Tarn Hows is a well known area of the Lake District National Park, containing a picturesque tarn, approximately two miles (3.2 km) northeast of Coniston and about one and a half miles (2.5 km) northwest of Hawkshead. It is without doubt one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area with over half a million visitors per year in the 1970s and is managed by the National Trust.
Tarn Hows is fed at its northern end by a series of valley and basin mires and is drained by Tom Gill which tumbles down over several small waterfalls to Glen Mary bridge: named by John Ruskin who felt that Tom Gill required a more picturesque name and hus gave the area the title ‘Glen Mary’.
The Tarn Hows area originally was home to three much smaller tarns, Low Tarn, Middle Tarn and High Tarn. Wordsworth’s Guide Through the District of the Lakes (1835 edition) recommends walkers to pass this way but makes no mention of the tarns.
Up until 1862 much of the Tarn Hows area was part of the open common grazing of Hawkshead parish. The remaining enclosed land and the majority of the local farms and quarries were owned by the Marshall family of Monk Coniston Hall (known as Waterhead House at the time). James Garth Marshall (1802-1873) who was the Member of Parliament for Leeds (1847-1852) gained full possession of all of the land after an enclosure act of 1862 and embarked on a series of landscape improvements in the area including expanding the spruce, larch and pine plantations around the tarns; demolition of the Water Head Inn at Coniston; and the construction of a dam at Low Tarn that created the larger tarn that is there today.
By 1899 Tarn Hows was already known as an important beauty spot. H.S. Cowper mentions “Tarn Hows, beloved by skaters in winter and picnic parties in summer. Here comes every day at least one charabanc load of sightseers from Ambleside or Windermere”. A wooden boat house that was still standing in the 1950s at the south east corner of the tarn probably dated from around this period. It was in 1913 that G.D. Abraham said “Tarn Hows is set wildly among larches and heather slopes, more like a highland lake than the other waters in Lakeland… more suitable for pedestrians than motorists”.
In 1930 the resident Marshall family sold 4000 acres (16 km²) of their land to Beatrix Heelis of Sawrey (better known as Beatrix Potter) for £15000. She then sold 50% of this land containing the tarn to the National Trust and bequeathed the remainder to them in her will.
In 1965 Tarn Hows was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest .
Recently the National Trust have made a number of changes to the area, including moving the car parks to a less obtrusive place in the 1960s and general footpath and road improvements to reduce the damage caused by the visitors.
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