Welcome to The Tarn District

Welcome to The Tarn District – Doesn’t have the same ring as Welcome to The Lake District does it?

Here we are living our best lives surrounded by Waters, Tarns, Meres and Lakes and all wondering what’s the difference.

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All are more or less the same, yet only one Lake by name exists in The Lake District.

If you’re local you’ll probably know which Lake I’m referring to as this questions does pop-up from time to time and the lake in question is Bassenthwaite Lake of course.

That beautiful stretch of water is amazing, a bit of a road hazard though as you can’t help but glance at it as you drive along its shoreline.

I try my hardest not to as I class myself as a responsible driver, yet it demands your attention whatever the conditions,  be it – sunny days, windy days or rainy days – you just can’t help but snatch a glance at those views, stunning.

But why is Bassenthwaite a Lake and the others not – What is the difference between a Lake and a Mere or a Tarn and a Water?

By definition, a mere for instance is a shallow lake, pond or wetland, however, you may wonder why Windermere – England’s longest lake – which is 10.5 miles long is so called, I mean it’s hardly a pond.

This is simply to do with the broadness compared to its depth, meres are defined as shallow water lakes or in this case shallow compared to its size.

As to the Etymology of  the word Mere, it is recorded in Old English as Mere to mean “sea or lake” and Old Saxon ‘meri’. So it seems it has always been referred to as a Lake, be it with a different name for at least 1400 years and possibly longer.

What about those beautiful Tarns?

Where does that name come from and what defines a Tarn?

Tarn is a throwback from when those Vikings were busy raiding then settling and farming here in Cumbria. They left us many words with Tarn being one of them.

Tarn is derived from Old Norse, tjorn, tjern for pool or lake and later adapted in Middle English to ‘terne and tarne’.

Tarns are defined as small steep-banked mountain lakes or pools and are another remnant of glacial activity.

OK, so far so good, onto the Waters, there are lots of them here in The Lake District,10 including the second largest lake Ullswater,  to the smallest lake in Cumbria, Brotherswater.

It seems there’s no rhyme nor reason as to the usage of the word Water and it seems these names have simply changed over time.

For instance Derwent Water has been known to be called The Lake of Derwent, Keswick Lake and even Keswick Water. Which do you prefer from the aforementioned?

I think The Lake of Derwent has a rather nice ring to it.

As for those missing Lakes,  well they’re not really missing, they are all Lakes at the end of the day, but why is Bassenthwaite the only one that uses the word Lake?

Well it seems that  an industrialist back in the day had a property on the shoreline of Bassenthwaite Water and wanted to impress his friends. So, he changed the name from Bassenthwaite Water to Bassenthwaite Lake and it has been known as that ever since.

Either way, we are very, very lucky to have so many of these beautiful Lakes, Waters, Meres and Tarns on our doorstep and whatever you decide to call them or how you define them, they are all simply stunning and absolutely amazing.

Anyone fancy a dip?


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