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The Lake District, locally referred to as 'The Lakes", is an area in North West England, famous the world over for its truly magnificent mountains and deep blue lakes. Situated within the county of Cumbria, covering an area of 885 sq miles (2,292 sq km), it was designated a National Park over 60 years ago, with the intention of conserving the natural beauty, wildlife and heritage of this scenic landscape. The small towns and villages that are dotted around the landscape offer a feeling of yesteryear, with their dry stone walls and ancient buildings seemingly unchanged for centuries.
The Lake District, visited by nearly 16 million people per year, is home to the only mountains over 3,000 ft in England, the four peaks of Scafell Pike, Sca Fell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. They are part of a range called the Cumbrian Mountains, which travel from north to south, slicing a path directly through the center of the Lake District. In the Lake District, hills and mountains are known as 'fells', from the ancient Norse word for mountain, 'fjall'. In addition, there are a multitude of smaller mountains and undulating hills, and crystal clear blue lakes, formed from glaciated valleys.
At the center of the Lake District you will find Windermere, the largest lake in England. A 'ribbon' lake, it stretches for 11 miles (18 km), winding its way from north to south through gentle foothills, making the surrounding area the perfect place for leisurely walks overlooking this majestic stretch of water. On the northern tip of the lake is the pretty little market town of Ambleside, while the village of Windermere sits on the eastern shore. Just to the south east is the bustling market town of Kendal, known as the 'Gateway to the Lake District'. Be sure to sample some of the world famous Kendal Mint Cake, favored by climbers and mountaineers as a tasty source of energy! Close by is the village of Near Sawrey, with the farm of Hill Top being an 'artistic retreat of the author Beatrix Potter. It is one of several farms that she bought in the area with the intention of preserving the countryside. Just to the north is Grasmere, a tiny, yet enchanting lake measuring just 5,040 feet long (1540m) and 2,100 yards wide (640m). The lake also lends its name to the neighboring village of Grasmere, best known as the place that William Wordsworth called home for a number of years, living at Dove Cottage (now owned by the National Trust). Grasmere is such an idyllic little village that Wordsworth described it as "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found".
Slightly west of Windermere, on the other side of the Grizedale Forest, is Coniston Water. At 5 miles (8km) long, it is relatively straight, making it the perfect place to attempt water speed records. It has been the site of 5 successive world records, the last one being fatal, when Donald Campbell decided that he needed to break his own record of 300 mph (483 km/h). After achieving 320 mph (515 km/h) his 'Bluebird K7' somersaulted and crashed, killing Campbell instantly. At the head of the lake is the village of Coniston, a fabulous base for fell walking and rock climbing. Some of the best rock in the area is found on the east face of Dow Crag. Bear in mind that it should be attempted by experienced climbers only. Nearby, the summit of The Old Man of Coniston (2,634 ft or 803 m) can be reached quite easily by a number of well marked paths.
Travel north over the winding Kirkstone Pass (the highest road pass in the Lake District), and you will arrive at the second largest lake, Ullswater, measuring 7.5 miles (12.1 km) long. The rolling fields and valleys surrounding the lake were the inspiration for Wordsworth's famous poem "I wandered lonely as a cloud…", due to the multitude of wild daffodils that seem to bloom like a carpet in the springtime. Ullswater is thought to be the most beautiful of all the lakes in the area, causing people to make comparisons to Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. This is another 'ribbon' lake, following a 'z' pattern that winds its way through the mountains. To the southwest of Ullswater soars the grand peak of Helvellyn, rising 3,117 ft (950m) above sea level. This is a climber's delight, the eastern side featuring two knife-edge ridges of rock known as Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. This is a 'hands and feet' climb, and only to be attempted by an experienced scrambler. Between the two is Red Tarn, a large pool, filled with fresh-water herring and trout.
