With its glorious and dramatic scenery, the Lake District in northern England has been an inspiration for writers and artists for centuries. Lots of us in the UK will be holidaying at home this year. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling to the Lakes – or even if you just want to armchair travel at home – here are 13 books set in that stunning landscape.
The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District, by James Rebanks
Some people’s lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks’ isn’t. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.
(I read this brilliant book when it first came out, and it’s completely changed my view of the Lakes. The author is an inspiration, too.)
The Grave Tattoo, Val McDermid
A 200 year-old-secret is now a matter of life and death. And it could be worth a fortune.
It’s summer in the Lake District and heavy rain over the fells has uncovered a bizarrely tattooed body. Could it be linked to the old rumour that Fletcher Christian, mutinous First Mate on the Bounty, had secretly returned to England?
Scholar Jane Gresham wants to find out. She believes that the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth, a friend of Christian’s, may have sheltered the fugitive and turned his tale into an epic poem – which has since disappeared.
But as she follows each lead, death is hard on her heels. The centuries-old mystery is putting lives at risk. And it isn’t just the truth that is waiting to be discovered, but a bounty worth millions …
An April Shroud, by Reginald Hill
Superintendent Dalziel falls for the recently bereaved Mrs Fielding’s ample charms, and has to be rescued from a litter of fresh corpses by Inspector Pascoe.
Superintendent Andy Dalziel’s holiday runs into trouble when he gets marooned by flood water. Rescued and taken to nearby Lake House, he discovers all is not well: the owner has just died tragically and the family fortunes are in decline. He also finds himself drawn to attractive widow, Bonnie Fielding.
But several more deaths are to follow. And by the time Pascoe gets involved, it looks like the normally hard-headed Dalziel might have compromised himself beyond redemption.
(The Dalziel and Pascoe novels are some of my favourite crime fiction. I once spent an entire summer reading the whole series one after another. The series is set in Yorkshire, but for this novel, Dalziel takes a trip to the Lakes.)
The Girls in the Lake, by Helen Phifer
Peering over the side of the boat, the glare of early morning sun catches on something pale in the inky water. The boy’s curious fingertips break the surface, pulling up a tangle of long blonde hair from the reeds below…
The discovery of a girl floating face down in Lake Windermere, her naked skin almost translucent in the freezing water, looks like yet another tragic teen suicide. But the victim’s lack of clothes make Forensic Pathologist Beth Adams want to investigate further. Anything to distract her from the arrival of her abusive ex-boyfriend’s body on the mortuary table that morning.
With witnesses keeping tight-lipped and any clues washed away by the tides, it’s up to Beth to find the evidence her team needs. But then another girl is found in the lake, this time still clinging to life. She tells them she was at a party on a boat, and that she was pushed…
As more bodies surface, tiny traces of boat paint lead Beth to a tragic accident involving a group of school children years ago, and the feeling that the killer might be closer than anyone could ever have imaged. But with her personal life spinning out of control, can she persuade her team before another life is lost?
Historical novels set in the Lakes
The Lady’s Slipper, by Deborah Swift
When artist Alice Ibbetson discovers a rare orchid, the lady’s-slipper, growing in a nearby wood, she is captivated by its beauty. It is the last surviving specimen and she wants to preserve it for future generations.
There is only one problem – it is growing on the land of Richard Wheeler, a newly-converted Quaker, who will not allow her to touch it.
Fearing for the flower’s fragility, she steals the orchid, little dreaming that this seemingly simple act will set off an unstoppable chain of events – a web of intrigue that will lead to murder and exile, and change her comfortable life forever.
Set in an England riven by civil war and divided loyalties the novel explores the nature of faith, and who should control the land we all inhabit.
The Woman from Browhead, by Audrey Howard
Annie Abbott, daughter and only child of a poverty-stricken hill farmer and his downtrodden wife, who runs away with a theatrical group at the age of 15. Eventually hearing that her parents have died, Annie returns to the Lakes to claim the farm.
But now she has an illegitimate daughter – and virtually no one will speak to her. Only a local landowner, who is engaged to marry another woman, comes to help her.
