Plans for a (mildly) strenuous assault on a (reasonably) high fell should not have survived the first tentative peak through the curtains. The August rain was of the ‘lashing’ variety and any shred of stoical English forbearance in the light of adversity was sorely tested. Getting caught in a rain shower while being all jolly and outdoorsy is one thing; deliberately heading out into a full-on downpour is strictly for the slightly unhinged. I only wish I’d reached that conclusion an hour earlier.
We left our dripping clothes destroying the clean lines of the bathroom and lit out in the car, hoping we might outrun the weather and discover a somewhat unlikely microclimate down by Lake Windermere. Of course, every other person enjoying their bank holiday in the vicinity had the same idea (a little before we did) and Ambleside was full. The pavements were choked with soggy families; mums and dads dressed in waxy items and loud outdoor wear could be seen dragging sullen, damp offspring from fogged up tea room to Beatrix Potter-obsessed gift shop. Day-tripping groups huddled in what ever shelter they could find, eating chips and occasionally performing exaggerated neck-craning movements, optimistically searching the sky for hopeful chinks of blue. While I bathed nostalgically in childhood memories of damp English bank holidays, the Blonde set about ‘making the best of things’. I’ll make an Englishman out of her yet.
Ambleside is pretty well equipped to deal with such a population influx – it’s had over 200 years of practice. Blame for the birth of mass tourism here is laid at the doors of Wordsworth and his ilk, with their flowery descriptions of rural idyll and honest toiling peasantry appealing to a romanticized gentry, and the dastardly Frenchies, with their beastly revolution blocking access to the Grand European Tour. It has barely abated since with heavily populated northern cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds all within day tripping distance.
It has to be said though; it fulfils its role as gateway to the southern fells with a degree of charm that would require more than an obscenely large crowd and an unseasonable downpour to dislodge. Despite the enormous pressure, the town has not succumbed totally to the pressures of modern commercialism. Narrow passageways squeeze between sturdy stone cottages; bridges arch over mill races and babbling streams. The odd quirky shop and old ‘local’s’ pub can be tracked down amidst the tea rooms and Victorian resort hotels that have morphed into cavernous, characterless providers of anonymous pub grub. The locals have tenaciously held out against the hordes. Just.
As one might expect, those with hiking and rambling pretensions are well catered for in Ambleside. An obscene number of outdoor pursuit shops cluster in the centre of town along with some excellent book shops where I could’ve whiled away the day quite happily. I know better than to make such suggestions now (it took a few years but I learned eventually). A much more likely alternative for a rainy day activity was found in Zeferelli’s, Ambleside’s excellent little independent cinema but it was edged out of the running by the simultaneous discovery of The Unicorn and a desire for beer.
Over lunch we decided that Ambleside had been ‘done’ and, with fell walking off the agenda, a drive further afield was in order. There followed an afternoon driving to places with ever waning optimism and an increasing certainty that we really should be taking advantage of our delightful hotel room. A lap of Kendal’s ring road and a rather cautious circumnavigation of Lake Windermere decided it – back to The Duck for hot tea and a mound of scones was the only sensible course of action.