Lake District 2023
July 1st to 15th 2023
We gave Minimus a free choice of where to go on holiday after finishing GCSEs.
The Lake District, obviously.
- Driving Up
- Wray Castle
- Helm Crag
- Infinity Pools
- Holme Fell
- Aira Force
- All Over
Setting the Scene
It had been a couple of busy days in the Gardner household leading up to the start of the holiday. The day for driving up was a Saturday, but there’d been some running around going on beforehand. In fact, I’d been off from work since Wednesday night.
On Thursday, I’d been given the chance to attend a hospitality day at Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch the second day of an England vs Australia men’s test match. This was weird for me, because a couple of weeks previously I’d also been for a (rainy) day at Edgbaston. Anyway, Lord’s was a hospitality day that had been postponed from the previous year. That year, I was supposed to be going to England vs South Africa at The Oval but we had the misfortune to be scheduled the day following the day on which The Queen passed away. The result was that the cricket was canceled for the day, but the trains were also canceled, so I couldn’t have got there even if they’d been playing.
That’s all ancient history though. Back at the plot, I was in London all day Thursday, and Daughterus Minimus had her school prom in the evening, having just finished her GCSEs. The prom was put on the middle evening between two mandatory taster sessions the school had organised for sixth form. That meant Minimus has a long day in school, then a long night out, then another long day at school. And it also meant she needed to be packed for the holiday by Wednesday night, more or less.
I also had the Friday off, and I spent it packing, preparing, and generally doing. In the middle of the afternoon I decided I was a bit hacked off with trousers being too small, so I went out to buy some new ones.
The Motorways of the English Midlands
We were all ready to rock by about 10:30am. We had planned to take both cars. Kas needed to go to Swansea for a triathlon event on the Sunday after the holiday, so she took her triathlon gear, bike, and other stuff in her own car. Casual gear, and everyone else’s luggage went into my car. The kids split themselves between the two cars so both drivers had some company for the drive. That also meant we could drop the back seats in my car, and hence have room for enough luggage to keep Napoleon’s armies happy for a fortnight.
The drive up the M1, M6 and M6 Toll was as boring as you could hope for. Traffic wasn’t bad and the weather was good. When we got around the far end of the toll road it was time for a lunch break, so we stopped at Norton Canes. I had hoped it wouldn’t be too busy, because we weren’t quite in the school holidays. But it was heaving. Me and Ami weren’t very hungry so we just took drinks and snacks for the car. Kas and Venus were more hungry, so they had some “proper” food.
We stopped again at Burton-in-Kendal for a service break and to swap passengers. Venus had been riding with Kas, but Kas wanted Ami with her for the final stretch in case any interpretation of maps was needed. I have a good memory for driving to places I’ve been before, so I was comfortable to get to Ambleside unassisted. Anyway, we always have the satnav onboard if needed.
And here we are
Having said the M6 was a bit slow, we actually arrived in Ambleside at 4pm. Given that we didn’t set off until 10:30am, that’s decent progress.
Arriving at 4pm meant we were able to collect the keys for our cottage from an open office rather than having to use the out-of-hours key-safe-in-the-garage method. We’d booked through Sykes Cottages and the property was managed by Heart of the Lakes. Judging by the similarities in their two websites, I am suspected the two are related. Anyway, Heart of the Lakes have an office on the south side of Ambleside, conveniently just off the road we were using to drive in.
Keys were duly acquired and we set off to find the property, which was very conveniently located right in the middle of Ambleside. This had the advantage that most nights we’d be able to go out to eat without taing a car.
The property itself was probably roughly what I expected. In my experience, places are always a bit smaller than thery appear in the brochures. In this case, the property was a mid-terrace on a residential street. We knew this, of course. What’s not obvious, though, is that it was quite narrow. It evidently used to be a proverbial two-up-two-down. Since then, it had been converted with the addition of a third floor bedroom and bathroom and a big extension to the rear which contained a large kitchen area. Overall it was good, but the sleeping and living rooms were a little small.
