In an extract from his new guidebook to the 'most beautiful corner of England', Hunter Davies answers all the questions you ever thought to ask
Q: So what's the big attraction?

A: Nature, my friend. Lakeland might be a mere pocket handkerchief compared with national parks in the US, but in that small circle, roughly 30 miles across, you have all God's wonders - streams, pastures, waterfalls, lakes, mountains, awesome crags. Wordsworth said there was nowhere, in so narrow a compass, with such a variety of the sublime and the beautiful ....

Q: I wondered when you'd get round to him.

A: Well he is one of our main attractions. Three of his homes are open to the public. His chums Coleridge and Southey, who married sisters, moved to Keswick. There's also Beatrix Potter's home, plus those of Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, John Cunliffe ....

Q: Who?

A Such ignorance. He wrote Postman Pat while living in Lakeland. You can see a room devoted to him at Abbot Hall in Kendal, just one of more than 30 fascinating and unique Lakeland museums.

Q: Unique, that's going it a bit.

A: Right, tell me where there's a pencil museum, with the world's largest pencil? Only in Keswick. Or a Laurel and Hardy museum? In Ulverston - where Stan was born. Or a museum devoted to motor cars made famous in films and TV? Also in Keswick.

Q: Is there anything up to date?

A: But of course. We now have several multi-million pound, hands-on audio- visual experiences, such as the Dock Museum in Barrow and the Beacon at Whitehaven. There's also Sellafield.

Q: Does anyone go there?

A: More than 200,000 last year. Good for school projects. And it's free. Or how about watching a live sheep show?

Q: Sounds a bit, well, kinky.

A: It opened recently in Cockermouth. Four times a day, 19 breeds of sheep pose on stage in a 300-seat theatre in the Lakeland Sheep Centre. It's a bit like Miss World, apart from the sheepy pong - but they're all naked.

Q: What about the Lakes themselves? How many are there?

A: Sixteen bits of water are designated as the Lakes - everything else is called a tarn. The biggest is Windermere, which is 10 miles long, followed by Ullswater, Coniston, Bassenthwaite, Haweswater, Thirlmere, Derwentwater, Wastwater, Crummock, Ennerdale, Esthwaite, Buttermere, Loweswater, Grasmere, Rydal Water and Elterwater.

Q: Which is your favourite then, clever clogs?

A: Ullswater - for its sheer, stunning beauty, yet it is has amenities like lake steamers. Windermere is a bit busy.

Q: How many tarns are there?

A: Too many to count, and some have no names. One of the best known is Innominate Tarn - which means no name, if you follow me. Wainwright's ashes are scattered there.

Q: I've heard of him. Grumpy bloke with a pipe, wasn't he?

A: Wash your mouth out. The Blessed Wainwright is God in Lakeland. Everyone must have his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells - works of art, not just excellent guides.

Q: How about the mountains?

A: There are four over 3,000 feet - Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain, its twin peak Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. Scafell and Scafell Pike require quite a long walk before you start climbing. Helvellyn has some hairy bits. Easiest for beginners is Skiddaw. For a really easy peasy family fell walk try Catbells.

Q: What should I wear ?

A: Clothes. You don't want to frighten the sheep. I wear trainers in summer and wellies in winter, but that drives the experts mad. Lightweight boots are the sensible solution, plus some sort of rainwear. But remember, comfort is all.

Q: Where should I stay ?

A: There are masses of B&B places to choose from. Tourist information centres will give you lists. On a first visit, I'd find a cheap B&B or farmhouse for five nights, then lash out for two nights somewhere luxurious, such as Sharrow Bay at Ullswater.

Q: Doesn't the Lakes District get too crowded?

A: In the height of the school holidays, it might be best to steer clear of Keswick, Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere. They get chocker. So try the Western Lakes. But wherever you are, even on a bank holiday, you can set off on foot and be totally on your own in an hour.

Q: Will I need a car?

A: Not essential. You can have a week of different walks from almost anywhere you stay. Or use the Mountain Goat. No, it's not an animal. It's a little local bus company.

Q: Apart from walking, what else is there to do?

A: Try to fit in a Cumbrian show and see things you'll see nowhere else, such as Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling and hound trailing.

Q: What should I take home?

A: A tan is unlikely, but bars of Kendal mint cake are very cheap. Your dentist will be pleased.

'The Good Guide to the Lakes' is published by Forster Davies and costs pounds 5.99. The author, Hunter Davies, will be revealing his favourite parts of the Lake District in the Long Weekend section of the 'Independent' next Saturday.

The Cumbria Tourist Board is based at Holly Road, Windermere, LA23 2AQ, (tel: 015394 44444).

Is That all it is, that little hilly region up in the top left- hand corner of the map of England? How can so much fuss have been made for the past 200 years over such a small area? Ah, but in that tiny district are all nature's delights, plus quite a few man-made wonders - as you will quickly discover.

The Lake District is in Cumbria, formerly Cumberland and Westmorland, which is now England's second largest county in terms of acreage. There is a large circle inside the county which is called the Lake District National Park, a boundary line which at times seems perverse, cutting out some parts of Cumbria which are equally beautiful. But this inner circle contains the jewels in the crown.

The national park is only 30 miles across, not much bigger than Greater London. It is bordered on its east side by the M6. If you were driving fast, you could pass the Lake District in half an hour.

What a tragedy that would be.

The district comprises some very old lakes and mountains covering an area of some 88 square miles. The mountains are high compared with other British mountains - there are four peaks higher than 3,000 feet - and the lakes are big in British terms, with one being 10 miles long. But as far as the world's largest mountains and the largest lakes are concerned, they are but pimples.

The district has been called many things.

The Cumbria Tourist Board, having billed it for years as "English Lakeland - the Most Beautiful Corner of England" has adopted the slogan "Lakeland - the Roots of Heaven".

Other titles it has been given are the English Lakes, the Lakes and Lakeland.

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