Friday, August 11, 2006

A holiday in the Lake District

Well, what are blogs for if not for indulging in the luxury of telling nobody in particular just what you've been up to?

This las week we spent in the Lake District, in a small village called Seatoller in Borrowdale. Wonderful!

Here is my daily diary of the week:

Saturday Night:

I'm lying in bed with my head resting carefully against the wall - slightly at an angle so that my scalp is not puncutred by the decorative iron flowers on the metal frame headboard. My head just fits between the bars, so I can rest it securely against the wall and not on the narrow metal poles. Not the best designed headboard I've ever encountered.

We are in a small small village in Borrowdale. Outside the widows of our small, stone terraced cottage, huge rocky hills - the fells - loom above us. Across one a cloud lies light a light fluffy blanket, but now that it is night this almost comforting image must, in reality, be a cold cover damping teh slippery stone and moss-covered paths. Right now I'm glad I'm in bed, but tomorrow I want my feet to meet the stony paths one on one, my eyes to feast upon the green and grey, and my ears to let the sound of so much more silence teach them how to listen again.

Sunday

We've been out on Lake Windermere today - enjoying a warm but wet trip on the lake in some tourist tub. The greyskies obscured many of the views, but just being out on the water was good - different. Parking though, had been a nightmare. We found one carpark outside the town, and they wanted £5 for a day's parking. Well, we weren't going to be there all day so that was too expensive in our minds. Instead we went back towards the town and ended up - because of the traffic and lack of opportunity to do anything else - paying £5.50 for a half day. D'oh!

But we made the boat trip and I saw tufted duck, cormorant, gulls, swans (I'm sure one of them was a Hooter or Beswick, not a Mute). Queuing for car parks and boat trips gives me plenty of time for observing other kinds of wild life too. As well as the birds I can't help but notice the different types of people around. Lots of people from different cultures all gathered together in this extraordinary part of the UK to enjoy - to enjoy whatever it is they have come to enjoy.

As for the majority of people visiting the Lakes, I think there are basically three main reasons:

1. You love walking and enjoy the rugged yet accessible landscape
2. Youar e looking for any excuse to wear short/colourful trousers, odd headgear and/or other bizarre clothing and not feel self-concious (because everyone else is doing the same)
3. You are a senior widow - and the only fit senior men seem to be these hairy legged, would-be Tyroleans whose health and rigour in their 'declining' years is denied by their sprightly pursuit. Well - if you are looking for a new bloke and you are over 50, I reckon the Lakes is not a bad place to start. You see many old men, many fat men, but not many old, fat men. These aged hiking fanatics (and they come in both genders too - I've seen them up close) probably have a longer life expectancy than your average British Male. And they seem to congregate in places like the Lake District.

There's different kinds of walkers too - there's those like us (trainers, stick to the paths, no backpacks, families, casual 'we're here so we may as well' walkers). Then there's the 'serious' walker. There is a strict code of dress - your boots/socks must provide a very definite border between foot and hip. You can't have long socks that run up your leg towards your shorts, oh no! You must have big, round boots, and big, round-topped socks. Then, your thin (in the majority of cases), but muscly legs may stand proud all the way up to your Rohan shorts. This provides another visual 'stop' as you look from shoe to stomach. Around the neck is an O/S map in a neat plastic case. On the head is either a woolly hat or a small-brimmed 'tilly' hat. On the back is a pack filled with - well, who knows! Most likely a thermos, possibly a distress beacon, and certainly some of those vacuum packed meals. These walkers stride along with their spring-ended sticks and are confident, assured and experienced. These are the ones who watch the annual arrival of tourists with a knowing smile. They are accepted by the locals as staple income builders - they will walk come rain or shine!

Finally (and I'm being very general here I know) there are the tourist walkers. They come with some walking boots and jeans. Or those aforesaid colourful trousers. They will arrive and pile into the 'Outdoor Pursuits' shop and purchase one of everything they think will make them look authentic. They usually wear leather stetson style hats, too. (I wonder if any of them are lost folk music lovers?) They stride off (with their springy sticks - my goodness, aren't they great?) and are probably the group most often causing havoc for the mountain rescue services. Equipped is not experienced.

But I digress!

Here's the notes I wrote for Monday, straight on to the laptop (hey, would you go on holiday without one? OK, but I got to the leaderboard on Pinball!!)

We're in luck, the weather has brightened and we can go to the seaside! OK, maybe the seaside isn't everyone's first thought when visitng the lake District, but we want to see the sea, and we are going to!

