. Less severe, less dramatic than neighbouring Cumberland, this county lying to the southeast and with only a tiny access to the sea at Morecambe Bay, makes up the centre of the rightly famed Lake District. The mountain scenery is incredibly varied, and here are the two largest lakes - Windermere and Ullswater and the most popular peak, Helvellyn (the latter two sites are shared with Cumberland).
. A complex series of geological actions formed the land we know as Lakeland. The valleys we see were formed by glacial action, cutting ravines and scooping paths into great domes of rock. The mountains of Lakeland aredramatic yet they are mere worn-down crags compared to 26 million years ago when the hills first thrust up from below. Now these wide, spacious valleys, containing lovely clear water lakes, left behind when the great glaciers melted 10,000 years ago, are splendid in spring, and make wonderful walks. High Street is a walk along the tops of surprisingly steep hills.
. The eastern part bumps against the range of the Pennines, and here are deep narrow valleys.
Origin of name: Westmorland comes from the Old English Westmoringland, meaning "land of the people west of the moors".
Name first recorded: 966 as Westmoringland.
APPLEBY A charming and quiet place and this eastern stretch is a lure for anglers in the rivers Eden and Lune. The county town has a fine castle and it's a good centre for walkers. The famous Settle to Carlisle rail line, the highest and most expensive link in England, runs through the valley, providing a ride over dramatic viaducts and through deep tunnels.
AMBLESIDE Was on the route of the Roman road from Ravenglass and Hardknott to Penrith and the Roman fort of Galava stood between the town and the lake. Today hotels, B&Bs and souvenir shops jostle for space in this popular Lakes centre. The curious 18th-century Bridge House is well worth a stroll by.
BOWNESS-ON-WINDERMERE Sited to the east of the largest natural lake in England (covers 10.5 miles from north to south) and geared to fell-walking and waterspouts. Boating and steamer trips nearby.
GRASMERE Has the Wordsworth museum and is a good centre for nearby Easdale Tarn and Grasmere lake.
KENDAL Old town with top-notch shopping centre, it has many grey limestone buildings, noted for its woollen goods since the days of Edward I.
KIRKBY LONSDALE On the extreme southern border this was the 'Lowton' in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (she went to school close by), it has a Norman church with a fine strong pillared interior, but it's more famous for the view of high fells and the Lune from its churchyard, which was painted by Turner. Along the Lune valley lies the three-arched Devil's Bridge dating back to 1275, when tolls were taken for the privilege of crossing it. Follow the Ruskin Walks (he was smitten with the place).
KIRKBY STEPHEN Set amid the moorland of the Eden valley where the river views really are splendid. The nine cairns of Nine Standards Rigg (2,008 feet) form a dramatic backdrop.
SHAP A much quieter place since the M6 motorway opened; has the easily missed 12th century Shap Abbey beside the Lowther.
Eden and Rothay.
Helvellyn at 3,118 feet (shared with Cumberland).
. March and April: Daffodil tours.
. Regular shows at Kendnl'3 Abbot Hall Gallery. Also projects at the Brewery Arts Centre.
. June: Appleby has a gypsy horse fair and trotting races in spring.
. Speedboat races on Windermere on Saturdays.
. Rush bearing at Ambleside and Grasmere on two summer Saturdays.
. Summer sports days at Grasmere, and at Ambleside.
. September: Westmorland County Show at Kendal.
. Beatrix Potter is best known as a writer of children's books and creator of Peter Rabbit, but locally she was better known as a breeder of Herdwick sheep. Although her house was in Sawrey, across the border in Lancashire, she owned much land in Westmorland which she left to the National Trust.
. The Lake District which Westmorland forms apart of, lured romantic artists and writers 200 years ago,. William Wordsworth is best known, but poets Southey and Coleridge also came here, and the critic and social reformer Ruskin.
. Lady Anne Clifford was a redoubtable royalist sympathiser of Civil War times who built and restored many landmarks in and around Appleby.
The County of Westmorland is under the two-tier local government system. Cumbria County Council and the two districts of South Lakeland (shared with the Counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire) and Eden (shared with the County of Cumberland) are the service providers.
DRIVE UP THE M6 and you see the peaks in the distance. You are entering one of Britain's most beautiful counties and the gorgeous gateway to the Lakes. Yonder lie heather and bracken-covered fells, hills and moor towering into an ever-changing sky. By contrast, the lower part of thecounty around Kendal is a completely different kettle of fish to feast your eyes on.
