Thursday, May 16, 2013

The LAKES - The Landscape Poetry

How It All Started 

Back in 2011, we went on a ten days trip to the Northern part of England. Most people (especially the French part of our friends and acquaintances) didn't understand why we would voluntarily go spend ten days in the "cold and wet" British isles. You probably got from my recent posts about London (and its parks and weather), that I have a little something for this part of the world.

Close to Loughrigg Fell

In 2011, we split our time between the regions of two of my childhood literary heroes - James Herriott in Yorkshire (York, North York Moors National Park, Rievaulx Abbey, cute sheep, good food, nice walks...) and Arthur Ransome in the Lake District (oh the LANDSCAPE!). Unfortunately, I was sick for most of the stay in the Lake District that August 2011. I loved it anyway and knew we would have to come back sometimes soon.

That time came a few days back.

How It Went On This Year

We flew from Paris to Manchester on Wednesday morning, then rented a car and drove for little less than two hours to the Low Wray Campsite run by the National Trust on the western shore of Lake Windermere. Staying in a National Trust campsite (they have cottages all around England as well, if you prefer!) means knowing your money will go into something useful - preserving the beautiful landscape, nature and heritage around you. For three days, we had the campsite almost for ourselves. Thanks to the weather and to the out-of-the-holiday-season timing, there were probably four or five other tents in the campsite, that can host probably over a hundred tents. It was lovely. Literally like pitching your tent on the shore of Windermere with a nice view and only geese, ducks and swans for neighbours. These were "very active" and noisy, it's probably their mating time.  During the weekend, the campsite filled a bit more (not even half full, I'd say), but most of the people stayed for just one night, the rain and cold are probably to blame for this.

View towards Fairfield and Helvellyn (maybe next time?)

Mr Rain and Mr Cold were our constant companions on this trip, along with Mr Wind who joined the party quite often, too.

Walking in the rain

Before coming, we had big hiking plans (Fairfield Horseshoe, Helvellyn, Langdale Pikes). None of these hikes were realised because of the three Misters cited above. Mr Snow apparently joined the party above 750m on Saturday.

We did some smaller hikes (Loughrigg Fell, around Elterwater and in the Great Langdale valley, on Cat Bells and around Buttermere) where Mr Wind could cool us down (as if it wasn't 8°C already) but couldn't blow us off the fells and where upon being drenched by Mr Rain, it wasn't too far to the car to change our clothes. We spent some nice time inside as well - at Blackwell House, in a few outdoor stores in Keswick, in some tearooms over a cup of tea and fresh scones, in a pub with a glass of cider and ale or in our cutesy little Fiat500 car with the heating on to dry our clothes and shoes.

On our way to the Cat Bells

Nice weather up on the Cat Bells, huh ?
me: Schoeffel GoreTex Jacket
my other half: Helly Hansen Waterproof Jacket

Our ride on Derwent water

Stupefied without "Stupefy"

We saw many new parts of the Lake District, yet there is so much more to explore. How come that, there are so many different landscapes, colours, sheep and colours of sheep on such a small piece of Earth? And more hues of green than I would have thought possible, especially when the sun shines through the clouds and the wind carries the clouds over the fells, creating a game of shadows and lights.

The perfect marriage between man and its environment, a cultural and natural landscape at its best. A place so beautiful it makes me want to cry. I might be a bit sentimental and I like landscapes with genius loci but not even the beautiful National Parks of the western USA had this effect on me. Just pure awe and emotion. Even though I am no poet, I completely understand why the Lake District's fells, lakes and daffodils inspired so many great writers.

The beautiful surprise sunset - it was supposed to rain all evening. It didn't.
View towards Ambleside from the Low Wray Campsite.

Between Keswick and Buttermere.

Hello, Buttermere. Syke Farm visible on the right.


When waiting to board our plane in Manchester, we read a few more things in our Rough Guide. The guide's very first introductory sentence goes like this: "Fair warning, the Lake District can easily become an obsession." It certainly has and I am glad for it. Can't wait to come back. In autumn or winter next time?

Have you been to the Lake District? What is your favourite place there? And your favourite season?

Writing this post and thinking back about those few days makes me overly emotional.
Pure beauty, pure love.

Oh so many waterfalls.

Real Poetry

"I wandered lonely as a cloud" (aka "Daffodils)" by William Wordsworth
It has much more effect once you have been there and fell in love with the place.

