A July 2003 trip
to Cumbria by MichaelJM
Quote: The Lake District is a region for all seasons, taking on a different aura depending on the season.
Unfortunately one of my lasting memories of the Lake District relates to the weather. The day had been bright and sunny and we decided to camp in a remote farm (camp sites were at a premium and we'd not booked). Within minutes of setting up camp the heavens opened and we had torrential rain that persisted through the night. Not a pleasant experience. The misty view the next day cast some eerie shadows as we picked our way round the mud and puddles, but by the time we'd breakfasted the sun started to shine through. A tremendous vision. The unpredictable weather will dominate your experience of this fantastic county and as long as you are prepared for anything and everything you'll be sure, like us, to find lasting memories out of even the worst conditions. I recall lingering mists and then shafts of light as the sun began to melt the clouds and produce some stunning vistas
We found the locals extremely friendly and helpful, so never feel embarrassed to ask for directions or advice. And we ate some superb meals in great country pubs. If you have even a passing interest in geology, the Lake District hands you rock formations on a plate. A great and variable landscape with peace and serenity if you want.
There’s such a range of activity available in the Lakes that it’s essential to decide upon your intentions and plan carefully. Do you want to sight see only or take in some activities on route? Bird watching is gaining in popularity especially with the re-introduction of the osprey back into Cumbria (they can be spotted in Thornthwaite forest close to Keswick) and you could link that in with a spot of mountain biking (bikes are readily available and popular cycle routes are detailed in tourist centres. If you’re up for it try the Cumbria Cycle Way – 450 km of quiet country roads – and let me know how it went!
Golfing friends have gone for golfing holidays in Cumbria – there are over 20 idyllic courses all with day passes available. The web site www.cumbria-golf-union.org.uk will help you with up to date information. If you fancy dangling a rod rather than swinging a club then try a spot of fishing. You will need permits and I’m sure that you can hire the equipment along the way.
There’s a wide choice of dining in Cumbria and you really need to try some of the local traditional dishes. Cumberland Sausage is a must and is readily available as a "pub snack", but a delicacy, best as an evening meal, is the Cumberland cured gammon steak. Less available, and I confess I haven’t tried it, is Windermere Char a local deep-water fish. For the sweet tooth try Gingerbread and the spicy, unique taste of Westmorland pepper cake. Also don’t miss out on the great choices of locally brewed ales.
An alternative to driving yourself (car rental is very straightforward if you’re visitors from outside of the U.K.) is to consider one of the many organised tours of the Lake District. There are several bus companies that offer specialised trips around the region. An advantage of these is that you don’t need to worry about arranging accommodation or planning out your route. This will all be done for you and you can be assured that you’ll see the key sights and have time to appreciate the fantastic landscape as the bus hurtles around the countryside. Of course the downside is that you must "go with the flow" and you’ll always be led by the timetable of your driver. Stops off at key centres will be timed and my parents, who’ve done a number of bus tours, often say that they have too little time in some places and too much time in others. Having said that they’ve always had a great time and enjoy the relaxation of the trip with time to meet people and occasionally have made long lasting friendships. They are also assured that they will see the best of an area and stay in well-tested accommodation.
Lovers of trains won’t be disappointed because there are some great opportunities to view the area by rail including a 7-mile journey on the UK’s oldest narrow gauge steam railway from Ravenglass. Of course the chance for a boat trip can really not be missed–after all there’s plenty of water to sail on!
