The drowned houses of Haweswater

I live in the Eden Valley on the fringe of the Lake District and my nearest lake is Haweswater - about twenty minutes drive away. It's also one of my favourites, for its wild, rather bleak atmosphere and because it is less visited than the other lakes. You can often walk there without seeing another person. Haweswater is a magical place, with a drowned village under its surface, and a number of legends gradually growing about its abandonment. People tell tales of hearing bells on wild nights and seeing lights moving under the surface of the water.
Stormy evening sky above Haweswater
Originally there was a small lake in the valley, about 4 kilometres long, with the village of Mardale at the upper end of it.  But in 1929 it was proposed to extend the lake to make a reservoir to supply water to the city of Manchester, which meant evicting the residents of the village, some of whom had lived there for generations, and destroying one of the most picturesque valleys of the Lake District. The flooding of Mardale was finally accomplished in 1936, and the conflict provided the setting for a novel written by a local resident, Sarah Hall.  Haweswater won the Commonwealth Writers' first novel prize in 2003.  The lake also features in the film Withnail and I.

When the water level is low, you can still see the roads and the walls, the outlines of houses and the pack-bridge over the little stream that fed the original lake.

The packbridge, Mardale 1995
I've walked through Mardale when it was last exposed, even through the churchyard, which is a very strange experience.
Mardale Church as it used to be
The level isn't quite as low as that at the moment, but still several feet below the usual level, despite a very wet summer (they drink a lot of water in Manchester!) so it seemed a good time to go there. The evening light was stormy, promising more rain, and you could see some of the ruins poking up out of the water.

On the edge of the lake, usually under it, the walls of the old pub - the Dun Bull, are exposed at the moment.

You can find pieces of crockery among the stones, as well as roofing slates and glass bottles, remnants of people's lives.

The stumps of old trees have had the soil washed out from under them and they hover over the rubble like ghost crabs.  I could swear one of them moved!
Tree stumps like giant crabs
Haweswater is one of the only places in England that still has a Golden Eagle resident and on the shoreline we found a gigantic, aerodynamic, wing feather.  It occupies two sheets of A4 paper. Is it from a Golden Eagle?  I have no way of knowing, but it is a beautiful, unique thing.

Golden Eagle wing feather?
Further up the bank, there are small gardens of wild flowers in sheltered places and one or two fir trees.

On one of the trees we found a rather poignant plaque, commemorating a life.  Someone else's favourite place too.


  1. Lovely article and very haunting Kathy. I believe there were many villages lost during the 'new reservoirs' era in the UK.


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