A July 2005 trip
to Cumbria by shaunandtrish
Quote: My England has nothing to do with double decker buses, policeman's helmets, big ben, postcards with pictures of fried breakfasts, bulldogs wearing Union Jack T-shirts, or beefeaters. My England is a lot bleaker, much more interesting, and infinitely more beautiful. Bleak is the new black.
South Cumbria means "the lakes" to most, but there's more to the region than that. For instance, you've got some unspoilt and charming coastal villages like Ravenglass, the beautiful gardens of Castle Muncaster, and further north there's Hadrian's Wall. Most people don't venture any further west than Keswick - maybe Sellafield puts people off - but there's plenty to see, and the lower density of people makes it all the more enjoyable.
The only other "tip" really is that its not a place for the avid shopper. There a few real "towns" where you can shop in Cumbria - it's the outdoor attractions you go for.
Hotel | "Stanley Arms Hotel, Calderbridge"
As it turned out, the Stanley Arms exceeded my carefully managed expectations by some margin. Despite its proximity to the Sellafield nuclear facility, rumours that the curtains would be lead-lined proved unfounded. It's called a hotel, but it's more like a pub with a dozen or so rooms upstairs. The rooms are simple, but very clean and cosy. There was a portable TV with no remote control and a dodgy volume knob in the corner of my room receiving four channels, tea- and coffee-making facilities, a bath/shower with basic toiletries, and a nice view of the beer garden and stream to the rear of the property. It was very nice really. Mobile telephone signals in this area are very hit-and-miss, you'll find, by the way, that there's a landline in the room, too.
Breakfast starts at 7am and consists of "full English," plus help-yourself cereal and juice. I had to start early, so the friendly landlord (a north Londoner as it happens) was happy enough to do me a bacon sandwich I could eat on the hoof - this was ready to grab at 7:05am each day as promised.
The downstairs bar is cosy and welcoming, generally hosting a mixture of Sellafield contractors, travelers, and locals and their dogs. Beers good and not pricey.
A fine evening allows the added treat of outdoor wining and dining in the tidy beer garden to the rear, overlooking the stream, bridge, and old village church.
In short, whilst this was simply a convenient base for my weeks work, the Stanley Arms has more to offer. It's a great travellers rest for those on a tight-ish budget (£47.50 B&B), and hearty fare for those wanting a big feed without a big price - see the dining journal for more details.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 31, 2005
Stanley Arms Hotel
Cumbria, England Ca20 1DN
+44 (0) 1946 841235
Main meal prices range from £5 to £10, and there are also some typical puddings at about £3. The friendly, rapid service is a major plus, as is the quantity, a great comfort if you've been up and down hillsides all day - or if you're just plain greedy. You get a big portion of whatever you've ordered, including a large pile of thick-cut chips and veg.
An added attraction offered is the option of outside dining and drinking in the tidy beer garden to the rear. This overlooks an old church, stream, and lovely old trees - great on a summer's evening. Good beer too. It tends to get frequented by mid-week residents like me, working at glow-in-the-dark along the road, and a handful of regulars accompanied by their dogs. Saying that, now I know it's there, I'd eat there anytime I was passing. It does cheap-friendly-tasty really well. What more can you ask?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 30, 2005
Anyway, after I'd finished my first day's work, I checked into the Stanley Arms, got changed, and since it was a nice night, decided to wander off and take some photos. This didn't take long because the village is small. There's the stream and a nice old brownstone church in the centre, flanked by two presumably competing pubs, the Stanley Arms and the Golden Fleece. After 20 minutes, I was back in the Stanley Arms, wondering if it was too early to start drinking - the kitchen wouldn't open for another half-hour, and I feared if the beer was good and the telly wasn't that 5:30pm would be dangerously early to start. That said, I was about to when the landlord asked me if I'd walked along the footpath next to the stream, to the rear of the Stanley Arms. I said I hadn't, so he suggested that I could kill a very pleasant hour that way and take some photos of the ruined Calder Abbey about half a mile along the path. That sounded good, so I located the start of the path round the back of the old church and followed a lovely, quiet, and spooky path along the stream. I didn't see anybody else on this walk.
The walk started gently enough-- stream, trees, birds, etc.--but after about half a mile came the first surprise. I did not see the Abbey, as promised, but instead a dilapidated old mansion house or stately home or something, with an overgrown front garden and dirty, cracked old windows. I took a couple of photos, peeping nervously through the trees, then walked on, looking for the Abbey. The Abbey, as it turned out, was in the back garden of this mansion, but I only found this out after surprise #2--washing on the line round the side of the house! That I did not expect. I took more photos (quietly) of the Abbey to the rear and the odd little chapel thing across the field (obviously something the monks used for something or other once upon a time). I then made a brisk return to the Stanley Arms before it started getting dark.
