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Story of Derwentwater - A Lake District Tour by Stu Woodbridge

Derwentwater and Borrowdale have a fascinating history. Below Stuart Woodbridge, an ex-boatman for the Keswick Launch Company, gives a brief guided tour of the lake and its history:


There are four large islands on the lake, only one has any buildings on it, and that's Derwent Island. The largest island on the lake is Saint Herbert's Isle, right in the middle of the lake.


The other two islands are Rampsholme island and Lords island. Lords island got it's name, because that's where the Earl of Derwentwater used to live. There was a fine house on the island, with a drawbridge across to the mainland. The house fell into a state of disrepair when the Earls moved away, in fact the last Earl James wasn't even born here, he was born in London. He only managed to visit this area once, and he didn't live an awful lot longer than that!. Having raised an army he sided with the Jacobites in the 1614 , he was defeated at Preston and beheaded in 1615.


Anyway the delapedated house was pulled down, the stone was transported into Keswick, and used to make a meeting hall. The building is still standing today right in the middle of the market square, and is known as the Moot Hall, now the home of the Tourist Information Centre.


Very little historically has happened on Rampsholme island. The locals call it 'garlic island', as wild garlic grows on it, and during the course of the year you can even smell it as you go past on the boat trips. The proper name for Wild garlic is ramsens, and in the States it's ramps, so it may well be that the island really is named after the garlic that grows on it.


Derwentwater is the widest lake in England. It's one and a half miles wide and just over three miles long and though the lake is wide it is quite shallow. The lake goes down for about 70 to 80 feet (about 23 metres). Though it sounds quite a lot, compare it to Windemere which goes down to 200 feet, or Wastwater which goes down to 400 feet. The average depth is around 15 to 20 feet and because it's so shallow the lake can freeze over. We've had a little ice in the last two winters yet the record is supposed to be in the winter of 1969. We understand the Keswick launch company told a boatman to drill the ice from where the boats depart, and the ice was eighteen inches thick.


Derwentwater is on one of the longest rivers in England, the river Derwent, which starts near Scafell pike, the highest mountain ion England at just over 3200 feet high. It flows past the small Borrowdale village of Seathwaite, which is the wettest village in England. They get just over a 140 inches of rain a year up there, whilst in Keswick they get about 50 inches!


The river Derwent passes through Derwentwater and then out of the Lake near Portinscale village. It then passes into Bassenthwaite lake, onto Cockermouth, Workington and then to the sea. A distance of just under 30 miles.


Roughly half way down Derwentwater is an impressive building called Barrow House. It was built in the 1790's by Joseph Pocklington, a rather eccentric gentleman. At about the time he was having this house built was when people started visiting the Lake District for holidays and tours. He wanted to encourage this, but he also wanted to preserve the olde worlde image that people had of the place. So whilst he had this house built he also had a small hermitage built further up the road, and he tried to employ a local to be a professional hermit for the sake of the passing tourists. On the condition that he didn't cut his hair, his fingernails or speak to anybody, the contract was for several years, and needles to say no one wanted the job.


Barrow House is a beautiful building, having large grounds and even it's own waterfall. That's not natural though. Pocklington just thought it would like nice with a waterfall, and sent men up with picks and shovels and various implements of destruction to make him one. The property is now a YHA hostel and anyone can stay there.


To the South of Derwentwater is a large building with the turrets. The building is the Hilton Lodore hotel, and the waterfalls are Lodore falls. Particularly impressive after a heavy spate of rain the water drops a hundred feet onto the rocks below.