriving in enough force to obliterate much of the earlier place names and replace them with their own Norse names.

The Vikings were skilled craftsmen, leaving behind artefacts and remnants of their settlements that continue to be discovered to this day. Their impact on the region extended beyond material remnants; they influenced the socio-cultural fabric, adding their own traditions, beliefs, and agricultural practices to the local tapestry.

Their presence in the Lake District speaks of resilience and adaptability, as they navigated the rugged terrain and embraced the challenges of the landscape. The merging of Norse and existing cultures resulted in a unique blend that shaped the identity of the region.

Exploring the Norse Occupation in The Lake District

Uncover tales of exploration, settlement, and the intermingling of diverse cultures against the backdrop of this stunning natural landscape.

It’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Vikings and their impact on the fabric of Cumbria’s history.

A Viking’s adventure in Lakeland

The Anglo-Saxon Presence in The Lake District

The Anglo-Saxon Presence in The Lake District

Another fascinating chapter in its history. While the area was predominantly Celtic and later influenced by the Norse, there’s evidence suggesting sporadic Anglo-Saxon activity in this region.

Names and records

Though not as prominent as in other parts of England, some Anglo-Saxon influence is reflected in place names and historical records. Place names like “Kirkby” and “Braithwaite” hint at their settlement and influence, often indicating the establishment of settlements, farms, or religious sites.

The Anglo-Saxons were known for their agricultural expertise, and their impact might be seen in land use practices that shaped the landscape for farming and cultivation.

However, compared to the significant Celtic and Norse influences, the Anglo-Saxon footprint in the Lake District appears to be less pronounced. The area’s rugged terrain and the existing presence of Celtic and later Norse communities might have limited their expansion and long-term settlement.

Exploring the Anglo-Saxon History in The Lake District

Though it might not yield as much tangible evidence as the Celtic or Norse periods.

Still, it’s an intriguing part of the region’s story, adding nuance to its rich tapestry of diverse cultural influences over the centuries.

History of medieval Cumbria.

The Lake Districts’ Initial Popularity with Tourists Was Due to Several Factors, Including:

  • The publication of books and poems about the Lake District, such as A Guide to the Lakes by Thomas West (1778) and Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798). These books and poems helped to promote the beauty of the Lake District and to encourage people to visit.
  • The development of the railways made it easier for people to travel to the Lake District from other parts of the country. The first railway line to reach the Lake District was the Kendal and Windermere Railway, which opened in 1847.
  • The growth of the middle class, which had more disposable income and was able to afford to travel to the Lake District for leisure.

In the 19th century, the Lake District became a popular destination for artists, writers, and other creative people. They were attracted to the beauty of the landscape and the sense of peace and tranquillity that it offered. The Lake District was also a popular destination for people who were seeking to improve their health. The fresh air and clean water were thought to be beneficial for people with respiratory problems and other health conditions.

Today, the Lake District is still a popular tourist destination. It is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in England, and it offers a variety of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, fishing, and boating. The Lake District is also a popular destination for cultural tourists, who come to visit the many museums, art galleries, and historic sites in the area.

The popularity of the Lake District as a tourist destination has continued to grow in the 20th and 21st centuries. The area is now home to millions of visitors each year, and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United Kingdom.


  • Thomas West’s Guide to the Lakes. This book was published in 1778 and it was one of the first books to promote the beauty of the Lake District. West described the lakes, mountains, and valleys in great detail, and he encouraged people to visit the area.
  • Lyrical Ballads. This book of poems was published in 1798 by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poems in this book were inspired by the Lake District, and they helped to promote the area as a place of beauty and inspiration.
  • The development of the railways. The first railway line to reach the Lake District was the Kendal and Windermere Railway, which opened in 1847. This made it much easier for people to travel to the Lake District from other parts of the country (something Wordsworth seems to have had conflicting feelings about in the interests of conservation).
  • The growth of the middle class. In the 19th century, the middle class grew in size and wealth. This group of people had more disposable income and was able to afford to travel to the Lake District for leisure.

A Rich History and Heritage

Cultural Attractions of The Lake District

The central Lake District in Cumbria, England, is home to a variety of cultural attractions that showcase the region’s rich history and heritage.

The magic of The Lake District extends beyond geological wonders. It has sparked flames of creativity and inspired masterpieces of English literature and art! Immerse yourself in the same landscapes that ignited the imaginations of literary giants like William Wordsworth, the whimsy of Beatrix Potter, and the profound insights of John Ruskin.

Here are a few examples:

Wordsworth House and Garden

Wordsworth House and Garden is a delightful Georgian townhouse in Cockermouth.

This was the beloved childhood home of William Wordsworth, England’s famous poet.

The house has been lovingly restored to its 18th-century charm, and its beautiful walled garden is simply enchanting.

Beatrix Potter Gallery

This cosy space celebrates the wonderful world of the beloved children’s author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter.

Explore her original artwork and learn about her fascinating life and creations.

Keswick Museum and Art Gallery

Delve into the rich history and culture of the Lake District with exhibits on mining, geology, and natural history.

Admire captivating works by local artists in the art gallery, where exciting temporary exhibitions await you all year round.

Derwent Pencil Museum

Home of the world’s first pencil!

A journey of graphite and pencil discovery from its humble beginnings as a cottage industry to modern-day production.

Discover secret WW2 pencils with hidden maps; one of the largest colour pencils in the world measuring almost 8 metres; The Queen’s diamond Jubilee pencil; miniature pencil sculptures; and much more!

