Archive for July 2010

Holiday to the Lake District - Day Four

Posted on Monday 5th July 2010 at 00:00
Day Four of the holiday and the inevitable happened at last. It was always going to, despite warnings from those who know the area better than us, and who cautioned us against it. That's right; today, we took a boat ride on Lake Windermere.

Yes, yes, I know, I know! The other lakes are better, cheaper, less touristy etc, etc. I know that! And, in time, I hope to spend a great deal of time exploring the less well known parts of the Lake District, and getting to know the real place. But I still had to do Windermere, just once.

The problem with it as a lake, being long and thin (a ribbon lake, I think they call it) is that there is no one place you can stand to get a good idea of the size of the thing, it is just too long. The only way to experience it properly is by boat. So that is what we did.

In order to combine things and save some cash, we decided to go with a combined steam train and boat ride ticket, allowing us to tick two things off our list of planned activities for the week, and so free up yet more time for stuff that is perhaps a little more worthy.

We settled on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite railway to take us as far as the boat; a pleasant enough ride on an attractive little steam train (with an unattractive name: Repulse) at speeds so slow you would half expect to be overtaken by continental drift. The boat we boarded was the MV Swan, the youngest of the three boats on the route at only 72 years of age. We elected to sit outside at the front, as it would afford us the best view of the lake, a smart decision whilst in port, but one that we would soon come to regret, once we felt the full force and chill of the wind upon the open lake.

Indeed, it was only bloody minded stubbornness on both our parts that had us sit there, frozen and huddling each other for warmth, all the way to Ambleside, where we disembarked.

We had around an hour before the return boat, and so elected to look around Amberside itself, a pretty town with a frankly astounding number of outdoor clothing shops. Amongst these was the first ever actual branch of Cotton Traders that I've ever seen, and, much to my delight, they had a 50% off sale, just as I was finding my existing pair of black Cotton Traders shoes in need of replacement. Perfect timing.

Upon our return to the water, we discovered that we'd be travelling on the MV Tern, a Victorian steam ship built in 1891 that had since been converted to diesel (sadly), but was nonetheless comfortable and roomy inside and a massive improvement on the previous boat.

Whilst on board I sampled the hot chocolate (not bad) and bought a postcard for my mum!

This evening we made an effort to eat as early as possible once we arrived home. The reason for this is that the sun was shining, and we just couldn't resist an opportunity to go for a walk round the village of Morland once again. As we walked we amused ourselves by making bets about the number of cars we'd see on our walk (6 out, 6 back) and chatted about how pleasant the countryside is during the summer. We were passed repeatedly by a tractor that was conveying covered hay bales from a field to a barn a little way down the road.

The short walk we had planned ended up being somewhat longer, since once we got going we just didn't want to stop! In the end we were forced to turn back by concerns that it might be dark soon, and neither of us were carrying torches with us.

Tomorrow we are thinking of walking a little in Coniston and seeing the sculpture walk at Grizedale. The weather looks like it may not make up its mind, so we are thinking sunny thoughts.

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Holiday to the Lake District - Day Three

Posted on Sunday 4th July 2010 at 00:00
So, Day Three of our adventure is drawing to a close, and I am buzzing with the beauty of the place. This was our first day of visiting the Lake District National Park itself, and boy, is it beautiful!

I've seen my fair share of fabulous landscapes before. I live almost in sight of Dartmoor, and I have travelled across Kenya in a jeep, but I've never seen anything quite like this place. Whoever put in the hills didn't seem to realise that hills are meant to sit side by side, not one on top of another, so the result is that each general rise has odd smaller hills all over it, making it impossible to get any real idea of where the hill begins and ends.

I could explain this much better with photos, but the effect is really most obvious as you drive along the roads, and as the sole driver, I can't take photos at that time.

It was raining when we set out, raining hard. Cumbria is a beautiful, wild county, and no more so than when wind and rain are pounding on your windscreen and the marvellous hilly scenery is virtually obscured by the spray on the fast, windy road along which you travel.

We decided, since it was too wet for a long walk whilst L's cold was in full flow, to visit Hill Top, the famous home of children's author Beatrix Potter. Getting there required a long drive along small, winding roads, and then a trip on the car ferry. Through the water that poured onto the windscreen, and the glare of headlights, we could just make out the choppy water in front of us, our first look at Windermere, the largest lake in England!

Shortly afterwards we arrived at Hill Top. It was still pouring down with rain, and I congratulated myself on wearing light weight, quick drying linen trousers rather than jeans, which would have been wet for a month after just two minutes outside.

Fortunately we were amongst a fairly small number of people who weren't put off by the weather, and so our wait outside the house was just a couple of minutes. Some would suggest that the house is prettier in sunshine, and maybe it is, but I wouldn't have swapped the weather for anything.

