After 5 months without a break from work my parents offered me a room in a cottage they’d booked in the Lake District several months before leaving. Initially I was a little apprehensive, unsure what a holiday with parents would be like this far on from flying the nest. But partly through convenience, and the beautiful location I went ahead. During the weeks leading up to the holiday I had no expectations or plans for things to do. My past experiences of the Lakes involving temperamental weather to say the least. By the time it came to stepping out of the office and onto yet another delayed and busy train I was really looking forward to a total escape.
In classic last minute packing I filled my Brother’s hand-me-down duffle bag with clothes for all eventualities. Far be it from me to determine whether or not I’d need shorts and flip-flops or full waterproofs. The weather up there is a little delayed as the seasons move at walking pace northwards. I woke up in good time for the early pick-up to avoid the traffic. My parents, having always struggled with navigating in the car to where I live, hadn’t quite managed to pull up on my road, but rather at the end. A short walk later I was in the car feeling rather fresh with the early morning chill.
We made good time travelling up to the first stop at Warrick service. I was definitely ready for some breakfast by then. Sadly, as with any roadside cafe, the full-english must have been sitting on the hot plate for quite a while. My parents were trying to keep an eye out for the red kites along the way. Reading being relatively plagued with them it wasn’t something I really wanted to keep an eye on. I was quite content with gazing out across the chilterns.
It was another decent stint of motorway driving by my dad before we wound up at Lancaster services for another break. But after 406 miles from my parents house we’d made it to Stainton in the north-east of the national park. As we got out the car to scope out the cottage a Black Labrador had happily plonked down and was eagerly watching us while her walker was trying to jivvy her along. Apparently she had a tendency to assume any car had her owners in while she was with her ‘grandmother’. Despite the sun there wasn’t a lot of heat compared to the unseasonably warm weather I’d been having back in Reading.
Although we were a little earlier than the check-in time the cottage was ready for us. After entering a code on the outdoor coded key box - much like ones I’d been used to in the escape rooms that I’ve done with my housemates - we were in. Thankfully although I had to duck in through the door the rest of downstairs had decent headroom for a cottage of its age. We didn’t take too long to unload the car and unpack all the paraphernalia that comes with cottage rental holidays. We decided we’d have a wander around the village, naturally gravitating towards the local pub - The Kings Arms. It was good to see that Black Sheep ale was on tap, rather than the usual bottled offering you’d have to default to from Tesco back home. They also had some rhubarb gin, which I’d noted to try - but never actually got around to.
I was quite disappointed to discover that the notebook that I’d packed turned out not to be my travel notebook, but an old, and filled work one. So much for escaping and capturing things in detail. So the rest is from memory, and a smattering of notes that I made on my phone.
We ventured out after a nice meal to explore the village on foot. Although not particularly remote, there was not a lot of pavement, so we quickly ended up walking down the side of the road. Seeing the sheep on the hill grazing behind a church with sunlight making the green grass stand out more was so welcome after months of very little escape from urban areas. One house had a sign on the outside that made me chuckle bearing the words “Sod the dog, beware of the wife”. This played well with my parent’s sense of humour too. There was a beautiful pink flower that Mum pointed out to me and told me that it was a Rose Bay Willow Herb. My brain was barely able to take anything new in after such a stint of work without respite. Because of the season delay up there we saw Elderberries ripe and ready. This was combined on one plant the same time as Elderflower was in bloom, which I found odd.
There’s a running joke that I couldn’t tell the difference between Elderflower and Cow Parsley, which would make for some awful wine! Thankfully Kirsty knowledged me up and I can now.
It wasn’t long before we crossed a more major road and headed down another, with a small hub of industry. With Sunbeams music centre, Redhills Business Park, and business incubator. Minutes walk from The Lakes Free Range Egg company. The spot was idillic, but with a touch of modern architecture - one of the buildings rooftops were planted with grass. Although the food options would pale in comparison to the offerings of London’s square mile it’d be a literal breath of fresh air. Despite being next to an A road you couldn’t hear the road noise. This wasn’t to be our only visit as we’d made a note to visit the heritage centre we’d popped into along the way. It had a nice outdoor shop that was definitely worth more of a nose. Complete with a wall of Fjärllräven backpacks.
Saturday was the day Dad had picked to go on the Ullswater steamer boat. This was the one firm plan for the trip, with the rest being left up in the air. The start was Pooley Bridge, which had actually been destroyed by Storm Desmond in 2015. In its place now is a metal bridge. The weather for the day was the best of the week according to the forecast. So we made an early start to get the first boat across the lake. There was a small queue to buy tickets, but out on the Jetty it was a beautiful sight seeing the water so still and the sun shining. I tried to capture some of it on my camera. Some lovely, well behaved dogs had joined the boat. Sitting happily up on owners laps, ears flapping in the wind as the boat chugged along. The boat was no longer actually a steam boat, but played homage to its heritage with a bright red chimney. Being a man of little natural insulation I was glad of my hoodie and windproof. We had a few stops along the river to drop people off, and pick people up. This, of course, meant there were dog swaps which bought an inquisitive pair of dogs which came in for a sniff and a good fuss. You could see cows right up at the waters edge too - another lovely sight.
We disembarked at Glenridding, where we stopped for a quick bite to eat and a drink. I went with a nice Fentimans Ginger beer and a KitKat. I made a choice to pick up a sandwich too. This was much needed later on as the walking we were about to do helped work up quite the appetite. The Ullswater way wasn’t quite as well signposted as the pamphlet seemed to assume. Walking past Patterdale, which I didn’t know was there, made me think of a lovely little dog; Tilly. We rounded the end of the lake and had to gamble at which path to take. Up a beaten track that a post van somehow managed to get up we had walked a fair distance before we saw our first path marker. It turned out we were on the right track. We weren’t high enough to be up in the heather but we could see it, just after its seasonal prime, in a band above us.