Things to do and try in the Lake District

Low Wray Campsite and our tent.
  • Staying in a National Trust campsite (great views, hot showers, fresh eggs and cumbrian sausage, playground for children). If you stay at Low Wray Campsite and you want to be close to the lake, you need to opt for a "lakeside" or "lakeview" pitch, which costs a bit more than a normal one. You can also go "glamping" if you don't want to sleep in a tent. Oh, and if you want to go in July or August, don't wait too long if you want to get a spot. Bring a headlamp, there are no lights in the campsite (except for the bathrooms and reception area) and it gets pitch dark (so refreshing).
  • Walk and hike or bike or just stroll around the lakes. There is something for everybody. We met people with strollers and elderly as well as "die hard" fell-hikers and bikers. But all of them had the necessary equipment: weather can change really quickly and the temperatures drop and soar with the rain and wind and sun. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket. If you can, bring waterproof trousers as well - that's where we defaulted :). You'll need a good map and if you go somewhere on a bigger hike, a compass is a must as well (you wouldn't believe how many paths there are on Loughrigg Fell for instance and not all of them are in the map). Before going, be sure you can read your map and use your compass... The hike we did on our first day - around Rydal Water and on Loughrigg Fell was probably one of the nicest. The Cat Bells were great as well, despite the weather. Apparently, it's one of the most popular hikes in Lake District, since it featured on british telly. We went on a friday, it was cold and windy, that was the only place we were almost blown off the path. Still, there were quite some people. On a sunny day during the holidays, it must effectively be packed.
  • Castelrigg Stone Circle. It's been there forever. No one really knows what its purpose was. There is something to that place, even when it's 5°C, heavily raining and windy.
  • For a rainy morning or afternoon, and if you like nice houses and/or the Arts and Crafts movement, Blackwell House is a nice pick. I mean that light in the White drawing room, even on a rainy day, wow. I can't even imagine how luminous it must be on a sunny evening when the sun sets over the fells. We didn't have time to try it's tearoom but it didn't look too cosy.
  • If you cook your own food, do your shopping at Booths. They have plenty of local and fresh things (different kinds of sausage, locally brewed beer, cheese from the Lake District...). Don't go to Tesco Express, where I struggled to find a beer that wasn't Heineken or Carlsberg...
  • Aren't you into cakes? I am. And even more when I've just walked 14km in cold rain. For cakes, there might be other places but then, there is Chesters by the River in Skelwith Bridge. Superbly presented, filling the room with their sweet smells - lemon curd tart, banana-chocolate pie, walnut cake (huge!), melting brownies... you get the picture. If you don't like cakes, they have soups and pizzas. We didn't try those but looked soooo tasty as well. The interior is very nice as well (white beams, orange Kartell lamps...) and there is a shop, too. On sunny days, you can sit on the terrace by the river, that must be a real treat. You get it, you'll get a special post about Chesters by the River.
  • Cream Tea. This one would probably deserve its own post one of those days, too. That's one of the things I love most about Great Britain. Cream Tea. In 2011, I had about 7 Cream Teas in 10 days. I didn't have 10 of them, because I was sick those last three days and ate mostly crackers. This time, we treated ourselves to it twice. Once at Abraham's Tearoom above the George Fisher outdoor equipment shop in Keswick. The tea itself was delicious (Lakeland Blend tea!), the scones were nice but not amazing. There must be a beautiful view on a less rainy day. The second time we had Cream Tea was at Syke Farm Tea Room in Buttermere. Buttermere itself is one of the cutest little villages in one of the most scenic valleys we've seen in the Lake District. You can do a nice walk around the lake and there are so many waterfalls. After the walk, go to the Syke Farm Tea Room. The best scones I have ever tasted. Again, if you come on a warmer day (or if you are British and cold doesn't affect you), you can try their ice-cream. It's made there, on the spot, with milk from their own cows. I definitely have to get back and give it a try :).
  • Go for a boat ride. At Derwent Water or Coniston or go for a bit of "little boat" romantic rowing in one of the numerous marinas.
  • For real english food in a nice environment and with award winning beer, you can try the Drunken Duck Inn close to Hawkshead. The prices are nice at lunch. They get higher and the food gets more posh for dinner. Apparently, you even have to reserve at night. If you want to warm yourself up with food, do not ask for the same dish as I did... It was so nicely presented and I was sooooo disappointed when I opened it. Well, I got it packed in a doggy back and brought it back with me to Paris. + I ordered a juicy steak and onion sandwich with very tasty real potato fries and homemade mayonnaise. If you are rich or want to splurge or are on honeymoon (our never ending honeymoon unfortunately doesn't fit in this category), you can get yourself a room in the inn. Or you can just go on their website and dream about how nice it would be (as I did).

A moment of warmth in Chesters by the River.

Castlerigg stone circle.

The black ones on the left are Herdwick sheep, Lake District's local breed.
They change colour with time.

Things we tried but were a bit disappointed with

  • Keswick market, supposedly full of local producers and farmers (that's what the guide says) but even thought the market was quite big, there was one stand selling sheepskins, one with cheese, two with bread and pastries, two with meat, ham etc., one or two with photos and paintings, some with veggies and fruits and that was it. All the others were crap stands with bizarre toys, plastic stuff, exotic bags and statuettes, strange clothes... Maybe in the high season, there are more stands with locally produced things. I certainly hope so.
  • Beware : all the teashops close at 5 PM (some maybe at 5:30). Is there a law for this?
  • My cold lunch at Drunken Duck... (my fault, should have asked before ordering it).
  • Our non waterproof trousers.
  • Fiat500 is a pretty little car, apparently holds nicely on small routes but a 3 door car with "cream" interior is not the best option when you sleep in a tent, walk around and have muddy shoes... 

You see, not many things we didn't like :)

Honister Pass. One of the splendid routes. I wouldn't like to take it on a bike, though.

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