Traveling west from Ullswater you will find the town of Keswick, nestled on the shores of Derwent Water. If you visit Keswick on a Saturday, you will find that the town centre transforms into an open street market, offering a fun day out experiencing a traditional English market. Derwent Water is extremely popular with boaters, having a number of lakeside marinas, and a regular passenger launch which offers transport to the different landing stages. Slightly to the northwest, in the shadow of the imposing Skiddaw mountain, is Bassenthwaite Lake, a long, narrow body of water that is 4 miles (6.4 km) long and just 3/4 mile (1.2 km) wide. Bassenthwaite is positively teeming with fish, resulting in an amazing variety of birds that populate the area, looking for their next meal, including cormorants and herons. In 2001, for the first time in 150 years, ospreys returned to the area. Skiddaw, at 3,054 feet (931m), is extremely popular with tourists as it is the easiest of the four main peaks to climb. While the other peaks tend to be very rocky with loose stones, Skiddaw is mainly grass and heather. To the south of Keswick you will find the small village of Borrowdale. Famed fell walker Alfred Wainwright called the Borrowdale valley "the loveliest square mile in Lakeland".
Wast Water, the deepest lake in England, at 258 feet (79m), sits at the base of some of the most tremendous peaks in England. The lake sits 200 feet above sea level, but its bottom is 50 feet below sea level! It is surrounded by Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain at 3,209 feet (978m), Sca Fell, the second-highest, standing 3,162 feet (964m), and Great Gable, at 2,949 feet (899m). Once at the top of any of these majestic mountains, the panoramic views are breathtaking. This area is possibly the most favorite of climbers, due to the wealth of amazing climbs and the remoteness of the area. Wast Water is quite difficult to get to compared to the other lakes, but well worth the visit. If you are driving from the east, you will have to drive over one of two passes: Wrynose and Hardknott - both are difficult to traverse. If you decide to travel over the pass, be sure to look out for Hardknott Roman Fort. Built between 120 AD and 138 AD, this is a stunning example of Roman architecture, the stone walls of the barracks, baths, granaries and commandant's house still intact.
While not technically within the boundaries of the Lake District National Park, the northwest coast of England lies just a few miles away. The village of Ravenglass is the starting point of the Ravenglass & Eksdale Railway, which takes visitors to the base of Scafell Pike. Just inland is Muncaster, a medieval castle, surrounded by 70 acres (28 ha) of enchanting gardens and woodland, described as the 'Gateway to Paradise'.
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What Makes It Special
The Lake District, with its mix of craggy peaks, undulating valleys, woodland and crystal clear lakes, gives a diversity of scenery that is found nowhere else in England. Whether you are scrambling up a rocky crag, traversing a grassy fell, or simply sitting at the water's edge, there is a certain tranquility and sense of freedom, that allows you to feel like you are a million miles away from everyday life.
It is home to a large variety of wildlife, including the rare red squirrel. This is a protected species, due to the fact that there are so few left in the UK. England's last Golden Eagle is found in the Haweswater area of the Lake District, and recently, ospreys returned to the area after a hiatus of 150 years. Three endangered species of fish can be found in the lakes: the vendace, the schelley and the Arctic charr.
Lovers of literature will find something of interest at every turn, the Lake District being the home and inspiration for many of England's most beloved poets and writers, including William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter. Over 612,000 acres (2,480 sq km) of the Lake District are owned by the National Trust, an organization which is dedicated to protecting and conserving the area's natural beauty.
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Directions To Destination
It is extremely easy to get to the Lake District, whatever form of transportation you are using. The closest airport is Manchester Airport (MAN), just 60 miles to the south. From there you can hire a car, take the M6 motorway, and be in the Lake District within 1.5 hours. If you are flying in to Heathrow (LHR) or Gatwick (LGW) airports, the drive is approximately 225 miles (360 km), which can take up to 4 hours.
Both National Rail and Virgin Rail operate a train service, with the West Coast main line having 2 stops that skirt the eastern side of the Lake District: Oxenholme (near Kendal) and Penrith. From Oxenholme, you can take the Lakes Line to Windermere. The Lakes Line also runs to Manchester Airport.
National Express offers a coach service from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Edinburgh, with daily services to Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere, Keswick and Penrith.
When you are in the Lake District, Cumbria County Council offers a local bus service connecting a large number of towns and villages.