Like most people growing up in the 90s, my first experiences of Beatrix Potter's work were through the excellent BBC animated series. The start of each episode showed Potter returning to her home through a heavy rain storm before beginning her latest story. And it was just like that, down to the water gushing down the drain pipe.

Despite being a good 300 years old, the house was sturdy, warm and comfortable throughout. I especially liked the roaring coal fire in the front room; far hotter, brighter and more inviting than any wood one I've ever seen.

The rain was easing off by the time we returned to the car for our lunch, and as we entered the ticket office of the Beatrix Potter gallery to declare our intention to join the National Trust, the rain was all but gone. Seeing the original paintings that adorned the Peter Rabbit books was a magical experience, even for someone, such as myself, who rarely appreciates art of any kind. The brush work, the colour and the detail is quite mind boggling. How did she do it? I will never know how anyone can possess such a level of skill and patience for what was, after all, a hobby originally.

Our morning soaking had convinced L and I that the one thing we needed most in life was a pair of waterproof over-trousers. Fortunately these, and virtually any other items of outdoor clothing you can imagine, can be bought at any of at least 100 shops in the Lake District, desperate to tempt in budding walkers with heavy discounting and large ranges. We each found an excellent pair that can be stored in a small bag when not in use; perfect for carrying around with us wherever we go.

At this point we had run out of planned activities for the day, and started flicking through leaflets for some ideas of what to do, as it was still a little early for our return home. We eventually settled on Tarn Hows, a lake so small and insignificant it hardly appears on most maps. Nonetheless it is extremely picturesque and an ideal size for a short walk, being around a mile and a half in circumference.

One curiosity that we could not explain: As we walked around the lake we happened across a fallen tree. Around part of the the trunk, the bark had been removed, and into its place someone had inserted dozens of copper coins. The tree was still hard, and they could not have been buried as they were without the use of some considerable force. Yet there was no indication of how or why this had happened, nor who was responsible.

Back home, we discovered that our landlords, who live in the main property to which our cottage is attached, have returned home and that the sound proofing between our properties is minimal. Not a problem, unless you are watching the rather noisy sex scenes in Four Weddings and a Funeral (we were watching the rest of the film as well, I hasten to add) and suddenly realise you have the volume up quite high. Did they hear us? I don't know, but they've not yet dropped in to say hello, so either they are busy, or they think we are.

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Holiday to the Lake District - Day Two

Posted on Saturday 3rd July 2010 at 00:00
Well here we are at the end of Day Two of our adventure to the Lake District. I don't know why I'm calling it "Day Two". It doesn't feel like day two. In truth it doesn't really feel like day one, since we only arrived here late this afternoon, and most of the time since then has been taken up with shopping, unpacking and settling in. In practical terms, tomorrow is day one of the actual holiday, but for ease of sense making as far as this blog is concerned, I've named this second installment as day two, and that is how it shall stay.

Anyway, we are now in the Lake District, or rather, just outside it, in our small cottage, The Bower House, on the edge of the quaint Cumbria village of Morland. It is a beautiful spot, in an area known, I believe, as the Eden Valley. Our humble abode is a tiny, but well fitted out little cottage that started life as a barn of some description, but is now so luxuriously furnished that I have to confess it puts our flat in Plymouth to some shame.

Amongst other features, we find ourselves, most welcomely, in the company of a Grandfather Clock, which, though silent when we first arrived, is now ticking merrily away to itself, albeit with a slowness of pace that could only seem fitting in the middle of the countryside.

We awoke this morning in Bristol and, having decided not to rush on account of the expected journey time being less than originally anticipated, we found that it was nearly lunch time when we finally dragged the suitcases to the car. Our journey was fast and problem free, and within a couple of hours we were sitting on the bonnet of the car at a nameless service station just north of Birmingham, eating our lunch and chatting about cars, a subject that L has taken an increased interest in, now that she is planning to learn to drive later in the summer.

We were both mildly appalled by a 4x4 driver who, having driven his over sized Planet Killing car into the bay next to ours, got out and wandered off without bothering to switch off the engine! We can only assume that the passenger who remained in the car was dependent on the air con for basic survival, but when we left, a quarter of an hour later, the driver had not returned and that blasted engine was still ticking over.

We were well past Manchester and St Helens (the birth and final resting place of my late grand parents) when I happened to glance down at the fuel gauge and discovered that we were virtually out of petrol. A moment later, a sign confirmed that the next service station was 18 miles on, a little too far to want to take any changes. I had the Sat-Nav (a TomTom One, not my nickname for L) look up the nearest petrol station, and it took us straight off the M6 and along a winding road into a nearby town. Sadly, the stupid thing was not set to impress today, and far from taking us to the promised service station, it dumped us halfway along a quiet residential street with those words I so dread it saying on occasions like this:

You have reached your destination!

