Wild Win­der­mere

Whisk your­self away to the pop­u­lar lake’s quiet western shore, where a dreamy world of reedbeds and pine forests in­spired Beatrix Pot­ter, says Daniel Start

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Daniel Start is part of the team be­hind Wild Things Pub­lish­ing. His book Hid­den Beaches is out now (£16.99)

Lake Dis­trict

“Per­haps Beatrix Pot­ter took in­spi­ra­tion for Squir­rel Nutkin here”

Eng­land’s most fa­mous lake is many peo­ple’s in­tro­duc­tion to the Lake Dis­trict. The heady mix of at­trac­tions, boat trips, coun­try parks and scenic drives con­cen­trates most visi­tors to the towns dot­ted on the lake’s east­ern shore.

The qui­eter western shore and craggy hin­ter­land is less-vis­ited. This in­trigu­ing land­scape of wood­land and tarns, back roads and dreamy views is in sharp con­trast to the east. It’s here amid the for­est and bluffs that lovers of wildlife will find much to seek out.

And it was here that Beatrix Pot­ter found in­spi­ra­tion for her time­less books, with 2016 mark­ing the 150th an­niver­sary of the au­thor’s birth. There’s plenty to see and do all year but here are a few en­chant­ing au­tum­nal high­lights.

RIVER LEVEN

The Leven drains Win­der­mere south to the sea. At Newby Bridge, a grace­ful, curv­ing weir is a great place to catch sight of leap­ing salmon forg­ing their way up­stream. There’s a fish-lad­der at its east­ern end, and a handy view­ing plat­form; au­tumn is the peak time for the salmon ‘run’. Sea trout also run the Leven in grow­ing num­bers. Eels are an­other mi­gra­tory species that use the lad­der or the spe­cially de­signed bris­tle mat; ex­pect ‘glass eels’ (ju­ve­niles) in late spring head­ing up­stream; ma­ture eels move sea­wards in sum­mer.

CLAIFE HEIGHTS

Above the western end of the cross-lake ferry, colour­ful wood­lands of pine and broadleaf clothe the crags. Paths criss-cross this beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, home to some of Eng­land’s last red squir­rels. Per­haps Beatrix Pot­ter took in­spi­ra­tion for Squir­rel Nutkin here at the pine-fringed tarns she later do­nated to the Na­tional Trust. They’re shy crea­tures but a good place to spot them is by the nut feed­ers that are kept topped up to sup­ple­ment their diet. Sev­eral of the way­marked trails from the Ash Land­ing car park near the ferry ter­mi­nal pass th­ese feed­ing sites. Look for cross­bills in the pines, too.

ESTH­WAITE WA­TER

Esth­waite Wa­ter lies in a serene vale be­tween Claife Heights and Hawk­shead Moor. It’s un­usual in be­ing pri­vately owned, with very lim­ited ac­cess to its shore­line. Pot­ter’s long-suf­fer­ing frog, Jeremy Fisher, lived here; to­day’s visi­tors might just hear the elu­sive bit­terns that hunt in the reedbeds along its shores. Much more vis­i­ble are ospreys, and you may even spot the odd ot­ter as well. You can ab­sorb much of this wildlife par­adise by tak­ing the helm of an elec­tric boat for a self­con­ducted tour (www. os­preysa­fari.com).

GRIZEDALE FOR­EST

Fir plan­ta­tions and na­tive wood­land feather the rugged land­scape be­tween Esth­waite and Con­is­ton Wa­ter. Grizedale For­est is largely a prod­uct of plant­ing a cen­tury ago. The name is Norse for ‘val­ley of the wild boar’, al­though it’s not home to any to­day. In­stead, red kite drift over the canopy on the breeze in search of car­rion. Th­ese ma­jes­tic raptors were rein­tro­duced in 2010 and have bred suc­cess­fully; nearly 100 birds may now be res­i­dent. Keep an eye out for red and roe deer – au­tumn marks their rut­ting sea­son, making th­ese timid crea­tures eas­ier to spot but if they prove elu­sive, seek out the for­est’s fine sculp­tures.

Salmon and eels, as well as 18 is­lands, can be found in the wa­ters of Eng­land’s largest nat­u­ral lake; while deer, squir­rel, cross­bills and bit­terns in­habit its sur­round­ings

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