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Best Time To Go
Due to its northwesterly coastal location, and the prevalence of mountains, the Lake District receives above average rainfall compared to the rest of England. It is rainiest between October and January with rainfalls about 4 inches ( 100mm) and more, with March to June being the driest months where the average precipitations are around 2 inches (50 mm). Average temperature in the lowlands is 37 °F (3 °C) in January, and 60 °F (15 °C) in July though average highs in July - August can approach 67 °F (19 °C)).
It can get very foggy in the mountains year-round, on average only experiencing 2.5 hours of sunshine per day, compared with 4 hours in the lowlands. That being said, the weather is so changeable that you are guaranteed a mixture of weather on your trip, ranging from sunny to rainy, and the lush, green countryside that the Lake District is known for is due to the weather!
Another thing to take into account is that the Lake District gets extremely busy at the height of summer, so if you are looking for a very quiet trip, it might be better to visit in the spring, early summer, or autumn. The winter is a lovely time to visit, offering glorious views of snow-capped mountains. The area is beautiful, regardless of the weather, so whatever time of year you decide to visit the Lake District, you are sure to have a memorable trip!
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Where To Stay
We recommend the following hotels:
The Miller Howe Hotel (Rayrigg Road, Windermere, The Lake District LA23 1EY, UK) - the hotel was originally built in 1916 as a private residence. Set in 5.5 acres (2.2 ha) of gorgeous grounds, that stretch to the shores of Windermere, the 3 AA star hotel is designed with the outdoors in mind. Whether you are dining at the restaurant or sitting on the terrace, you can enjoy the magnificent views of the lake and the Langland Pikes beyond. It has 15 rooms, each with its own balcony, 6 offering a lake view. Prices (all prices here and below are 2012) range from £105 for a standard double room, £125 for a side view room and £140 for a lake view room. These prices are per person, and include full English breakfast and dinner. If you don't require dinner, a deduction of £20 per person applies. There is also a private cottage in the grounds at a cost of £155 per night.
The Borrowdale Gates Hotel (Grange-in-Borrowdale, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5UQ, UK) - located in an area that famed fell walker Alfred Wainwright called "the loveliest square mile in Lakeland", The Borrowdale Gates hotel is a Victorian country house, located just south of Keswick, close to the shores of Derwent Water. Set in 2 acres (0.8 ha) of wooded grounds, this 3 AA star hotel has 25 rooms (10 on the ground floor) with wonderful views of the Borrowdale valley and fells. Prices range from £92 to £102 for a standard room, £112 to £122 for a deluxe room, and £122 to £132 for superior room. Prices are per person, and include breakfast and dinner. Bed and breakfast only rates are offered at a £30 reduction.
The Black Bull Inn and Hotel (Coniston, The Lake District, Cumbria LA21 8DU, UK) - The Black Bull was originally a coaching inn, built about 400 years ago. Sitting at the base of 'The Old Man of Coniston', this 3-star family-run, traditional inn has 15 bedrooms, ranging in price from £50 for a single room, £100 - £110 for a double room, and £100 - £120 for a family room. There are 9 rooms in the main inn, 2 rooms in separate cottages, 'Old Man Cottage' and 'Bluebird Cottage', and Forge Bridge House, originally built to house the stage coaches, with 4 rooms. The cottages and Forge Bridge House have private patios. For lovers of real ale, the Black Bull has recently opened a microbrewery, brewing two kinds of beer - Bluebird Bitter and Old Man Ale.
Research and book hotels in or near Lake District, United Kingdom
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Activities in the Lake District area can be planned based on the type of the activity or based on visiting specific places of interest. The former include lake cruising, walking in the Lake District, rock climbing, boating, cycling and bird watching; the latter - visiting many specific tourist attractions among which we would like to highlight Dove Cottage, Rydal Mount, The Swan (Grasmere), >Brockhole - The Lake District Visitor Center, The World Of Beatrix Potter, The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, Muncaster Castle, Honister Slate Mine and Via Ferrata.
