Okay, so when it comes to pub quizzes, as a reader of this website you probably know a fair thing or two about the Lake District. You consider yourself well-versed in all the usual Lake District facts, such as the fact that it only has one official “Lake” or that it is home to the World’s Biggest Liar competition. But how many of these, more unusual, slightly wacky, facts did you know?

1. Scafell Pike Is Not Just England’s Highest Mountain

Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike (Doug Sim / Wikipedia.org)

It’s also Britain’s highest war memorial. The mountain was originally owned by the 3rd Baron of Leconfield, Charles Wyndham, who served in the First World War. He donated the land to the National Trust in 1919 as an act of remembrance of all those who died in the war.

The summit cairn, that was restored by the National Trust in 2018, bears a plaque that honours the “men of the Lake District who fell for God and King”. During the restoration works, National Trust rangers also buried a time capsule under the cairn for future generations to discover.

2. Lake District Residents Invented Ingenious Social Distancing Methods in 1665

Thirlmere

Thirlmere (Voyager

These days social distancing involves keeping two metres apart and copious amounts of hand sanitiser, but during an outbreak of the plague in 1665, residents in and around Thirlmere came up with a clever idea to keep trading whilst public markets were closed and movement was restricted.

In the large bog above Thirlmere, close to Launchy Tarn, a single boulder became the place to exchange woven fabric, known as “web” for money. Villagers would circumvent travel restrictions by sneaking to the rock, which became known as the “web stone” to make the exchange, and coins were washed in vinegar before taken back to their homes – an early version of wiping down your shopping with Dettol.

3. The Lake District Was Once a Saint’s Sanctuary

The Parish Church of St Bega

The Parish Church of St Bega (Alexander P Kapp / geograph.org.uk)

It is said that St Bega was an Irish princess who valued her virginity so much that when her father promised her hand in marriage to a Viking prince, she fled across the Irish Sea to St Bees on the Cumbrian coast. According to early records, Bega lived a solitary life on the coast, until pirates arrived. Once more fearing for her virginity, Bega fled to Northumberland, but left her bracelet behind in the hope that miracles could occur for the Cumbrian residents.

Several miracles have been attributed to her, including on one occasion when three Workington Men were imprisoned for a crime. They confessed their sins in prayer to Bega, who allegedly rescued them and gave them sanctuary. St Bega has a pretty church on the shore of Bassenthwaite named after her.

4. There Is a Village That Is Named Hill-Hill-Hill

Building in Torpenhow

Building in Torpenhow (Alexander P Kapp / geograph.org.uk)

Well, not actually, but Torpenhow, the name of both a village and a hill on the northern outskirts of the Lake District, essentially means Hill, Hill Hill. Tor is apparently Saxon for hill, Penn is supposedly British Celtic for hill, and Howe comes from an Old Norse word for (drum roll please), yes, you guessed it, hill.

Of course, the really odd thing about Torpenhow is the pronunciation, as according to local residents it’s “Tra-pen-na.”

5. Cumbrians Tried to Overthrow the Queen

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots (Wikipedia.org)

Not our current Queen (no one would want to overthrow our lovely Liz after all), but way back in the day of Queen Elizabeth I, a group of Cumbrians plotted to overthrow Her Majesty and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Mary spent some time in Cumbria in 1568 before being thrown into prison in Carlisle. Led by the Earl of Westmorland, around 6,000 troops launched a rebellion, but it was quickly quashed by Elizabeth’s superior numbers.

6. The Lake District Has Been Visited by Aliens Many Times

Cockermouth Church

Cockermouth has apparently been visited by aliens (Tim Herrick / Wikipedia.org)

Well, okay, we might be pushing it a bit to call this one a “fact”, but still, it’s pretty fascinating. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence declassified reports of Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings that were made between 1997 and 2009. The reports revealed that Cumbria has allegedly been visited by alien lifeforms 21 times!

Reports include the sighting of three bright lights that formed a triangle in the skies above Carlisle in 1997, a colourful triangle shaped craft that was spotted outside of Cockermouth in 2001, and the appearance of around 40 orange and red lights in the skies above Kendal in 2005, apparently not linked to their annual torchlight festival.

According to some UFO experts, the Lake District is the perfect refuelling station for alien aircraft thanks to its abundance of water, but we think aliens like to visit because we have amazing visitor attractions, fabulous food, and an outstanding landscape.