Swearing and muttering under my breath, I then told the bloody contraption to take me to the next nearest one, which was an Asda, thinking it should be pretty easy to find. Half way there, the Sat Nav runs out of battery as we are going round a bend, and L has to find the lead, plug it in and switch it on before we reach the next junction, so we can find out where we are going.

By this point I am more or less expecting the engine to stall at any minute, so you can imagine my annoyance when once again it smugly informs us that our destination is on the left, whilst we travel along a road with no left turns and no Asda.

Having eventually found a Shell garage in the town, we returned to the motorway and on with our journey, which took us through some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I would have taken a picture, but I was driving so couldn't.

We arrived at the cottage, unloaded the car and headed straight out to the supermarket, which we assumed would be in a building in a town. It wasn't. Ok, yes technically it was in a town, Penrith in fact, but it wasn't in a building. Instead, erected in front of the still being built supermarket was a giant gazebo, the local branch of Morrisons. Very surreal, I can tell you.

We ate on the terrace later, and with the exception of some rather pesky flies, everything was perfect. I'd cooked quiche and chips, and in doing so had happily discovered of an extremely impressive set of kitchen knives.

Afterwards we went out for a walk around the village, as the daylight faded away. It seems like a pleasant little place, with a cheerful looking pub, a few converted barns that are now holiday cottages, and a 1950s style garage.

Tomorrow we hope to do some site seeing, as we are still a little worn out from our journey, and the cold which has emerged from L's sore throat of yesterday and which I am fast on the way to beginning , if my nose is anything to go by. It all hangs on the weather at the moment though, and the forecast is for heavy rain. We shall just have to wait and see what comes our way.

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Holiday to the Lake District - Day One

Posted on Friday 2nd July 2010 at 00:00
So we are going on holiday to the Lake District and I am blogging about it.

The original plan, back in April or May had been to go to Paris for the weekend to celebrate our 2 year anniversary, which is coming up soon, but that wasn't to be. A mixture of ash clouds, lack of availability and a general desire by the Great British Public to head south and escape the cold weather had pushed prices on Eurostar and ferries alike to well above affordable prices.

"Crikey, we could almost holiday for a week in the UK for what a weekend abroad would cost us" I remarked. So we started looking at that.

L and I had talked about going to the Lake District for a week almost as soon as we got together, so it didn't take us long to settle on it as our chosen destination and find a cottage to rent. So, that is where we are going and what we are doing, and the next few blog posts will be chronicling our adventures on what is to be our first couple holiday for a whole week.

Our story begins earlier this afternoon, or yesterday, as it more or less now is and certainly will be by the time anyone sits down to read it. How about we call it even and say Friday, just to clarify things. The plan, earlier in the week had been to pack everything on Thursday and leave as soon as I got home from work at 6pm on Friday.

In the event, things took a slightly more leisurely start than that. I arrived home at 7, having felt morally obliged to actually finish the work I said I'd finish, even if it meant staying back an extra hour, and found that L had just about started packing. To be fair to her, she had got a lot of things into piles, but since I had neglected to get the suitcases down from the top of the wardrobes, that was as far as things had got.

L has, rather unfortunately, been struck down with a sore throat today, and is therefore unable to shout at me for being slow. I put this down (along with our good holiday moods) as the probable cause of us getting things done rather well, without the usual snapping, sarcastic comments and general abuse that so often pass between us on occasions when we are either running late, have a lot to do, or are hungry. Or both. Or all three in fact.

Instead we were able to dodge round the ridiculous number of items that are still waiting to find a home after the move, computer problems, each other and a phone call from my mother wishing us a happy holiday, to finally be packed and ready by about 8:30pm.

The Plan, as we shall continue to call it, had been to set off immediately and drive as far as Exeter before stopping at Harvester for dinner, a strategy we have used before when driving to Bristol on a Friday night. It was getting rather late for that by this point however, so we elected to try our luck (in a not gambling with money sense) with one of the many Fish and Chip shops dotted around the Barbican and only a few minutes walk from the flat.

The shop was open, much to our delight, and the service friendly in the extreme. We sat on a bench beside Sutton Harbour and ate very well indeed, before returning to the flat to finish packing. It was a little after 10pm by the time we finally hit the road, but late evenings in summer are a pleasant time for a drive, and with the audiobook version of Time Traveller's Wife to keep me company as L slept, I found the journey passed speedily and without incident.

We are kindly being put up by L's mum tonight, in the house in Bristol where L grew up and, until recently, called home, and that is where I am writing to you from now, in a completely dark room, save from the light of my laptop screen.

About this time in a normal one of these holiday blog posts, I plan to offer you a photo taken during the day of our adventures. But, it being the first night, and with the camera buried at the bottom of a suitcase somewhere, I hope you'll accept this stock image of the M5 that I stole borrowed from Wikipedia.

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