The plan for today was a number of different activities that involved not all of us being at the same place at the same time. We were, frankly, all over the place. I spent most of my day geocaching in Penrith. Kas spent some time with Ami climbing a mountain and some time with Venus pedalling over a lake.
A some point during the holiday Venus had asked for the opportunity to do some watersports. I didn’t fancy it (and nor did Ami) so I ducked and the watersports became a “mum and V” thing. As Ami didn’t want to be outdone, she wanted to do something with just Kas in the morning, so they planned to go do an easy Wainwright at Raven Crag. Which left me some time for a bit of caching.
Off We Go
Kas and Ami left fairly early to climb Raven Crag, as Kas needed to be back for early afternoon to do the watersports. I wasn’t far behind them.
The first bit of sport when caching is, as ever, finding a decent place to park. I thought this would be easy in Penrith but I have to admit I made a bit of a song and dance about it. First of all I parked in a well-known supermarket. But that was no good because they limit you to 2 hours and I probably wanted about 4 hours.
So I then tried to move to the station, because they normally have car parks, right? Penrith does, but it was basically full. And I wasted ages there because it’s a two-storey affair and the ramp up to the top is a single car width and has traffic lights to decide who’s go it is. It was a tight turn to get in and out of too, so there was much toing and froing, and a reasonable amount of swearing. When I got to the bottom a parking attendant said I’d “probably be alight on the station forecourt”, to which I replied something along the lines of “I can’t work with ‘probably’ mate.”
So I left the station and found another car park in the centre of town. It was the one at Bluebell Lane, I think. Anyway, it had loads of wide spaces and a pay-and-display saying I could stay all day, if I wanted to. That’ll do me guvnor! And then I basically walked all the way back to the station because it’s just over the road from the castle, and that’s where I wanted to start my caching trip.
For some reason I was quite surprised to find out that Penrith has a medieval castle. It’s surprising that I was surprised, given that everywhere in the UK that’s bigger than a hamlet used to have a medieval castle somewhere nearby. Why would Penrith be any different? It isn’t.
I wasn’t even remotely surprised to discover that the castle has a clutch of geocaches nearby. There was a set of adventure labs, with a bonus.
Moving on Up (or Down, in this case)
As is the norm for English medieval castles, everywhere else is downhill. Something about being in a good defensive position.
The hills in Penrith seem fairly flat after 10 days in the Lake District. Maybe I’m becoming accustomed to it. Anyway, it was downhill from the castle to get to the centre of what seemed a pleasant little market town. In the centre were 3 other sets of adventure labs, plus their bonus puzzle caches. There were remarkably few other caches though, for some reason.
Anyway, the labs caches were all intermingled with eash other so i had a game of “which series is this one” as I wandered vaguely south-to-north through the centre of town. There were a couple of bits of swearing when I couldn’t get a good enough phone signal to log the finds. I got there eventually, but there was some walking backwards-and-forwards involved. That, in itself, prompted a couple of locals to ask me if I was lost.
All in all I found 24 caches in Penrith in a little under three hours, and then I jumped in my car and went back to Ambleside. I got back at about 3pm. As soon as I got back she went out shopping in Ambleside to get a few personal items for her recently redecorated bedroom at home.
Climbing Raven Crag
Raven Crag is at the north end of Thirlmere and described as a short, but reasonably steep ‘Wainwright’ Fell. It’s more of a cliff than a fell, nevertheless it is very impressive standing watch over Thirlmere. We parked at the layby opposite the start of the walk. There is a small parking area a few hundred metres away but there’s a charge to park there so we opted for the free layby.
Steep doesn’t begin to describe the route up. We were having to stop every 20 or so steps for a breather and it’s like that from the start. There’s no easing yourself into this walk. It was also a bit muddy and slippy after the recent rain. After a few minutes we came to a forest road, but rather than follow this we went straight over and carried on up until we reached the same forest road looping back round. Our route continued over the forest road and up but we had a slight challenge here. Part of the path had been washed away, so we had a bit of scramble using tree roots to climb up to the path. The trail was now turning into a mini stream and a few parts of the path had also washed away, but it wasn’t difficult walking conditions. As an added bonus, the gradient was somewhat shallower.
From the Top
We reached the saddleback, and then turned left towards the summit of Raven Crag. The walking got easier at this point and there were now steps so we started making quick progress. We stopped to gaze at a tree that had come down, exposing its roots. I suspect it came down in the winter storms, nevertheless it was very impressive.