Attraction | "Keswick"
Keswick’s weekly market stalls are assembled around the Moot House, a fine example of a old indoor market hall, and its single handled clock face proves a novel attraction for tourists. Around this popular area are plenty of restaurants, tea rooms, and quaint pubs all serving good quality food. Delightful real ale is served in most of the Lakeland pubs, and the added bonus in many of Keswick’s was live music performed by talented local folk musicians.Keswick is a pretty and colourful town, especially in Spring and Summer when the flowers are in full bloom and are spectacularly set off against the verdant lawns. And it’s perfectly placed for touring around the picturesque and more remote small villages of the Lake District. Castlerigg, idyllically sited on a hill, gave us a superb panorama of the surrounding hill. As we wandered around Cumbria’s answer to Stonehenge, it was hard not to imagine the scene several centuries ago when perhaps druids assembled here for the summer solstice. It has a sort of spiritual feel to it, if you can be there without hoards of other tourists Not far away is the Bowder Stone, a 2000-ton rock measuring over 30 feet high, 50 feet across, and a full 90 feet in circumference. This is not stone from the locality, and it was clearly deposited there by the mighty glaciers of the Ice Age. Surprisingly, there are no myths as to how or indeed why it was placed in the Lake District despite its name being linked to Balder, the son of the Norse God, Odin. Nowadays, this most famous phenomenon of the Lake District has a wooden staircase, enabling tourists to clamber to the summit for the obligatory "photo-call." Others stand nervously at a distance, amazed at how this gigantic pebble continues to precariously balance without toppling over. Of course, many others just can’t resist a photograph of themselves preventing the Bowder from falling. My son was no exception!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 30, 2006
Attraction | "Around Lake Windermere"
Head towards the lake and you’ll arrive at Bowness-on-Windermere, which will give you a true view of "lakes" tourism. Relaxing on the gentle grassy slopes gave us great views of the lake and an appreciation of the subtle colourful hue of the surrounding mountains. It was here that we enjoyed the busy waterfront with the waves lapping against the shingley shore and the herring gulls swooping down onto the lake. We were surprised to see swans waddling along the waterfront making the trip to the cruise ship’s piers a bit of an adventure. At the head of Lake Windermere is the pretty market town of Ambleside. Because of its idyllic setting, it’s an extremely busy place, and if you decide to stay in the town be sure to book well in advance as the chance of finding accommodation on the day is highly unlikely. This market town will keep you busy throughout the day as not only are there fantastic views of the surrounding scenery, but there’s a full range of shops and galleries selling local crafts, souvenirs, and good ranges of walking and climbing gear. We were surprised at how competitively priced the boots and coats were. The Bridge house, one of Britain’s smallest houses, spans the tiny beck that meanders through the town and as it’s a National Trust information centre you can cram into it and "experience" this minute dwelling. Check out the Victorian Church with its expressive wall mural depicting the local tradition of rushbearing in which freshly cut rushes were laid on the bare floor of the church. Wednesday is chaotic as the whole of King Street becomes a market with local crafts-folk and stalls crammed with organically frown farm products. There’s a real buzz around on that day, but parking is a nightmare! Away from Ambleside is the unspoilt and unpretentious village of Dacre. There’s no heavy commercial sell in this village. Dacre is most famous for its Norman church and the ongoing sport of bear hunting. But don’t worry no bears are harmed in this activity as the search is for numerous stone effigies of bears that "hang around" the graveyard. From the graveyard there is a superb view of the surrounding countryside but in particular of Dacre Castle. The castle, not open to the public, dates back to the mid-1300s but was seriously renovated in the 1960s.
Lake Windermere Sights & Attractions
Attraction | "Mint Cake, Shoes, Poets and Artists"
The home of the eponymously named mint cake and Clarks foot ware. Strange as it may seem there is a real connection between the two. The mint cake is a sweet slab of mint-flavoured sugar, giving a high-energy boost (I’m afraid that I find it extremely moreish, so will only ever buy it in small quantities), so it is ideal for walkers trekking around in locally made shoes in the rugged terrain of the Lake District. Be sure to check out Clarks Retail Park, as I’m sure you’ll find a bargain or two at their shoe factory outlet. In recent years, this outlet mall has expanded to sell a whole range of reduced price designer ware, so if you’re a keen shopper you’ll need more than a few minutes to pop in!