When I got back, I asked about the people who lived there. Predictably, the story began, "Funny you should ask that. People there keep themselves to themselves. Strange family - don't come down to the village much... "
Then they told me the house was supposed to be haunted--durr.
I found a website that provides a bit of historical background to the abbey here.
Attraction | "Castle Muncaster, near Ravenglass"
I travelled a few hundred yards up the road and came across the car park for "Castle Muncaster." It was free, just the way I like it. On the opposite side of the road was the stone gateway to the castle gardens - I perused the signage and could not see any obvious demands for me to part with any cash, so I wandered in. Once inside, especially on a sunny day, you are immediately rewarded with some stunning walks through beautifully managed gardens. Attractive, varied, and unusual flora, including a "Sino-Himalayan Walk," attract a range of birds. It was quite an unexpected treat, and so far as I could tell, free. Following the paths, you are eventually confronted with signs offering the choice of going to "the castle" or "the maze." I like castles and don't like mazes, so I followed the signs to the castle.
After about another 150m of this very pleasant walk, the trees opened out to reveal an area of activity with the castle at the far end. First, to the right was a tiny duck pond, and to the left was an owlery (a word I've invented to describe a place where owls are kept - feel free to pass this word off as your own if you feel it may impress someone you admire) - this was not free, so I just took a picture of the outside. A bit farther on, there was a small picnic area/kid’s playground - this was mercifully deserted - and after that, the castle. It was 6:30pm, so the castle was closed for the day, but you could still walk round it and take photos from all external angles and of the stunning views over the hills to the front and side. There were a couple of cannons out front pointing to the fields and hills to the east. I can't think what they might have been trained on. Maybe they were put there quite recently to allow the current tenants to relieve their boredom by taking pot-shots at sheep. There were also a dozen or so herons cavorting in the long grass just down the slope. I suspect that they nest in the trees next to the castle.
Beyond the castle were signs pointing to "the maze," which I did not go and explore on account of the time. I vaguely recalled seeing something at the gate saying that it shut at 7:30pm each night, and I didn't want to get trapped inside overnight. It was probably haunted and would make me late for work.
Anyway, to summarise - what an unexpected free treat!!! The photos will give you some idea of how beautiful it all is on a nice day, and there's also the official website to give you all the history and things I missed here.
Muncaster Castle and Gardens
Ravenglass, Cumbria CA18 1RQ
01229 717 614
I was staying in Calderbridge, which is on the A595, and Ravenglass is just 8 or 10 miles south of there along the same road. I didn't know what to expect, save for being told there was some sort of railway museum there or a miniature railway or something. I'm not a train person, so I was prepared to be non-plussed by it all. Still, it would be better than to start drinking at 6pm on a weekday.
After an easy 15-minute drive along the road, I pulled into Ravenglass village. It was on the coast, and you could see the Sellafield complex in the distance to the north. The tide was out leaving a mini estuary behind it just north of the village. My guess is that this area would be popular with bird-watchers - great wader territory.
As I drove up to the coastal edge of the village, I passed the railway item on my left (there's a website with some details at the foot of this journal). Then I parked up on the sea front and thought, "What a picture." The tide was out, as was the late summer sun, and this combination against the backdrop of the bay, with its dilapidated little boats, had me reaching for my camera right away.
After I'd taken my seaside "boaty" photos, I wandered into the village, which is in effect a single little chocolate-box street of well-kept terraced dwellings facing out onto each other. Some tenants were obviously engaged in a serious war of one-upmanship judging by the spectacular floral arrangements outside the front of some of their cottages.
There's a nice pub at the end of the street that overlooks the harbour. This was at the time getting well used by sensible people taking an early evening drink whilst enjoying the beautiful view over the bay. What more could a man ask for?
Here's an info website about the village.
Castle Muncaster, by the way, is a 2-minute drive from Ravenglass. See its own journal. You'd be missing out if you didn't combine the two.
I travelled for a couple of miles south on the A595 from Calderbridge then took a left on to a winding little road at the village of Gosforth. As it happens, there are about three little roads leading east from Gosforth, but it seems they all reach Wast Water eventually.
After a 10-minute winding drive through rugged sheep-grazing territory, you reach Wast Water. There's plenty of space to park and take some photos or start your walk up into the hills. Wasdale Head, at the eastern end of the lake, is the start for most walkers/hikers/climbers or whatever people call themselves when they are about to ascend Scafell Pike, the highest summit in England. This is not a high mountain by any other country's standards, but it’s our biggest.