We reached the summit about 50 mins after we left the car. After taking the obligatory photos we had a snack break and then headed off back. We weren’t keen on the steep route down, although plenty of others we met up there were taking that route. Instead, we opted for the long forest road route. It wasn’t muddy or slippy so it was quick going. Walking parallel to Shoulthwaite Gill we had a few stops to admire the waterfalls. It started to rain just was we were leaving the forest, so we put on our wet weather gear and walked back to the car with just the one photo stop for Ami to point to where we’d just come from.
Back at the car, a bloke we’d met at the top arrived having walked down the steep route. Walking the longer route back had taken us about five minutes longer than the short route. And with that it was time to head to Ambleside for my second activity of the day, 90 minutes of pedelloing (if that’s a word).
I was put off the watersports activity by the possibility it might be kayaking. It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s just that at the moment I’m going through a portly phase and I didn’t think I’d find it enjoyable.
As it happens though, Kas and Venus rented a pedalo. I would probably have enjoyed that greatly, but the scene was set by this point, and there was no turning back. Anyway, they rented a pedalo, and then spent a couple of hours pedalling the best part of 5km up and down and across Windermere. Next time I’ll volunteer to do that.
I managed to get a table at the tapas place in Ambleside (Bar eS Ambleside) for 7:45. They only had “bar tables” available, but that turned out to be a good thing. It was basically a proper table, but set up high and with bar stools. We ate lots of bits and bobs on a vaguely Mexicanised Spanish theme, and I think we all agreed it was probably the best place we’d eaten in.
While we were there, I floated the idea that we might drive home on Friday night rather than on Saturday. Kas was leaving anyway on Friday morning to drive down to her half ironman in Swansea. So we were always going to spend most of Friday just packing and cleaning the house.
I took the view that I’d rather drive home and spend a night in my own bed. I was slightly surprised that the kids were in enthusiastic agreement. So we decided there to cut the holiday short by one night, in favour of spending a whole weekend at home. We still had the whole of Thursday though.
A Cute Waterfall
It’s Mandatory, Isn’t It?
What? Going to Aira Force. That’s what. Well, it might as well be. Probably. I’ve been here several times before. Most recently in 2002 and 2016, but I think there were earlier ones in the days before the internet. And the days before I had a camera to record it. So anyway, our plan for the day was to go to Aira Force, but with the twist of going by boat from Glenridding.
We set off fairly early in the morning for the drive over the Kirkstone Pass and past Brotherswater and Patterdale to Glenridding. The drive was spoiled somewhat by the roadworks on the pass, but to be honest, the tarmac is in dire need of replacement and it has to be done some time.
We didn’t book tickets for the boat – we just parked up at the jetty in Glenridding and got tickets for the next one. That was at 11am, and left us some time to grab a coffee/hot chocolate beforehand. We also had a bit of a wander on the little beach, but that experience was spiled by the smelly toilets at the cafe/ticket booth.
The boat itself was a pleasant little chug along Ullswater. The weather was decent but we sat inside anyway, for some reason. All the boats here are run by Ullswater Steamers. There’s seemingly one one route from Glenridding, but boats run it both clockwise and anti-clockwise. So we took the route that goes direct from Glenridding to Aira Force. Well, not to Aira Force itself. That would be difficult, what with it involving a lot of climbing. The boat goes to a jetty on the lake at the bottom of the hill below Aira Force.
Up We Go
This had been designated a non-climbing day, I think, all though we’d toyed with the idea of walking up to the pub in Dockray. Anyway, we started in the National Trust car park at the bottom and picked our way up the eastern side of the stream. It was a harder walk than it should have been. The weather felt a bit oppresive, so it was a bit sweaty and fly-ridden when walking under the trees.
At Aira Force we paused for a while so I could attempt a virtual geocache. I couldn’t find the necessary information, so we took a few photos and moved onwards and upwards.
At High Force we decided to sit for a while on the rocks and watch the world go by. It was a very pleasant experience. The rocks here are out of the trees, so the sun could get to us. It was warm and really rather nice. While we were sitting here we decided that continuing on to Dockray wasn’t really necessary, so we just headed back down the west side of the stream.
When we got back to Aira Force the kids sat on a bench while me and Kas went for another go at the virtual cache. We still couldn’t find the information. When we got home I checked with the owner, and they said there was a possibility it was missing, so I should go ahead and just log a find. I’d clearly been to the location and attempted to find it, so they were happy.
