From the small but majestic Rydal Water in the Lake District to the bubbling Fairy Pools of Skye, the UK is home to a wide variety of spectacular lakes for water-sports, wild swims, bike rides, water-side walks and picnics.
Most of us have heard of Windemere, Loch Lomond and the mighty Loch Ness, but there are many more to be explored. Our guide to Britain’s lakes looks at the best to visit, wildlife to spot, local heritage and walks.
How many lakes are there in the UK?
Ranging in size and depth, there are more than 40,000 lakes across the UK. In England there are approximately 390 lakes larger than 5 hectares. Five of England’s largest lakes are actually classified as reservoirs.
Where is the largest lake in the UK?
In Scotland, lakes are called lochs. The mighty Loch Ness in Scotland is the largest lake in the UK by depth – making it the largest body of water by volume in Britain, while Loch Lomond is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area at 22.6 miles in length.
Early morning mist in the Lake District ©Jake Graham
How many lakes are there in the Lake District?
Famous for its iconic waters and fells, there are 16 lakes in the Lake District to visit – with Windermere the largest at 10.5 miles long and 220 feet deep. Windermere is also the largest natural lakes in England. Numerous rivers feed into Windermere and it is a popular location for water-sports.
Of all the national parks in Britain, the Lake District in Cumbria is arguably the most celebrated – discover the the area’s fells, rivers, waters and towns with our favourite walks.
Ullswater, Cumbria, Lake District
Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District at 7.5 miles long, and is best known for it’s stunning scenery. The lake is situated at the foot of England’s third highest mountain, Helvellyn, making it an irresistible destination for walkers and hikers. Enjoy the view from the lake, or from the mountains, before finding refreshment at one of the many cafes and pubs in the area.
Enjoy a walk along the shores of the lake or book a scenic cruise across Ullswater and visit ullswater-steamers.co.uk
Buttermere, Cumbria, Lake District
Buttermere lake ©Alamy
Henry David Thoreau wrote of tramping eight or 10 miles to “keep an appointment with a beech tree, a yellow birch or an old acquaintance among the pines”. Here in the Lakes, visitors can do the same with a walk of about eight miles, first climbing to the crest of Rannerdale Knotts before returning via the iconic Buttermere Pines and the lake itself.
Windermere, Cumbria, Lake District
Aerial view of Lake Windermere ©Getty
At 10.5 miles long, Windermere is the largest body of water in the Lake District. The lake was one of Arthur Ransome’s inspirations for Swallows and Amazons. These days, the lake shore is home to hotels, activity companies and sailing centres – perfect for exploring glistening waters and tree-topped islands.
Coniston Water, Cumbria, Lake District
Yachts on the Coniston Water in the Lake District ©Getty
Best known for Donald Campbell’s tragically failed attempt at the world speed record in 1967, Coniston Water is also a scenic gem, situated beneath the lofty summit of the Old Man of Coniston. Visitors can hire boats to truly appreciate the vista, and then head to John Ruskin’s former home, Brantwood, now a museum and centre for the arts.
Find out what’s on at Brantwood this summer by visiting brantwood.org.uk
Rydal Water, Cumbria, Lake District
A lone Tree on a small island at Rydal water in the English Lake District gGetty
Despite being one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District, Rydal Water is not to be missed. Set in lush green surroundings, any lover of literature will appreciate the connections Rydal has. Two of Wordsworth’s homes are situated on the banks of the lake, as well as a cottage formerly occupied by Thomas Quincey and Hartley Coleridge.
Kielder Water, Northumberland
Kielder Water and Forest, Northumberland ©Getty
Built between 1975 and 1981, Kielder Water is the UK’s largest artificial lake. Although the main use of the reservoir is to supply the North Tyne, Wear and Tees rivers, it is also a beautiful feature of the landscape, surrounded by pine forests and heather moorland. Visitors to Kielder Water can holiday in the woodland lodges and marvel at the star-studded night skies over the lake, which have been named the darkest in England.
Malham Tarn, North Yorkshire, Yorkshire Dales
Malham tarn is a natural lake on high ground in the Yorkshire Dales.
At 377 metres above sea level, Malham Tarn is the highest marl (calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud) lake in Britain. A short walk around Malham Tarn beneath the looming cliffs of Great Close Scar offers ramblers a chance to experience a variety of habitats, from craggy limestone bluffs, to thick forest, peatland and a wildlife-rich upland lake.
Llangorse, Brecon Beacons
Swans paddle on Llangorse Lake in the Brecon Beacons national Park ©Getty
The largest natural lake in Wales, Llangorse is a wide haven of tranquility. It is particularly popular for boating and fishing, although as a site of Special Scientific Importance, there are regulations that must be abided by. Llangorse is also known for being the location of the only Crannog in Wales, an ancient lake defence thought to be constructed in the 10th century. Visit the lake and immerse yourself in its myth and folklore.