We set off and decided to follow the other path out of Borrowdale instead of going back up to Keswick and along the A66. The Honister Pass - probably one of the steepest bits of road we have ever been on! And it did stress the driver - just a little (especially as our car brakes had only recently been fixed). However, we made it out alive, and headed towards Cockermouth and on to Maryport. We made it to what turned out to be a small, very un-commercialised fishing village. The main sea-side was a working fishing harbour, but venturing out and along the coast a little, within just a mile we hit the most beautiful shorline.

There were no beach huts, no cafes, no stalls selling inflatable everythings - just miles of open rocky beach full of rock pools and not a lot else. Across the bay you could see land - in fact we could see Scotland. We wandered along for an hour or two just meandering - clambering over these amazing red, flat, sparkling rocks, paddling in the tide, slipping on fresh sea-weed that appearedas the tide went out. (I'm going to have to do some geological detective work - this rock was just so beautiful, and every so often there were these patches that looked melted. Amazing!).

We walked back again, to the main town, enjoying the sun and the pure peace. We saw maybe four other people on the whole shore - along with plenty of herring and black-backed gulls and, in the distance, some long-legged waders. (More detective work needed, where's my bird book?)

We stopped for some chips and then headed back inland, intending to walk around a lake. We went back down the A66 and turned off to hit the top of Bassenthwaite Lake - a lovely quiet lake with small inlets around it - each occupied by a small family enjoying the sun by the water. We found a tree swing and the children splashed around and swung on this before we moved on round the lake, about half a mile, to find our own private inlet. The children decided they would swim - and though quite cold, obviously had a great time splashing around in the shallows, stumbling over slimy stones and swimming in the shallow, open water. Around them the sun shone, the sailing boats (further out) enjoyed the light wind and the warm weather, and we chilled on the shore, enjoying a really peaceful, relaxed afternoon. Apart from the drama of the extreme descent in the Honiston pass, there was no drama, no peculiar occurrence or anything remarkable. It was just chilled - a proper relaxing day with the family.

Monday evening:

It;s the end of a very war, relaxed day. The sun shone and I wore my sun-glasses. Big, wide, round the side of yer face glasses (my daughter says I look like a fly in them). Consequently, the sun being hotter than we realised, I have a face like a panda (two white eyes in a red face), my cleavage is bright red and my parting smarts when I brush my hair. The children, thankfully, are not burned and my husband is merely a slightly redder shade of brown than usual. It is my misfortune to sit here and radiate as I write. I should have been more careful! But it really didn't seem that hot. Ah well, with a bit of luck tomorrow we'll have more sun (we didn't!) and if I put on sunscreen everywhere except the white bits, I may achieve a slightly less panda-ish appearance and a more even beetroot. I won't go brown - I never do. White: red: peel.

Tuesday

We went shopping! To a very superior supermarket in Keswick called 'Booths'. Everything looked neater and cleaner (certainly nicer than the Co-op we had already visited), and nicer than our home supermarket (Tesco). The bread looked inviting, the fruit tempting, the tins lined up neatly and full of interesting things (even the baked beans looked somehow, nicer). And it was spacious too. Goodness! A nice place to shop.

The weather brightened so we took another trip to Bassenthwaite and went for a good long walk. There was a sign that said 'Osprey View Point' but we never found the view point and certainly didn't see any osprey. It was too cold and cloudy for swimming, so we went home for lunch and then took a trip to Ullswater. The drive was spectacular - and the lake very beautiful - but the weather was dull so apart from some 'deep paddling' not a lot was done other than to continue the chilling out process.

Wednesday

Today I ate ostrich! OK, not exactly the reason you go on holiday, but certainly something I'd not done before (well, not in a burger anyway). We went to Muncaster castle - a beautiful castle in the South of the Lake District. The castle itself was a big, square, 18th Century castellated manor rather than a medieval castle, but impressive non-the-less. We entered the big, redstone building and were handed neat little hand sets which would guide us round the rooms that were open to the public. The castle was built on the site of Roman remains and then a medieval tower, but the big windows (which my son noticed immediately as very un-castle like) gave away its more modern reconstruction. The rooms were full of many peronal memorabilia of the family, who still reside in part of the castle. The voices on the audio guide were family members, and their great fondness and pride in their heritage was evident. In the 'most haunted' room, they ask if you notice whether its colder, or feels odd at all. Well of course its colder, I'm sure they've made it that way. But the castle is the focus of many a paranormal researcher, its true. I didn't notice anything, but then maybe wandering round the small room with a family or two, and an audio player plastered to my ear is not the most conducive atmosphere to detecting anything on a psychic level. Not that I'm likely to anyway, but my sometimes more perceptive husband may have done.

