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Countrystride #108: TO THE LAKES! The early days of tourism

...in which we journey back 200 years to the early days of Lake District tourism in the company of Jeff Cowton MBE, principal curator at Wordsworth Grasmere. Tracing the footsteps of the first well-to-do visitors, we ascend the pastures of Latrigg, midway between the perennial honeypot of Keswick and long-climbed slopes of Skiddaw. As we walk, we consider tourism's roots in the continental Grand Tour, and the events that shifted 'strangers'' eyes to the-once 'frightful' backwaters of Cumbria. Influenced by concepts like 'the sublime' and 'the picturesque', we note key figures in the development of both tourism and the aesthetic appreciation of landscape, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Father Thomas West. Arriving at one of Lakeland's great viewpoints, we reflect on the characters that embraced the early tourist boom, including polymath eccentric Peter Crosthwaite and co-founder of Derwent Water's remarkable regatta, Joseph Pocklington, before advancing in time to the arrival of Wordsworth, Coleridge... and the railways.

  • For more about the early days of tourism in the Lake District, the ‘To the Lakes!’ exhibition at Wordsworth Grasmere runs for the remainder of 2023 and through much of 2024.

  • Wordsworth Grasmere is also hosting two events that celebrate the journeys of early tourists, specifically: Ann Radcliffe's Ascent of Skiddaw, 1794 – Thursday 28 September 2023 and Historical Meal and Walk – Saturday 9 September 2023 that recreates the experience of a 1792 tourist with a historical meal and guided walk up Helm Crag.

  • For more information see: wordsworth.org.uk/blog/events/to-the-lakes-historical-meal-and-walk/




The view from Latrigg over Keswick to the Newlands fells.

Jeff and Dave, Skiddaw in the background.

Skiddaw cloaked in purple.


The Vale of Keswick (or Elysium).


How it used to be... 'Had the cannon fired twice'.

‘Had the cannon fired twice’.


Tourists could pay to have cannon fired, listening for ‘a thundering & reiterated Echo, along the shores and among the Mountains’ (James Pering, 1808).


Plumptre records in 1799: ‘landed at Lowdore and had the cannon fired twice at 1s and 6d each time. Half a pound of gunpowder put in. The first explosion was uncommonly grand, resounding from the rock …’


Figures with a cannon can just be seen in the centre of this picture.


J. Walton, Derwentwater, looking towards Lodore Falls, 1793, watercolour. Gift of the W.W. Spooner Charitable Trust, 2011.

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