“The Lake District is one of the most beautiful and romantic parts of Britain, with spectacular mountains, verdant valleys and, of course, plenty of lakes,” begins Helena Smith, author of the Rough Guide to Walks in London and now the compiler of the Top 10 of the “best of everything” in the Lakes.
Let’s begin with those “spectacular mountains”. Scafell, we’re told is “no pushover”, and “an enjoyable challenge and the reward is a superb view”. Helvellyn “should not be approached lightly” and Striding Edge “makes for a challenging though exhilarating scramble”. There’s a mention of Coniston Old Man and Crinkle Crags and Great Gable and that’s about it on the mountains. Skiddaw, that great bald northern favourite, doesn’t get a look in and neither does dramatic Blencathra. The whole of the northern fells is completely neglected except for “gorgeous” Caldbeck, a place of mills and John Peel, and a mysterious “Greenhead Ghyll” a mile to its west on the map, which is erroneously marked as the Greenhead Ghyll of Wordsworth’s poem, “Michael”.
There may be “plenty of lakes” but they don’t fare much better. Thirlmere, so important in the history of the Lakes, isn’t mentioned, and neither are Loweswater, Crummockwater or Haweswater. Brotherswater is mentioned twice, but only because of the inn which “is very popular with ale-drinking hikers” and Watendlath not at all.
The problem is that in a formulaic format like these neat, convenient, practical, colourful and well-produced guides there is no room for individuality, for responding to what is particular about an area.
There should be sections on the top 10 mountains and the top 10 lakes and the top 10 views and the top 10 waterfalls – even Lodore Falls isn’t mentioned. Instead, we have “The Lake District’s Highlights” - Grasmere, Windermere, Kendal, “lush” Borrowdale, “bustling” Ambleside, the Langdale Valley, Wordsworth’s Lake District, Coniston Water, Wasdale and “workday” Keswick.
Borrowdale’s top 10 – it seems the wrong thing to be reducing Borrowdale to a list of ten, so much better to just describe this extra-special place – but it is reduced to 10, including “the long and narrow Derwent Water and the “mesmerizing” Bowderstone.
Keswick “is not quite as enticing as other lush Lakeland settlements”, but the Alhambra Cinema is seen as “glamorous” with its “beautiful restored little auditorium done up in red and velvet stucco”.
And then there are the inappropriate lists – the top 10 Moments in History, which stretches across five thousand years, but manages to include, horrendous though they were, the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 and the flooding in 2009. And the lists that it is silly to reduce to ten like shopping and pubs and restaurants and b&bs and tea-rooms. The tea rooms, like nearly everything else in this guide, are nearly all in the south of the National Park, including Gillam’s as far south as Ulverston, except for The Tea Garden at Low Bridge End Farm in St John’s in the Vale and the “opulent afternoon teas” available at Sharrow Bay on Ullswater.
Kendal is well described, and Whitehaven “makes an interesting stop-off for a couple of hours”, but there is no attempt to include a wider Lakeland - Carlisle, Hadrian’s Wall, the Solway or the West Coast.
This is likely to prove one of the most popular guides to the Lakes for the casual tourist. It is a pity that trying to cram so much into so little space it leaves out so much that is an essential part of the Lakes and is inaccurate and repetitious on other details.
The guide turns its back on the real Lake District and its approach is best summed up in its own words: “Wild it may be, but domestic pleasures are all reassuringly at hand in the Lakes.”