DAY 6 NORTH-EAST LAKE­LAND DAY 7 ULL­SWA­TER

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DAY 3 KESWICK AND HON­IS­TER

Cum­bria is fa­mous for hav­ing a lot of weather, much of it prone to de­scend on the county in tor­rents. The day be­ing quite ‘weath­ery’, I am more than happy to break­fast at the Lingholm Kitchen in Portin­scale and gaze out of a huge pic­ture win­dow into their walled gar­den. Neigh­bour­ing Keswick is a de­pend­able wet-weather haven with its mu­se­ums, art gal­leries and mind-bend­ing World of Il­lu­sions and, af­ter a pleas­ant shufti around, I head along Der­went­wa­ter and up to the wild vol­canic Hon­is­ter Pass.

Hon­is­ter is Eng­land’s only work­ing slate mine and a brand new tour vividly tells its story through the eyes of an ac­tual life-long miner who started his ca­reer at the age of eight. The route taken by many min­ers to the sum­mit of the fell is now repli­cated by a via fer­rata. Which was why I find my­self with a guide called John scal­ing 305m (1,000ft) of the fell by clam­ber­ing lad­ders, shuf­fling along wires, grap­pling with a rope net and inch­ing my way over a frankly ter­ri­fy­ing tightrope af­fair that bridges a chasm. It is en­tirely ex­hil­a­rat­ing. And rather than hav­ing to work down the mine af­ter­wards, I have a soft bed and hot meal wait­ing for me in the val­ley at the Leathes Head Ho­tel. At times the mod­ern world does win out over the past. World of Il­lu­sions 017687 75102, puz­zling­place.co.uk Hon­is­ter 017687 77230, hon­is­ter.com

Ratty Arms pub, I let the train rat­tle me back up the val­ley to Dale­garth. But the Ro­mans have the last say. Climb­ing out of Eskdale, I come to the im­pres­sive re­mains of

Hard­knott Fort. The bird’s-eye view the em­pire’s sol­diers once had of the val­ley is now the pre­serve of sil­ver-grey Herd­wick sheep, graz­ing con­tent­edly around the prae­to­rium.

DAY 4 BUT­TER­MERE AND LOWESWA­TER

Beau­ti­ful But­ter­mere is the per­fect place to de­vote a whole day to an 11-mile hike around the fells and meres. Un­der very wel­come azure skies I walk out of the vil­lage, skirt But­ter­mere’s shore, and head straight up Red Pike. It’s a climb guar­an­teed to get the heart pump­ing and the views at the top are noth­ing short of sen­sa­tional: Scot­land to the north, the moun­tains of the Isle of Man to the west, fells in ev­ery di­rec­tion, and En­nerdale Wa­ter, Crum­mock Wa­ter and Loweswa­ter be­low.

I plunge down­hill to take in the Scale Force wa­ter­fall be­fore head­ing along Mosedale. This is one of the lesser-walked Lake­land routes, so I have the sun-drenched river val­ley all to my­self. At its foot is the Kirk­stile Inn, which pro­vides a long

lin­ger­ing al­fresco lunch. My re­turn to But­ter­mere is a gen­tle af­fair, a stroll along

Crum­mock Wa­ter; a rest on a deco­rous lit­tle penin­sula called Low Ling Crag to view the sur­round­ing fells; and a chat at close quar­ters with a li­on­hearted roe deer. And so at last to But­ter­mere, which sports two pubs, a brace of tea­rooms and a lit­tle church to nose around – tiny vil­lages don’t come much bet­ter than that.

DAY 5 WIN­DER­MERE AND GRIZEDALE

You can’t visit the Lakes with­out pot­ter­ing about on at least one. The self-drive elec­tric boat I hire at Bow­ness takes me qui­etly around Win­der­mere’s en­chant­ing ar­ray of is­lands to com­mune with the thou­sand or so swans, geese, ducks and cor­morants who live there year-round. Wray Cas­tle sits on the mere’s western shore, and a breezy open-top bus ride to Am­ble­side, fol­lowed by a cruise across the wa­ter, is the way to ar­rive there in style. I learn about the in­spi­ra­tional Mar­garet Daw­son, who bat­tled to bring the mock fortress into ex­is­tence, and the sci­en­tific achieve­ments of lo­cal hero Beatrix Pot­ter, gifted sto­ry­teller and ex­pert my­col­o­gist.