Naturally, one of the most popular pastimes in the Lake District is to take a lake cruise. These are offered at Derwent Water, Windermere, Coniston, and Ullswater. The beauty of these cruises is that you can stay on board for the entire trip, or be dropped off at one of the many landing stages that are dotted around the lakes. This is a fun way to explore the stunning countryside, allowing you access to areas that you may not otherwise be able to reach easily. Among businesses that offer cruise and ferry services we recommend: Keswick Launch Company, Windermere Lake Cruises, Coniston Launch and Ullswater Steamers.
Walking in the Lake District
The huge variety of walks and hikes in the Lake District range from gentle strolls around the lakes to mountain climbs - in short, something for all abilities. If you are a novice walker, it's a good idea to go on one of the many guided walks that are offered by the Lake District National Park. These walks are graded from easy (flat walk of 2-5 miles/3-8 km) to strenuous (full day up to 10 miles/16 km with steep ascents and descents). Moderate, hard and strenuous routes require appropriate walking boots, and you will not be permitted to participate if you aren't properly equipped. GoLakes has an interactive web site where you can plan your walks according to experience, length or walk and location. Lake District National Park Web site is another useful resource for planning your visit to the area. Web sites of two enthusiasts who enjoy walking in the area can also help you plan your Lakeland walks: Alfred Wainwright and Alistair Bradbury.
Whether you are a beginner or have a little experience, the Lake District is the perfect place to take a rock climbing course. An introductory course with a maximum ratio of 1 instructor to 4 people costs £150 (prices here and below are 2012) for a weekend, or £350 for a 5 day course. Intermediate courses with a 1:2 ratio are £180 for a weekend, or £425 for 3/4/5 day courses. All gear is provided, apart from climbing boots. HighPoint Mountain Guides can help you with your mountain walking and rock climbing adventures in the Lake District and north-west Scotland.
If you find yourself at a loose end on a rainy day, a great place to visit is the Lakeland Climbing Centre in Kendal. In addition to its outdoor climbing opportunities, it has the tallest indoor climbing wall in the country. Non instructed climbing ranges from £5 - £6.50, whereas group prices with an instructor range from £6 - £7.50 per person. The Lakeland Climbing Centre was named "Small Visitor Attraction of the Year 2011" in Cumbria.
Personal boating is extremely popular, with a number of different crafts for hire at all the lakes, ranging from canoes and kayaks to sailboats. There are also a number of sailing courses available. Remember that there are water speed limits of 10 knots on all lakes. For more information on boating activities visit Web sites GoLakes, River Deep Mountain High Activities and Lake District National Park Web site.
A great way to see the area is on a bike. Whether you want a leisurely ride around quiet country lanes with the family, or a tough off-road mountain bike course, you are sure to find something to suit your ability. Bicycles can be hired at a number of places, and you will also be able to buy a detailed map of the various recommended routes. You can also download a map prior to visiting, if you would like to plan your route in advance. Web site GoLakes has an extensive section on backroad cycling and mountain biking.
Bird watching enthusiasts will be in for a real treat when visiting the Lake District - in 2001, for the first time in 150 years, Ospreys returned to the area (see Lake District Osprey Project Web site), nesting at Bassenthwaite Lake. From strategic viewpoints at Dodd Wood, you can see them flying to and from their nest, swooping down to catch fish from the lake. The viewpoint is open from April 1st, between the hours of 10.00am and 5.00pm. 'Golden Boy', England's sole surviving Golden Eagle can be seen flying around Haweswater. There is an observation point at the western end of Haweswater. It is open at all times, but only manned between 11.00am and 4.00pm on Saturdays and Sundays from April 1st to August 30th. Another useful resource for bird watchers is The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
On the outskirts of the village of Grasmere you will find Dove Cottage, the home (and now museum) of the poet Sir William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy from 1799 to 1808. Wordsworth spoke of this as a time of "plain living, but high thinking". While living at Dove Cottage, he penned his most famous works, including "Daffodils", which starts with the famous line "I wandered lonely as a cloud…" This was inspired by the long walks that Wordsworth would take around the lake of Ullswater, surrounded in the spring by large swaths of wild daffodils. Interestingly enough, Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed at Dove Cottage for a short time while writing "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor. Adjacent to the cottage is the Wordsworth Museum and Art Gallery. Dove Cottage is open to the public between 9.30am and 5.00pm from March 1st to October 31st, and between 9.30am and 4.00pm from November 1st to February 28th. Admission to the cottage and museum is £7.50 for adults, £4.50 for children (under 6 free), or £17.20 for a family ticket. Disabled access is limited to the ground floor at Dove Cottage, but at the museum there is full disabled access.
