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A Brief History of the Lake District (Part 2)

The history of tourism in the Lake Distrcit

Early visitors were struck by the imposing, almost threatening quality of the landscape. The most famous of these pioneering travellers was a woman, Celia Fiennes, who in 1698 rode on horseback through Kendal and over Kirkstone Pass into Patterdale. She described it in terms both admiring and forbidding. 'As I walked down at this place I was walled on both sides by those inaccessible high rocky barren hills which hang over one's head in some places and appear very terrible.' Daniel Defoe, who visited in the early 18th century, called it 'the wildest, most barren and frightful of any (place) that I have passed over in England, or even Wales.'

The era of modern tourism probably began some years later in 1778 when Father Thomas West produced the Lake District's very first tourist handbook, 'A Guide to the Lakes'. He listed what he called 'stations', which were viewpoints where tourists could enjoy the best views of the landscape and apply the aesthetic values of their time. Buildings were sometimes erected to help this process and the remains of Claife Station, below Claife Heights on the western shore of Windermere, can still be visited today.

By the end of the 19th century, partly due to wars in continental Europe and partly due to the attention given to the region by literary figures such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Gray, the Lake District was becoming hugely popular with travellers. In 1810 Wordsworth published his 'Guide to the Lakes', which went into its 5th edition in 1835.

In the 1950s Alfred Wainwright published the famous 'Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells' which are still used by many today and are currently being revised. The Pictorial Guide is a guidebook in the modern style, with detailed information on 214 peaks across the region and carefully hand-drawn maps and panoramas. This, coupled with the dawn of the motor car, meant that by the 1960s many parts of the Lake District had already become seriously congested as the roads proved far too narrow to cope with the influx of tourist traffic. By the end of the 20th century the Lake District had become one of Britain's best-loved tourist destinations, welcoming somewhere in the region of fourteen million visitors every year!

The Lake District's National Park status, bestowed in 1951, goes some way towards protecting the landscape from excessive commercial and industrial exploitation, but the negative impact of tourism is still a big problem. The sheer volume of people visiting the lakes has led to severe soil erosion problems, with millions of pounds having to be spent each year to protect over-used footpaths. Tourist numbers continue to grow amid fears for the sustainability of this fast-growing industry.

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