Posts Tagged ‘Lake District’

HeightsPoop, poop!  The open road.  Or at least, the M6 Toll.  The heart begins to lift at the sign for the Kirkby Lonsdale turn-off, the tension to fall from the shoulders past the exit for Kendal.  Bit of a ritual now.  Check in, unload, cup of tea, then go and see if the stones are still there.

Yup - stil there: Castlerigg Stone Circle

Yup – still there: Castlerigg Stone Circle

The way we go, you don’t see them until you’ve climbed the steps built into the wall, but once in among the stones it makes perfect sense why they’re where they are, seeming to be at the centre of something.  No astro-science, ancient science or pseudo-science necessary to appreciate that.

Trees and shadowsIn The Lakes the sun plays shadow games with the clouds and the land, painting constantly shifting shades of hill and fell.  We’re just looking, not striding up and down them.

Wednesday is the hottest day of the year so far.  We choose to do Walla Crag, which overlooks the north half of Derwent Water and, in the distance, Bassenthwaite (what’s the only Lake in the Lake District?) Lake.  And, of course, a whole lot more of the solid stuff.  Northern or oak eggar mothFortunately the higher we get the stronger the breeze, which is a wind by the time we reach the top and laze for a bit.  Photographs (or at least mine), especially in summer, never get anywhere near the magnificence of the view, so here’s one of a northern (or oak) eggar moth, trying not to get blown away.

Today we make the descent (probably too grand a term, even though the walk leaflet calls it strenuous and steep, and the worst bit involves dropping from a seated position) lakewards down the other side.  To our left Cat Gill, and after the aforementioned worst bit, the gill briefly flattens out so I have the brilliant idea of stepping down and bathing my sweltering salt-strewn face in the cool clear waters.  It is here that I learn the aptness of the ancient wisdom enshrined in the old adage, “Slippery when wet”, even when there are no warning signs.  Twelve days on I still bear the residual signs of what proved to be a truly psychedelic bruise on my thigh; nor can I yet grip a pen as tightly as I am wont to.  No matter.  Onwards to a fine lunch on the veranda of the all-welcoming Mary Mount Hotel, bestrewn as it is with busy bird feeders – chaffinches and great tits so fine and handsome we had to do a double-take.

Musical stonesThursday to town, and my favourite little museum: The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery.  Where I play Louie, Louie and From me to you on the musical stones – 3 sets thereof, stacked like they’re waiting for Keith Emerson to come and climb all over them. It’s a fascinating piece of rock music history.  In the gallery a major exhibition celebrating Alfred Wainwright – Wainwright: a love letter to the Lakeland Fells.  Along with his tweed jackets (pipe sticking out of the pocket of one), his ‘best’ (for council meetings) and his first boots, and all the obvious stuff, we get to see memorabilia from his life as an active Blackburn Rovers supporters: a cartoon of his of fans at the 1922 Boxing Day match with the legend “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching”, his ‘motor coach excursion ticket’ to the 1940 (wartime) Cup Final.  At one end of the gallery, a one-piece vinyl floor covering, maybe 15 foot square, printed with an old style OS map of the Lakes; Isobel stood on top of Helvellyn, no probs.  And with one bound …

Dog & GunDog & Gun veggie goulashAnd so to The Dog & Gun, there to partake of their vegetarian goulash, a disappointment last year because we only discovered its very existence after we’d eaten elsewhere.  It was worth the wait.  Pictured is what they call a small portion – it comes with garlic bread too – and I couldn’t have eaten anymore.  I was drinking a pint of Ruskin’s, pretty much the most cultural it got this time around, and – goodness! – taste buds now fully engaged, it had twice the flavour after the meal.  A splendid array of ales, imaginatively and helpfully presented with a colour sample in a jar beside each pump (click on the image for an enlargement, and once more if that’s not good enough to whet your taste buds, beear drinkers) :

