There is a magic about the mention of our lake district – it prompts a perception of an enchanting and mythical place hidden somewhere in a county called Cumbria. Everyone wants to visit the lake district and planning an excursion inspires an eager expectancy. I too wanted to make this visit; however, warned by others, I learned that you must choose your touring times carefully, because the weather can either turn your resort into an enchanted land of sun, blue water and lush vegetation or a miserable quandry of wet coats, muddy shoes and dripping hair
Ed and I set out with happy spirits and great expectations, determined to sample all the pleasures of Windermere, the beautiful lake in Cumbria. We journeyed by train and took a taxi to our very comfortable B & B, Beaumont House, which would be home for the next five days.
On our first afternoon we traipsed the mile walk down to Bowness to investigate departure times for the lake cruises. A bus ride back to Windermere brought us to the mother shop of Lakeland where we had an interesting time exploring kitchen craft and then had a forced and compulsory adjournment to the pub for a cold beer.
After an enormous breakfast the next day, we set out for the golf club with the intention of a gentle stroll and a pleasant nine holes. But – oh dear! The course was not an easy undertaking at all. After losing 6 balls Ed informed me, with great irritation, that this was nothing more than a goat track. Golf is a frustrating game and I think the player was blaming the course rather than his lack of ability
However, a pleasant afternoon’s leisure cruise from Bowness to Lakeside soon restored happy spirits. It was glorious sunshine and the journey of gentle meandering on a pliable waterway was tranquil and pleasurable.
The next day was our greatest adventure as we embarked on an eight hour guided tour of the Northern Lake District.
Photo: Carol Bleasdale
Our first stop was Wray Castle. This is an imposing building, with its dramatic turrets which rise above the trees and dominate the landscape. Wray Castle is not a castle in the truest sense of the word, but was constructed in the then fashionable Victorian Gothic Revival Style between 1840 and 1847. It was commissioned for Dr James Dawson, a retired Liverpool surgeon, whose wife had inherited a fortune from the gin business. Sadly his wife was not at all enamoured with the castle and neither was she over fond of her husband, who had hoped to surprise her with a majestic home at the lake.
Thirlmere is a reservoir in the English Lake District.
In the late 19th Century there was much consternation as Manchester city had put forward plans to access this water for its growing industries. It meant flooding the valley and submerging a small village.
Photo: Mick Knapton
Thirlmere found an ardent supporter in John Ruskin, the Victorian poet, artist and conservationist. He was bent on thwarting Manchester city planning.
He indignantly stated that, “as to these Manchester robbers … there is ‘no profit’ in the continuance of their lives” and, “Manchester should be put to the bottom of Thirlmere”.
James Fraser, Bishop of Manchester believed: “…two millions of people had a right to the necessaries of life from any portion of England.”
There is a delightful story told to us by our tour guide. After a long hot summer, the level of Thirlmere dropped dramatically and a hosepipe ban was levied on the residents of Windermere. They found this grossly unfair as they had no access to Manchester’s water supply. So, all the farmers and residents of the area, about 1000, assembled on the shore line, dropped their trousers and proceeded to add their contribution to the water supply. The hose pipe ban was quickly lifted.
During the 2nd WW, White Cross Bay on Windermere was the manufacture site of one of the most sophisticated aircraft of its time – the flying boat. Not only new boats were built here but many older, damaged aircraft were repaired and refurbished. At the strong request of local residents, the factory was dismantled and removed after the war.
We next visited Coniston Water which has its own amazing tales to tell. At five miles long, Coniston Water is the third largest of the lakes. It provided an important fish source for the monks of Furness Abbey who owned the lake in the 13th and 14th Centuries.
Arthur Ransome used Coniston Water as the background for his book, ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
In 1939 Sir Malcolm Campbell attempted his water speed record on Coniston, and he successfully reached a speed of 141 miles per hour. His son Donald Campbell, continued his father’s pursuits and then reached 300 miles per hour before losing his boat ‘Bluebird’ which plunged into the Lake.
On our tour we visited the wonderful Beatrix Potter’s house Hill Top which she purchased in 1905.
After 8 years of writing her Peter Rabbit Books she bought another farm opposite Hill Top and this became her Lakeland location. Seven of her books are based in or around Hill Top where Tom Kitten and Samuel Whiskers lived. Hill Top is a very popular destination for tourists and, for lovers of Peter Rabbit, and is a well visited literary shrine.
On the film site of Miss Potter, Renee Zellweger said: “Arriving in the Lake District is like the culmination of the journey we’ve been on these past few weeks. It brings the whole Miss Potter story to life, to be in the places where Beatrix lived. I have been completely stunned by the beauty of the landscape and the tranquillity of the scene.”
When she died in 1943 Beatrix Potter bequeathed her farms, land and flocks of Herdwick sheep to the National Trust.
Photo: Malc McDonald
Photo: Kate Jewell
Our tour now took us to Wordsworth country. No daffodils of course, but lots to see and experience. The village of Hawkshead is absolutely delightful. Voluptuous hanging baskets of colourful flowers were suspended on almost every quaint building. The many tourists there didn’t detract from the ambience at all but rather created a wonderful feeling of summer festivity.
Hawkshead Grammar School was built in 1585 by the Archbishop of York, making it one of the oldest buildings in the area.
The most famous pupil of the school was poet William Wordsworth who attended here with his brother John. Desks that have been heavily carved by the schoolboys, including the William, can be seen in the old schoolroom on the ground floor.
Lessons took up the best part of an 8 hour day with studies in mathematics and classics. However, according to our tour guide, the students were encouraged to drink 3 pints a beer a day – drinking water was not so healthy – and also to smoke – a habit which young gentlemen should be partial to.
As the boys wrote with quills, they were given knives to sharpen the quills –hence the ease of carving your name into the desk. And I assure you, the desks were totally disfigured with the hundreds of carvings. Wordsworth’s carved name has been singled out and enshrined beneath a glass casing. I can remember a school exam in my long ago past which had an essay title – The Child is Father of the Man. And there it was – printed on the wall and, as I should have known, a line from Wordsworth’s poetry.
Photo: David Iliff
We stopped for a welcome lunch break at the lovely village of Grasmere and had time to view the Church of St Oswald where Wordsworth and his wife Mary are buried. I have read that this church is one of the most visited literary shrines in the world.
Another little stop on our journey was at the farm shop for more refreshments for thirsty tourists. The Buttermere Ayrshire’s gift shop has a tearoom with heavenly ice cream. It is home made at the farm and we all enjoyed the refreshment, except poor Ed who is not able to have sweetened food or beverage.
The last stage of our visit was to Castlerigg Stone Circle.
English Heritage calls this the most atmospheric and dramatically sited of all British stone circles. It is a visually impressive historic monument which is visited by countless tourists and artists. All of them must ponder why the stones are there and who used them.
On our last day we embarked on a tour to Ambleside, a town which many use as a base for hiking, mountaineering and mountain biking. Ed and I went for the ride and to look at another area of the beautiful Lake District.
Ed thought it a good idea to feed the ducks and swans. He soon had quite a gathering to enjoy his tasty offerings. Can you see that one in the distance swimming hurriedly to join in the feast?
And so, after a wonderful adventure, it was home time for a very happy couple of tourists. The Lake District has so much to offer in endless hours of exploration and pleasure. It should be the number one destination for anyone who is searching for a holiday of unending gratification.