Monday 19th September – With Peter Seymour, coach driver of Travel Wright, of Newark, 43 residents and friends from Winthorpe set off on a bright sunny morning for a four-day holiday to the Lake District. A lunch stop was made at the market town of Skipton; a former mill town connected to the major cities via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and is known as ‘The Gateway to the Dales.’
The Lake District, a popular holiday destination in North West England, is famous for its lakes, mountains (or fells), also its associations with the poetry and writings of William Wordsworth (1770-1850), fell walker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) and children’s author, illustrator and conservationist Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). It also has the dubious distinction as being the wettest part of England with an average rainfall of more than 72 inches (2 metres). The central part of the area is called the Lake District National Park and is the largest of the thirteen National Parks in England and Wales. Despite the name, only one of the lakes actually contains the word “lake” in its name, Bassenthwaite Lake, the rest being either ‘meres,’ ‘waters,’ ‘tarns’ or reservoirs. For centuries, mining and quarrying were the main industries. Slate, iron ore, graphite, gypsum, coal and copper, just to name a few. Slate mining still takes place, but on a smaller scale. The slate is used for the construction of walls and dry stone buildings. Many hotels and houses are built this way. The main industries are now tourism, sheep and the production of electricity by nuclear power and wind turbines.
Our stay was the 4 star The Old England Hotel & Spa, a Georgian residence, in Bowness-on-Windermere. This 106-bedroom hotel occupies an unrivalled location on the shores of Lake Windermere with stunning views to the fells. Bowness-on-Windermere is a sprawling tourist town about halfway along the 12-mile length of the lake. The Victorian influence can be seen everywhere. In the late 19th century, wealthy business men from Lancashire built large residences overlooking the lake; many have now been converted to hotels.
Tuesday 20th September – After overnight rain we set off southwards on a pleasant sunny morning, following Lake Windermere for about seven miles. Our journey took us through woods of deciduous trees to visit the charming Edwardian resort of Grange-over-Sands. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, coming into Morecambe Bay, the town enjoys a mild climate; this could clearly be seen in the ornamental gardens with its duck pond. About ten miles across the bay the 2400 MW (megawatt) nuclear power station at Heysham in Lancashire could be seen.
The lunch stop and the afternoon visit were to Sizergh Castle, home to the Strickland family since 1239 and now in the custody of the National Trust. The house has fine oak panelling complete with period furniture and centuries old portraits; among these were modern family photographs. More than a century ago, the wood panelling of the Inlaid Chamber had been sold off to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The entire panelling was returned in 1999. The castle exterior, including the Pele tower, has recently undergone a major overhaul. The old cement between the stone joints were removed and replaced with a lime sand mortar, this allows the walls to breath and thus helping to keep the interior of the castle dry. A guided tour of the beautifully landscape gardens started at the 15th century ‘The Great Barn.’ This Tudor barn is the oldest in the Lake District. The flight of tapering stone steps leading down from the terracing to the attractive lake was very impressive. Set in a dell, fed by streams, pools and waterfalls from the lake above, was a stunning limestone rock garden. This garden holds a collection of ferns and alpines. These ferns are part of the National Collection of hardy ferns. There was a rose garden and a wild flower garden, which was ready for cutting. The vegetable garden was totally organic. A large area, surrounded by 28 step-over apple trees, of 14 different varieties, was devoted to nasturtiums and a giant scarecrow. The nasturtiums attract blackflies and the cabbage white butterflies, thus helping to keep the rest of the garden produce clean. Birch branches were used to make circular raised beds which were about 3 feet deep. A good guide makes all the difference. This tour made my day.
Wednesday 21st September – It was a dull breezy morning after again overnight rain; we set off on a scenic tour of the Lake District National Park. Our transport was by Mountain Goat. A Mountain Goat is a 12-seater mini coach with the driver as our guide. We could not use our own coach as it would have been unable to negotiate the mountains narrow roads and passes. Our journey took us through Great and Little Langdales, considered by many to be two of the most beautiful valleys in the Lake District. The valley floor is divided up by dry stone walls, dotted with white farmsteads and mountain peaks all around. The white farms and houses reminded me of Scotland. The well weathered dry stone walls are hundreds of years old and stand as monuments to the men that built them. There were many fast flowing streams and waterfalls running down the mountain sides, which flowed through boggy areas of Yorkshire Fog into rivers full of boulders.
