Bassenthwaite – The only lake in the Lake District

In a series called ‘Our Lakes’, Craig Wishart finds it strange that by the fourth installment we still have not yet covered a lake.  He’s seeking to rectify that with this visit to Bassenthwaite.

Bassenthwaite has a couple claims to fame.  It’s the most Northerly lake in the National Park for starters, and surprisingly, it’s also the only lake in the lake district.

Photo by Steve Morris

Many of you will be nodding your head knowingly at this news and others will be left scratching theirs.  It’s a perennial favourite in the pub quiz scene but a bizarre technicality gives Bassenthwaite this unusual honour.  You see most other bodies of water are known as a Mere, like Buttermere, or Water like Derwentwater but there’s only one Bassenthwaite Lake.

It’s a strange technicality of language that affords Bassenthwaite Lake this privilege but it’s not the only thing that makes it special.

Photo by Andrew Locking

Driving alongside Bassenthwaite and you can’t ignore the looming presence of Skiddaw on the far bank.  At 931 metres (3,054 ft) it’s the sixth-highest peak in England and an imposing sight.  With every bend in the road the mountain appears to morph and change shape and with nothing but the lake between you and the fell the view is unimpeded.  A rare highlight is catching Bassenthwaite on a still day when the lake’s surface is like glass, Skiddaw towers above and is similarly inspiring as it’s reflected serenely in the water below.

Head North from Skiddaw and the Lake District melts away, with the imposing peak to your back you will not find anything higher until you hit the Scottish Highlands.

Photo by Andrew Locking

Bassenthwaite is surrounded by a glut of woodlands, all of which are managed by the Forestry Commission.  In the summer Dodd Wood hides the jewel in the crown, the rare nesting Ospreys.  2001 saw the return of the first mating pair in the Lake District for 150 years and with help and assistance by the Commission the birds and their offspring have returned to the area ever since.  You can follow the path up through the woods to the lookout platforms and if you’re lucky you may get the chance to experience the natural world at it’s finest as the Ospreys hunt and feed their hatchlings.

Photo by Andrew Locking

Dropping down to the lake shore it’s hard to imagine a more beautifully situated church than St Bega’s.  Legend says that St Bega settled here and may have been buried in this spot.  The architectural history of the church is vague as there are large, uneven stones in the north and east walls which suggests Roman stones used in the building. The most likely foundation of the current church is about 950 but with the medieval Christianity ever keen to capitalise on existing religious sites it’s probable St Bega’s was built on the foundations of a much earlier structure.

 

The wide gravel spreads between Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite provided the best centre within Lakeland for Neolithic farming communities and stone axes have been found in the area, particularly at Mossgarth near Portinscale.

Photo by Andrew Locking

Bassenthwaite is one of the shallowest lakes in the National Park , at 21 metres in depth it’s almost like a catchment basin for the Derwent as it winds its way down from the fells to the coast.  Below the arches of the Ouse Bridge the lake can no longer hold the River Derwent as it winds its way through the lowlands, past Cockermouth and then on to Workington where our only lake drains into the sea.

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