Getaway: Lake District
Harvey, Ben and Anna Lyon enjoy a traditional family celebration – and some snow – in the Lake District
Anna Lyon and family celebrate a traditional Christmas with a twist, amidst the beautiful lakes and fells
PRE-EMPTING BEN’S ANSWER, Harvey and I agreed that we would exchange ‘small’ Christmas presents before asking 10-year-old Ben if he would he consider spending Christmas away in the confines of Tintin (our caravan). Thankfully, he thought this was a brilliant plan – and of course, festive family traditions would still be kept, with the additional promise of opportunities to explore the majestic mountains and lakes in the National Park of the Lake District. As always, the lead-up to Christmas was hectic, as schools filled the days with play rehearsals, carol concerts, fetes, parties – and end-of-term tests. Somehow, we made it to the finish line, packing the caravan during the evenings so we could leave straight after our chairs were on the desks for the holidays! With Grandma Chocolate conveniently located halfway between us and the Lakes, we stopped off in Solihull for our first Christmas dinner, and to buy as much food as we could cram into our little fridge.
Lights, action, Christmas carols
Feeling relaxed after a good night’s sleep, we made the straightforward journey to Coniston Park Coppice, where we were greeted by the wardens with mulled wine and mince pies. This spacious 63-acre site on a steep hillside in National Trust woodland has various level sections and hardstandings; we had no trouble finding a suitable pitch. Conscious of the fading light, we set up our awning, complete with tree and lights, leaving Ben and his canine friend, Lucy, to decorate inside. Soon carols were playing in Tintin and, with nibbles set out, it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Keen to get our bearings the next day, we took the footpath towards Coniston (once a copper mining village) alongside Coniston Water, with access from the bottom of the site across fields to Coniston Water. Ben had been reading about the children’s adventures in Swallows and Amazons; Peel Island in Coniston Water became Wild Cat Island in Arthur Ransome’s book.
Bluebird at Coniston
Lake Coniston also attracted Sir Malcolm Campbell, who set the world water speed record there in 1939, reaching 141mph in the original Bluebird. Sadly, his son Donald perished on the lake in 1967, having achieved both land- and water-speed records in Australia. On his first run at Coniston, he touched almost 300mph, but his Bluebird K7 hydroplane hit a patch of turbulence, somersaulted and sank. Ben wanted to learn more, so we made our way to the Ruskin Museum, to visit the Bluebird Wing, where you can track the latest developments in the reconstruction of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. The wreckage of the craft was lifted from the lake bed in 2001 (find out more at bluebirdproject.com). The museum is named after John Ruskin, the great Victorian art critic and social commentator, who lived nearby. As well as the Bluebird Wing, it tells the story of Coniston, and has a wonderful miniature village just outside, which was established by the late John Usher, member of a family of local builders. Seeking Donald Campbell’s grave, we went to the small church cemetery behind the Crown Hotel, then on to the heart of the village and St Andrew’s Church, where we decided to attend the Christingle service. Needing to refuel, we stopped off at the bakery, then ate our cakes on the pebble shoreline of Coniston Boating Centre, a 10-minute stroll down Lake Road. Popular in summer, the lake offers boat, kayak and
dinghy rental, as well as trips on the Steam Yacht Gondola (much to Ben’s amusement, boats are now limited to 10mph). We enjoyed the out-of-season tranquillity – while Lucy enjoyed the ducks! Then back at the caravan, we made Christmas tree decorations before settling down to watch a film. Ben was excited that tomorrow was Christmas Eve – what would Santa bring?
Christingle and duck
Christmas Eve was to be our exploring day. With no need for last-minute preparations, we headed off after a bacon sandwich, parking our car at Hayes Garden World, to be greeted by singing reindeer and enchanting Christmas displays. Leaving the car at the garden centre, we walked towards Windermere, England’s largest and most famous lake. We chose a short cruise (windermere-lakecruises.co.uk) and had the boat all to ourselves, before stopping off at the pet shop by the pier to buy Lucy a surprise stocking filler. Next stop, five miles north-west of Windermere, was Ambleside, where we were delighted to find that the famous 17th-century Bridge House was open. To avoid the busy shoppers, we limited ourselves to a couple of outdoor clothing shops to buy warmer gloves, before heading back to get ready for the Christingle service at 4pm. With Christmas jumpers on and the table set for our return, we enjoyed the friendly service at St Andrew’s Church. Ben joined in, making his Christingle light. Candles made and only a few sweets having disappeared, the church lights were turned off and carols sung in the wonderful atmospheric setting. With traditional duck and pancakes on the Christmas Eve menu, Lucy made very sure she sat closest to the Remoska in the awning. As we would do in our other home, we enjoyed an evening of games, swapping little presents before settling down to read the next few chapters of our Christmas book – A Boy called Christmas, by Matt Haig. We ended our day with a Christmas Eve stroll, with Lucy in tow, looking at all of the beautiful lights around the campsite.