We were passed by a couple of men running with large packs. I could only hope to reach that level of fitness. Just before lunch we saw why - a lady had fallen badly on the trail and they were mountain rescue. They had called across a rescue boat to get her to hospital, but there was still a fair distance to get to the shore. Some mountain bikers were making their descent so we warned them about it. Again, not a path I’d choose to take on my bike! After a spot of lunch we continued along Ullswater Way. The views opened up for a bit and we could look out across the lake. There just so happened to be a pub and tea room that we just happened to stop at. The bar was about 2 foot long, but there was plenty of room in the garden to sit on the grass and soak up some sun after making it about halfway. Mum hadn’t joined me and Dad for that, but instead enjoyed a tea and cake somewhere with an actual seat.
The next phase of the walk we saw other groups of walkers with full packs - who were doing their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award expedition. We passed by the other boat stops. Debating whether to take one of the back the remainder. But on seeing the size of the queues for each the wait would have been about as long as the walk itself. With the weather still being good we were quite happy to just continue. The end of the walk took us through a campsite, which had no signposting. But we knew roughly the direction that we needed to head in because we could see the jetty that we’d left from that morning. We could see the Herdwick sheep from the path. They seemed to be Mums favourite breed. We passed a couple of fields of cows, with a huge bull almost out of sight behind the wall.
The next day I set up my phone on the windowsill of the cottage - the one place I could get signal - so that we could have a Skype call as a family with my brother and sister-in-law in New Zealand, who’d recently welcomed Rose, my niece, into their little family. This was her big debut with having just seen her photos before. It was a lovely way to start the day. My brother as a dad would take some getting used to in my head. Let alone me being an Uncle. It was especially sweet when he turned the camera around to see his cat and dog laying side by side, staring at her. An undefeatable rival for attention.
Being a Sunday we’d booked the nearby hotel for a meal on the recommendation of the dog walker. I merrily misread the 2-4-1 Gin sign as being fine for the day. It wasn’t. But seeing as it was what Dad and I had decided to have we weren’t perturbed. I gave him my recommendation of Hendricks to try, a change from his normal Bombay Sapphire. I went with Sipsmiths because I don’t think I’d had it before. I was glad to have Whitebait as a starter, then roast beef, and then a dessert - something I don’t normally go for. I must have been hungry. We had another wander around in the afternoon after a good strong nap.
The next day we were off back in the direction of Glenridding but stopping short. We made use of Mum and Dad’s National Trust membership and had ourselves some free parking. There were quite a few other people there to see the falls. After a short walk up the hill we could see the falls. I took some time to take some photos here to show the flowing water. We continued up and away from the lake to climb up Glenbarrow. I was glad that we’d asked which way around to do the circuit, as the steps we were going up wouldn’t have been much fun to walk down. The clouds were low here and we were soon walking through them. The wind picked up as we reached the highest point where we posed for photos. Not that there was much in them but clouds. The path down meandered and the views improved again. Being the other side of the lake we could see where we’d walked before.
After the walk we sat on a ‘penny-d’ bench to eat our lunch. Then headed into Glenridding proper for a bit of shopping where I picked up some Kendal Mint cake for the office in a shop. Clearly I’m in the wrong business if you can sell offcuts of logs with a burnt-on smiley face for as much as they were! That evening was quite eventful - it was my turn to cook. The veg was on and boiling away quite happily. I turned on the oven, or so I thought. But 15 minutes later it was still as cold as when I’d started ‘cooking’. Oh good, now the timings were all going to be off. Making do with holiday cottage equipment I managed to sort out enough tray space for the burgers under the grill. Eventually they’d started cooking. I turned the veg down as low as the electric hob would let me. I nipped to the loo for just a moment and almost at the same time as I’d closed the door the smoke detector started bleeping. But it was too late, I was committed now. Sheepishly I went back downstairs to see smoke had done a good job of filling the kitchen. I’d like to point out here that the burgers themselves weren’t burning, but it was the oil that was splatting onto the grill. The red wine went down well with it.
Keswick was nice to spend some time in. More nice outdoor shops. But sadly still not one with quite the type of top that I’d been keeping an eye out for the whole trip. One of the pubs had a sweet little beer barrel and bowl out for dog water. The town was full of dogs and their owners. Border terriers seemed to be the most popular. The pub we had lunch in had a friendly landlord who’d mocked me for not insisting on paying for the whole meal and reminisced about his visits to Reading for the festival.
We had a brief walk around the edge of a reservoir, which sported some sweet wild raspberries along the path. We stopped short of wading through boggy marshland to get around the other side. We’d hoped that it would have been an easy walk but sadly not so we turned back to the carpark. A very low flying Hercules passed over the reservoir, shattering the peace and tranquility for a little while. Back at the carpark, we went up another path to another nice view, with Helvellyn as a backdrop.
We stopped in Grasmere, a small village, for a short time. This was easily one of the busiest places that we visited. Coach loads of tourists unloaded and carparks were full. Fortunately on the way through to the carpark I’d spotted somewhere that we could park for a couple of hours for free. Which just so happened to be outside the Grasmere ginger cake shop. I nipped inside to pick up some of it for work and myself. There were piles of it on the side pre-wrapped in the wax paper. It smelled amazing.
Coming back to work was quite a shock to the system after such removal from city life. But sometimes it takes changes to appreciate other things more.