A coffee stop was made in a small parking area where our driver provided the refreshments. Sheep, like sentinels, were in the fields and on the mountain slopes. They are mainly Herdwicks and a few Swaledales. Herdwick sheep are the hardiest of British breeds and always capture the hearts of tourists. Everyone loves them. Maybe it is because of their tough lives grazing amongst the exposed Lake District. Their lambs are born jet black and later turn to a slate grey. The slopes started getting steeper as we climbed, the scenery becoming bleaker as we had left behind the lush grass and deciduous trees to be greeted with small areas of coniferous trees. We then descended to go through the Wrynose and Hardnott Passes. Going through these passes makes exciting driving for those whose brakes are in good order, but anxiety for those whose brakes are not. Overlooking the end of Hardnott Pass is Hardnott Fort known by the Romans as MEDIOBOGDUM. This Roman Fort, the loneliest outpost of the Roman Empire, was built between AD120 and AD138. The remains of this fort, with its low walls, are now in the care of English Heritage.
Our lunch stop was Brock House Inn, in the small hamlet of Boot, set in the heart of Eskdale. Just a short distance from Brock House Inn at Dalegarth, we boarded The Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway to take us 3½ miles down the line to Irton Road. The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, or ‘La’al Ratty’ as it is affectionately known, was opened in 1875 to bring iron ore from Eskdale to the Furness Railway at Ravenglass. On the closure of the mine, the line was purchased by a preservation society and converted from a 3 foot narrow gauge to a 15 inch narrow gauge. The line is now used by tourists. Pulling a group of small coaches and working at a steam pressure of 150 lbs per square inch, was the Indian red coloured steam engine, ‘River Mite.’
Leaving our train, we continued by Mountain Goat to Wastwater for a photo stop. Wastwater surrounded by mountains, which include England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike 3,205 feet (97 metres) is England’s deepest lake at 260 feet (80metres) and is most awe-inspiring. It isn’t the water that catches the eye but the imposing steep scree slopes (a scree is a product of rock fall) on the other side of the lake. These dramatic stone boulder covered slopes plunge almost vertically down into the clear water.
The tour continued to the seaside village of Ravenglass. The village, which seemed sleepy, has a short main street of small attractive houses of various periods, which leads down a slipway into the sea. In the 18th century, the harbour was a centre for smuggling goods, such as tobacco and brandy. The beach was used during the Second World War as a training ground for the D-Day (6th June 1944) landing mine clearance. Outside a cottage on the main street was an old hand cranked National petrol pump, which took us back to the early part of the 1900’s. The price on front of the pump was 1/5 (1 shilling and 5 pennies. In today’s coinage that would be 7 pence)
Cheapest petrol in the Lake District!!
Providing a large employment of many thousands was the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant, responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of nuclear waste.
Just as we arrived at Muncaster Castle World Owl Centre, which is only a short distance from Ravenglass, the heavens opened up for about 30 minutes. The wet weather meant that our visit to the collection of 40 owls was shortened. Despite this, we were able to visit the castle’s beautiful gardens. With the Lakeland Fells in the background, the gardens hold many varieties of plants, trees and flowers and has been described as The Gateway to Paradise. Just as we were leaving, the sun came out and remained with us until we arrived at our final stop for the day, Coniston Waters. It is here, where Donald Campbell (1921-1967) lost his life on the 4th January 1967 whilst attempting to break the water speed record in his jet powered boat, Bluebird K7.
Thursday 22nd September – It was a bright day for our tour of the spine of the Lake District. A photo stop was made at Bridge House, a 16th century building, in the Victorian style village of Ambleside. The tiny two-roomed building, originally an apple store for nearby Ambleside Hall, was built over Stock Beck to escape land tax. It has been used as a cottage, a weaver’s and a gift shop. A family with six children are believed to have lived there at one time. It is possible, that Bridge House is the most photographed building in the Lake District, and a popular subject for many artists. In 1956 it was opened as an information centre for the National Trust, which it remains to this day.