This county has two kinds of settlement: those on the tourist track and those that somehow have contrived to remain resolutely hidden. It's hard, nevertheless, to hide away here and much of Westmorland is busy with the curious who come here to enjoy the splendid scenery and the exhilarating air, but who also sadly clog the roads and even crowd the footpaths, especially in spring and summer and on weekends.
Still, some villages such as Kentmere, Bampton and Rosgill have stayed away from the continuous flow but it takes an effort to find them. They also seem to melt into the landscape, for Lakeland houses use local slate and rough lichened stone for walls, though these are often whitewashed. If you want to see conventional Lakeland places then confine your explorations to wandering round Kendal and Windermere, or the smaller centres of Grasmere and Troutbeck. They still have much atmosphere to offer and need less effort. However, if your hankering is for the wild places of Lakeland then put on your walking shoes, or climbing boots, for you will need to mount up into the deep green valleys or even clamber up into the hills. Kendal is a bustling road and rail centre for the area and also a market town and shopping centre. It's excellent for local souvenirs, not least of which is the famous Kendal Mint Cake. There is the excellent Abbot Hall art gallery and museum of local Lakeland life and industry in the adjacent stable block. The 18th-century house has a collection of antique furniture and paintings by Turner, Reynolds and the Kendal-born society painter Romney as well as modern pictures and sculpture. Why this town should have become a centre for snuff-making may be due to the 14th- century weavers who set up a woollen and dyeing industry here (the green cloth worn by English archers, Kendal Green, got a mention in Shakespeare's Henry IV) and exported their wares to America later on in return for tobacco and snuff. The snuff factory is on Lowther Street.
Ambleside is the town most people think of as the middle of the district and it is always crowded with visitors, particularly walkers, for here there are many fellside walks. One will take you up to the waterfall at Stockgill Force. Other walks lead to lonely heights where it's still possible to be on your own with the moorland birds and the sheep.
Bowness-on-Windermere curls comfortably along its long lake, and this handsome town offers good hotels and places to eat as well as Lakeland bread and cakes from local bakeries. There is also a splendid 15th-century church containing fine medieval glass. From here you hire a boat, or make excursions on boats touring the lake, or take a ferry across to Lancashire to see Sawrey, Hawkshead and the clear sheet of Coniston Water. From points around, notably from the top of Orrest Head, are wonderful views of the countryside. As you approach Bowness the views down to Lake Windermere through evergreen trees and rhododendrons are superb. Grasmere's noted place of literary pilgrimage is Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived for nine years. The house and a museum of relics can be visited. He also lived at Rydal Mount and from here are views of Rydal Water. Fell racing to the top of Butter Crags and hound trailing take place during the annual August games called Grasmere Sports, an English version of the Highland games which also features a local form of wrestling. Grasmere specialities include gingerbread. From here it's a short distance to Chapel Stile and Langdale Valley - the place for serious climbers, with the rock faces of the Pikes providing the challenges. You can take a dramatic walk from Dungeon Gill to the waterfalls and Stickle Tarn. Kentmere is approached from Windermere along a bridle way which gives views along Troutbeck Valley from Garburn Pass. Kirkston Pass, the road linking Windermere to Patterdale, is a high steep ascent up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn.. From Patterdale it's possible to take lake trips on Ullswater and there are many easy lakeside walks, but this village with its holy well of St Patrick is best known as a centre for tackling a trek up to the highest peak here, Helvellyn. Alternatively, you can go from the west along an easier route from Thirlspot, along the east shore of Thirlmere. It's a good hike up to the mile-long ridge of Striding Edge, but the fabulous views take in the whole of Lakeland and beyond on a good day. East of Patterdale is the loneliest lake, Haweswater, which was deepened and enlarged when it was made into a reservoir with a dam, which was built in 1940.
At Crosby Ravensworth, near Shap, there are groups of circular huts that were once lived in by Romano-Britons, while at Crosby Garrett there is evidence of Celtic houses, three closely set villages in small square fields and boundary banks are Iron Age survivals. Norsemen settled at Ambleside here in the 10th century. Brough Castle, built on the site of a Roman fort, stands against the sky. It's a ruin now, but was once the stronghold of Baron Clifford, a cruel foe who gave it the name of Castle of the Butcher. You can see local archaeological finds in Kendal's museum, and at nearby Sizergh Castle built around a peeltower, there is a number of fine carved Elizabethan over mantels. Levens Hall is also an ancient peel tower with an Elizabethan mansion. It has famous topiary gardens laid out in the 17th century and a collection of working steam engines. At Townend in Troutbeck you can browse through a 17th-century house showing old domestic implements.