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How many lakes are there in the lake district?

It’s a popular question and makes for a great pub quiz question and things are not always as they seem. Here we’ll answer the question as best as we can, but I warn you. It gets complicated.

Brothers Water, Lake District - © Point5.tv
Brothers Water, Lake District - © Point5.tv

One lake

Yes, officially there is only one lake in the Lake District and that is Bassenthwaite Lake. All the other ‘lakes’ in the Lake District are technically ‘meres’, ‘tarns’, or ‘waters’.

Bassenthwaite Lake, the only lake in the Lake District to have “Lake” in its name, is located to the north of Keswick.

Of course, a technicality and the general opinion is that there are 16 bodies of water large enough to be called a lake in the Lake District.

The 16 Lakes of the Lake District

In order of surface area (largest first)

  • Windermere
  • Ullswater
  • Derwentwater
  • Bassenthwaite Lake
  • Coniston Water
  • Haweswater
  • Thirlmere
  • Ennerdale Water
  • Wastwater
  • Crummock Water
  • Esthwaite Water
  • Buttermere
  • Grasmere
  • Loweswater
  • Rydal Water
  • Brotherswater

And then there are a bunch of ‘tarns’ & ‘waters’ that are not considered to be lakes, even though some are bigger than the smaller lakes. It’s all very confusing and not very scientific.

Visiting the lakes soon?

Check out out other articles for The Lake District

What is a Mere?

A mere is “a shallow lake, pond, or wetland” or to put it another way, it’s a lake that is a lot wider than it is broad.

Windermere for example is 1.6km wide, 16km long and only 64 meters deep which, rather confusingly, is a whole lot deeper than Bassenthwaite Lake’s 19 meters.

Confused? Me too, but I did warn you.

What is a Tarn?

At this point I’m wondering if there is any point in delving into this question. Everything is just so mixed up it’s hard to give any meaningful definitions.

Here goes…

Tarn is from the Old Norse word tjörn (“a small mountain lake without tributaries”) – Wikipedia

Technically a tarn is formed by glaciers pushing moraine forward or the glacier retreating, so tarns are usually found high on mountains. Trouble is, just like the name “mere”, bodies of water called “tarn” can be found all over the lake district which may not fit this strict definition.

So, to summarise… There is only one named Lake in the lake district which is shallow enough to be called a mere but it is not. Windermere is a mere but it’s deeper than the Lake. Tarns are smaller bodies of water that should be in the mountains but lowland lakes got jealous of the cool kids and also call themselves tarns.

All clear? I thought so!

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