Your ultimate Lake District reading list: novels set in the Lakes

Novels set in the Lake DistrictWhether you’re relaxing outside in the holiday sun, or snuggled up warm on a dark winter’s night, there’s nothing quite like the company of a really good fiction book. But, as this is a blog about the Lake District, did you know that the area has inspired quite a few novels of its own? Here I’ve compiled a list of some of the many books set in or featuring the region, and from what I’ve read in the reviews, the Lakes is a surprisingly dangerous place…

1. The Lake District Murder by John Bude

This book, described by the publisher as a classic mystery novel set amongst the stunning scenery of a small Lake District village, has recently been republished for the first time since the 1930s. John Bude was in fact the pseudonym of Ernest Elmore, who wrote 30 novels, worked in theatre as a producer and director, and was a co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Association. I love its distinctive cover design.

2. The Lake District Series by Martin Edwards:

The Frozen Shroud, The Coffin Trail, The Cipher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth, The Serpent Pool and The Hanging Wood

A series of crime novels featuring the characters DCI Hannah Scarlett, who heads Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, and Oxford historian Daniel Kind.

3. The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

A psychological thriller in which Wordsworth specialist, Jane Gresham, finds herself at the heart of a mystery linking present-day murder to events in the 18th century.

4. All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

The second novel by the Booker shortlisted author, described as a ‘tragi-comedy’ in which the narrator (who is unnamed) spends a few weeks at a campsite in the Lake District before planning to set off on a motorcycle trip to India. The book description reads: “But then the owner of the campsite asks him to paint a fence and he innocently obliges. Soon other odd jobs pile up until little by little he becomes ensnared in the ominous ‘out-of-season’.” The plot for this book sounds eerily sinister – just read this New York Times review.

5. An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

The fourth novel in the Dalziel and Pascoe series. Superintendent Dalziel is on holiday when he is rescued from flood water, and taken to Lake House where the owner has just tragically died. He falls for attractive widow Bonnie Fielding, but more deaths follow…

6. Lake District Mysteries by Rebecca Tope:

The Windermere Witness, The Ambleside Alibi and The Coniston Case

Persimmon (Simmy) Brown is a florist working in Windermere and living in Troutbeck. In The Windermere Witness, she reluctantly finds herself drawn into a murder investigation after arranging the flowers for a local wedding, and subsequently finds herself involved in fresh murder mysteries in the two novels that follow.

7. Haweswater by Sarah Hall

In 1936, a man from Manchester arrives in Mardale: he is the spokesman for an industrial project that will see the community evacuated and flooded to create a new reservoir, which will supply water to the Midland cities. Haweswater is described as a melancholic and emotional novel, which is well worth the read.

8. The Fell Walker by Michael Wood

Described as a ‘fast-moving thriller’, The Fell Walker is based in the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and Manila. Within the plot, a government minister is found dead at the foot of a Lake District mountain. There is also a sequel with the title The Fell Walker’s Legacy.

9. The Maid of Buttermere by Melvyn Bragg

A historical novel, The Maid of Buttermere is set in the early 19th century, and is the ‘story of an imposter, bigamist and fortune hunter’ who falls in love with the ‘Maid of Buttermere’. The novel was adapted into a play at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake in 2009.

10. A Grave Affair by Nina Green

The second of three novels all set in Cumbria, A Grave Affair, is described as ‘not one for reading alone or at night!’ It tells the story of Jo Cavanagh, a writer who rents a remote cottage in the Lakes to write her new book. Jo has an accident and an out of body experience, and returns to a series of events which link the past to the present in a terrifying way.

11. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

Part of the Inspector Lynley series of mysteries. When Inspector Thomas Lynley is sent undercover to investigate what has been ruled as an accidental drowning, it turns out that nothing about the victim’s family is as it seems…

and last but not least, for Doctor Who fans:

12. Doctor Who: Sting of the Zygons by Stephen Cole

The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Martha to the Lake District in 1909, where everyone is looking for the ‘Beast of Westmorland’, a monster that has been terrorising a small village. However, there is something far more sinister than the monster present in the area, which sees the future of the world at stake.