7. Keswick Pencil Makers Assisted Spies in the Second World War

Keswick Pencil Museum

Keswick Pencil Museum (Andrew Abbott / Wikipedia.org)

Keswick has a long connection to the pencil making industry. The Lake District fells are rich in graphite and in the 19th century a booming cottage industry in pencil making began to supply pencils around the country, eventually leading to the creation of what is now known as the Derwent Pencil Company in 1916. During World War II, Charles Fraser-Smith worked for the Ministry of Supply creating objects that could be used by British intelligence agents. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because Fraser-Smith is thought to be the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s character “Q” in the James Bond books.

Fraser-Smith approached the Derwent Pencil Company for help in creating one such object. The result was a pencil that contained a secret hidden chamber that held maps of escape routes in Germany and other occupied territories, as well as a compass. You can see some of the original pencils and maps at the Pencil Museum in Keswick, and if you have always fancied yourself as a bit of a Bond character, you can even purchase a replica version from the museum shop.

8. A Former Bishop of Derry Has a Rather Unique Monument on a Lake District Fell Side

The Bishop of Barf

The Bishop of Barf (David Gruar / geograph.org.uk)

If you have ever travelled along the A66 from Keswick towards Cockermouth, you may have noticed a white rock on the fell side that looks over Bassenthwaite lake, just beyond the village of Thornthwaite. This is a unique monument to an 18th century Bishop of Derry (Now Londonderry) who stayed at the Swan Hotel in Thornthwaite in 1783. Perhaps fuelled by the wonderful affects of a pint or four of Lake District ale, the Bishop made a bet with those in the hotel that he could reach the summit of the Lords Seat via a steep ascent of Barf fell, on his horse.

If you don’t know the area, Lords Seat is a stunning view point overlooking Bassenthwaite that is easily accessible from Whinlatter Forest (and a walk we would heartily recommend to anyone visiting the area), and from Lords Seat it’s also easy to wander across to the summit of Barf. However, the ascent up Barf from Thornthwaite, the Bishop’s chosen route with this steed, is not so easy, being very craggy.

Sadly, for the unfortunate Bishop, and perhaps more sadly for his unfortunate horse who had no choice in the matter, the horse fell at the point of large rock set amongst some scree, killing them both. The rock was painted white by the hotel patrons and named “The Bishop” in commemoration, and up until its closure, staff at the Swan continued to maintain the rock’s appearance with regular coats of paint. The hotel has since closed, but villagers continue to volunteer to occasionally repaint the rock, making it visible from the A66. A second rock, also painted white, and named “The Clerk” near the bottom of the fell, allegedly marks the place where the Bishop and his horse were buried.

9. A Witch & Her Daughters Were Turned to Stone Near Penrith

Long Meg & Her Daughters

Long Meg & Her Daughters (Simon Ledingham / geograph.org.uk)

Cumbria is brimming with Neolithic monuments, including Long Meg and Her Daughters, an ancient stone circle that is located just outside of Penrith. According to local legend, Long Meg was a witch who had many daughters, and they were found dancing on the Sabbath by a mathematician, philosopher, priest, and apparent wizard, Michael Scot, who turned them all into stones for their sins. It is also said that it is impossible to count the stones, and that if you manage to succeed in doing so you will unbreak the spell or experience bad luck.

If you want to try your luck with the spell and set Meg free, you can visit the stone circle freely today. Long Meg herself is the tallest stone that sits outside of the main circle and is adorned with strange markings. Its four corners match up with the four points of the compass. In addition, the circle features four stones at different points that made from quartz stone that apparently align with the position of the sun in relation to the centre of the circle on certain dates of the year. Historians still don’t understand the true reason behind the creation of the circle, although many theories have been put forward over the years, but it’s certainly a fascinating place to visit.

10. The Lake District Has Been Over 500 Million Years in the Making

Derwent Water

Derwent Water (Voyager / Wikipedia.org)

Perfection takes time. Lots of time. Thankfully, nature has had over 500 million years to create the Lake District. The long lakes of the Lake District are typical of valleys that have been carved out by glacial activity, with the ancient volcanic rock preventing much of the rainfall from simply seeping away to other areas. The Lake District has a fascinating geological history.

Volcanos helped to form the fells around Borrowdale, including Scafell Pike and Helvellyn, whilst the presence of the tropical sea covering the Lake District around 320 million years ago resulted in the creation of some of the lower fells in the southern part of the national park.