The Cumbrian Lakes District lies just north of Wales on England’s north western coast. I just wanted to stay on Lake Windermere – nice and simple. No one warned us of the need for a completely alternative lexicon to navigate this area. It first became apparent when we learned that we had booked accommodation at Landing How. I thought that there should surely be a question mark after the name but there wasn’t. The Lakes District is comprised of lakes (surprised?), fells (hills), forces (waterfalls), wolds (hills), becks (streams), hows (hills), tarns (small elevated lakes) and pikes (hills [large]).
A network of bridleways, public footpaths with kissing gates and stiles on fence lines allow mere mortals like us the privilege of wandering through fields of sheep, flowers and stinging nettles. These public rights of way have existed across England and Wales for several centuries and permit persons to traverse private land on designated routes without fear of trespass infringement. Jen and I made extensive use of these footpaths during our week of hot sunny days with breezes light enough to keep us cool while walking. Eventually we would reach a village where we could sit and get a coffee and scone – of course, partaken only to avoid the onset of hypoglycaemia. Suffering such an attack in the English countryside would just not do!
Kissing gates are cool, not because you can kiss them or even kiss over them (though we often did), but because they are a swinging gate that is always open, needs no lock yet prevents stock from passing through. They are a bit hard to describe, but imagine a garden gate swinging between and inside a V-shaped forked fence on the latch side. You enter with the gate swung away from you, move into the deep part of the V then swing the gate back past you to the other side as you exit. You’d best look at the picture of the stone one below. Alternatively, there are stiles which are one or two raised treads which pass through the fence so you can step over the apex of the fence. Goats and some clever sheep (oxymoron) can get over these, thus they are less common.
One sunny afternoon after walking up to Skelwith Force, we returned to the village to have afternoon tea on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river whereupon we witnessed a very public stoush over posession of a table on the terrace, between a very nice visiting couple, some equally nice do-gooders and some much lesser locals with dogs. The visitors arrived, laid claim to an empty table by leaving a cardigan thereon and went to the counter to order. Moments later, the do-gooders, seeing the cardigan and thinking it had been left by some previous patron, quickly got up and took it inside to the waitress for safe keeping. Meanwhile the lesser locals arrived with their dogs and took up semi-permanent residence at the aforementioned table. Upon their return, the visitors were first met by the dogs then the unmoving, passively aggressive lesser locals. The situation rapidly deteriorated firstly by virtue of the lesser locals’ feigned surprise at seeing the visitors, then by a offering a non-genuine invitation to join them and their dogs, then finally to loud, belligerent, long-winded discussion of the proceedings. Needless to say, the offending do-gooders adjacent, were first regretful then embarrassed, then gobsmacked at the scene they had unwittingly created. All in all, it was a most entertaining afternoon.
Day after day we would walk the fells and circumnavigate tarns never tiring of the beautiful vistas and quiet waters. There was always a quaint village with a stone pub, lolly shop and cafe beside a lake with boathouses at the water’s edge and wooded islands in the middle. Families of swans and ducks swim through the lilies while only a hundred metres offshore, fly-fishermen would attempt to outsmart wise old trout.
In pursuit of one of my travel objectives, I would seize any opportunity to engage the locals. Most often this would be on a footpath somewhere but occasionally in the car, in the middle of a small village intersection with someone in a motorized wheelchair while Jen is in the local store. The most interesting chap I met on the whole trip in fact. “Never let an opportunity pass” I always say. Jen just shakes her head.
Grasmere was probably my favourite Lakes town. Postcard perfect, complete with Taffy Thomas’s Storytellers Garden, where the art of storytelling is celebrated and taught for the benefit of future generations. …and flowers, flowers and more flowers, more beautiful and lush than anything I have ever seen in Australia. Whitewashed houses surrounded by dry stone garden walls. In fact dry stone walls everywhere! We saw one disappearing over the top of a very high fell which must have been a several kilometres long. Just imagine how many stones were carried and individually placed to make it two to three hundred years ago. Amazing. A truly marvellous place to visit.
London was our last stop before returning home. A real melting pot of cultures now, where nearly fifty percent of the people in the street have their identity hidden by cloth, where you have to really listen hard to hear English spoken and no footpath courtesy at all, anywhere. I fear that London is no longer the “Heart of Empire” that she once was – rather a Mecca (no pun intended) for shopping by the obscenely wealthy. There are a few little oases that we found, the canals between Regent’s Park and Little Venice are lovely, coffee beside the Serpentine at sunset, cycling from Kensington Gardens, along Rotten Row to St James’s Park, the Wallace Collection in Mayfair is truly superb collection of antiquities and the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s. It wasn’t all bad though, we bumped in to Bill Granger at Melt, a first class Chocolatier in Notting Hill. He is doing a story on them in an upcoming edition of Delicious magazine.
A pleasant 24 hr A380 flight home later and it’s all back to normal. Great to see our family and friends, nice to sleep in your own bed, good to hear Ray Hadley “giving it” to the government on the radio, good to drive a right hand drive car, great to feel the baby soft cheeks of Erica, good to see a healthy bank balance thanks to the superb work done by Guy and glad to see Leekins surviving Mungin-death so ably. Thanks to my darling Jen for putting up with a decade of wishful travel thinking and sharing the trip of a lifetime. We had such relaxing fun for three solid months a rare thing these days for the likes of us. Thanks to all our friends and family who rang, visited, fed, encouraged and supported our four children in our absence.
And finally and most importantly is you, dear reader. For the comments and encouragement you have given me during the life of this blog. I am very gratified to know that you have enjoyed the stories and pictures.
It has been a real pleasure having you holiday with us. It was everything I wanted it to be, plus some. It has truly been a Bon Voyage
Stock gate with stone kissing gate at right
The scene of the crime at Skelwith Bridge