Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Villages and Visitors

When I was writing my novel ‘Fragrance of Violets’, set in a Lake District village, I had to explain to one of my (American) beta-readers that an English village is not a town. Possibly the nearest American equivalent is a ‘township’.

Geneally speaking, an English village is a small and compact settlement of houses which, in the past, has been based on agriculture, mining, quarrying or fishing. I used to think it was size that distinguished a hamlet from a village, but evidently the difference is that a village has an Anglican church whereas a hamlet doesn't. A typical village (in the past) also had a pub or inn, a few shops catering to local needs, and a blacksmith.

The main difference between a village and a town is that a village’s administrative system is the ‘parish council’ which is the lowest tier of local government, below town (or borough), city and county councils.

In the UK, there still tends to be an idealised image of the village, which is seen as being a haven away from the bustle of modern life, and is represented as quiet and harmonious, if sometimes a little inward-looking. Families lived in the same village for generations, and everyone knew everybody else.

The reality today is somewhat different in many areas today, but especially in the Lake District which is a popular tourist area. The small roads became inadequate to cope with the influx of traffic, so extra roads (and large car-parks) have been built in what are known as the ‘honeypots’, the places which attract the most visitors. These have become commercialised and the shops cater for tourist requirements (souvenirs etc) rather more than simply meeting local needs.  

House prices were pushed up by ‘off-comers’ wanting to buy holiday homes, making them too expensive for the local people. In some places, nearly half the houses are holiday homes, bought either for personal use or for letting out. Many of these lie empty all winter. In an attempt to reverse this trend, some property is now restricted to ‘local occupancy’ meaning it can only be sold to people who are employed or about to be employed in the local area, or who have lived locally for over 3 years.

At the same time, however, it's accepted that tourism is the lifeblood of the Lake District, now that the old industries of the area have died out. The National Park Authority’s aim is to promote sustainable tourism i.e. to minimise the negative aspects and retain the advantages of tourism, while at the same time protecting the environment and people’s quality of life. (Incidentally, Jack and Abbey, my hero and heroine, find a way to reconcile their earlier, different views about this  in ‘Fragrance of Violets’.)
The main Visitor Centre for the Lake District National Park is at Brockhole, between Windermere and Ambleside. It opened in 1969 and is set in 30 acres of terraced gardens leading down to the shores of the lake and with superb views of the Lakeland fells.

The house was built in the late 19th century by a wealthy Manchester merchant, who employed local landscape gardener Thomas Mawson to lay out the formal gardens, and landscape the rest of the 25 acres to provide stunning view of the lake and fells.

In the house, there are exhibitions about the Lake District, with film and slide shows and a wide variety of events is held every year. These include Easter treasure hunts, bird and animal recognition activities, water activities, musical concerts, and family fun days. For children there’s an adventure playground and climbing wall; for their parents, there are picnic tables and a café.

There are also Tourist Information Centres in most of the Lake District towns, including Ambleside, Bowness, Coniston, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Kendal, and Windermere, which provide a wealth of information of places to go, things to do, guidebooks and maps, transport, accommodation, and special events.

Our ‘local’ Tourist Information Office in Hawkshead was an Aladdin’s Cave of information, and I still have many books, maps and leaflets I obtained there. The office used to be near the main car park, and was always our first stop when we went into the village. The main reason was that the weather forecast information was always pinned up on the noticeboard outside the office.

We didn’t need to be told when it was pouring with rain though!


  1. Thank you for the explanations, you write so nicely!

  2. Interesting and informative as usual, Paula. I love to visit villages but I don't think I would like to live in one. Small town is my ideal.But to have a holiday or even a weekend in a village pub is bliss.

  3. As always, I learn something from your posts. I have fallen to the image of an English Village in the past and will be more careful in the future. Loved reading abou the changing landscape fo the people and the housing/roads. Another great post!

  4. thanks for the Lake District's a long commute from the US!

  5. Beautiful garden and house! I imagine sitting by the shore and the lake and just relaxing a bit. Fragrance of Violets seems like a good read. :)

  6. Holiday homes is a problem, isn't it? Though I don't blame people for wanting to live soemwhere so beautiful. I'm reading and really enjoying 'Fragrance...' at the moment (well, not right this moment)!

  7. There's a similar problem in the US - how to maintain remote areas where tourism is the main draw. People visit, fall in love with the area and want to buy a house there, and of course, the sellers are eager to get the best possible price... The result is that the children of long-time residents, and the restaurant servers, etc. can't afford to live there.

  8. Thanks, Claudia!

    Margaret, I used to love the many weekends (and weeks) we had at my caravan., especially when I was (almost) accepted as a 'local', but I know what you mean about small towns too.

    Cecilia - relaxing by one of the lakes was wonderful!

    Rosemary - so glad you;re enjoying Fragrance, and yes, holiday homes do create problems in a small area like Lakeland.

    Beverley - that's exactly right, local people are being driven out of the area because they can no longer afford to buy property there.

  9. Fantastic and informative and written with the obvious love of the area which you have made each of us now share.

  10. I have truly loved this A-Z travelogue of your home. It has given me a glimpse of such a beautiful place which I probably never will have the luck to see for myself. Thank you Paula!!


  11. Hi Paula, thanks for stopping by my blog. I live in Cornwall, so again, I know first-hand the problems in the villages, although I live in a town.

    It's lovely to get a feel for the Lake District - I've never been.

  12. Jo - yes, I truly love this area and I'm glad my love for it has come across in my blogs.

    Thanks, Kathy - your comment has given me the 'warm fuzzies'!

    Annalisa - thanks for visiting. At least you understand what a village is! And I know the same problems happen in Cornish villages (and towns too!)

  13. Absolutely beautiful.. Thank you for allowing me to be a virtual visitor here.. Now I'd like to be a real visitor!:) It's just sooo beautiful..

  14. Hi Paula! Enjoyed your post. Thank you for explaining the differences. That garden is nice.

    Thank you for your recent visit to my blog.

  15. Hi, It is really wonderful of you to explain the differences between towns, villages, hamlets. I love stories about places in England. So very nice to meetcha! Best regards to you. Ruby aka Grammy

  16. I never knew there was a difference between a village and a town. I love the garden and the colorful umbrella in the grayish photo.

    Catch My Words

  17. The gardens are spectacular! The picture drew my attention in and kept it for awhile. I have a fondness for nature, another for gardens and a strong desire to have a living labyrinth one day.

    Love the tours we get to take with you Paula.

    ... and Joyce is right, that umbrella pic is pretty kewl. ;-)

  18. So now I'm wondering what a fell is?? I would love to visit the Lake District... yes, just another tourist, I suppose. I fell in love with it from the Miss Potter movie.

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  20. Such gorgeous pics,Paula, and an equally lovely post to go with them.

  21. Thank you all, I'm delighted you've enjoyed my 'tour'.

    Mimi, the whole area really is beautiful!

    Suzanne, Grammmy and Joyce - there really IS a difference between a village and a town LOL!

    November - you'd love a lot of the formal gardens there are here in England.

    Margo, a fell is the the Lake district term for a mountain. If you look at my N post, you'll find some other words used in the area 0- and my B post is all about Beatrix Potter.

    Damyanti - many thanks!