I’m going to state this right at the start: There are going to be a lot of pictures in this post. After leaving Lancaster behind Andrea and I made straight for the Lake District. Pulling off the M6 at Penrith we found ourselves quickly in the East Lakes. The first place we came to was the village of Windermere, which in itself was very pretty, but the lake on whose shores sat the adjoining Bowness-on-Windermere was nothing less than stunning. Idyllic, even. It was a mild evening, so we parked up at the lakeside and got out for a stroll. As is the case with just about everywhere we visited, I don’t have the words to do justice to the beauty of this part of the world, so photographs will have to suffice.Although we were already in the Lake District, there was still quite a drive until we got to our ultimate destination. We drove from Windermere, through the village of Coniston (although avoiding seeing Coniston Water), then into the West Lakes where the character of the landscapes changed quite dramatically. From the lush, tree lined shores of Windermere we now found ourselves on higher ground, bleak and barren, with patchy grass, bare rock and hardy sheep. It reminded me of some places in Connaught, in the West of Ireland, such as Mayo or Sligo. We were driving on a road that purported to be an A-road, but was so narrow there were passing places on it! The surroundings engendered a feeling of isolation, and the lack of mobile phone signal only added to this.
At around 8.30pm we arrived at our hotel, the Bower House Inn just outside the village of Eskdale. Andrea had found this on her holiday research and after a quick look at it online, I was happy to accept her choice. We parked up and quickly made our way into reception, where a young man happily greeted us and handed over our room keys – and they were actual keys, not swipe cards. We enquired about dinner, and were informed that the kitchen only served until 9pm, so we had better rush. Our rooms were located in a different building, although hardly a long distance away, but it did mean having to go outside to get to reception, and the bar/restaurant. We got up to our rooms tout de suite, and I quickly changed from my jeans & jumper combination into a casual red t-shirt dress with black opaques and knee boots. Far from formal wear, but I wanted to wear a dress for dinner and so I did just that.Andrea and I arrived back in the main hotel building with five minutes to spare. We could see there was a dining room, with two people in it if I recall correctly, and there was also a bar. The same young man who had checked us into the hotel was now standing behind the bar so we approached him to find out what we should do about dinner. The main question we had was, do the kitchen staff go home at 9pm and if so does that mean we can’t get dessert? Happily, dessert was still very much on the menu when we got to it. We decided to just eat in the bar rather than the restaurant. Not only was there just a nicer atmosphere in the bar, but it was very much in keeping with our “not hiding away” ethos that we both share.
The bar was quiet, with just a handful of people at other tables. Andrea did initially suggest taking a table in an alcove beside the bar, but I declined, instead suggesting that we sit right in the middle of the bar. The alcove was too much like hiding away. I would ultimately be proved wrong with this assertion, but we ordered our drinks and took our table in the middle of the bar area. I had a pint of their own “Bower House Ale”, and very nice it was too. Our very friendly waitress came over to take our order. I had rather a large portion of fish chips and mushy peas. Andrea had lamb chops. Huge lamb chops. The biggest lamb chops I have ever seen. The plate was big, but it couldn’t contain the lamb chops. That must have been one freakishly big lamb. Actually, it was locally sourced Cumbrian lamb, and Sellafield nuclear power station is in Cumbria. Just saying.As we tucked into our main course the bar began to fill with what seemed to be locals in for an evening drink and a chat. What appeared to be the quiet table in the alcove was now surrounded by around 15 Eskdaleans (if that’s the word). It was a small bar, so 15 people was actually quite a crowd. And there were Andrea and I sharing a bar with them, with no eyebrows raised or funny looks as far as I noticed. At one point I even walked up through the multitude to order another drink at the bar, and all was well. I was just another woman at the bar. Which is what I was, in fact. My fish and chips was excellent, and my dessert of apple crumble was delicious, so by 10.30 we were both completely stuffed and ready for bed. We parted with a little hug and I retired to my room for a bit of a read and a relatively early night.