Honister Slate Mine

Take a guided tour back in time and uncover the rich history of the local mining industry.

Learn about slate extraction processes, witness ancient machinery, and behold the tools that shaped this remarkable place.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

This ancient marvel, nestled near Keswick, traces back to the Neolithic era.

Marvel at the 38 standing stones in a captivating oval formation, once a place of sacred rituals and ceremonies.

Discover the enchanting secrets of the past, and let history unfold before your eyes.

Trade and Markets

The History of Trade and Markets 

The history of trade and markets in the Lake District of Cumbria, England, is a long and rich one, dating back to at least the medieval period.

Today, the Lake District continues to be a hub for trade and commerce, with a thriving local economy and a strong tradition of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Medieval Markets

Discover the heart of local trade in the Lake District! Medieval lords and monarchs granted charters to many towns and villages, paving the way for vibrant markets and fairs.

From farmers to craftsmen, these bustling hubs were where goods and wares found new homes. Even today, the Lakes still boast many market towns, and the tradition of weekly markets in various towns and villages continues to thrive!

Mining and Quarrying

For centuries, mining and quarrying shaped the region’s economy, extracting valuable minerals like copper, lead, and slate.

Towns like Coniston, Keswick, and Honister were bustling trade hubs, pivotal to the region’s prosperity.

Today, adventure-seekers can delve into the very heart of history with open mines and caves like Langdale Caves and Honister Slate Mine.


Sheep farming and wool production have long held vital roles here. Markets like Kendal Livestock Market remain key centres for buying and selling livestock.

Today, the tradition continues, connecting farmers and locals, while also attracting visitors eager to witness this timeless practice.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, it opened doors to exciting trade and commerce. Charming hotels, restaurants, and shops emerged to cater to eager visitors.

Today, the allure remains stronger than ever as travellers from across the globe flock to revel in the region’s stunning beauty and rich cultural heritage.

Beef and Lamb Production

Alongside sheep farming, local farmers raise these prized animals for top-quality meat.

With a rising demand for sustainable and locally-sourced products, these farmers are embracing eco-friendly practices to deliver the best to your table.

Organic Farming

The Lake District is home to a number of organic farms, which are dedicated to sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture practices.

These farms often sell their produce directly to consumers or through local farmers’ markets.


With its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, the Lake District is a major tourist destination.

Farms here have cleverly embraced tourism, offering more than just food and produce. You can enjoy interactive demos, adventure parks, and heartwarming petting farms.

The Current State of Agriculture

The Current State of Agriculture in The Lake District, Cumbria

Agriculture is still an important industry in the Lake District of Cumbria, although it has evolved and diversified over time.

The Lake District’s vibrant heritage extends to its agricultural prowess, where the tradition of sheep farming still stands strong, and echoes of historic mining and quarrying industries resonate through the valleys.

Here are a few key points on the current state of agriculture in the region:

Sheep Farming

The rugged terrain and harsh weather are a perfect match for the resilient Herdwick breed, and you’ll spot them freely roaming the picturesque landscapes.

Today, dedicated farmers continue the tradition, of nurturing sheep for wool, meat, and breeding, and their presence adds to the timeless charm of this breathtaking region.

Dairy Farming

Dairy farming is another important sector of agriculture in the Lake District. The production of milk, cheese, and other dairy delights sustains local communities and supports livelihoods. The region’s reputation for artisan cheeses draws visitors from afar.

Explore the abundance of delightful options in farm shops, cafes, and restaurants, all proudly offering the region’s finest produce.

Looking for A Peaceful Escape?

Find our most charming small lake district villages you must see. These small lake district villages offer a tranquil retreat with their quaint charm and stunning natural beauty.

Discover more of the Lake District

With weekly articles highlighting the very best of the Lake District, there’s always something to get you inspired for your next trip!

If you’d like to be the first to hear of our guides, all our new property listings, events around the lakes, and our last-minute deals

6 Walks From Grasmere

6 Walks From Grasmere

If you’re staying in or near Grasmere – lucky you – you won’t have to get in the car to start enjoying the breathtaking scenery on your doorstep.

View more >

This website uses cookies
This site uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience. We use necessary cookies to make sure that our website works. We’d also like to set analytics cookies that help us make improvements by measuring how you use the site. By clicking “Allow All”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
These cookies are required for basic functionalities such as accessing secure areas of the website, remembering previous actions and facilitating the proper display of the website. Necessary cookies are often exempt from requiring user consent as they do not collect personal data and are crucial for the website to perform its core functions.
A “preferences” cookie is used to remember user preferences and settings on a website. These cookies enhance the user experience by allowing the website to remember choices such as language preferences, font size, layout customization, and other similar settings. Preference cookies are not strictly necessary for the basic functioning of the website but contribute to a more personalised and convenient browsing experience for users.
A “statistics” cookie typically refers to cookies that are used to collect anonymous data about how visitors interact with a website. These cookies help website owners understand how users navigate their site, which pages are most frequently visited, how long users spend on each page, and similar metrics. The data collected by statistics cookies is aggregated and anonymized, meaning it does not contain personally identifiable information (PII).
Marketing cookies are used to track user behaviour across websites, allowing advertisers to deliver targeted advertisements based on the user’s interests and preferences. These cookies collect data such as browsing history and interactions with ads to create user profiles. While essential for effective online advertising, obtaining user consent is crucial to comply with privacy regulations.