Leaving Ambleside, we came to the pretty village of Grasmere, which is geographically central to the Lake District. Set in a valley and surrounded by hills, this village is a gem. Literary pilgrims, even from Japan, have flocked to Grasmere since the days of the poet William Wordsworth, who lived in Dove Cottage, just outside the village, where he wrote his best known poetry. Besides the many of his poems, which we learnt at school, he also wrote ‘Tintern Abbey.’ On our Hereford holiday in 2006, the Winthorpe Village Holiday Group visited Tintern Abbey, one of the greatest monastic ruins in Wales. The village church, which is dedicated to St. Oswald, a 7th century King of Northumbria, a saint and a martyr has three stained glass windows, one of which depicts St. Oswald. The colours of these windows are not as rich as the ones in All Saints’ Church, Winthorpe. In a corner of the churchyard, which runs alongside the River Rothay, lie in a simple tomb the bodies of William Wordsworth, his wife Mary and other members of his family. Grassmere is also famous for Gingerbread. This is made at Sarah Nelson’s Original Celebrated Gingerbread Shop, a small premises behind the churchyard. For over 220 years, this building used to be the village school and it is where William Wordsworth, his wife and his sister all taught there in the early 19th century.
The village is also famous for the Grasmere Sports. These include fell racing, hound trailing and the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling.
Leaving Grasmere, and travelling on the A591, we passed the towering Helvellyn at 3,118 feet (950metres), an old AA Box No 487 and Derwent Water. Derwent Water, the third largest lake in the Lake District, is dotted with small tree clad islands. The fictionary Old Brown from Squirrel Nutkin in the Beatrix Potter tale was supposed to have sailed to one of these islands, known as Owl Island in the book.
A lunch stop was at Keswick, a major tourist town, dominated by the tall tower of Moot Hall. Overlooking a busy Market Square, this hall, with its single handed clock, is now home to the Tourist Information Centre. Once, many mines in the area producing different minerals gave employment to a large number of people, these have now closed leaving tourism as the main source of income. Graphite, which is used in the common pencil, was one of the many minerals mined here. During the Second World War a team of Cumberland Pencil Company managers at Keswick, sworn to secrecy, would return to the factory at night. They carefully filled hollow pencils with four tightly rolled maps of Germany and a tiny compass. These helped British airmen find their way to safety after being shot down. The pencils history is shown in the town’s Cumberland Pencil Museum. A short walk was made through Hope Park, with its beautiful formal gardens, to Derwent Water. This was followed by a quick return as it had become cool and windy.
Friday 23rd September – On a bright sunny morning we said goodbye to Bowness-on-Windermere to travel home, but first, we had one call to make. This was to the Lake Visitors Centre at Brockhole, just north of Windermere town. The house, once the home of a Manchester businessman, is set in a beautiful 30 acre garden that overlooks Lake Windermere and has magnificent views. Amongst the peaceful landscape garden is an adventure playground, café and shop. Leaving Brockhole, we travelled along the A65 through Kirkby Lonsdale, a photo stop at the Ribblehead Viaduct, and on to Hawes for our lunch stop. Hawes known as the ‘Little Capital’ of Upper Wensleydale is Yorkshire highest market town, which bustles with many interesting shops and craft workshops. It is home to the famous Wensleydale Cheese, the Dales Countryside Museum and rope making. Continuing our journey home, down the A1 and we were back in Winthorpe at 18.00hrs.
Pat Finn. October 2011.
This has been a wonderful holiday. We have seen breath taking scenery, the best in the British Isles. The deep lakes and tall mountains have been inspirational to many.
Who can forget Wastwater, with its deep clear water, the steep scree slopes, the peaks of Scafell Pike and the Naked Lady? (I don’t know the correct name for this mountain.)
In 2007, Wastwater received National fame when an ITV television programme named it as Britain's Favourite View.
Every boy’s childhood dreams would have been fulfilled today, if he could have exchanged places with the lady driver of the huffing, puffing, hissing, fire eating steam engine, ‘River Mite.’
Special thanks must go to the organiser, Peter Foden, our coach driver Peter Seymour, who together with their detailed planning and organisation made this holiday both enjoyable and safe.
Did you have the famous Cumberland sausage for breakfast? I did.
The mileage for the coach holiday was 535 miles, plus 95 miles on the Mountain Goat.