Pumps 01Pumps 2Pumps 3

In the afternoon, the gentle railway walk out of Keswick, the river winding, wildly here, wandering there, under the permanent … walk-way.  Such sights, such engineering.  The tallest foxgloves everywhere.  For fans of ironworks, rust and greenery:

Iron & greenBridge

On Friday we sample a live railway.  Eighteen minutes there and eighteen minutes back behind ‘Victor’ on the restored Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway – the lake being Windermere – and in between a look around the Lakes Aquarium, stocked with a lot more than fishes.  We saw voracious mean-looking ‘baby’ crocodiles included being fed.; lots of potential ouch there.

Train coming

D8000 classIn the locoshed at Haverthwaite I discover I am older than all the engines in the shed – including four steam locomotives of varying size – except for a diesel shunter.  There are a couple of older engines outside, but I wasn’t expecting that: to feel that old, even pursuing memories of a childhood and early-teen pursuit.  As it happens, the photo is one of the class of locos mentioned in a poem of mine some readers might remember having heard Lion & wheel logoperformed, called The lamb’s last gambol: “I sold my stamp collection for a train set / a Hornby freight diesel / Lion and wheel logo / painted grey and green“.  Except this one was missing a lion and wheel logo, though one of the other young locos proudly displayed one (compare and contrast with, say, Virgin, or any of the other railway companies now).

Saturday to the seaside and a bracing sea breeze at Alonby on the Solway Firth, which could be a very forlorn place on the wrong day.  When the interesting clouds lifted we could see the green fields of Dumfries under a blue sky.  Stony beach, true, but with plenty of delightful pebbles to peruse.  Borrowdale’s Great Wood again in the pm, finally making geographical sense to us in the scheme of things fitting together.  And the next day home again, home again, jiggety jog, fortified midway with Waitrose sandwiches at Keele services – the high life! – even if we did have to walk over the Keele services bridge and through Burger King to get them.

RevealSoundtrack of the sojourn in the car proved to be REM’s gorgeous masterpiece Reveal.  Hardly a rock album at all, but there’s certainly a lot of roll, and some floating.  Song soundscapes.  Anticipation, sympathy, self-doubt overcome, with a nod to science while not letting that take away the poetry.  Beguiling, sinuous melodies that don’t hit at first but once they catch you’re waiting for them eagerly the next time.  To sing along to.  A sadness that glows, with a bit of Beach Boys in there too.  Lovely.

Oh, and I forgot to mention in chronicling the Welsh trip how my breakfast Marmite habit had been broken, it being overtaken on the toast by Rose’s pleasurably sweet and sour Lemon & Lime Marmalade, but I’m over that now.


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Castlerigg model

The shadows on the on-site model replicate what’s happening with the real thing.

Was it really nearly a fortnight ago to the day we made it up to the Lake District, heart lifting again at the sight of the Kirkby Lonsdale M6 turn-off?  Checked in to where we were staying and made the ritual visit to Castlerigg Stone Circle?  Not for an actual ritual, you understand, but because it’s such a great place to be.  You can see and feel why they built it here.  And for once hardly anyone else around.  Had never quite seen it in this light before.  Is why I love the Lake District.  Things can change, the landscape shifts within a hundred paces, in the passing of a cloud.  And again on the way back.

And on the way back, as it happens, was lucky to catch this colourful little scene:


 The Lake District you say?  OK, here’s a sunset over Derwent Water, after which a decent pint of Keswick Brewing Company’s basic bitter:

Another sunset

Road to nowhere

Could this be the road that David Byrne used to sing about? One of Skiddaw’s shorter sisters.

Having learnt the lesson of previous visits – not to hammer one’s body on the first full day’s outing – we settle for an ascent of Latrigg, an outlying foothill of Skiddaw, the peak we never quite managed a previous time, when we might have been able to, because of the cloud which engulfed us.  Half-way up Latrigg, painfully mounting a stile watched by a large walking group having a rest, Andy says, We’re not what we used to be.  If we ever were, say I.  It’s a decent view from the top over the north end of Derwent Water though, with a sight too of Bassenthwaite Lake; which is – as seasoned pub quizzers will well know – the only lake in the Lake District.  And in the evening we go to the theatre, of which more later.