Lying between Ambleside and Grasmere is Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth's home from 1813 until his death in 1850. The house still contains the personal possessions and first editions of his work. In addition to being Poet Laureate, Wordsworth was an excellent landscape gardener, and the 4 acre (0.81 ha) garden that surrounds the house is his original design. Located in the coach house is a small tea room with access to a garden terrace, where you can sit and take in the view of the beautiful gardens. The house and gardens are open from March 1st to October 31st from 9.30am to 5.00pm, and from Wednesday to Sunday, 11.00am to 4.00pm in November, December and February. Admission is £6.75 for adults, £3.25 for children and £5.75 for seniors and students. Admission to the garden only is £4.50. There is also an exclusive group visit that includes a private house viewing and guided tour of the garden, for a minimum of 10 people at £16 per person.
The Swan (Grasmere)
When visiting Grasmere, be sure to stop in for a pint of Ale and a bite to eat at The Swan, a 17th Centruy Coaching Inn (Keswick Road, GrasmereCumbriaLA22 9RF, UK). This extremely popular pub was frequented by William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. The quote on the pub's sign: "Who does not know the famous Swan?" is a line from Wordsworth's poem "The Waggoner".
Brockhole - The Lake District Visitor Centre
If you have never been to the Lake District before, it's worth visiting Brockhole, where you can discover more about the area. Set in 30 acres (12 ha) on the shores of Windermere, the house features exhibitions, films and slide shows that will help you to decide exactly where you would like to visit. There is also a restaurant and a tea room with outdoor seating, and an adventure playground for the children.
The World Of Beatrix Potter
This is a lovely day out for the whole family. Everyone is familiar with the tales of Beatrix Potter, inspired by the wildlife and scenery of the Lake District. Featuring all 23 famous stories, children will be able to meet all the characters and learn about the author. If you get a little hungry, the tea room serves wonderful food 'straight from Peter Rabbit's garden! Admission is £6.75 for adults and £3.50 for children. It is open from 10.00am to 5.30pm in the spring and summer, and 10.00am to 4.30pm in the autumn and winter.
The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
This delightful little railway travels from the coastal village of Ravenglass, the steam train journeying 7 miles through valleys, ending at Dalegarth, right at the base of Scafell Pike. This is a great day out for the family, with plenty to do when you reach Dalegarth, whether it's taking a leisurely stroll, or having lunch at the Fellbites Eastery. There is also a large play area for children. The trains have wheelchair friendly carriages; there is level access at Ravenglass, and ramped walkways at Dalegarth. A return ticket (unlimited access for the day) costs £12.60 for adults and £6.30 for children aged 5-15. A single ticket costs £7 for an adult and £3.50 for children aged 5-15. A family return (2+2) costs £33.50.
Situated near Ravenglass is the medieval castle of Muncaster. Reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in the UK, this beautiful example of a 13th century castle, and is still occupied by ancestors of the Pennington family, who built it in 1208. With 70 acres (28 ha) of gorgeous gardens and woodland, its close proximity to Wast Water and Scafell Pike has earned it the description of 'the gateway to Paradise'. Ghosthunters can take advantage of the opportunity to spend the night in the Tapestry Room, starting with a late night private tour of the castle, and an introduction to the ghostly residents who are supposed to roam the halls. This is available for a group of 6-8 people (aged over 17 years) and prices range from £460 - £560 per group. Muncaster is also the headquarters of the World Owl Trust, the world's leading owl conservation organization. Here you will find more than 40 different kinds of owl, and have the chance to see them in close quarters. There is also a children's play area, maze, cafe and gift shop. Muncaster is open from February 1st, admission costing £13 for adults and £7.50 for children (under 5s are free). Muncaster was named "Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2011" in Cumbria.