The next morning dawned and the weather wasn’t looking great. After getting showered and my face on, we made our way down for breakfast. Due to the layout of the hotel, and the inclement weather, it was the first time I have ever had to wear a raincoat to get my breakfast in a hotel. But get it we did. Big and tasty, with a friendly and chatty young waitress serving us. She asked where we were going today, and agreed that our first stopping point of Wast Water was well worth seeing.Andrea then produced a Google Maps printout that she had prepared before leaving home. It involved a twisty-turny route through the Lake District, seemingly passing by every body of water that there was, before rejoining the M6 at Penrith and speeding us on our way to Cairnryan for the ferry home. She had certainly thought this through. The entire driving time for the route was somewhere in the region of five and a quarter hours. So the logic was, if we left the hotel at 10am, and we had to be at the ferry terminal for 6.30pm, that gave us a solid 3 hours of stopping and going for a walk. Sounded perfect. In fact, Andrea had identified a 2-hour walk around Wast Water, which sounded like a great thing to do, as well as a great opportunity to break out the walking shoes I had purchased a month or so earlier.
It was more like 10.15 when we left the hotel, but it was only a short drive to Wast Water. Oh. My. God. What a stunning place. Bleak, windswept, dramatic, it was so different from the tree-lined idyll of Windermere. Not a tree in sight, scree sweeping down into the lake from the hill on the far side, and a trio of mountains at the far end one of which is in fact the highest mountain in England, Scaffell Pike. Wast Water itself is the deepest lake in England. But enough of the talk, just look at the photos.We got out of the car halfway along the lakeside for some photos. I was glad of my walking boots, I certainly couldn’t have done this in a pair of ballerinas. I was blown away, both metaphorically and literally. To steal a phrase from WB Yeats, it was a terrible beauty.
We drove right to the end of the lake, where there is a pub and a church, although we didn’t go into either. This was the starting point for the 2-hour walk that Andrea had identified, but by this stage the rain had come on again so I was slightly hesitant about going out. And it also dawned on me that we had already spent close to half an hour on the shores of Wast Water, and if we did this 2-hour hike there would be no opportunity to stop at all the other lakes on today’s itinerary, so we abandoned the walk and after a quick visit to a public convenience (Kirsty’s Bog Reviews rating: 1 sheet out of 5) we were back in the car on our way to Ennerdale Water through the pouring rain.By the time we arrived at Ennerdale the rain had stopped again. There is no opportunity to park at the side of the lake, so we had to use a public car park and then walk through some woods for a short distance before arriving at its shores. Ennerdale is used as a reservoir, so the point at which we arrived bore the signs of the water being on its way to some kind of treatment, which kind of spoiled the look of the place a little. But still, people have to drink don’t they? We walked along the shore for a short distance, taking pictures and skimming stones before heading back to the car for the next stint.
The next stop was Loweswater. By the time we reached here the scenery had softened somewhat, trees were becoming a feature again, and it just felt that little bit less dramatic. Andrea spotted a walking path at the end of the lake, so we got out of the car and went for a gentle walk for around 25 minutes, just round the end of the lake to the other side. It was good to be out in the air, admiring the scenery, and sharing this with Andrea, this woman who has become such a close friend over the last year or so. It was blissful. At least it was until the rain began again just before we reached the car. At least we avoided the worst of it.The next lakes we passed were Crummock Water and Buttermere, but we simply admired these from the car and drove onwards. Something I hinted at earlier was that there was basically no mobile phone signal here. In and out of mountains, with few population centres, it’s a big data blackspot. The problem with this of course is that I was using a combination of Google Maps and Apple Maps to get my way through the route, and in the absence of a data signal neither was telling me an estimated arrival time for Cairnryan. I was, I don’t mind admitting, getting a little bit panicky as the clock neared 2pm and we arrived on the shores of Derwent Water just outside Keswick. This was a paid car park and you couldn’t actually see the lake from where we parked, so Andrea did a quick run round the corner to check it was actually worth going to visit. It was, so I paid the fee at the “Pay and Dismay” station and we were on our way. One other bonus of being just outside Keswick was that I got a phone signal. Two hours and forty-five minutes to Cairnryan, four and a half hours until we actually had to be there. A major relief all round. We strolled out along the shore of Derwent Water, which in character was very muck akin to Windermere the previous day, beautiful rather than dramatic. The sun had come out too, which reflected off the water as if to emphasis how welcoming the place looked. If Wast Water would eat you for breakfast, Derwent Water would serve you breakfast. After Derwent there was one lake left; Ullswater. As we approached Ullswater, Andrea reminded me that she had mentioned a waterfall that might be worth seeing. Fair enough, I though, I like a good waterfall. This particular one was called Aera Force, and we saw it signposted from near Ullswater. The site is maintained by the National Trust, so thanks to Andrea’s membership, we got to park and enter for free, and it was a very enjoyable 30-minute walk through the forest taking in this rather pretty waterfall. I don’t think it was anywhere near as impressive as Swallow Falls in Snowdonia, which we had visited last October, but still worth seeing.