Next day we perambulate the peaceful Buttermere, which the guide books say is a gentle introduction to Lake District walking.  Not that we’ve ever been the hardiest of the breed, you understand, but even this is more strenuous than the amble we remember.  The view beyond the south end of the lake is deeply satisfying but pretty much impossible to get a decent photo of at the time of year and day we’ve ever managed because of either haze or drizzle.  But anyway:

Buttermere 2

For this relief, much thanks (that’s not me; the drying would have been too much bother).  I shared the thought and visualised:

Feet's relief

And so back to where we started that fine day, at The Fish Inn, where there are splendidly 8 (eight!) local real ales to choose from, 4 of them from Jennings.  I opt for Hesket Newmarket’s ruby Red Pike, because it’s named for a nearby Pike that nearly finished us on a previous visit (map-reading fail, a joint-jangling descent as darkness encroached, what a day to forget one’s blue puffers), about which – the beer – I have nothing to say.  Only a half because I’ve got to negotiate the scary Honister Pass back.

Next day – another fine day: 5 days in The Lakes, staying on the edge of Borrowdale, the wettest place in the land, and we had 2 whole minutes of the lightest drizzle; the rain gear and heavy-duty walking boots stay in the car boot for the duration.  And so to the sea, the sea, and new territory for us – the Solway Coast, heading north of Maryport.  Long empty stretches of beach to ourselves.  Jack’s Surf Bar on the edge of Allanby suggests it’s different in season, though the two old men sitting on the bench outside looked to be supping the same pints they’d always supped in days of yore, when it was just another pub.  Maryport itself yielded an enormous prawn baguette and chips in a pub with a Bob Dylan soundtrack, and walking through poetry on the promenade, an imaginative project built into the upping of the sea defences’ capabilities:

 Blown awayFrench kissesDead crabsMP Stephanie laughsJust some of the phrases selected from the work of local children writing about their town and the sea front.  Can’t resist playing fridge poetry here.  Clicking on the images will enlarge them, but reading left to right that’s Blown away; French kisses & dead soldiers (there is a Great War memorial nearby); Dead crabs stare at passing cars; Stephanie laughs.

Saturday it feels like we’re in a book, following in the footsteps of historian turned sleuth Daniel Kind in Martin Edwards’ latest Lake District Mystery, to be precise.  Renovation has not dimmed the charm and fascination of the Keswick Museum & Art Gallery, which retains its Victorian chamber of curiosities ambience.  I had feared the fossilised cat would be behind glass, but no – it’s still in its trunk and you can still lift the lid.  There’s now a small room dedicated to the early rock climbers that’s a bit of an eye opener too, what with the gear (think old leather football boots), the enormous cameras, the pipe smoking.  I played a bit of Louie Louie and Please don’t let me be misunderstood on the enormous xylophone made of local stone – the rock music of its day.

Theatre by the Lake sunsetStaying in the book, in the evening went to the great little Theatre by the Lake.  Or should that be impressive.  Proper theatre with a rep of real plays and proper actors, not the corny musicals and crap comedies we seem to be stuck with in MK these days.  Could have gone to six different plays in the week  if we’d wanted (and people do, apparently) – ‘Fun, frolics, menace and mystery’ as it says on the brochure, including a Shakespeare and a Harold Pinter.  Earlier in the week, in the main theatre, we’d seen a stunning production of Liz Lochhead’s adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sparely but imaginatively staged with some outstanding performances.  And some great music – Wim Mertens? Shoulda brought a programme – before things started and carried through into the action.  This company of actors really earn their crust – incredible energy and stamina.  And some familiar faces in Jez Butterworth’s The winterling in the small studio, which was an experience in itself.  We entered under some scaffolding that was part of the set with the small stage area in the centre with banks of seating either side.  Talk about the whites of their eyes.  I’ll let the Independent’s theatre critic do the talking: “Like Harold Pinter crossed with Guy Ritchie plus Withnail and I.”  Two splendid evenings’ entertainments with the added bonus if you arrive in good time of – this time of the year – it being The Theatre by the Lake, of the sun setting behind the mountains the other side of the lake.