Oddly, after parking, someone shouted over to me. That someone turned out to be one of my neighbours who was there on holiday. He informed me that Wast Water is the deepest lake in England, which surprised me, because it’s relatively small and narrow. If you're planning to visit with a view to bumping into my neighbour Steve and his family, I should warn you that he moved on shortly after our conversation.
The attraction of Wast Water is its stark bleakness. Its valley is secluded and quiet, the hills that hem it along its southern edge are steep, and the skree plunges right down to the edge of its black waters. On the north side, it’s greener and "sheepier," but as its not one of the "famous" lakes, it’s less busy, so it’s easy to enjoy the remote feeling it gives, even though it’s not really remote.
I found this website that gives a bit more than I was able to glean on my short visit, including some practical help for hiker types.Here it is.
Oh, it’s pronounced Wost Water by the way.
Stretching more or less across the pennines in a straight line from modern-day Newcastle in the east to Carlisle in the west, Hadrian's Wall needs no introduction. The concept of Roman emperor Hadrian, in answer to the persistent irritation of the small-time raids and pilfering from the tribes to the north the clear solution, was to build a wall to keep them out. Much of that wall still stands today after nearly 2,000 years, but since the invention of "the ladder," it has become less effective at its job.
I won't trawl over the historical facts in this journal - it would be obvious that I'd just plagiarised them from elsewhere anyway, so I've found a couple of links to some reliable background info here and here.
I'll concentrate on offering my opinion on how to get the best out of it and what I think are the best bits.
First thing is orientation. It's possible to take a hike along its length. The undulating terrain and the combination of exposed moorland and generally elevated position of the wall is a clear recipe for a "rosy glow," but I'd say it is probably one of the best, or maybe the best, hikes in Britain. It's likely to test endurance and tolerance to rain rather than athletic ability, and you're never far away from the salvation of the main road for a trip back to civilisation if you decide halfway through that you've had enough.
If, on the other hand, like most visitors, you want to sample the various attractions along the wall in one or two days or hike along just a bit of it, you'll want to pick the best access route. From the west, head for Carlisle, then head east first along the main trans-pennine route, the A69. This road runs parallel to the wall all the way to Newcastle at a distance never more than a mile or so. The road's okay, but gets busy with trans-pennine freight. As the road is only partially dual carriageway, this can lead to an irritating and unspectacular drive, especially since there's a better option. That better option is the "Old Roman Road," lately known as the B6318. The best spot to get onto it from the A69 heading east from Carlisle is at Greenhead. This is a convenient start in many respects, as it's very close to the site of Birdoswald Roman Fort. You can sort of view this from the wall, but to get closer to this attraction, you need to pay a couple of quid - this also gets you access to the compact, little museum of artifacts there. Car parking at this point, I believe, is free.
If you're starting your journey from the east, head for the A1, which passes south and west of Newcastle, and join the A69 just north of the River Tyne. Head along the A69 for 8 miles or so, then head north towards the B6318 at Corbridge.
The B6318 road is one of my favourites. It's only single carriageway, but it's much quicker and nicer than the A69. It doesn't get the freight traffic for one thing, even though it does get some slow moving caravans and tourist traffic. Under normal circumstances, this could prove a major driving irritation, but since these Roman boys knew what they were doing by building their roads straight as a die, you can easily pull out and see what's coming for miles ahead so overtaking is relatively easy. You do need to be careful not to lose oncoming traffic in the frequent dips and undulations in the road - it's a bit like a rollercoaster. There are fewer speed traps on this road, too. The main attraction of the road is that it follows the wall's path at a distance of no more than a few meters, so it's a very scenic drive, and every few miles there's something new to pull over and look at.
Access to the wall itself is largely free, quite rightly making it very accessible to many, but some attractions (like Birdoswald) carry a charge. The best (in my opinion) is Housesteads, which carries both a parking charge and an entry fee. Good job it’s worth it. Housesteads was in its time a major development on the wall, and the layout of its various cahmbers and structures is still there to see. There's also a nice museum and lots of info about the site and its past purpose and uses as a granary, etc. It can be found approximately halfway along the wall between Carlisle and Newcastle.
For me, a major draw of the wall is the terrain through which it travels. I don't get there as often as I'd like, as it is sheep-grazing country and we have dogs, but the barren exposed moorland, the wind, and incessant drizzle always seem to develop your appreciation of what it must have been like as a Roman soldier to get this as an assignment out of all the lovely places throughout the empire you could have been sent. Very...evocative.
If it's a nice walk along the wall you're after, assuming that you don't want to traverse the entire thing, you could do worse than park up at Cawfields, signposted near to Haltwhistle. There is free parking, toilets, and immediate access to a nice walkable stretch of wall, with a milecastle nearby, too.
It's great. I think you should go.
Durham, United Kingdom