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Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows, near Coniston and Hawkshead, is one of the most visited beauty spots in the Lake District, and indeed in the whole of the United Kingdom. In spite of this it remains unspoilt by the motor car. Parking has been organised in such a way as to keep the gleam of sun on metal well hidden from the eyes of those admiring the natural beauties of the land and water.

And yet ... this small lake with its almost overwhelming beauty is not completely natural. Until the mid-nineteenth century it consisted of three much smaller tarns linked by a stream. Wordsworth, in the early years of the nineteenth century, wrote of passing the nearby farm but found nothing worthy of mention in the tarns. Then later in the century the landowner James Garth Marshall of Monk Coniston Hall decided to create a dam at the outflow from the lower tarn, so creating the larger body of water that we see today. Environmental and natural landscape purists have mocked it as an artificial parkland but the facts are undeniable; artificial or not, millions have enjoyed its beauty, and still do.

For several generations the place continued to be referred to by the now inappropriate name still used by the Ordnance Survey, The Tarns, although the name Tarn Hows is almost universally used. Actually this name appears to have been derived from the nearby farm house, Tarnhouse.

The setting of the tarn among the hills, surrounded by trees, has attracted millions of visitors down the years. Although less the case during our recent milder winters, Tarn Hows has in past colder climatic cycles been a popular spot for winter skating. At any time of year the easy walk around the tarn is a pleasant experience, and there are more demanding hillside walks for the energetic visitor.

Tarn Hows and the National Trust

It is usually said that The Tarns came into the possession of the National Trust through a gift from Beatrix Potter and later her will, she having purchased the Monk Coniston estate in order to preserve it. However, Bruce Thompson in his 1946 book, The Lake District and the National Trust, states that "The Tarns and its setting were given to the nation by Sir S. H. Scott in 1930 as part of the Trust's general scheme for securing a large part of the Monk Coniston estate. The gift was made in memory of Sir James and Lady Scott." As Thompson was agent for the Trust's properties in the North of England one would expect him to know.

It took me some time to discover the explanation that makes both statements true. You can read it here: Tarn Hows History.

How to get there

Tarn Hows is just a short drive north from Coniston or from Hawkshead, but this year (2008) the National Trust has opened up a new footpath from the head of Coniston Water to The Tarns, passing Monk Coniston Hall, where you can break your walk for a while to explore the gardens (not the house). Like so much else that the Trust does, this is an excellent initiative; once again they are to be congratulated.



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