One lake­side pic­nic later and I am tear­ing up cin­der tracks and plung­ing down rocky heart-in-mouth paths on a rented moun­tain bike at nearby Grizedale For­est. The huge Forestry Com­mis­sion site sports over 30 miles of cy­cle trails to suit every­one from wob­bly be­gin­ners to two-wheeled ti­tans, and is pep­pered with 50 sculp­tures. Never have I be­come more mud-splat­tered while ad­mir­ing art. I get full value from my gi­nor­mous wooden bath at The Dome House, Cum­bria’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary B&B.

A day of in­dul­gence: a trio of houses-andgar­dens in an area most tourists rush through with­out stop­ping. My first port of call, Dale­main, has mul­ti­ple claims to fame. A Nor­man pele tower that grew into a fine man­sion, it has a charm­ing three-acre gar­den on the Dacre Beck; an El­iz­a­bethan café; the ghost of a for­mer ser­vant walk­ing its cor­ri­dors; and ev­ery March hosts the rather bril­liant World’s Orig­i­nal Mar­malade Awards (and yes, I buy a jar of the of­fi­cial Best Mar­malade in the World).

I sally forth to Lowther Cas­tle for a café lunch amid the vast ru­ins of a gothic re­vival coun­try house, whose his­toric gar­dens were aban­doned and lost in 1936, but which have re­cently been re­cov­ered. Any child would wish to play in the im­mense ad­ven­ture play­ground – a mag­i­cal re­con­struc­tion of the cas­tle deep in the woods.

At near neigh­bour Askham Hall, the 12-acre Grade I-listed kitchen gar­dens are a de­light and its gourmet Kitchen Gar­den Café is, rather un­usu­ally, lodged in a cow­shed (it’s fan­tas­tic). Some of the pro­duce grown here ends up in my su­per­food salad that evening at The George & Dragon, Askham Hall’s com­fort­able pub in nearby Clifton. My fi­nal morn­ing sees me sail­ing the length of Ull­swa­ter from its north­ern tip at Poo­ley Bridge. Raven, a steamer built in 1889 (though diesel-pow­ered since the 1930s), is sur­pris­ingly nippy, though not as quick as Don­ald Camp­bell’s 202mph wa­ter-speed record set here in 1955. From the up­per deck I en­joy 360-de­gree views of the fells, with mighty Helvel­lyn scyth­ing into the sky.

At Glen­rid­ding, I jump out to meet Steve at the Glen­rid­ding Sail­ing Cen­tre for a taster ses­sion on Ull­swa­ter in a rus­set­sailed Lune wham­mel, a tra­di­tional fish­ing boat used on the nearby River Lune. I’ve never sailed a dinghy be­fore, but Steve soon has me watch­ing my jib, trim­ming my main­sail and heav­ing to in ways that makes me feel not quite such a land­lub­ber.

Hop­ping on an­other steamer, I land at Aira Force to em­bark on six miles of the Ull­swa­ter Way, the way­marked foot­path around the mere. This takes me along the dra­matic Aira Force wa­ter­fall, up and over Gow­bar­row Fell, through wood­land in which I all but trip over an enor­mous hare, over Maiden Cas­tle Iron Age fort and down into Poo­ley Bridge and the 1863 Bistro for a farewell din­ner.

I am amazed at how much I’ve been able to see and do in the Lake Dis­trict by hav­ing seven lo­cal days out. As I make my way to the sta­tion, I make a vow to come back and en­joy seven more.

Dixe Wills is the au­thor of best­selling books about Bri­tain’s lesser-known side, in­clud­ing Tiny Is­lands, Tiny Sta­tions, The Z-Z of Great Bri­tain and his lat­est, Tiny His­to­ries. He is a con­trib­u­tor to The Guardian, mainly on eco-friendly travel.

“I EN­JOY 360 DE­GREE VIEWS OF THE FELLS, WITH MIGHTY HELVEL­LYN SCYTH­ING INTO THE SKY”

TOP The climb to the sum­mit of Red Pike af­fords views over But­ter­mere with Wan­dope, Robin­son, Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike in the dis­tance ABOVE Row­ing boats line the shores of Windermere at Am­ble­side

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP The out­door sculp­ture Wind Thrust, 1996 by Jony Easterby at Grizedale For­est Park; Askham Hall and Gar­dens; an Ullswater steamer OP­PO­SITE Aira Force wa­ter­fall, Cum­bria

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