Stepping out of the places visited in Martin Edwards’ book, in between the above, the discovery of the great Dog and Gun pub too late because we’d already eaten, so their famous vegetarian goulash will have to wait for next time.  And a walk along and over the bridges over the bubbling river of the old railway line, which must have been a spectacular  journey in its time.  Then a divert up the hill back via the Stone Circle again.  On which walk we did espy:

Cow and mountains

Stayed overnight in Colne coming back to the flatlands, but later for that.

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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.

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Actually we weren’t lost. We knew exactly where we were on the map.  It’s just that we couldn’t find what we were looking for.  Grizedale Forest, near Hawkshead in the Lake District is one of my favourite places.  There are over 60 sculptures by a variety of contemporary artists which have been skillfully scattered with a revelatory wit around the large forest area over the last  three decades or so.  It is said it takes 3 days to see all the works installed here.  But never mind them; the charms of the forest and tarn work a spell of their own and the panoramas of the mountains and fells of the Lake District which can suddenly appear – on a clear day – in the space of  just a few steps are stunning enough in their own right – try the combined red and green marked paths.  The effect on me is the same as what happens with Tate Modern; even when you leave the designated area you’re never quite sure where the art stops.  The photo on the right is Kerry Morrison’s splendidly ambiguous Some fern.  Some of the pieces can be seen from afar but equally can appear seemingly out of nowhere as you walk along; sometimes you miss them.  And here, just for the sake of it, is a real Grizedale fern unfolding like some alien surrealist creation (click on the photo for a bigger picture).

What I was specifically looking for – not that it was crucial to the day’s pleasures, I hasten to add, though we did expend a considerable amount of energy in tracing and retracing our steps and it would have added a nice symmetry – was Andy Goldsworthy‘s brilliant Taking a wall for a walk, a dry stone wall which ambles (unlike those normal iconic features common in the Lake District landscape) between established trees.  I’d seen it a couple of times before, the first time in its full glory, and – some years later – after it had suffered a direct hit from a tree falling, which tree had (of course) been left in situ, so I was wondering what the current state of play was.  Alas, this year I shan’t get to see for myself because, as I’ve said, we couldn’t find it.

Three theories:

  • the wall had indeed gone for a further walk.  Even taking the changing seasons into account, well over a decade of the same view might induce a certain restlessness
  • the neatly folding Forestry Commission plan lied.  That map distinctly shows a section of path shared by two suggested routes, sharing green and pale purple spots on the plan.  We saw plenty of green marker posts (and white ones, which told us we had gone too far), but nary a pale purple one
  • having climbed up the obscure muddy incline by a less than obvious marker post only seen on the third time of passing that boasted no colour at all, I should have persevered further up that narrow but unpromising path and maybe all would have been revealed

Naturally, as the rationalist and skeptic I try to be, I would prefer the first to be the case.  The second would be unfortunate.  Something has to be amiss, though  I don’t want to diss the Forestry Commission too much as we’d had a good walk in their Whinlatter Forest Park earlier in the week too.  The third would be typical, but … no pale purple marker.  Next time (and there almost certainly will be one) I’ll go from the car park they suggest, but that’s another day.

