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Cumbria, in northwest England's famous Lake District, is home to diverse natural features that attract visitors from near and far. Ullswater, a natural freshwater lake, is one of those unmatched attractions that lures travelers from around the world. The area that Ullswater meanders through is scenic and undeveloped compared to other lake areas in the English Lake District. Its beauty is legendary, with the extraordinary area often being compared to the grandeur of Switzerland's Lake Lucerne.
This glacial ribbon lake forms a flattened "S" shape, which runs from southwest to northeast and contains three reaches or segments that curl through the river valley in a serpentine path. At 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) in length and 0.75 miles (1,200 meters) in width, Ullswater is the second largest lake in the English Lake District. Its maximum depth is 207 feet (63 meters), though it runs about 83 feet (25.3 meters) deep on average. The lake is a natural border between two English counties, Cumberland and Westmorland. Many different water sources feed into Ullswater. Flooding, therefore, is not uncommon to this area. In the 1960s, Manchester Corporation Waterworks Department built an underground drainage system to help control the water levels without the need for a dam. The series of tunnels divert floodwaters away from Ullswater to help prevent flooding into towns, homes, businesses and farmlands.
The village of Glenridding is located at the southwest end of the lake, which is a popular gathering place for tourists, featuring campsites and youth hostels for younger and more adventurous vacationers. On the northeastern end of the lake, the village of Pooley Bridge lies at its foot and is another popular place for visitors. The River Eamont begins here, flowing out of Ullswater, and in the village a bridge dating back to the 16th century still stands and connects the two sides of the village that are parted by the head of this river. This narrow but sturdy stone structure is one of the main historic attractions in Pooley Bridge, after which the town is named.
Outdoor activities in the Ullswater area are nearly limitless. Mountain climbing is a large draw, as Helvellyn Mountain, at 3,117 feet (950 meters), is the third highest peak in England and is located close to Glenridding at the head of the lake. Camping is of popular around this lake, one of the most northerly situated in Cumbria. Rock climbing, walking, mountain biking and wildlife viewing also interest area holidaymakers. Ullswater, with 22 miles (35.4 kilometers) of shoreline, has footpaths and trails by the hundreds, with lakeside views as well as mountain, river, valley and woodland vistas along the routes. From a casual stroll to trekking up steep hikes, most abilities and interest levels will find a perfect option for them. Orienteering and horseback riding are also popular locally. Travel by vehicle can get visitors to most parts of the lake, but the southeastern shore is best traveled on foot for the closest and clearest views.
On the water, Ullswater again offers countless recreational choices. Fishing for pike, perch and brown trout in these very clear waters is a popular pastime, as are boating on the lake--from rowing to sailing to windsurfing, from canoeing to kayaking to yachting--and swimming and diving. Swimmers are urged to use caution, however: The lake's shoreline is mostly shallow, but it quickly drops off to incredibly deep--and unexpectedly cold--waters that can cause even an excellent swimmer to end up in a dangerous situation.
On the western side of Ullswater is the most well known waterfall in the Lakes District. Aria Force waterfall has a 65-foot (19.8-meter) drop and is surrounded by walkways for views of this beloved natural attraction. Woodlands surround these falls, so getting to them involves a hike. Parking is available, but tourists should expect a two-hour walk from the car lot. For those who are up for the trek, it promises unforgettable sights and sounds.
Ullswater is mostly privately owned by three different entities: Dalemain Estates, The National Trust and The Lake District National Park Authority. Because of this, some areas of the lake and the shore are off-limits to the general public. However, public beaches that are small but plentiful make the area accessible to those interested in leisure time along the shores. Ullswater is located in the northeastern part of The Lake District National Park, so its abundance of wildlife and protected species is another gift to vacationers. Red deer, red squirrels, golden eagles, dragonflies in great numbers, and barnacle geese are not uncommon sights in the area; the pristine area is covered with ancient woods and the undisturbed habitats of most of its native animals.
Close by, within 5 miles (8 kilometers), are several family-friendly stops with fun and unusual features. At the Alpaca Centre, just down the road from nearby Penrith, there is a gallery of arts and crafts, a tearoom and a working farm where alpacas star as the main attraction. Down this same road a bit farther is Rheged, a town where stories about wildlife adventure are presented on an enormous movie screen. The Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre is also only 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, this time from Pooley Bridge on Askham Road. This exhibit showcases a collection of birds of prey that are rare or endangered, including owls, hawks, falcons and eagles.
Regional foods and drinks are popular with visitors in the small villages that bookend the lake. There are cafes and bistros, beer gardens and snack bars, formal restaurants and vegetarian and other specialty restaurants--something for everyone. Other popular venues and shops in the towns include a seasonal farmers' market, local produce stands, coffeehouses, artisan shops, craft workshops, and pottery and jewelry studios and galleries.
Passenger boats that were once steam powered but have since been converted to diesel--and still known as steamers--offer tours of Ullswater that are memorable and very entertaining. The three stops, at Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge, provide service around the lake in all seasons. The steamers number four total, including The Raven, The Lady of the Lake, The Lady Dorothy and The Lady Wakefield (the latter being the newest, coming into service in 2007). The original purpose of these steamers, some of which date from 1850, was to transport workers and perform mail delivery services between the towns and the Greenside lead mine. The mine closed in 1962, so the steamers now give tourists a unique view into the past whenever they leave their ports.
Although Ullswater is surrounded by tourist-friendly towns that are less densely crowded and less developed than other areas of the Lake District, there is no lack of choice for lodging. In the close vicinity are nearly 50 hotels, bed and breakfasts and other full-service accommodations, from rustic to luxurious. About a dozen campgrounds and caravan sites dot the area. For those looking for self-catering accommodations, dozens of privately owned cottages, apartments, homes, bungalows, chalets, log cabins and complexes are available for rentals. From a small and romantic lakefront cottage that sleeps two to a rurally located converted barn that has been updated with all the modern amenities and can sleep a large family or two, holiday rentals are in no short supply. It may be difficult to decide which option to choose because so many are appealing and storybook-esque. Property buyers will also like the selection of real estate in the area. Again, many kinds of homes in a variety of locales make for a homebuyer's delight.
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