We got to the bottom of the hill and retired to the National Tust cafe for some lunch. We felt we’d earned it. And anyway, being a non-walking day, none of us was carrying much to eat. I went for a cornish pasty, which was pretty good. So good that I can’t remember what anyone else had.
Anyway, we finished up in good time for the 3pm boat home. Ami had wandered off down the hill somewhere and we weren’t quite sure where she was for a short time. But as we all left, hoping she was somewhere nearby, I spotted her and all was good.
The boat back was uninspiring but still good. The car was where I’d left it, and it was in good enough condition to get us back to Ambleside.
It was quite early when we got home, so there was some snoozing before deciding it was “everyone get your own” night for dinner. I went for some chili/tomato/bacon sauce on pasta. It hit the spot nicely.
And that was about it for the day.
A Big Hole and a Little Hill
A Cunning Plan
Well, to be honest, there wasn’t that much of a plan. We had a loose collection of ideas, and my idea involved climbing Holme Fell.
One member of the family wanted to engage in some electronic queuing in search of tickets to see Taylor Swift. That’s not really a full-family activity, because not all of us wanted to go see her anyway. My small plan was therefore to go do something else instead. As it happened there was one activity I wanted to do that said family member wouldn’t, so that seemed to fit in nicely.
The task I wanted to do was to complete an entry on my Difficulty/Terrain geocaching grid. When the holiday began I had two slots left to fill. One of those was to find a Difficulty 1 / Terrain 5. Those are quite rare beasts, but it happens there’s one in the Lake District, near to Holme Fell. I managed to persuade Ami to come with me, as she also wasn’t interested in the Taylor Swift activity, but would be up for it if she knew there could be a Wainwright involved.
Going Rapidly Downhill
The geocache I needed to do was at Hodge Close Quarry. This was a short drive from where we were staying, but did seem to involve an extended drive up a very narrow road. I wasn’t really sure about that, and certainly on the way up I went through a few “moments” because the road surface was quite bad. Thankfully though, nobody came the other way and there was plenty of decent parking at the top end.
The access into the quarry was described as a bit of a scramble. It was also supposedly quite hard to find. We were armed with detailed instructions and hence knew where to go, but even then it was quite an experience. It was a rough boulder path which descended really steeply towards the foot of the quarry. The route was easy enough to follow, but there was a claustrophobic feel caused by the tree cover. If you are a Lord of the Rings fan it could be described as a cross between Mirkwood and the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. We didn’t see any Hobbits on the way down, and thankfully the stones were fairly dry, but you get the picture. It was steep, dark, and a bit treacherous. I would not suggest going down there in poor light, or in rain.
At the bottom there’s a big open bowl with a couple of short tunnels and excavated stopes (and fewer trees) In one of the tunnels there’s some old mining equipment that looks like rails or a heavy mount for some lifting equipment. Through it, you can see out to the deeper part of the quarry, which is now filled with water.
The subject of the visit was an Earthcache called Hodge Close Quarry. An Earthcache is basically a lesson in geomorphology. In this case, the lesson concerned slate. Funny that, what with this being an old slate quarry.
Also in the bottom was a physical cache called Down Down Deeper and Down. This was supposedly quite hard due to the poor GPS signal. The page advises you use the spoiler photo, but of course I had no access to that because of the lack of phone signal. This could, therefore, have ended in utter disaster. The hint was something like “under a lump of slate” – absolutely no help here. I furtled around for a while looking at likely places without success. Then from over the other side of a rock heap from me, Ami expressed enthusiasm towards a cluster of rocks. She has a canny eye, that one. It was, indeed, the correct cluster of rocks. So that was a relatively high difficulty/terrain item for the collection.
Let’s Get Outta Here
The walk back up Cirith Ungol was easier than the descent. Somehow I always find climbing mentally easier than descending. Maybe because when you’re going down you can see where you’re going to fall if you trip. When you’re climbing, you can’t see where you’ll fall. Anyway, it seemed easier getting out.
Objective #2 for the day was to climb Holme Fell. This is a low-lying fell in comparison to many. Indeed, of the 214 Wainwrights it is numbered 213, so the second lowest. That doesn’t make it easy though. It was quite a rough trek. One thing about the lower fells is that they aren’t so well-trodden. As a result, the paths can be harder to see. In the case of Holme Fell, there’s also a confusing secondary top called Ivy Crag.