And a few more for good measure…

In my research for this blog post, I come across a number of other novels which are set in, or feature, the Lakes. I haven’t given them a full description because I thought to do so would create a long and rather tedious article (my choice of what appears above and below is not based on any particular recommendation of my own). So to complete the list, you may also like to look at:

The Old Contemptibles by Martha Grimes

A Cry in the Night by Tom Grieves

Coast to Coast by Jan Minshull

Hazard’s Way by Roger Hubank

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams (author of Watership Down)

Merely a Mister by Sherry Lynn Ferguson

A Romance of Wastdale by AEW Mason

The Woman from Browhead and When morning Comes by Audrey Howard

Letting Go of Emma by Brooke Powley

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

A Good Liar, Forgiven and Fallout all by Ruth Sutton

Do you know of any further titles that should be added to this list? Have you read any of these novels, and if so, what did you think?  Let us know by leaving a comment below. (I deliberately left out novels from the wider Cumbria area on this occasion, but your recommendations on these are also very welcome.)


  1. There are also quite a few children’s novels set in the Lake District, not least Swallows and Amazons – I may have to write another post!

  2. I told you I’d miss one (in fact a whole group of books)! Have a look at Maryport-based writer Richard Simpson’s series The Lakeland Murders (under pen name JJ Salkeld):

  3. Hey Janine,

    Good list.

    A thriller highlight not on your list is The Woodcutter, by Reginald Hill. Great writing and a seminal scene on Pillar Rock.

    Oh, and some Hugh Walpole needs to be there … 😉

    • Many thanks for your comment Dave. I’d not come across The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill before – sounds like quite a plot, so I’ll definitely be adding that one to the list!

      Thanks also for reminding me about the Herries Chronicles by Hugh Walpole – I recently bought the first one, but haven’t got round to reading it. With all the great suggestions I’ve received, I think a second blog post is definitely due! 🙂

  4. Stan. Knafler

    Rather surprised that there is no mention of the Herries Chronicles by Hugh Walpole, set in and around Watlandeth and Melvyn Bragg’s Maid of Buttermere and his many other novels set in and around his birthplace of Wigton.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment Stan. The Maid of Buttermere is listed above, but I agree the Herries Chronicles definitely needs to be included. I’ve received a few other suggestions over on social media since I wrote this, so I think it’s time to create a follow-up post! Some books were a tricky decision, as to create a manageable list I decided to include only Lake District settings and not the wider Cumbria area – perhaps I could look at widening this in future…

  5. I can recommend the Bruce Beckham “Murder..” series chronicling the cases of DI Skelgill which use the lakes and surrounding hills to set the scene.

    • Thank you very much for your suggestion Shaun – I’m planning a second post about Lakeland novels shortly, but still hadn’t come across this, so that’s a really helpful recommendation!

  6. I am reading The Pastor by Eugene Peterson, and in it he says he read a murder mystery set in the Lake District where no one would talk to the investigator, so he posed as an author and hired a handful of elderly local ladies to type for him. He set them to typing out random bits of books and sat in the next room and listened to them gossip about local affairs and thus solved the murder. Ring any bells?

    • Thank you for leaving this very intriguing comment Martha. No, this doesn’t ring any bells with me, but perhaps someone else reading this might know more and be able to help!

  7. Hi Janine,
    Could you tell me which book(s) – if any – has its story in Bowness (not around, not Windermere but the village). A book like this would help me a lot. Many thanks!

    • Hello Andras, Thank you for your question. The only novel I can think of at the moment that comes close is ‘The Windermere Witness’ by Rebecca Tope, although I’m not sure from your comment whether it’s quite what you’re looking for. It is set mostly in Windermere village, but has scenes in Bowness village, at the Storrs Hall Hotel (outside Bowness) and in the Troutbeck valley and Ambleside also. I can’t think of any other novels set in Bowness itself.

      There are plenty of local novels I haven’t yet read, so if anyone reading this can help, please do leave a comment!