The town of Kendal is characterised by a maze of small lanes, connecting to "yards" running off the main thoroughfare. It certainly is not a popular, or as pretty as other Lakeland towns but it’s still worth a visit. Of course, no visit to the Lake District is complete without dedicating some of your time to pursuing the sights linked to the wonderful poet, William Wordsworth, and the popular story-teller and artist, the great Beatrix Potter. It was at Ullswater Lake that Dorothy Wordsworth made a few notes in her diary to describe a few daffodils near to the water’s edge. Brother, William, worked on the notes and produced one of his most famous poems, "I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high…" Dove cottage was his home for almost a decade, and it’s been lovingly restored to reflect how it might have been in the early 1800s. Parking around Grasmere is always difficult, and we ended up having to park a few minutes walk away from the cottage. As we wandered around the narrow alleys and yards of Hawkshead, a remarkably interesting village with quaint whitewashed Cumbrian cottages, we took the opportunity to visit Wordsworth's old school—the old grammar school founded as long ago as 1585. Well worth the visit.But Cumbria’s real darling is Beatrix Potter, and she is celebrated everywhere with no respectable craft shop daring to not stock Potter memorabilia. Hill Top was purchased by Beatrix Potter in the early 1900s, and this small house (bequeathed to the National Trust) receives swarms of visitors. We timed our visit well, and just beat a bus load to the ticket office. You'll have to be prepared for bit of a wait, but it is one of those "must dos." The house is "as she left it" and it gives an incredible insight into the life and painstaking dedication that went into Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories. There are original illustrations and Beatrix's early doodlings. This country cottage extraordinaire and "busy garden" is a real treat. You can’t not enjoy this Potter experience!
Lake District National Park
Brockhole-Visitor Centre at A591
Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1LJ
Attraction | "Round and About"
Whatever you do when you visit the Lake District, don’t forget to pay some attention to the Cumbrian Coastline. There's a good coastal road that takes you from Grange-over Sands to Whitehaven and beyond. I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily the most inspiring collection of towns in the country , but we pulled in some great views of Morecombe Bay and Hampsfell (a mere stone’s throw from Grange-over-Sands) offers astonishing views (on a clear day) of the Cumbrian inland and to the far east some of the Yorkshire peaks. Grange-over-Sands is not stunning but it does boast a Victorian railway station and some elegant shops with canopies and a promenade where one can just about imagine Victorian holiday makers "strutting their stuff."
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Victorian Holker Hall was Elizabethan. It has a stunning formal garden and a gigantic "monkey puzzle tree" and if you’re into cars then you can also pull in the Lakeland Motor Museum (worth it just to get a glimpse of Campbell’s "Bluebird"). We then headed west for Ulverston, now notorious for the Laurel and Hardy Museum (after all Stan was born and bred here). We ran out of steam at this point but have made a note that we failed to visit the remains of the 12th-century Cistercian Furness Abbey. That’s one to return to on another journey!To the north of the region we just loved the feel of Cockermouth. The castle, built in the 12th century to keep out the Scots and later played an important role for the Parliamentarians in the Civil War, is set in a prime position at the top of the town. We hadn't realised it had restricted viewing and luckily had arrived in town on a public opening day in July. The views over the river are superb and although the castle is not in the "best of health" the ambiance was supreme.The town of Cockermouth did not seem to be overwhelmed with visitors and its broad street are a stark contrast to the narrow lanes of other Cumbrian Towns. It is the birth place of the Wordsworths and only last year (2004) the elegant and spacious Georgian house has been re-named (Wordsworth House!) and has been "dressed" in period furniture of the 1770s and some interactive displays and guides dressed in period costume . The garden has been carefully returned to its 18th-century layout and I’m sure I heard the excited scream of the young William at play. Second thoughts it must have been the wind!It wasn't too long a journey for us to head to the Georgian fishing town of Whitehaven and although I wouldn't rush back it does have some features that made the visit worth while. Check out the well laid out streets, the wealth of original Georgian architecture, the quaint harbour (with seagulls circling overhead)and the west pier built by John rennie who designed London Bridge. An interesting town.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 1, 2006
Cumbria Sights & Attractions