The Early Tourists 1775 - 1900

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: Lyulph's Tower © Jane Firth

In Search of Arcadia

The first tourists came to the Lake District in the second part of the 18th century with a highly prescribed idea of how they should view the landscape. The notion of Arcadia was one used by the Latin poets to describe a pastoral ideal which belonged to a vanished age. The 17th century Masters had used this ideal in the paintings which English aristocrats brought back from their Grand Tours of Europe, but the Napoleonic Wars put an end to The Grand Tour and the upper classes began to explore their native land. Travel writers drew on the classical landscape tradition as a means of understanding the Lake District in a way that was familiar to them. They viewed the landscape as a series of paintings in the style of 17th century artists such as Claude, Poussin and Salvador and even suggested framing views through a mirror, known as a Claude glass. The Picturesque movement was born.

The first Travel Guide

The first travel guide to the Lake District was published by Thomas West in 1778. He prescribed a highly formulated tour by recommending specific locations, known as stations, from which the best picturesque views could be enjoyed. Although he did not assign specific stations to Ullswater, he recommended the top of Dunmallard by Pooley Bridge, Stybarrow Crag on the western shore and an area above the Patterdale Hotel as the best locations from which views of the lake should be framed. He also recommended that tourists visit the shore at Watermillock to best hear the cannons which were fired from boats on the lake so that visitors could listen in awe to the reverberations which echoed around the valley. West’s suggestions were incorporated in a series of maps produced by Peter Crosthwaite of Keswick in 1783. The Picturesque movement advocated the use of architecture to “improve” the landscape. Lyulph’s Tower near Aira Force was the first of a series of castellated buildings in the Lake District and this was included as a station on the Crosthwaite map. 

Crosthwaite's Map Reproduction, courtesy of Cumbria County History Trust

A more Romantic View

Towards the end of the 18th century, this staged way of viewing nature was questioned by the likes of Uvedale Price and satirised by James Plumptre. The poet William Wordsworth was also critical of the triviality of the Picturesque. He advocated an appreciation of the beauty of nature for its own sake, without imposing man’s own ideal of how it should be “improved”. Wordsworth produced his own guide to the Lakes, originally as anonymous text to accompany a series of “Select Views” by Joseph Wilkinson, but later as a standalone guide in 1822. It was so popular, it went though five editions and changed the approach to tourism in a way that has survived to this day. He described Ullswater “As being, perhaps, upon the whole, the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur which any of the Lakes affords.”


The arrival of the Lancaster to Carlisle railway in 1844, with a branch to Windermere in 1847, made the Lake District more accessible and saw the start of mass tourism to the area. Tourists were met at the station in Penrith by a horse-drawn charabanc which took them to the lake. In 1855, the Ullswater Steam Navigation Company was created and its first paddle steamer, The Enterprise, was launched in 1859. As well as passengers, the steamers transported mail, provisions, slate and lead along the lake. The number of hotels and boarding houses increased so that by 1906, there were four hotels in Glenridding.

by Emma Bray

Ullswater Hotel Patterdale 1872. Copyright and kind permission of the Wordsworth Trust

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Find out more about the history of Ullswater's Hotels. 

Glenridding House, Inn on the Lake, Patterdale Hotel, Royal Hotel Dockray, Howtown Hotel and Tea Room and more to come...

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