Father Christmas found us
Christmas morning saw everyone on our bed – Lucy entertained us with her presents and copious amounts of wrapping paper to rip – chaos, but wonderful! The beauty of a twin dinette in our van means nobody having to rush about, and the breakfast table was laid for Harvey to present us with salmon, scrambled eggs, brioche and (for the adults) a bottle of champagne – we didn’t even have to move to uncork the bottle!
'Christmas Eve was exploring day, so we headed to Windermere'
Sadly, it wasn’t a white Christmas in the Lake District, but we walked alongside the lake to Coniston for some fresh air, which involved some serious puddle negotiation, if not the odd puddle splashing. Ben also happily played with a stocking present that sang annoyingly high-pitched carols, while munching his way through too many chocolate buttons. Being prepared, we had bought a clothes rack to store in the awning, which proved invaluable to hang up our coats. A large, very efficient on-site drying room meant any wet clothes were soon dry. With Lucy ready for a power nap, I set up the two Remoskas to enable us to have our rather impressive full Christmas dinner, prepared in my ‘kitchen awning’, then carried on with the more serious business of opening presents. Lucy took charge of pulling crackers and was delighted with her special Christmas dinner. Harvey and I, with slightly tilted Christmas crowns, relaxed, knowing we had achieved a happy Christmas day for all.
West for a long walk
Boxing Day is probably my favourite time: cooked meats and all-day buffet, with plenty of time to look at all the presents – well, after a good long walk. We headed west towards Torver, all very excited to see snow on the mountains (so it was a white Christmas!). A circular route took us through Torver Common Woods, up Torver Beck to see the waterfalls, then back to basecamp, for an afternoon of eating and relaxing. Well fed and rested, we decided next day to try to get closer to the snow and climb the 600m to reach the summit of the Old Man of Coniston (2635ft). We were prepared for all weathers, with extra clothing, emergency rations and water, and Ben grabbed his walking stick, eager to start. There are various ways of approaching this, the most popular being to start the in village, 1.9 miles away. However, we drove to the car park, with the summit in sight to spur us all on. Ben and Lucy marched ahead, cracking the ice underfoot and breaking off icicles to lick. The steep, twisted route took us through abandoned quarry works until we reached Low Water tarn, which was covered in snow. Looking up towards the snowy summit, we could see that going any further would be hazardous, so after enjoying a quick snowball fight and a roll in the snow, we made our slow descent.
Let it snow!
Snow was forecast for the next day, so we took down our awning before heading off to Grasmere under clear blue skies. After visiting Heaton Cooper Studio and Dove Cottage, we followed our noses to the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, then took a stroll around the Wordsworth Memorial Daffodil Garden, munching our gorgeous gingerbread en route. The evening turned bitterly cold, so we all had an early night. Next morning, Ben woke us by excitedly announcing that it had snowed. Happy to join in the excitement, Lucy jumped up and down on the bed! The wardens advised that it was not sensible to travel anywhere by car, so we were officially snowed in. Wellies on, we headed to Coniston and there, at a local DIY merchant, we found the last red sleigh for sale – at £5 we could not believe our luck, and joined the locals to spend a few hours on the slopes. After an amazing afternoon, we dried off in The Ship Inn, enjoying a hot meal and drinks beside their beautiful Christmas tree. An evening headtorch sleigh ride was a treat to end a truly magical Christmas. The snow melted during the night, to make way for an easy journey home. “Perhaps we should go away next year,” Ben announced; we think he is absolutely right!
FROM TOP LEFT Anna, Ben and Lucy brave the great outdoors. All dressed up for Christmas Eve. The last red sleigh! Ben and Anna on the slopes. Time to begin the celebrations. Lucy takes charge of pulling crackers