England in Spring – The Lake District

After 10 days in Yorkshire we hit the road ‘North’ to The Lake District. On the way we stopped to see the ruins of one of the grandest medieval Cistercian monasteries in England – Fountains Abbey and, quite by chance, arrived just in time for a most informative guided tour.

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These places have always fascinated me, standing out from the surrounding countryside and a symbol of great contradictions – built by an order of monks with a vow of personal poverty, yet an increasingly gross extravagance of riches and wealth. After over 400 years the Abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The medieval mill at the Abbey fared better and has been in continuous use grinding grain into flour for over 850 years. It had two independent water wheels, each over 3 metres in diameter but now uses more modern technology!

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Our drive North took us across the Yorkshire Dales, again an area I’d explored on the Coast to Coast walk in 2002. We drove along tiny narrow roads through picturesque villages and over rugged moorland far from any crowded tourist centres.

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…And then we arrived in Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District, a veritable tourist mecca. Our guest house was comfortable and friendly, serving big English breakfasts in the cosy dining room and with an outlook across the town’s roofs to the hills.

Gary was still suffering from his nasty cold so Ingrid and I set off next morning for The Cumberland Pencil Museum – the only one of its kind in the world and surprisingly interesting. Graphite was first found in Borrowdale in 1500. The first recorded pencil factory in Keswick was in 1832 and since then they’ve gone by a variety of brand names – Cumberland, Derwent, Lakeland…. During the war a special secret pencil was made so airmen could smuggle detailed maps of Northern Europe in case they were shot down, thus potentially saving their lives. The longest pencil, at 7.91 metres was also on display. Here’s Ingrid at the museum drawing a space cartoon while we enjoy a cup of tea.

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After lunch we explored the shores of Derwentwater, a designated Site of Special Significance, home to red squirrels, rare birds and roe deer. In the deep, cold waters of the lake live Vendace fish, a relic of the Ice Age.

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In beautiful sunshine we visited Hill Top Farm, once Beatrix Potter’s favourite house and the place where she wrote some of her best known children’s stories including the Tales of Jemima Puddleduck, Tom Kitten and Samuel Whiskers. Many pictures in the stories were easily recognisable either inside the house or in the surrounding countryside. Walking through the narrow lanes with gently rolling green hills and beautiful lakeside views was a highlight of our trip. However, the tourist advice ‘to leave the car at home’ was not as easy as  suggested and it took us hours and long waits between connections to get back to Keswick – quite an adventure.

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Castlerigg Stone Circle, built around 3000 BC and one of the oldest in Britain lies just outside Keswick and was a ‘must see’. Overlooking Helvellyn and High Seat it is spectacularly located.

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Our drive across Honister Pass and into the Buttermere Valley brought a very different and more rugged aspect of The Lake District. I remembered this Pass with awe from my Coast to Coast walk, quite impressed I’d actually done it. The slate quarry is still in operation, the last working slate mine in the country.

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That afternoon we doubled back to the Lakeland Motor Museum where some 30,000 items including many cars, motorbikes, bicycles and even planes are on display as well as lots of associated memorabilia. A highlight are replicas of the Bluebird cars and boats driven by Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell in their quest for 21 land and water speed records, including a replica of the jet hydroplane that took Donald to his death on nearby Coniston Water in 1967.

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Snow covered the mountain tops when I drew back the curtains on our last morning.

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Dark brooding skies accompanied us as we drove across Westmorland to Scotch Corner and ‘The South’, a fine sprinkling of snow all around. So we were lucky with the weather and grateful for a few glorious days in the sun.

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