The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Coleridge, Potter & King Pocky

The English Lakes: A History


Bloomsbury 433pp £25

In the 1720s, when Daniel Defoe, in his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, came to the ‘unpassable hills’ of Westmorland, he concluded that ‘all the pleasant part of England was at an end’. To him and his contemporaries mountains were ‘horrid’, being uncultivable, cold and likely to drop rocks on you. It is amazing that only about twenty years later the poet Thomas Gray reported about the French Alps that ‘not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry’. Poets and painters: it was they who first responded to untamed nature, and thus became the heralds of the eight million or so people who flock every year to the part of England we now call Cumbria.

After a concise account of the geological forces that shaped Cumbria, Ian Thompson embarks on the history of its shaping in our minds by its inhabitants and its visitors. Most of those who lived there, the farmers, just went on farming, sometimes against considerable odds, but they did

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