  8. Hi Janine, do you know of any books set specifically in Kendal or that have secenes there? I’m collecting writing about it for an English project.
    Mnay thanks!

  9. Anthea Fraser’s “ The Unburied Past”

  10. Hi Janine. I’m the Director of Dalton-in-Furness Literature Festival and last year we featured almost all Cumbrian writers. A few names for you: Ruth Sutton, Gill Jepson, Helen Phifer, Kerry Darbishire, Irvine Hunt, Gareth Thompson. But thanks for your list which had some I may well call upon. Cheers, Ron Creer

    • Thank you Ron, the Literature Festival sounds great. I’m afraid that my list is now going ‘out of date’ rapidly, as I’ve come across more and more new Lake District writers since I wrote the post. The Lakes and Cumbria do seem to inspire the written imagination! Thank you very much for your further recommendations – some I have heard of, but I will take a look at the other names too.

  11. Does anyone remember a series of books about a group of children and their adventures around the language pikes. Probably around the 1960’s.


    • Hi Bruce, I’m sorry I’ve not been on the site for a couple of days, but thank you very much for your comment. I don’t think I’ve come across these, but hope someone else reading might be able to help.

  12. Karen Welberry

    Hi Janine
    I have a heap of books on the Lake District from completing my PhD on the writers. Just wondering if you might be interested or know anyone who might be? These are mostly guide books. I think the previous comment refers to the Fell Farm series.

    • Hello Karen, I’m sorry for the delay in moderating your comment, and thank you for your offer – my shelves are positively groaning with Lake District (and all my other!) books at the moment, and I can’t think of anyone immediately, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a good home for them! And thank you for solving the mystery of the children’s books Bruce mentioned – I had never come across those before, and have just looked them up to find out more.

  13. Fascinated by all of the books about the Lake District. It is my little piece of heaven and I do to visit there again soon. I am specifically looking for historical information about the Lake District in the late 1800’s – 1860-1890. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks for your comment Jeanne. Although I’ve come across quite a few books that deal with the history of the Lake District, I suspect there are many I don’t know that may deal specifically with this period. Two I like, which are far more general in the periods they cover, are Ian Thompson’s ‘The English Lakes: A History’ and ‘At Lakeland’s Heart’ by John Carrie which focuses on Ambleside and its immediate surroundings. Hopefully someone else may be able to offer more specific recommendations though!

  14. Craig Postlewaite

    Janine, my family, the Postlethwaites, lived in the Millom area of the Lakes District in the 1500-1600’s before “John” I immigrated to colonial America in 1680. I would very much like to read some historical novels of life in this area during that time frame. Do you know of any books that might be interesting reads that would provide me with the insight I am looking for? Thank you
    Craig Postlewaite
    Burke, VA, USA

    • Hi Craig, I’m afraid my knowledge of historic novels relating to Cumbria is quite poor, but it could be that someone reading this will be able to offer some ideas for books to get hold of. I’m sorry for the delay in replying to your comment, and wishing you a Happy New Year.

  15. Judith Fairlie

    Dear JJ, I’m very glad to have found your website.I have been trying to identify a book I’m sure has fell and a sheep farm setting and towards the end the father who is very ill wanders away from the farm and dies out somewhere the moor. . The family search for him and as the younger sheep farmer has to take over, his uncle who has spent years working with the family is leaving to take a non- sheep farm related job. Does this ring any bells ? I can’t find my copy and I think it was loaned to someone

  16. Judith Fairlie

    PS Re Bruce Moir’s note what about the Arthur Ransome books ?

    • Ooh, I don’t know Judith. I read the classic Swallows and Amazons tale some time ago, but none of the others – I will have to do a bit of research to see where they are set. Thanks ever so much for your comments!

  17. Judith Fairlie

    The book I have been searching for is Towards Mellbreak by Marie-Elsa Bragg. I fully recommend it.

    • Apologies for the delay in replying to your comments Judith, but I’m glad to hear you found the book. Nothing more frustrating than trying to remember the title of something you enjoyed long ago!

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