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history of ullswater...

Many prehistoric remains have been found on the high ground. The so-called Cockpit on Barton Fell is a large stone circle of Neolithic date. Another stone circle and a stone avenue have been identified on Moor Divock dating from 2500-1500 BC. On nearby Swarth Fell there is a circle of 65 stones of which only one remains upright today. Several routes across the fells converge at this point, suggesting that this spur of high ground between Ullswater and Heltondale has been used as a trade route and settlement site from time immemorial.

The Romans also commandeered this high ground to link their two forts at Brougham (Brocavum) and Ambleside (Galava) by a paved road known as High Street.

Ancient British settlements have been found in Bannerdale and Deepdale and near Glencoyne Farm and Hartsop Hall. A fort sits atop Dunmallard Hill at the northern end of Ullswater providing unrivalled views down the lake. Another hill fort lies 2 miles (3.2 km) west at Maiden Castle. This long-standing history of occupation implies that food supplies must have been plentiful. Fish would be taken from the lake, and wild boar and deer hunted in the extensive woodlands.

Early Christian missionaries were active among these early British tribes. Local folklore suggests that Patterdale is derived from St Patrick (387-461 AD) and that Martindale is named after St Martin (316-397 AD). St Patrick is said to have been shipwrecked on Duddon Sands and from there walked to Patterdale where he preached at a holy well and gave his name to the valley of ‘Patrichesdale'. In Martindale there are two churches - the earlier St Martin's provided a focus for religious worship for around 700 years until St Peter's was built in 1882.

The Norse arrived in the 10th century, stamping their mark on the land in the form of topographical names - ‘dale', ‘beck' and ‘force' are all of Norse origin. Ullswater is likely to have been named after ‘Ulfr' - a Norse chieftain.

After the Norman Conquest Ullswater and Patterdale became part of the vast estates of William de Lancaster, Baron of Kendal, who made Hartsop Hall his local manor and enforced feudal obligations onto the peasantry. Fortified towers were erected at Dacre, Dalemain and Hutton John while churches were built at Dacre and Barton and medieval deer parks established at Martindale, Gowbarrow and Glencoyne. Nearly 1000 years later, a red deer herd still survives in Martindale.

Historically, Ullswater was part of the huge medieval parish of Barton that stretched to Kirkstone and across to the summit of Helvellyn. During this period the people that lived in these valleys would have been largely self-sufficient; fishing on the lake, Pooley Bridge once had a thriving fish market, growing their own crops, grinding corn, fulling cloth, spinning, weaving and mining lead ore. Traces of these old industries still survive. For instance, Hartsop is noted for its spinning galleries where wool was spun into yarn and has a preserved granary.

In the late 16th century, the Mounseys arrived in remote Patterdale after fleeing from persecution for their Catholic beliefs. From religious refugees the family quickly established their influence reigning over the area for the next 250 years through a regime of tyranny and avarice. Such was their fearsome reputation that they became known as the Kings of Patterdale holding court from their ‘palace' at Patterdale Hall. In 1824 the Hall was sold to a Leeds textile manufacturer, William Marshall, who created the elegant residence of today.

The 17th century saw the rise of a new rural middle class, the statesmen-farmers, who rebuilt hundreds of Lakeland farms during this time; one of the finest being Glencoyne Farm with its cylindrical chimneys and crow-stepped gables.


During the early 19th century William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, often came to stay in Ullswater. In April 1802, Wordsworth was inspired to write his famous ode after seeing a profusion of daffodils at Gowbarrow Park.

He also penned poetic descriptions of Aira Force and described the lake as ‘...the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords.'

However, a few decades later, the tranquil beauty of the area was to change with industrial exploitation of the Greenside Lead Mine at Glenridding which operated for over 140 years and was one of the most profitable mining ventures in the north of England. More than 3 million tons of ore were extracted from this exceptionally rich lead vein before mining ceased in 1962. Huge spoil heaps overshadow a complex of mine buildings whilst, further down the valley, gaunt rows of slate terraced houses provided accommodation for miners who came from all over the country. Over time, large quantities of lead-rich effluent and waste material washed down Glenridding Beck to form a small delta protruding into Ullswater, which now provides suitable landing strata for the Ullswater Steamers. Smaller lead mines were in operation elsewhere - Myers Head Lead Mine near Hartsop (NY 415 127) has several preserved remains including a wheel pit and the stone pillars that once supported a wooden water conduit.

At the same time as the lake was being slowly poisoned by lead effluent, the lake shore was regarded as a desirable location for the building of grand houses by an emerging class of wealthy industrialists. A number of impressive Victorian residences, many now converted into hotels, dot the northern shores of Ullswater.

Ullswater ‘Steamers' began operating in 1859, initially to bring food and provisions for the miners at Glenridding, but the service quickly became popular with tourists. Another boat - ‘Lady of the Lake'- was built in 1877, followed by ‘Raven' in 1889. These veteran ‘steamers' were joined by ‘Lady Dorothy' in 2001 and ‘Lady Wakefield' in 2007 - all four vessels now providing the most relaxing means of experiencing the scenery of Ullswater.


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