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Can you still wander lonely as a cloud?

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Eamonn Walsh | 17:10 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010

Romantic poet William Wordsworth was so taken by the beauty of the Lake District in Cumbria, he was compelled to call on his fellow Britons to pay a visit.

He described it as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest, who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy."

And come they did - in steady numbers.

But Wordsworth was writing in 1810 and can be excused for not anticipating the invention, let alone the popularity, of the motor car.

And with the rise of the car came the explosion in visitor numbers.

The post-war rise in the number of motorists mirrored Britain's road-building programme and the construction of the M6 motorway, cutting through the Lakes eastern border in the mid-1960s brought Wordsworth his visitors in their millions.

This newly-found accessibility created a familiar problem for the guardians of the park - formerly established on 15 August 1951 - of how to balance encouraging tourism with the need to safeguard the fragile environment and tranquillity.

It was this dilemma which Panorama sought to address in this film broadcast on 5 June 1965.

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It took until 1974's Sandford Principle, which introduced the idea of management for the UK's protected landscapes, namely conservation for the natural environment and access for the public, to be enshrined in law.

Yet today many of the fears from 1965 persist.

Figures for 2009 show that the Lake District National Park's 885 square miles now welcome 8.3 million day visitors each year to climb the highest mountain (Scafell Pike at 978 metres (3,210 feet)) or sail on its longest lake (Windermere at 10.5 miles long, 17 kilometres) each with an impact to a lesser or greater degree on the environment.

Of these millions of tourists, 89% come by car.

Mention of Windermere brings to mind one of the quirks of the Lake District - there is actually only one official lake - Bassenthwaite Lake - all the other stretches of water are 'meres', 'waters', 'tarns' or 'reservoirs'

Visitor numbers have continued to grow in the past two years as more cost-conscious Britons "staycation" at home and maintaining the fragile balance between welcome and protection is now entrusted to the Lake District National Park Authority.

For all the concerns of visitors causing environmental damage, just as in Wordsworth's time, the Lake District remains a place of tranquillity and wonderment.

You just might have to turn another corner or climb another hill to find it.


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