After a brief stopoff on the shore of Ullswater (where I took my favourite photo of the day, it’s below this paragraph) we had to say goodbye to the Lake District and head on towards the ferry. Our sailing was at 7.30pm, and boarding was between 6.30 and 7. According to our tickets, boarding would close at 7pm. As we reached Penrith and the data signal kicked in again, I discovered that our estimated arrival time was… 6.40! Well that’s ok, as long as we’re not held up. And as long as we don’t do something daft like stop for a loo break and to buy a coffee at a service station, which of course we did do. Next thing, estimated arrival time was back at 7.06pm. This was a problem. I drove right on the speed limit as much as possible all the way through northern England and southern Scotland, passing cars with gay abandon, and we were very very lucky to have no significant traffic problems other than about 60 miles’ worth of satnav being unable to pronounce Stranraer (“stan-ARRR”), which was at first odd, then funny, then really annoying, then really funny. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 6.50ish. We were the last car in the priority boarding queue. The ferry was unusually quiet. Deserted, in fact. I have never been on as quiet a ferry. The crossing was notable for one thing – a piece of exemplary customer service that really put the Haworth cafe from the previous day to shame with it’s “get insulted and pay full price” offer. We took our seats at the front, and were soon approached by a friendly waiter who greeted us with a “Good evening, ladies”. Always a good conversation-opener! We ordered food, I ordered a cheese-and-bacon burger, and Andrea ordered a chicken burger. Our food arrived a little while later and while mine was fine, very good in fact, Andrea immediately complained that the chicken in her chicken burger was cold. She lifted her plate and walked off round the corner with it toward the waiters’ station. She returned empty-handed a minute or so later, shortly followed by our waiter, profusely apologising, and asking what else she would like, on the house. She asked if my burger was good, and when I replied in the affirmative, she ordered one of them. Soon she had a piping hot burger and agreed that it was indeed of a surprisingly high standard for a ferry. Next thing we knew, the chef had emerged from the kitchen to come and apologise to Andrea for her cold chicken. Then just as we were finishing up our waiter reappeared to inform us that the full bill for our table had been cancelled by way of an apology! Fantastic, I get a free burger and chips and there was nothing wrong with it in the first place! Top marks to Stena Line and their friendly waiter.
All too soon we were back in Belfast. I drove Andrea down to her house and dropped her off. A quick hug and I was gone, back off up to Lisburn to get changed at the Butterfly Club premises. I’m not going to dwell on this part, but suffice to say after a full five days, it wasn’t easy. I’m welling up now just thinking about it in fact. But enough of that.
We had had a holiday of highs and lows, a wonderful time seeing our friend Ruth, meeting Kate, meeting Charlotte, some gorgeous scenery in the lakes, putting a few of my own personal ghosts to rest in Lancaster, and we did have a lot of fun. And all as my real self. Joy.
Back to reality.