2019. What a year it’s been. The culmination of a decade in which I’ve rediscovered a non-negotiable need for regular outdoors time. The missing piece of the puzzle after battling with anxieties pursuing a career I didn’t enjoy.
Getting back outside was like finding that piece down the back of the sofa and slotting it into place. The jigsaw is now complete and it’s given me a clarity I’ve not felt for a long time. It’s as if the mist has lifted to reveal the most beautiful view imaginable.
The outdoors are great for metaphors too!
Fundamental to this was a challenge. An incentive to get outside regularly. A focal point to make sure the habit stuck throughout the year.
Walking around the 18 major lakes in the Lake District was perfect for easing me back into a more outdoorsy lifestyle.
Now I do love a good round up of the year and I couldn’t leave these 18 lakes behind without some form of recognition. So here’s my very own Lakes of the Lake District new year honours list.
So sit back, relax, and read on to see which lakes have won a place in the Highs and Lows hall of fame…
Biggest Surprise Award
I hadn’t expected to be surprised this year. I’d arrogantly assumed I knew all there was to know about the individual lakes. Which ones I was going to enjoy more than the others. A provisional ranking which I didn’t think would change.
But that’s the beauty of the Lake District and wild places in general. They are full of surprises. Views which appear from nowhere. A chance glimpse of wildlife. Peace and tranquility a stone’s throw from the car park.
But often it’s not one tangible thing. It’s that special feeling you get when the stars align and you feel connected to your surroundings. A small part of something much bigger.
Much of the shoreline is inaccessible as it falls within private land. It’s popular (read busy). And it’s not very big. For those reasons alone, I’d written it off. But that feeling of dropping down into the valley. Of the views of the Langdale Pikes from the River Brathay. Of the cacophony of sound as Skelwith Falls cascades over rocks. And the feeling of being in the beating heart of the Lake District.
Taken together – these sights, sounds and shapes – they all had a profound effect on me. One I hadn’t expected.
Winner: Elter Water
Raining Cats and Dogs Award
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So the saying goes. And it’s true that if you wait for calm, sunny days to get outside in the UK, you won’t get out there very much.
We Brits love our weather chat and I’ve become more obsessed with interpreting the forecasts and planning my walks to make the best of the conditions.
But no matter how clever you are with your planning, some days it’ll be forever grey and damp. There’s no getting away from it – you just have to put on your wet weather gear, keep warm, get your head down and embrace it.
I was lucky with the weather this year. And it helped that the walks were generally low level. But there was one day where I had that kind of weather the Lake District does so well. Horizontal, relentless rain. And it came at the height of Summer. Which shows it can strike at any time of year.
So Windermere – this award’s for you. For soaking me to the skin but also for treating me to multiple deer sightings, muddy puddles and a private charter on the ferry crossing.
The Lake District is amazing and its charms make it rightly popular. On a sunny day in the holidays, it can feel more like Piccadilly Circus.
But even on busier days, there’s wilderness to be found.
It’s all about knowing the secrets. Staying away from the tourist hot spots at peak times. Setting off early, or leaving late. Despite being so accessible, if you get it right it feels like you are the only person for miles.
Ennerdale is perhaps the remotest of valleys on paper. Tucked away on the western side of the national park, tarmac only gets you so far. From there on, you’ll have to progress under your own steam.
But despite the obvious wilderness, I saw more people than I expected. There were forestry works going on and access wasn’t that difficult. For these reasons, it didn’t make the top spot.
Crummock Water feels remote too, particularly in bad weather. And it’s a firm favourite of mine. It only narrowly missed out.
But the wilderness award goes to a lake on the opposite side of the map. Guarded by the less popular far eastern fells. A lake which feels a million miles away from civilisation. A fine lakeside path. Stunning views. A lost world once home to golden eagles. A fantastic ridge walk from the water’s edge to the cliffs high above Riggindale. A deafening Dawn Chorus. A man-made but ‘noble’ monster which provides hydration to a quarter of the North-West. Haweswater is a worthy winner of the wilderness award.
Wooden Spoon Award
I feel bad being so negative about this small lake but I just didn’t get it. I’m sure on the right day and for the right person, it’s perfect. But that person isn’t me. It was the one walk I didn’t enjoy that much and won’t be rushing back for.
I guess someone’s got to take home the booby prize and, while the other awards were closely run things, Wet Sleddale was the clear winner of the wooden spoon.
But what do I know hey?!
Winner: Wet Sleddale
Lake of the Year Award
Here it is. The one you’ve been waiting for. The coveted Lake of the Year Award.
This one was genuinely difficult and has led to many sleepless nights, furious debates (with myself) and changing of minds.
Haweswater’s up there, without a doubt. But does it deserve two awards among such stiff competition?
What about Derwent Water? It’s the quintessential lakeland walk for many and one I’ve returned to time and time again.
Buttermere surely deserves a look in too for being a bit of a stunner, right?
Any one of these is a worthy winner. But the ultimate accolade needs to go to a lake which has that wow factor. One that offers peace and tranquility, thrills and spills, bite-the-back-of-your-hand-beautiful views. Big mountains. Remoteness. All the best bits of the Lake District in one package.
There’s one place that offers all that in spades and that’s Wastwater. Yes it’s popular. Yes it’s busy. And yes we need to respect and look after it for future generations to enjoy. But I can’t ignore its universal appeal and ‘something for everyone’ nature. And for that reason, it takes the top spot.
And so that brings my 2019 challenge to an end. If you want to get into walking, or perhaps get back into it after a long period of absence, then I can’t recommend a challenge like Lakes of the Lakes enough.
So why not make 2020 the year you rediscover the Lake District from water’s level? And perhaps you’ll be reflecting on your own list of winners this time next year.