Haweswater, by Sarah Hall
It is 1936 in a remote dale in the old, northern county of Westmorland. For centuries the rural community has remained the same and the Lightburn family have been immersed in the harsh hill-farming tradition – unchanged by the advent of modernity. Then a man from the city of Manchester arrives, spokesman for a vast industrial project which will devastate both the landscape and the local community. Mardale will be flooded to create a new reservoir, supplying water to the Midland cities. In the coming year this corner of Lakeland will be evacuated and transformed.
Jack Liggett, the Waterworks’ representative, further compounds the problems faced by the village as he begins a troubled affair with Janet Lightburn. A woman of force and strength of mind, her natural orthodoxy deeply influences him. Finally, in tragic circumstances, a remarkable, desperate act on Janet’s part attempts to restore the valley to its former state.
Rogue Herries, by Hugh Walpole
Described on its first publication by John Buchan as the finest English novel since Jude the Obscure, Rogue Herries tells the story of the larger than life Francis Herries who uproots his family from Yorkshire and brings them to live in Borrowdale where their life is as dramatic as the landscape surrounding them. Proud, violent and impetuous he despises his first wife, sells his mistress at a county fair and forms a great love for the teenage gypsy Mirabell Starr. Alongside this turbulent story, runs that of his son David, with enemies of his own, and that of his gentle daughter Deborah with placid dreams that will not be realised in her father’s house.
General Lake District fiction (I can’t decide the genre!)
All Quiet on the Orient Express, by Magnus Mills
It is the end of the summer. The tourists have already gone, and now the sun is abandoning the Lake District’s damp valleys. Only a lone camper remains, enjoying the quiet. He plans to stay just long enough to prepare for a trip to the East. But then the owner of the campsite asks him to paint a fence and he innocently obliges. Soon other odd jobs pile up until little by little he becomes ensnared in the ominous ‘out-of-season’.
Lake District children’s classic
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
John, Susan, Titty and Roger sail their boat, Swallow, to a deserted island for a summer camping trip. Exploring and playing sailors is an adventure in itself but the island holds more excitement in store. Two fierce Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, challenge them to war and a summer of battles and alliances ensues.
Romance novels set in the Lake District
Decent Exposure, by Phillipa Ashley
When a nice girl asks twelve men to get naked, is it decent exposure or indecent exploitation?
Emma Tremayne has left her high-powered PR job and moved to the Lake District. She was expecting to find some much-needed peace and quiet, not to end up cavorting on a hillside with a naked guy. Emma thinks she’s being community-minded when she agrees to help the local mountain rescue team put together a ‘tasteful’ nude calendar in order to fundraise for their new headquarters. Unfortunately, quite a lot of the community seems to mind what she’s up to. Including the extremely handsome Mr July, Will, who appears to have got completely the wrong impression about Emma’s intentions. So how does she convince him that he’s more than just Flavour of the Month…?
Sassy, funny and smart, Decent Exposure is a gorgeous read from a sparkling new voice in romantic fiction.
Nurse’s One Night Baby Surprise, by Louisa George
Doctor Fraser is the last man nurse Briana should be attracted to – she’s kept her feelings for him under wraps for years. But when he moves to her Lake District village with his troubled teenage daughter, Bri wants desperately to help them. Yet, after her chemistry with Fraser flares out of control, Bri must tell him the most shocking news of all…
(At the time of writing, Lousia George’s Something Borrowed was free on Kindle. It has some great reviews, so that’s been added to my tbr, and I look forward to reading!)
Felicity at the Cross Hotel, by Helena Fairfax (me!)
A quaint old hotel by a lake in the mountains should be the perfect place for a relaxing summer, and Felicity Everdene is looking forward to a quiet break from working in her father’s stressful business. A few weeks hiking and swimming should restore her.
But then the hotel’s new owner, Patrick Cross, takes Felicity for the replacement barmaid, and things don’t turn out quite to plan. With a grumpy chef, a waiter with love troubles, and the old Tudor building in need of renovation, Felicity’s quiet break soon turns into a working holiday.
But Patrick’s dreams lie beyond the mountains, and Felicity’s loyalties lie with her family, and anyway, holidays can’t last forever…can they?
(I had great fun researching this novel, including a trip to Ullswater with the divers of Penrith Divers’ club. You can read all about it in this article in my local paper.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed my selection. Have you read any of these novels? Did you enjoy them? Can you recommend any other Lake District novels (or non-fiction) to add to this list?
If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!