So – yes – swallows but no amazons (poetic licence – read ‘fat people’) (and very few pigeons either, for that matter). I guess it goes with the territory. Because despite the charming ministrations of mine hosts at The Heights, just outside Keswick – Barry serving up delicious local ales (the pale Loweswater Gold and the “smooth coppery” Skiddaw bitter from the Hesket Newmarket Brewery) and the agonies of decision each night over Van’s generously proportioned vegetarian platters (but always choosing chips – hey, we were on holiday) my weight remained the same on return as when we’d left.
Weather: we’ve had worse; four seasons in one day, and all that. The man in the newsagent’s in Keswick said he’d lived in the Lake District 20 years and it had only rained twice – once for 12 years, and then for 8. But in the main we stayed dry, if cold, mostly; got hailed upon briefly a couple of times, but come the worst downpour there was a church porch to hand (it’s a miracle!) and the right clothes can work wonders (or at least help a lot).
Sean, the leprechaun in the Sat Nav, tried to lead us almost down the garden path on our way to Coniston. Picturesque though it may be, we knew we didn’t need a detour via Grasmere village – he was on to charge his batteries – but thought we’d give his way a go anyway until this helpful official sign (‘Do not follow Sat Nav‘) re-affirmed our faith in our own devices. The photo is out of focus and looks a bit weird because it was taken from the top deck of the magic 555 bus (Keswick to Lancaster via Grasmere, Rydal, Ambleside, Windermere, Kendal – best bus ride in the UK?) later in the week. Anyway:
- street art in the subway in Keswick (unlikely though the existence of such an urban thoroughfare may sound). Don’t know how official it is.
- the brilliant little Ruskin Museum in Coniston: as well as beautifully presented local history, there’s a John Ruskin Gallery that was well worth spending time in (and I say that even though we’ve been to Brantwood, JR’s Lake District pad twice previously). Ruskin is one of those forgotten Victorian visionary giants – he achieved and produced so much in art, literature and social thought – whose time surely must come again (and one of these days I’ll expand on this).
- and a joy to discover in the Ruskin Gallery that along with much else John Ruskin had his own lithophone – a sort of xylophone for giants, the sound coming from local rocks being struck. JR’s was a bit elementary, but there’s a quadruple-decker de luxe in the fascinating and wonderful old-style Keswick Museum (you can even have a play) with a surprising history that gives the notion of hard rock music a different dimension. (For more on lithophones and their history – Royal Albert Hall concerts, international acclaim – check out here and here).
- and while we’re on the music, another day we walked to the lovely neat little church that is St John’s in the Vale (in … St John’s in the Vale), there to find a well spring that, in its channel a few feet away from its grotto, makes – at least when we were there – the water equivalent of wind chimes. Another little bit of Lakeland magic.
- But back to Coniston. I could be less interested in Donald Campbell’s spectacular demise in failing to break the world water speed record on the nearby lake (as late as 1968, I was surprised to discover) but the museum’s new Bluebird Wing is impressive in its breadth of coverage. I didn’t know, for instance, that Donald’s dad Malcolm’s record-breaking cars – all called Blue Bird – took their name from an operatic fantasy of 1919 based on an earlier play by Maurice Maeterlinck called The Blue Bird, the sort of high culture/technological crossover rare these days. And that Donald chose to call his vehicles the one worded Bluebird to proclaim he was his own man.
- more Ruskin in Kendal’s very fine Abbot Hall Art Gallery, and a couple of George Romney’s best (well, two I recognised, which did indeed stand out). Great little gallery. The older stuff displayed in Georgian domestic splendour downstairs and, upstairs, when we were there, a celebration of the Gallery’s 50 years’ existence, showing favourites from its very decent collection of post-war and contemporary British art, nay painting. Hung on walls – hurrah!
- the Kendal Parish Church was a surprise, both in its size – five aisles – and some decent early twentieth century stained glass windows, my favourite being the rare use of greens in this one
- and back up the hill, outside the impressive Brewery Arts Centre complex (every town should have one) this further refurbished warning of time’s winged chariot (not that there was much prospect of a Leyland lorry taking off from the brow of Shap, where it was originally proudly installed.