2020 has been a difficult year, and many Brits are looking to recuperate within our own borders. What could be freer than hopping in a car and driving into the great outdoors? While international travel begins to recover – keep an eye on our updated-daily Coronavirus travel page – consider a closer-to-home trip to one of these most beautiful lakes in the UK.
Best lakes in the UK for adventure sports
Lake Windemere, Lake District
The inspiration for the setting of Arthur Ransome’s novel Swallows and Amazons, Windemere is also famous for being the largest body of water in the Lake District. The 10.5-mile long lake is a popular holiday spot, lined with B&Bs and activity and sailing centres. Start by taking in the beautiful landscape on an hour-long lake cruise through the ribbon-shaped lake’s mountain scenery, isolated bays and between its 18 wooded islets, which run each day on historic steamers. Then there are countless row boat, canoe and sailing boat hire companies to pick from to start exploring on your own.
Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
At 151 square miles in size, this freshwater lake is the largest in the UK – it’s so big, in fact, that it supplies 40 per cent of Northern Island’s water and at some points looks like a sea. The third-largest freshwater lake in Europe, it borders five of Northern Island’s six counties and links to canals like the Ulster, Newry and Lagan. Suffice to say it’s a landscape rich with flora, fauna and wildlife, plus adventure sports operators. Ballyronan Marina, on the westerly shores of the lake, is a good place to start, or take a canoe trail which can lead all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Feeling extra dare devilish? Book onto a Microlight Flying experience from nearby Portadown.
Best lakes in the UK for family trips
Loch Ness, Scotland
Loch Ness is one of the most famous lakes in the world, and not just for its eponymous monster. This seriously deep body of water is Scotland’s biggest by volume, containing more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. In some places it reaches depths of 230 metres – that means it could submerge London’s Heron Tower, the biggest in the City. Who’s to say it couldn’t be home to a long-necked marine monster, too? Hunt for Nessie on the Loch Ness 360 Trail, a walking, running and cycling route that circumnavigates the lake and takes in accommodation, campsites and restaurants en route. You can even get a closer look at the mirror-like water – and whatever lies beneath – on a paddle boarding or canoe safari.
Bewl Water, England
This perfectly still, blue lake in East Sussex proves that not all the UK’s lakes are found in the north. Its 13-mile route around the reservoir makes a perfect trip for families on hired mountain bikes (or a long walk if you’ve got older kids), but there’s a lot more to keep you entertained. Go nuts at Bewl Water Aqua Park where 2,400 square metres of inflatable obstacle course reigns on the water, including monkey bars, a halfpipe and a springboard into the lake. Or, hire out a pedalo, paddle board or sailing boat – parents have permission to wait it all out over a slap-up burger at The Waterfront Cafe.
Best lakes in the UK for swimming
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
Okay, this remote oasis in the Inner Hebrides isn’t technically a lake. But we had to include the Fairy Pools for their ice-blue, crystal-clear waters, tailormade for a wild swimmer that can brave the cold temperatures. Waterfalls plunge into the mountain-surrounded pools, whose smooth, pebbled floor can be seen through the glass-like water. Though popular with visitors to Scotland, it’s a bit of a trek (around 40 minutes) from the village of Carbost and along the River Brittle, before you reach your watery reward. At least it’ll get the blood pumping before that first, icy-cold dunk.
Llyn Idwal, Wales
The striking beauty of this small, glacial lake, nestled in a volcanic rock formation in Snowdonia, takes every visitor’s breath away. Surrounded by jagged mountains and cliff faces, and taking on a menacing atmosphere when the sun’s behind clouds, the lake is also unimaginably clear and fresh. Botanists, rock climbers and geologists go to town on the surrounding rocks, home to geological treasures and climbable crags, but wild swimmers brave the cool waters for their incomparable natural beauty. The dramatic landscape even earned Llyn Idwal the accolade of Wales’s first National Nature Reserve.
Best lakes in the UK for spotting wildlife
Loch Lomond, Scotland
This 24-mile long lake is popular with visitors because it’s just a 14-mile drive from Glasgow, meaning easy accessibility and amenities, like a golf club and easy-to-navigate cycle trails and footpaths. Synonymous with Scottish beauty, Loch Lomond has not only been the setting of an Oasis gig in the 90s, but also inspired Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake and one of Scotland’s most famous songs: The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond. But its greatest draw of all might be its wildlife, protected within the Trossachs National Park. Majestic golden eagles soar overhead, otters peek their heads out along the water’s edge, red deer gather and elusive red squirrels scamper. There’s even a colony of wallabies on Inchconnachan, one of Loch Lomond’s many islands.
Lake Vyrnwy, Wales
Technically a manmade reservoir dating back to the 1880s, Lake Vrynwy deserves a mention purely for its breathtaking location – on the edge of Snowdonia National Park – and views of the sparse, heather-carpeted moorland leading to the Berwyn mountain range. Its Victorian aqueduct and dam make a scenic focal point for sunset photos, but bird-watchers really come into their own here. thanks to the several RSPB bird reserves around the lake, you can spot peregrine falcons, buzzards, red kites, red grouse and goshawks. Every spring a dawn chorus tour is held at the lakeside, starting at 5am and finishing with coffee and pastries.
Best lakes in the UK for fishing
Loch Morar, Scotland
As the UK’s deepest lake – up to 310 metres – it’s no surprise that a lake monster to rival Nessie is rumoured to dwell here, too (the locals call her Morag). But venture out onto these waters and you’re far more likely to come into contact with some much smaller marine life. Loch Morar is a prime spot for traditional loch style salmon and trout fishing thanks to its deep water, but fly fishing from a drifting boat and fishing from the bank are also permitted. Be conscious of the conservation rules that apply to fishing here, sit back and watch a sea eagles glide overhead, and otters contentedly go about their own fishing duties.
Loch Shiel, Scotland
You might recognise this mesmerising lake for its appearance as the Great Lake in the Harry Potter films (the huge lake next to Hogwarts. Remember when Harry masters the Patronus charm against Dementors on the lake’s edge?). In real life, this ancient glacial lake is known for its abundant wildlife, that lives in the woodland, mountains and shorelines that surround the blue-tinged water. It’s a vital breeding ground for salmon, sea trout and brown trout, all of which can be fished provided you have a permit and follow certain rules. Hire a boat from the Loch Shiel Hotel in Archaracle, who will also take care of your permit and fuel – all in, it’s £52.50 for a full day’s fishing.
How many lakes are there in the UK?
The UK is home to approximately 40,000 lakes – and 37,000 of them are in Scotland. Five of England’s largest lakes are technically reservoirs, like Kielder Water in Northumberland.
What’s the biggest lake in the UK?
Lough Neagh is the largest lake in the British Isles, and Loch Morar is the deepest.
How many lakes are there in the Lake District?
There are 16 lakes in the Lake District to visit. Windermere is the largest there, and the largest natural lake in England. It’s popular with visitors, so check the Lake District’s Coronavirus advice page before setting off.