Following our tour of the castle we went to the stable block for lunch (not hay, they have a restaurant/cafe there). That's when I ate my ostrich burger! After lunch we went out to the 'Maze' - which turned out to be a large plastic run, introduced by a cartoon vole, intended to instruct the young in the importance of vole conseravation. My daughter was unsure about going in as it said, in the leaflet, 'dark in places', and she doesn't like the dark. But it was not very dark at all, and the scariest thing was how quickly Alex and I wandered through and came out the other side.

We then went on to 'Meet the Birds'. On first entering the castle grounds we had stopped at the Owl Sanctuary - the headquarters of the World Owl Trust. We saw, unsurprisingly, lots of owls. Owls who live in deserts, who burrow in the ground, who come from Mexico to Muncaster. The 'Meet the Birds' attraction was a very informative talk on the work of the Trust and some close up views of some of the rehabilitated inhabitants of the sanctuary, including a buzzard who chased his decoy rabbit on foot - not a natural hunting method for one of the UKs largest flying predators! The poor bird had been raised by people and was afraid of heights!

We wandered on through the grounds and, enjoying the sunshine (which had only shone since our arrival at Muncaster), and then set out for home. Deciding to complete a circular journey, we made a mistake and spent twice as long going home as getting there - but it didn't matter. It was a pleasant day, and we stayed chilled out.

Thursday

Today was once again a 'chill out day'. We started with a quick trip to Keswick to download our photos to disc (fancy forgetting the cable!) Then we went down to Derwent Water for a walk - which turned into quite a good distance. We walked from where we'd parked alongthe side of the lake, then up through the woods to the Ledore Falls. Not enormous waterfalls, but very pretty. We went on, across the countryside and through the marshes. We walked along wooden walk-ways, enjoying the bright, but cloudy day. We came back the same way (but not visiting the falls) and I saw goldcrest breifly flash through the branches of the pine trees.

We came home for some lunch and then, after some chill time for our leg muscles to recover, went back out to Bassenthwaite - our favourite lake.

Anglers on the opposite bank were bathed in evening sunshine, and we saw one pull out a very large, long fish. Pike, perhaps? Or a stumpy eel, not sure which. We skimmed stones, wandering along the stony bank and watching my daughter swing on the rope swing and - as predicted - dunk herself (fully clothed) in the shallow end of the lake.

Our journey home took us back through Keswick and past the Chinese Take-Away. Back to the cottage for a continuation of the chill therapy - Chinese food, wine (not for the kids though) and (this time for the kids!) ice dream from the local shop for dessert.

Tomorrow we must head home, but we will head home well walked, well rested and having spent more time playing cards and doing activities as a family in these few daysthan we usually do in a year.

Friday

This morning we packed. Sad that we must leave this lovely place, but we've had a good week. OK we've not trekked up any mountainous paths, we've not delved into the Slate Mines, and we've not white water rafted our way along the rivers, but we've had a good, relaxing and enjoyable time.

The evenings we spent watching a bit of TV (the athletics has been great) and playing cards. I think we've played more cards as a family this week than we usually do in a year. We stayed up together, and had relaxing baths, long showers, late mornings and lazy evenings. What else should a holiday be about?

After packing we went for a brief walk locally - enjoying the last chance to breathe this lovely air and enjoy the sounds of nothing more than the occasional car and the bleating of the herdwick sheep. I like the sheep up here - they seem more intelligent than southern (different breed obviously) sheep. They watch you, they move when a car comes along, they just look smarter (well, for sheep anyway).

The journey home was long and tedious. We decided to avoid the M6 and head straight across the country on the A66 (our favourite road in the whole of the UK) and then down the A1. Rats. Lots of traffic, and plenty of concertina-ing and stop-starting in various places. But we are home, and I have 167 work emails (OK, call me sad for checking my work emails but most of them were spam so I could delete them before going in on Monday!) and 26 personal emails (of which only 16 were spam).

Friday evening

I am doing this. Writing up my week in my blog. Call me sad! I don't care. I have had a nice supper (mother cooked roast beef) and a large brandy. My husband has gone to the folk club (fancy being home in time for that) and tomorrow we have a gig (yay, money!).

I wonder where we will go next year on holiday? I think we are going to have to find some sun.
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