We were here because over the years I had heard so much about the Lake District of England as the source of literature and art. More recently I have seen many beautiful photographs from the area. It happens to be about halfway between Birmingham, our point of entry and exit convenient to the wedding we will attend on 1 September, and Edinburgh, where we go tomorrow to visit old friends, Charles and Cathy Michie.
Our start time this morning was dictated by the breakfast hour here at Meadowcroft, 8 to 9 am. It was worth the delay to enjoy the wonderful breakfast. We started with real muesli, which seemed impossible to find in the shops we visited in France, and yoghurt. As we gathered that from the counter, our server, Hannah, asked if we wanted tea or coffee. Of course we wanted coffee, which she brought in a pot that served us each multiple cups. She offered and we accepted the full English breakfast with fried egg, sausage, tomato, baked beans, and mushrooms. Toast was also served and there was a wide selection of marmalades and jams to have with it.
Despite the much more extensive than usual breakfast we still managed to be out and on the road just before 9:00 am with no firm plans but some ideas about where to go and what we might see. I drove the short distance to Windermere and a little way into the town toward the lake but did not stop. Instead we headed for Ambleside where Majella had discovered from the book in our room that there was a waterfall worth seeing and an interesting town to see.
A little way beyond Windermere we saw a sign to a visitor centre and I drove into the carpark which was also used by a ropes course. That was our first experience of the local parking arrangements using ‘pay on exit’ that involve numberplate recognition, 15 minutes free, and then £3 for up to 2 hours paid via a central machine. We quickly decided that we could not walk to the visitor centre and get what we needed within 15 minutes and were not prepared to pay for 2 hours. I drove on.
The first parking lot we found on a side road as we approached Ambleside had the same system. We set out from there but thought better of it when we looked more closely at how far we were from the action in Ambleside. Again we drove on and this time found a parking lot using the more familiar ‘pay and display’ system close to town. We were still ahead of the crowd at that stage so there was plenty of easy space. We paid for 2 hours and headed into town to find the track to the waterfall.
Stock Ghyll Force waterfall is close to Ambleside but reaching it requires an uphill walk much of which is on uneven muddy trails. On the other side of the stream we could see houses that had back decks positioned to take advantage of the views over the running water. Part way up there is a fall that has a shorter drop than the major fall of 21 m but its breadth makes for a beautiful display among the green. The major fall is more spectacular in its height but is partly obscured by foliage. The track goes all the way to the top, crosses the stream and goes part way down the other side before crossing again to rejoin the origninal track. It was a pleasant walk, if a bit muddy and taxing on the way up.
As we had walked into Ambleside Majella had seen a sign advertising a flower show that was on this weekend. That was our next target. The sign named a centre that we could not see so Majella asked in a chocolate store where she bought a reviver bar. Those directions led us on a short interesting walk but not to the flower show. She asked somebody else, also without success but we eventually found the centre on a map and spotted some more signs pointing the way. It was a truly local show of flowers, vegetables and cooking, with categories for such things as ‘potatoes, one dish of 4 – 2 white & 2 coloured’. There seemed to be no more than 3 entries in most categories, and they had successfully won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes. The show reminded Majella of events featured in Midsomer and she was alert for any murderous misadventures. However, the most interesting feature was the floral hat worn by one of the volunteers who happily agreed to having his photo taken. Happily everyone survived the show.
We drove on from Ambleside to Grasmere where we visited the Wordsworth Museum and Dove Cottage, where he lived with his sister Dorothy, wife Mary, and children during some of his most productive writing period. We arrived around 11:30 am and spent some time in the museum before taking a 30 minute tour of the cottage at noon. The tour guide, Jane, was well informed and presented her stories with enthusiasm for the subject. The cottage is presented as closely as possible to the way that it was when Wordsworth lived there and it includes displays of items that he owned and used. We finished with a walk in Wordsworth’s garden on the hillside above the house. Our view to the mere (lake) was interrupted by a building that was built after his time there. We ate lunch, soup for Majella and chorizo and cheese toasted in ciabatta for me, at the nearby cafe before driving on.
Our next stop was at Keswick where Majella wanted to visit the shop at the Derwent pencil museum. The first pencil was made in Keswick after graphite was discovered and mined nearby. We spent some time in the store exploring the wide range of different pencils but did not go into the museum. Instead we walked into town and down to the water (lake) hoping to see the iconic views that we had seen on promotional materials for pencils. The views were as we had hoped but it took some imagination to filter out the crowds of people engaged in boating, feeding the ducks at the water edge, or lazing on the hillside with picnics or books while admiring the views.
Surprisingly, there is just one lake so named in the Lakes District, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the other bodies of water are meres or waters. We are still not sure about the distinction but the best explanation appears to be linguistic, depending on the language used by those who applied names. Even then there is disagreement about which languages – Norse, German, Latin, French – were involved. In the end it does not matter. They are all spectacularly beautiful regardless of the name.
Nevertheless, Majella wanted to see the one lake so we drove further on along its shore and then looped back from just short of Cockermouth via Crummock Water and Buttermere. That was off the main roads and much of the distance was on single lane roads where it was necessary to pull off into a passing space or even back up to one for cars going in opposite directions to pass. The views in every direction were wonderful. Large parts of the hillsides were covered in purple which we assumed was heather. There was another high waterfall beyond Buttermere and much else that may appear in my photos when I am able to process and upload them. Parking was hard to find around that loop because of the narrow roads, tight spaces between hills and water, and the number of other people out enjoying the views.
Eventually our loop took us back to Keswick from where I drove back toward Ings. Along the way we decided to drive the extra distance to see Kendal which Majella had read was worth seeing and try to find dinner there. Sunday in Kendal was quiet and we saw nowhere suitable for dinner. On the way back to Ings we turned into the village of Stavely which had a sign on the main road advertising its new bridge as the newest in the UK. As we drove to cross the bridge Majella spotted the Eagle and Child, a pub which looked interesting. We found space to park and ate there – meatballs in salsa with mozzarella. The English do a great breakfast but the rest of what we have found so far has us missing the French cuisine.