January is typically the time in the Lake District when things become a little more sedate and sleepy. The tourists have vanished, the last vestiges of Christmas have been stripped away, and even the most ardent fell walkers have retreated into the pubs. But this January, something is stirring deep in the heart of the Lake District, in Grasmere, where there is talk of a resistance and a rebellion fuelled by tea and gingerbread.

Led by retired Royal Mail manager and Grasmere resident, Andy Astle, the resistance is in protest against plans by the Lowther Estate Trust to place up to ten large boats on Grasmere, with each one being able to accommodate up to six people overnight for up to a week. The vessels, described as “gentleman’s yachts” or “houseboats” will be around 40ft in length and each one will be fitted with a kitchen, bathroom, and the ability to cruise around the lake. The Lowther Estate Trust currently own the lake and have applied for a certificate of lawfulness to place the boats there. According to their plans, no jetties are currently proposed and access to the boats will be via rowing boats.

Why Is The Proposal Controversial?

The proposal has been met with alarm by local residents, some holiday makers, and even high-profile figures. A Facebook page set up by Astle in December to organise protests against the plans already has over 2,000 likes after just a few weeks.

Speaking to ITV news earlier this month, Astle explained how he believed the boats would destroy the tranquillity of the lake: “They can move around at will, the noise, the potential pollution, it could be horrendous. It is going to destroy the main reason that people come and enjoy the beauty of Grasmere.”

What the Residents Say

Grasmere Village

Grasmere Village (Elena C / Bigstockphoto.com)

Astle sums up the opinions of many people who are opposed to the Lowther Estate’s Plans. Unlike Ullswater, Windermere, and Derwent Water, where the use of large vessels has been established for many years, Grasmere is widely regarded as a place of peacefulness. William Wordsworth once described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” and visitors are drawn to the lake thanks to the sense of tranquillity it offers.

Protesters are concerned that the plans would diminish Grasmere’s peaceful atmosphere and spoil the beautiful views that have captured so many people’s imaginations. People have also voiced concern that the boats could potentially become “party venues”, with loud music blasting out across the lake.

High Profile Supporters

The protest has attracted a number of high-profile supporters. Broadcaster, Melvyn Bragg, has been particularly vocal in his abhorrence of the plans, stating “Millions of people visit the Lake District for the beauty and peace of the place. This latest assault will rip the heart out of all that.” Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, Tim Farron, has described the plans as the “start of a slippery slope to inappropriate and environmentally damaging development”.

Furthermore, charity and campaign group, Friends of the Lake District, have issued a statement that states that “the proposal would have a significant detrimental effect upon the landscape of an area that is loved by so many for its tranquil nature, views out to the fells and association with the world renowned lakeland poets.”

What Are The Protesters Planning?

The protest group has already held an introductory event. On the 4th January, around 200 supporters took part in a stroll around Grasmere to highlight the issue, and since then posters have appeared around the national park calling for people to help “Save Grasmere”.

On Saturday, 1st February a larger day of protest is planned with people invited to walk, cycle, kayak, run, or swim from Grasmere village to Penny Rock beach at the southern end of Grasmere water. You can learn more about their campaign here.

What Does The Lowther Estate Trust Say?

The Lowther Estate have met with Mr. Astle to discuss the concerns of the protesters. In a statement that was issued to In Cumbria Magazine the Trust said:

The question posed to the LDNPA was would it be lawful to put recreational leisure craft on Grasmere? The question was not asking about residential boats – houseboats – as has been widely perceived but leisure boats such as are already seen, and have been seen for many years, on Coniston Water or Ullswater. The question was a query in law, about the legality of the move. It was not a planning application.

The decision is now with the Lake District National Park Authority who will decide whether or not the proposal is a matter of law. If the LDPNA rule that it is a matter of law then planning permission may be required before the Lowther Estate can take any further action. A ruling is expected sometime next month.

Commercialisation of the Lake District

The protest comes off the back of a couple of other high profile and controversial decisions made by the Lake District National Park Authority in recent months that have called into question the organisation’s dedication to the Lake District’s status as a World Heritage Site.

4x4 Vehicles at Tilberthwaite

Last autumn, the LDNPA decided against a ban of the use of 4x4 off road vehicles on tracks at Tilberthwaite. This was despite reports of significant damage to the landscape caused by the vehicles, as well as a petition with over 360,000 signatures in favour of the ban, plus support from the landowner, the National Trust, who stated that the use of vehicles was “damaging.”

The Keswick to Threlkeld Railway Path

Furthermore, the LDNPA also took the decision to tarmac the Keswick to Threlkeld railway path to make it more accessible. The path was significantly damaged in 2015 during Storm Desmond and repair work has recently started. However, the choice of tarmac has been widely criticised, with many local residents being concerned about the potential urbanisation of a rural area.

The Zipwire Saga

As a result of this decision, and the decision regarding 4x4 use, Keswick Town Council passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the LDNPA last October. These decisions, along with attempts in 2018 to create a zipwire across Thirlmere (these plans were eventually abandoned) have led many to question if the LDNPA is more focused on the commercialisation of the Lake District, rather than the preservation of the special landscapes that led to the park achieving its World Heritage Site status.

What Does the Future Hold?

Grasmere & Rydal Water

Views of Grasmere & Rydal Water

Whatever the outcome of the Grasmere boat decision, questions about the Lake District’s future will remain. Around 17 million people visit the National Park each year, and whilst these visitors bring in a significant amount of revenue, it has been recognised that with these visitors comes increased congestion, path erosion, littering, and problems for farmers, such as sheep worrying and damage from off road vehicles. Striking a balance between the need to raise revenue from visitors and the need to preserve the landscape will not be easy.