Our Lakes series – Derwent Water
Images by Andrew Locking
If it wasn’t for the passage of time, weather and erosion we may never have ever featured Derwent Water as part of ‘Our Lakes’ series.
It was once part of a much larger lake which would have merited nothing more than a few extra words in our Bassenthwaite feature earlier this year. But as the surrounding fells succumbed to the elements, their sediment formed an alluvial plain that separates the two bodies of water that are now only connected by the River Derwent.
Given the lengthy timeframe and the fact that Seathwaite further up the Borrowdale valley is the wettest inhabited place in England, it will come as no surprise that water has shaped this area so drastically.
We are left with one of the most stunning lakes in our region. Pick any shore and the view is majestic. Derwent water nestles beneath Borrowdale’s mountains to the south; Newlands on the west, Skiddaw further north and is watched over by the fells of Derwent and Castlerigg. The lake was described by John Keats as being “shut in with rich-toned mountains”.
It’s the Lake District’s third-largest body of water at 3 miles long, 1 mile wide and it shelters numerous islands. Lord’s, Derwent and St Herbert’s are the largest.
Lord’s Island was once home to of Earl of Derwentwater and the ruins of the great house can still be seen. Not only was there a fine home there was also a drawbridge which was used to cross to the mainland. The house fell into a state of disrepair and eventually the stone was used to make the Moot Hall in the market square.
Local legend claims the Countess of Derwentwater fled the island after the arrest of her husband for his part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The story goes that she was carrying a fortune in jewels which were lost during her ascent of Walla Crag which gave rise to the name “Lady’s Rake”.
St Herbert’s is the largest and is named after the hermit who lived there in the 7th Century. The remains of his “cell” can still be discovered in the undergrowth today and it’s somewhat ironic that a simple man who chose to live a life of isolation is now a saint and a legend 1300 years after his death.
Opposite the Launch is Derwent Island. It’s prohibited to land here, the house is owned by the National Trust and rented out to private tenants. It was originally owned by Fountains Abbey but with the dissolution of the monasteries it was sold to a mining company and in 1778 Joseph Pocklington bought it for £300. He built a house, boathouse, fort, battery and druid circle. Pocklington held annual regattas on the lake where he fired cannon and the small fort was used for mock battles.
Further along is Friars Crag viewpoint, it has stunning views of the lake and Borrowdale valley. Described by John Ruskin ‘as one of the three or four most beautiful views in Europe’, it’s very popular with photographers and was said to be the departure point for monks sailing to St Herbert’s Island on pilgrimage.
The Derwent also has a mysterious floating island. It’s not permanent and was known to rise during periods of heavy rainfall when water tumbling down the steep mountains agitated the lake bottom in the shallow south-east corner. Not far from Lodore a mass of soil and decayed vegetation rises when it was distended with gases and sinks again once it was released and the waters calmed. At times the island covered as much as half an acre and in the year 1831, it was seen from June 10 through to September 24.
Derwent Water’s name may come from a Celtic word meaning ‘Clear Water’ or from an Old English term meaning a region abundant with oak trees but whatever the origin, Derwent Water and its surroundings, certainly has an abundance of both and is one of our finest lakes.