I wouldn’t let any of the above stop you spending time in Grizedale.  It’s full of the joys, playful strolling food for the mind and soul, though the body might ache a bit after (it is the Lake District).  So many shades of green to be seen.  And, yes, you can wind up the tree. The greyworld team has installed a few like this, each giving out a different sound.  Here’s the Grizedale Sculpture website and, if you don’t know Andy Goldsworthy‘s work, here’s his website; if you just stick his name into Google images prepare yourself for a treat.  Oh, and among the abundant birdsong we distinctly heard a cuckoo.

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So, May 6 and I cast my vote – I love the election booths, the crap pencils, the ballot box, have never missed a chance to vote – and off to the Lakes.  All a bit unreal to see the drama of the coalition unfold in snatches on a hotel room TV.  Could have been worse, could have been the Tory majority one was braced for.  At least their rich chums won’t be getting that inheritance tax perk.  David Cameron’s ‘Desert Island Discs‘ (back in the Sue Lawley days) headed up by ‘Tangled up in blue’, which he chooses as the one to keep against all the others.  Bugger – what is the world coming to?  But also, Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie’.  Do they take bets on who’s going to be on DID?  Nick Clegg before Christmas, anyone?

And six nights in the Lakes and only 5 minutes of rain, 2 of them in the car in a car park.  Cold though; had to buy another layer and snow appeared on the mountains one night.  But the cold meant clear days; you could see for miles and miles, things changing within a few steps, watch the sunshine  moving across the hills, lighting up unsuspected valleys.   Lambs still gambolling as we walked round Derwent Water and the women are right, their wisdom could not be denied: there comes a time when there can be no drink more perfect than a hot chocolate with squirty cream on top.

Used to think the 15″ gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway was a toy train but not after that climb.  Magnificent immaculately maintained machines, the excitement of the train approaching in the passing place half-way up (and down), the whistle, the steam, the sounds.  Still reminded me of Chandler’s best joke in ‘Friends’ about liking to drink miniatures because it made him feel like a giant.

The Ullswater ‘Steamer’ boat ride was spectacular too.  The ever-changing vistas on that lake long and wide are a joy and on that day you could see into Yorkshire.  Got off at Howtown to do the walk back to Glenridding.  Jim Reid, in his splendid Cicerone Guide ‘Tour of the Lake District’, calls this, “A real classic Lakeland low-level route – ideal for a relaxing ‘day off’ from walking the Tour.”  It’s all relative, I guess, and we’ve never been more out of condition (ie. have achieved comparative wimpdom – the spellchecker suggests ‘wisdom’); so yay to the former (‘classic’) with the latter (‘relaxing’) open to discussion.  The Ullswater Steamers company’s ‘Walking through the valley of time’ pamphlet describes the terrain as, “Undulating path with up and down hill stretches and some slightly rocky parts” and being of ‘Moderate – Easy‘ difficulty.  Slightly – the 39 steps again and again?  And I don’t know about you,but ‘undulating’ suggests to me a certain, um, gentility.  Was worth it though – tired, aching, happy.  Those views just stunning in their beauty, their depth and openness, their shimmering calm.  And the prospect of nature never giving up, the single tree on a barren skyline.

Bit of an anticlimax, then, to be back in the MK flatlands and a performance of ‘Pirates of Penzance‘.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Gilbert & Sullivan.  When I was a child and my dad bought a gramophone the first album he bought was ‘The Mikado’ and a school production of ‘Trial by jury’ opened a few doors.  This was on OK production with some decent business – not least the puppetry interludes –  but I suspect I won’t remember much from it apart from the inappropriateness of Paul Nicholas playing the Pirate King as pantomime (Johnny Depp has spoiled us) but more to the point not being a trained singer and so being obviously miked up unlike the rest of the cast.  Having said that, it was a joy to see and hear the wit of a masterful ‘Major-General’s Song’ – “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” – a ‘patter’ song Wikipedia calls it.   I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest G&S as the missing link between Music Hall and opera and as such a source of much potential enjoyment, depsite the weak plotting.  And on saturday one of the pirates looked disconcertingly like Ringo Star.

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