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Ennerdale Water in the Western Lake District – Cumbria — Around-England

The Western Lake District: Ennerdale Water

Lake District Directory – Western Area

Lake District Directory – Front page
Directory – West Cumbria Coast – Where to Go and What to Do.
Around-England Blog: North Western Lakes
Accomodation convenient for Ennerdale Water

A Heaton Cooper - Ennerdale Lake at Sunset
Ennerdale Lake at Sunset
by A. Heaton Cooper

Ennerdale Water is a remote northwestern lake in the hills above Whitehaven, in fact the most westerly of the Lake District waters. A maze of country lanes stretches inland from Cleator and other points along the Egremont to Cockermouth road, eventually leading to the hamlet of Ennerdale Bridge. The churchyard here was the location for Wordsworth’s poem “The Brothers”.

Continuing for a couple of miles toward the lake there are alternative access points to the water. Taking the most southerly you come to a car park and, if you hadn’t learned it in advance, discover that there is no public route for four wheels to the water’s edge. However, paths on both northern and southern banks provide for excellent walking. Other roads lead to the northern side of the lake, but there is no public road along the length of Ennerdale.

The lake is two and a half miles long and half a mile wide, heading into the mountains, and fed principally by the River Lila which flows down the steep-sided Ennerdale valley from its source high up on the side of Green Gable (2527 ft).

Railway? No!

Back in the late-nineteenth century there was a public outcry and opposition in Parliament to the planned development of a railway along the north bank of Ennerdale Water to service an expanded quarrying activity. This case set important precedents with regard to the consideration of environmental factors when planning industrial and commercial development. The plan was abandoned.


On the northern side of the lake Mireside farm to the west of Bowness Knott is under the control of the National Trust and therefore protected from untoward development, but in the 1920s nothing was going to stop the Forestry Commission planting conifers in Ennerdale – and so demonstrating that publicly owned forestry can be just as environmentally insensitive as that in the private sector!

From Bowness Knott, along the north bank and stretching far up the vallley beyond the lake, thousands of acres were turned into forest. The National Trust was able to gain control of a little under three hundred acres at the head of the lake, and so prevent afforestation right down to the water’s edge. It is true that forestry does blend better into the environment as it matures (and as generations arise who have never known anything different!) but Ennerdale is a very different place now from what it was a century ago.


Water extraction for the benefit of urban populations and for industrial purposes is a complex issue not to be solved here. Many of the complainants would have much to say if their taps at home ran dry, but sometimes appear to be unwilling to accept the consequences of their own requirements. Having said that, reservoir development does need to be done sensitively – as has been done, for example, at Rutland Water.

Although others may disagree, I feel that the management of Ennerdale Water as a reservoir has on the whole been enlightened – which is more than can be said of the Haweswater catastrophe on the other side of the Lake District – and what could have been a disaster for the valley was averted when after a long struggle in 1981 the government rejected plans for major additional extraction for industrial purposes. As the Lake District Planning Authority insisted at the time, the question was not about whether water should be supplied to industry, but about how it was to be done.

Rescuing Ennerdale

More recently, in 2003, a major step forward was taken when the Forestry Commission, United Utilities (the water company), and the National Trust agreed jointly to a conservation programme for the lake and its valley under the title, The Wild Ennerdale Partnership. This has the vision statement: “To develop Ennerdale Valley as a unique wild place allowing natural forces to become more dominant in the shaping of the landscape and the ecology and therefore providing an inspirational visitor experience and special conservation habitats.”

75 Years of Befriending the Lakes

October 14, 2009

I think the first time I heard of the Friends of the Lake District, or at least the first time they really hit my consciousness to any significant degree, was during their campaign to preserve Ennerdale Water and Wastwater in the late-70s and early-80s. At that time I was visiting the area frequently as a […]

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