Exploring England 2012: The Lakes District in Cumbria – Part 2

Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 at 17:14

Member - John and Val

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The following day Rob had to go back to London, but we had until lunchtime when he would catch a train from Windermere. We drove up to Grasmere, a pretty little village beside the lake of the same name. Grasmere was once the home of the famous poet William Wordsworth (remember “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”?) and in the centre of the village is St. Oswalds Church, whose churchyard contains the Wordsworth family graves. The village was small enough to easily explore on foot so we wandered too (not lonely though) looking at the houses in their invariably lush and colourful gardens, although views of the lake were harder to find.

We went on to a woodland park where we had a lovely forest walk, along well defined paths in that lush green atmosphere. We were having some difficulty identifying the various trees, but there was quite a variety, along with bluebells and many soft ferns. Once we caught sight of a deer. Our walk ended at a moss covered stone wall beyond which was grazing land. The English system of National Parks is very different from ours in that farmland is included in the park.

Then it was time to tackle the bustle of traffic in Windemere, find the railway station and farewell Rob. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring some of the back roads around and above Ambleside, and getting our bearings by marking up our trips so far on a big paper map. The e-map that we are using in conjunction with the GPS has been very good for navigation. But for some reason it does not show some of the lakes, making it difficult to get a good idea of the layout of the area.

Miraculously the weather was still sunny the next day when we explored around Coniston Water. Driving south along the eastern shore of Windemere there did not appear to be much access to the lake. In any case the road was narrow and the traffic heavy so we kept driving until we turned onto side roads that took us along the River Crake to Coniston Water.

There we found numerous spots where we could pull off the road and get down to the lake shore or do some short walks. Near the southern end of the lake we found a wonderful stretch of shore with some great camping spots tucked under big trees around tiny bays and beaches. Val and Rob, in their younger days, were both fans of the “Swallows and Amazons” books by Arthur Ransome. The series was set in the Lakes District, including this lake, and these delightful spots brought back the adventures of those simpler and less materialistic times. It was easy to see how kids with a little sailing boat and a dash of imagination could have some wonderful adventures in this place.

We ate our lunch perched on a grassy knoll overlooking the water and watched a steady procession of inflatable boats, kayaks, sea kayaks and canoes out on the water. Just to emphasise that we were out in the countryside a couple of ticks latched onto us. Fortunately they were easily disposed of and did no lasting damage.

Further north we walked along a shingle shoreline and scrambled up some steep forest paths in search of a special patch of forest. This part of the lake was quite busy even though it was mid week. We were amused by the younger locals soaking up the sun on this 20 degree day, their pale skins turning a very uncomfortable looking shade of crimson. Older folk seemed to take a folding chair and sit close to the water, but still in the sun. Our instinct was to stick to the shady places.

Most of the parking cum picnic areas here are pay parking, and the high charges seem to be set on the assumption people will spend all day in the one place. Those rates are not very tourist friendly though, if, like us, you just want to have quick look around. Curiously though, while there were picnic tables and rubbish bins there were no toilet facilities. Also lacking was much in the way of signage, and despite our GPS we still got lost in the little villages and narrow lanes. So we had an unplanned circuit of Estwaite Water, a very pretty little lake with swans, a trout fishery and boats for hire from a stone boatshed. All picture-postcard perfect.

On the way home through narrow back roads lined with the inevitable drystone walls we came up behind a herd of dairy cows moving slowly, as only diary cows can move, despite the best efforts of a couple of border collies to move them along.Eventually we made our way home for a welcome cold beer out of the fridge. The weather had another surprise for us, as on dusk fog started to form and sat over the tops of the hills, revealing yet another scene and mood of this place.

The fog was still there next morning when we set out to visit Sizergh Castle near Kendall. Traffic was again heavy and, once again thanks to poor signage we took a while to find the entry to the castle grounds. By now the day was getting warm so we did our tour of the garden before it got any hotter. This garden is in a limestone area so there were quite different plants from the rhododendrons and azaleas that were so colourful further west around our cottage. There were not many flowers out and a lot of the plants were quite unfamiliar, but clever use had been made of plants with different coloured foliage to create interest. There were big upper and lower lakes with water flowing between them via a big rockery and a big kitchen garden on very gravelley soil with some veges growing in raised beds made of woven willow branches.

Inside the castle, which dates from 1239, it was dark and cool, thanks in part to very thick walls. The rooms had masses of oak panelling, with carved screens and mantels, and intricate wood inlays. Although the owners still live there, the interior was more like a museum, and no photography was allowed in the house. There were also a lot of visitors making it even more difficult to envisage the place as a home.

There is always a visitor centre at these grand old homes, well stocked with refreshments, souvenirs, books, cards etc as well as a garden shop. So we had an icecream and bought some little books on English trees and wildflowers. Now we might have a better understanding of some of the plants that we are seeing.

Our last full day in the Lakes District was hot (well mid 20s) but with some breeze, perfect for a cruise on one of the lakes. It was hard to choose which lake, as several have cruises. Finally we decided on Windemere as it was closest. From Ambleside we caught a launch down to Bowness, where after a wander around the town we caught a bigger, older ferry back.

It was very pleasant out on the water, with great views of the houses and castles with their gardens running down to the water, and old boatsheds tucked in among clumps of trees. At Bowness near the wharf we ran the gauntlet of several over-friendly swans eager for a handout, then wandered around the town. We bought some cooler clothes and found an excellent sweet shop. On our return trip we watched the many sailing boats heeling over under a stiff breeze.

Leaving the ferry we drove out of town and found a parking area to have lunch. We shared a table with a delightful couple who gave us detailed instructions of what to see in the old town of York where we would be going in a few days time. (Away from the cities, we were particularly struck by the friendliness and openness of the English.) To round out the day we went back to Elterwater where we had started our sightseeing one short week ago. In that warm week the trees had come into full leaf and the bluebells had passed their best. This time we followed the stream all the way to the village of Elterwater, passing a number of sunbathers exposing vast swathes of pale skin, before falling into step with a local couple who were happy to chat with us exotic Australians. So we had quite a sociable day in this very pretty area, the sun warm, almost hot on or backs, not at all the kind of weather that we had expected.

We loved our stay in the Lakes District. The scenery is varied, gorgeous and quite breathtaking, and there is such a variety of places to go and things to see and do. We had been very fortunate to see it in sunlight every day for a week, a very rare occurrence in this wettest part of Britain. We have been impressed by the friendliness of the people, the lack of litter even in the tourist areas, and how patient and courteous the drivers are – the narrow winding roads must breed a degree of patience that Australian drivers could do well to copy.

Tomorrow we will adopt some of that patience as we set out to drive across Yorkshire to the east coast. (An interesting insight into the size of this island – nowhere can one be more than 72 miles (115 km) from the sea!)
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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