Honister Slate Mine and Via Ferrata
Situated at the top of Honister Pass, near the village of Borrowdale, is the Honister Slate Mine. You can explore the 11 miles of tunnels that comprise England's last working slate mine. There are 3 different tours available, offering a rare insight into exactly how slate is mined, using both traditional and modern techniques. Prices range from £9.95 - £19.75 for adults, depending on the specific tour, and £4.95 for children. If you dare, follow the Via Ferrata - an ancient miner's cliff-edge footpath on Fleetwith Pike. Though not for the faint of heart it is extremely safe, as you will be with an experienced guide, and are attached to a fixed cable by a safety harness. At the end of the footpath, you will be at the summit of Fleetwith Pike, 2,126 feet (648m) above sea level! Via Ferrata was named "Tourism Experience of the Year 2011" in Cumbria. Prices are £20 for adults, £15 for children (10-15) and £65 for a family (2+2). Children must be over 10 and at least 1m 30cm tall. Honister Slate Mine is open 7 days a week, from 9.00am to 5.00pm.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
Always be prepared when walking in the Lake District! When you head out to the hills, no matter what time of year, it is important that you have the correct clothing and equipment. Dress in layers, and wear a waterproof jacket. Carry spare warm clothing and a hat and gloves. Your footwear is vitally important - wear good quality walking/hiking boots with a good grip on the sole. Athletic shoes aren't suitable, as they don't have enough grip. Carry a rucksack/backpack with the following items:
Adequate food/water and a warm drink
Energy bars and emergency rations
Whistle and torch
Map and Compass
First Aid Kit
Before leaving for the day, let someone know your planned route, and your approximate time of return. Be aware of the number of daylight hours, and know the length of your walk. Call the Lake District Mountain Weather Service prior to setting out, and base your walk around the weather forecast, and remember that conditions on the top of the fells are not the same as in the valleys. Choose the type of walk that is suitable for everyone in the group. Allow one hour for every 2.5 miles (4km) that you plan to walk. If you will be climbing any great height, add 1 hour for every 1,500 ft (500 m) that you intend to ascend. If you find that you are going to be delayed, contact your base to inform them of what is happening.
Remember that there are water speed limits of 10 knots on all lakes.
In case of Emergency:
Call 999 immediately and ask for the Police, specifically Cumbria Police. Once you are put through, tell the operator that you need Mountain Rescue. If you are able, check your map and give them the Grid Reference, if not, a general idea of where you are. Give them your phone number. A Rescue Controller will contact you when they are on their way.
Always remember that the Mountain Rescue Service is a volunteer operation. If they are called out it means they have to drop what they are doing to reduce you. They should only be mobilized in the case of a genuine emergency.
If your trip to the Lake District is based around a walking holiday, it's well worth purchasing some of the books written by the 'father of fell walking', Alfred Wainwright. In the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Wainwright painstakingly covered every inch of the Lake District, resulting in what are considered to be the definitive walking guides for the area.
If you are traveling to Wast Water from the east (namely Windermere or Ambleside) you will have to cross over one of two passes: Wrynose and Hardknott. If you aren't used to driving in the UK, or if you tend to get a little nervous behind the wheel, it's best to avoid them, Hardknott in particular! While the surrounding scenery is stunning, the pass is full of steep hairpin bends that would test the nerves of any driver. Remember that part of Wast Water is surrounded by screes, which can be rather tricky underfoot, so when walking around the lake, stick to the grassy paths.
As with many areas on the UK, you are expected to follow the Country Code when in the Lake District. Always follow the signs - if an area is restricted, it's for a good reason, so pay attention. Leave gates and stiles exactly as you found them. Don't be tempted to climb over walls or hedges as you could easily damage them. Don't be tempted to pick up a memento of your trip such as a rock or a plant - these could be home or food for wildlife. If you happen upon any wildlife, don't disturb them. Finally, pick up your litter; it's a criminal offense not to do so.
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