The Real Holme Fell
Ivy Crag has a massive cairn and it was this that we saw from our route up. So we started getting lunch out when we got there until I realised it was likely that the geocache I had in my sights was most likely at the true summit. There was another cairn at the proper summit so we grabbed a seat and some lunch. We spent a very pleasant half hour sitting up there admiring the views across Coniston Water and towards Wetherlam.
It started raining a bit while we were up there (to be honest, it was alternating sun and rain most of the day) so we called it quits and started walking down.
The car was where I left it, and thankfully there was nobody coming the other way all the way down too. And I remembered where the biggest pothole had been, and so avoided it.
Back in Ambleside
Kas and Venus had been able to obtain their Taylor Swift tickets after a moderate wait, and had spent the rest of the time chilling, buying coffee, and generally not doing a lot.
After a short discussion, we agreed to try the local Thai restaurant. Takeaway rather than sitty-inny though. So we ordered way, way too much food online and then me and Kas set off down the street to go collect it. The food was generally quite good but the kids had ordered a few things they ultimately weren’t keen on. As a result, there was loads too much.
But aside from that it was a good day. Taylor tickets are in the bag, and I now have only one spot on my Difficulty/Terrain grid to fill. And Ami got to do a Wainwright she otherwise might never have done. Result. Something for everyone.
Walking with Alpacas
Away back when we were planning the holiday, Kas suggested we could go waling with alpacas. A couple of years ago we spent a couple of hours feeding them down at the Lakes Distillery and the kids loved it. The same company that keeps them and does the feeding at the Distillery also does the walks in Whinlatter. This was one of the few activities where I pre-booked tickets. They seemed quite busy and had limited spots, despite it not being the summer holidays, so I thought it was wise to “book early to avoid disappointment” as they used to say on the telly.
The alpaca walk wasn’t booked until 3:30 in the afternoon, which meant we had quite a lot of day to fill up before then.
Kas filled her time by taking her bike out for a ride around various bits of Windermere. I spent much of the morning walking around Ambleside clearing up the few geocaches in town that I hadn’t already done. All apart from one, which became my proverbial Moby Dick. Anyway, bum to that one. Unsurprisingly, the kids spent their morning at home doing not very much.
When we were all back home, we took a walk around to the sandwich shop (now one of our favourite haunts) and bought some things for lunch. We had lunch at home rather than out, but it’s still nice to have someone else make the sandwiches for you.
This left us all good and ready to leave the house at about 1pm.
The Sweetie Shop
As we had plenty of time before meeting the alpacas, we drove into Keswick to attempt two now-traditional activities for our holidays in the Lake District. The first of these was to visit a shop on the market square to buy a load of chocolate-based goodies. This was achieved relatively quickly.
The second was for me to have a crack at another Moby Dick activity. I needed to complete a series of Adventure Labs in the town. I’d previously failed on these because of a combination of poor phone signal and lack of ability to spot the required information.
This time around I was determined they would not beat me. One set was a sequential one, so basically if you can’t do one stage you’re not able to move to the others. I found what I thought was the right information but again struggled with phone signal. I wondered if the pub just down the road had a free wi-fi. It did. So I sponged off that whilst standing outside. That meant I could complete this step, and the next one. For the third step I had to move down the road to a completely different pub, and at the final step I had enough of a phone signal to complete it. So still a bit frustrating to do, but I got them done.
Enough of Keswick
I called one of the kids to ask where they were and they were (conveniently) a bit further along the main road, having been drawn in by a tempting looking gallery containing artworks by a local artist. That turned out to be Kas’s holiday treat to herself.
We left about half an hour to get up to Whinlatter from Keswick. That turned out to be more than plenty, and it meant we had time for a quick service break before meeting up with the alpacas. Technically, we met first with their handlers, and were then escorted to their base, which was just off the main car park.
Meeting our Alpacas
The form was that we each got an alpaca to walk. There were about 10 in the group, and we had one each. These were all males. They keep the females elsewhere (in fact, I think the ones at the Lakes Distillery were females). Anyway, they keep them separate.
It turned out that they have individual names, and distinct personalities. I was assigned a mainly white-furred geezer Albert, who I from then onwards referred to as “Al”. Ami was assigned another white-furred one called Barney.
Venus was assigned a brown-furred fella called Milky Joe. His name, apparently, stems from the mess he used to make when they had to bottle feed him as a baby. Milky Joe was known for being a bit jittery, even by alpacas standards. Kas was assigned another brown-furred one called Michael. Michael is known for being Milky Joe’s very own fanboy. He wants to go everywhere that Milky Joe does, always follows and never leads, and gets upset if people or other alpacas shove inbetween them. His attention goes apparently unheeded by Milky Joe.