Llyn Idwal, Conwy/Gwynedd, Snowdonia
Llyn (Lake) Idwal and the peak of Pen yr Ole Wen in the distance, Snowdonia National Park ©Getty
Nestled within the breathtaking rock formation of Cwm Idwal is Llyn Idwal, a small glacial lake supplied by freshwater flowing from the mountains. The area was recognised as Wales’ first National Nature Reserve for it’s unique landscape, making it hugely popular with rock-climbers and geologists. It is also a haven for botanists, being home to a variety of rare Arctic-alpine plants.
Lake Vyrnwy, Powys
Lake Vyrnwy © Getty
Lake Vyrnwy was built in the 1880s to supply Liverpool with freshwater. In addition to the water activities available, the lake is also a RSPB nature reserve and, as a result, visitors can hope to spot pied flycatchers, redstarts and peregrines, among other species. There is a sculpture trail park and natural play area, meaning the whole family can enjoy the lake.
Llyn y Dywarchen, Gwynedd, Snowdonia
Llyn y Dywarchen, Gwynedd ©Getty
Hike through deep valleys, along meandering forest paths and beside an old mountain railway to one of the most mysterious lakes in Britain: Wales’ Llyn y Dywarchen. It is across this lake that an island once floated – discover the mystery.
Llyn y Fan Fach, Camarthenshire, Brecon Beacons
Llyn y Fan Fach, Powys ©Getty
Park up in the small, gravel car park beneath Llyn y Fan Fach and you’ll already be aware of the solitude of this part of the Brecon Beacons – it’s the quiet understudy to the neighbouring central peaks of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn, yet certainly no less spectacular.
Loch Lomond, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Balmaha boats in the harbour, Loch Lomond ©Getty
Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s most beautiful and peaceful lochs, and the inspiration for one of Scotland’s most famous songs: The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond. Among other attractions, the loch contains around 30 islands, some of which form a Special Area of Conservation, home to otters, black grouse and golden eagles.
Loch Morar, Lochaber, Highland
Loch Morar, Highlands, Scotland ©Getty
Loch Morar has the title of the UK’s deepest body of fresh water, with a maximum depth of 310m. The loch, formed through glacial action 10,000 years ago, now boasts a wonderful selection of walks, as well as prime opportunities for salmon and trout fishing. Visit its waters in summer and watch the sun set against the rolling hills.
Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Highland
The Glenfinnan Monument at Loch Shiel ©Getty
Loch Shiel, wrapped by woodland and mountains, is notable for its abundant wildlife. It’s waters and shoreline are a vital breeding ground for black-throated divers and golden eagles, as well as salmon, sea trout and brown trout which can be fished with permits. The loch also features in several films – it’s the fictional Black Lake in the Harry Potter films, and also a location in Highlander and The Master of Ballantrae.
Loch Garten, Highland
Loch Garten is hidden within Abernethy Forest ©Getty
Hidden within Abernethy Forest in the lowlands of the Cairngorms National Park is Loch Garten. With its ancient Caledonian pine forest, boggy woodland and rich waters, the reserve is an embodiment of the wild and compelling nature of the Scottish Highlands.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland ©Getty
Though not technically a lake, the Fairy Pools are among the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland. Situated on the Isle of Skye, visitors flock to the Fairy Pools in summer to enjoy the crystal clear waters and beautiful falls. The route to the pools is a walk of medium difficult, but you are rewarded with the chance to take a dip and cool off among the cascades.
To find out more about the Fairy Pools walk, visit isleofskye.com
Lough Erne, County Fermanagh
Lower Lough Erne, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland ©Daniel Graham
Lough Erne is the second biggest lake system in Northern Ireland. The lough has 154 islands – some home to the scarce garden warbler – many of which can be explored on boat and foot. Today, the lough is popular for angling and water sports, as well as hosting the Lough Erne Challenge gold tournament. It is also steeped in mythology; there are various folk tales surrounding the name and origin of the lough, including that it was named after an ancient goddess.
Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
Lough Neagh ©Getty
Lough Neagh supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s water and is the biggest lake in Ireland. Legend has it that the lough has its very own underwater Atlantis, after a spring rose up and flooded an ancient kingdom. There are now numerous activities to enjoy at Lough Neagh, from waterskiing to golf, as well as tours of the ancient ruins of Shane’s Castle, recently used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
- Explore the heritage and nature of Lough Neagh with one of the many tours available, at loughneaghtours.com