So enough of the introductions. We were asked to lead the alpacas in single-file and to try to ensure they didn’t eat any of the plants. We walked mainly around the gravelled paths of the forest, but some of the plants at the fringes aren’t great for alpacas, so no nibbling allowed. The walking pace was, I have to say, quite sedate. The animals are extremely cautious and are happy to walk in a straight line at a plodding sort of pace. The only downside was that they tend to attract the flies a little bit. I seemed to spend the whole time swatting flies of my head and arms. Apart from that it was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
Time for a Rest
By the time we were done we were ready for a drink, so we went into the cafe at Whinlatter and had cold drinks, ice creams, and whatever else. It had been one of the warmest days of the holiday, so we felt we’d earned one.
For dinner we’d decided to try the Pheasant Inn in Bassenthwaite rather than cooking at home. It was Sunday, after all, and we didn’t fancy having to cook Sunday dinner whilst on holiday. In any case, it was well after 5pm when we were finished at Whinlatter. They found us a table fairly quickly and we had a decent meal. I don’t think any of us had the Sunday roast.
The drive home was uninspiring, and when we got back the girls mainly disappeared into their rooms for reading or snoozing. I sat in the lounge for a while to watch the highlights of England beating Australia in the Test Match. It was the first time we’d switched the TV on in the week we’d been there. The highlights were so good that I then found all of the daily highlights programme on catch-up and watched them back-to-back, which made a late night for me. Never mind. I’m on holiday.
Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum
The middle Saturday of our two week holiday. we hadn’t really planned anything specific but the weather looked a bit shady and three of us were kind of tired after the previous day’s exersions. So we decided not to attempt another significant walk. We opted to pick “Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum” from the list of proposed activities. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but that’s one of the joys of a holiday.
My day started with toast and sausages. While I was lying in bed I wasn’t feeling particularly sore. But then I tried to get up and regretted it. I was also very, very tired. So some toast and sausages and a stiff coffee helped get me back on track.
Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum is a privately run affair near to Threlkeld Village. To be honest, the village seems to sprawl across both sides of the A66 so I have no idea whether it’s actually in the village or not. Anyway, it’s on the south side of the village, nestling on the end of the big ridge that has Helvellyn in the middle and Clough Head at the north end. On the other side, the village sits beneath Blencathra.
According to their own website, the quarry itself is a regionally important geological site (RIGS) and displays contacts between the “Skiddaw Slate” and the granite intrusion, as well as other fascinating features. From what we could tell, the main quarrying was in the granite that forms the Helvellyn ridge.
Back at the plot, we started by paying our entry fee and wandering around the museum part. They have some interesting displays of local and global geology, rock samples, and also a nice array of older mining tools. They also have some quarrying tools, but those are mainly large, mechanical, and outside.
From here we went to the bit the kids were looking forward to. They have diverted a small part of a local stream to run through a flat area of ground. Into that water they periodically throw a number of small but shiny mineral samples no bigger than peas. When raked into the bedrock this gives a not-very-authentic-but-fun-nevertheless opportunity for some panning. You grabbed a pan and a collection pot from the office and just kind of jumped in.
To be honest, when we were there, the water was quite shallow, so we more or less just walked through it picking out the shiny bits from the stream bed. Once the pots were full the kids were still going strong, so I wandered to the office for more rather than let the kids just fill their pockets. They weren’t fussed and just gave me another load for nothing. So that was that.
1pm was time for us to take the short train ride through the quarry. It was a bit ricketty and took us uphill into the main bowl of the quarry. Up here they had a bunch more quarrying machinery, including a big power shovel. Big enough that we could fit into the bucket.
The train was driven by an older gentleman who had a striking resemblance to Captain Birdseye, but let’s not go too far down that line. I stood chatting with him for a while before the train came. He was a bit old skool but very interesting to talk to.
The train ride was only five minutes or so. So we got back to the museum before 2pm and decidced we were done at the museum.
Local advice was to go try the Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld village for some lunch. It was a busy little place, but maybe partly because it started raining just as we arrived. But we got seated fairly easily and they did very nice sandwiches.
The rest of the afternoon disappeared in a frenzy of nothingness. We drove home and lazed around for the rest of the afternoon. Then we ventured to the Co-Op to buy some stuff for the evening. I didn’t want much, so I got stuff for nachos. And that was the end of another day, apart from doing a bit of reading before I went to bed.