So once we’d done the allocation of rooms, the next job was to go and buy enough food to see us through breakfast. We’d already decided we’d do a “proper” shop on Sunday, as we weren’t planning to leave Ambleside. We’d also decided we were eating out. That meant we just needed some basics to tide us over. All of those could be found at the Co-Op, which was literally round the corner.
We also attempted a bit of shopping but realised quickly that most of the souvenir shops close at 5pm. We ended up buying a set of Ordnance Survey maps of the area. This was partly because we somehow lost the previous set. We also plumped for the laminated ones so that (theoretically) we could carry them with us and use them even in the wet. In practice, I don’t think they made it out of the cottage until we came home.
After our previous trip in 2021, we all had good memories of eating at The Tap Yard, so we thought we’d give it a go. We were able to get a table quite early, so availed ourselves of some quality comestibles and beverages. We couldn’t stay long though. Apparently they do take advance bookings on 50% of the tables and ours was one of the ones they wanted back. In fact, we finished eating by 7:30pm anyway, so all was good.
Too Early to Stop
Kas and Venus wanted to go crash in the house but me and Ami were up for a bit of a leg-stretch, having spent much of the day in the car. We decided it would be useful to survey central Ambleside for nice-looking restaurants, so we wandered around taking photos of every menu we could find. Into the mix we also found a few local art galleries and had a walk around Rothay Park.
We spent a very pleasant hour or so walking. Eventually though, the day caught up with us and we joined the other two for some industrial-grade doing of nothing. And maybe some beer.
Start Me Up!
I don’t know what Mick Jagger uses to get him going, but I like a bacon sandwich and some coffee. So that’s what I had. It was our first full day in Ambleside, and there was some serious settling in to be done, so I thought I’d start off in a happy mood.
After a lot of driving yesterday, and, to be honest a lot of running around in the few days before coming, we’d decided we weren’t going anywhere in the car on this day.
On that basis, I got out of bed in an unhurried way and took time over my bacon sandwich until it was late-morning. Kas was out running around Grasmere and the kids were in no hurry. Venus joined me for a sandwich though. Well, I made two, rather than sharing one.
A Bit of Shopping
What we did plan to do during the day was some shopping. For that, just read that there aren’t many things to do in Ambleside itself unless you are buying food or buying other things, so that’s what we planned to do.
First up we went to the rock shop. V wanted some more decorative rocks, so why not. After that we headed a bit further up the same street to gawp at souvenirs, jewellry, and other bits and bobs.
Both of those places were up the same street, one which ran slightly out of the main centre. From there we returned to the central area and decided it was lunchtime. We picked Sheila’s Cottage and were lucky enough that they had space for us. We had a selection of soup and sandwiches, all of which were good except one of our number picked a sandwich filling she didn’t like.
After lunch we continued our wanderings around Ambleside. After all, Ambleside has two dedicated chocolate shops and a fudge shop. We visited all of them but only made significant purchases from the fudge shop. I guess the chocolate shops weren’t up to the standard we were anticipating in Keswick later in the holiday.
- Luxury edibles
- Artwork mainly focussed on the local area
- Outdoor clothing and equipment
There’s not a lot else in Ambleside, to be honest, apart from restaurants and pubs. There’s loads of them.
And that was more or less it for activity during our first day. In the afternoon I went for a snooze but got caught up watching the end of the test match I’d seen part of on Thursday. It was a bit of a tense finish, so I didn’t get much sleep in.
We popped out to the Co-Op to get fooded up and then we had dinner at home. Venus fancied a simple pasta dish, and the rest of us had some Cajun chicken and rice.
It was kind of a relaxing and chilled day, which was good considering what we had planned for the following day.
Always start off with a good breakfast
On the plan today was our first mountain walking expedition of the holiday. Just outside Ambleside is the moderately-sized Baystones. It can be reached (for us) without needing to use the car, which was a Brucie Bonus. I decided the key to successful walking was a good breakfast, so I got up nice and early to make some sauges, mushrooms and bacon.
We were all ready to leave at about 9am, which was remarkable. The route to Baystones from where we were staying involved walking through the twon centre and (almost) past a nice-looking sandwich shop we’d spotted. We’d provisioned ourselves with drinks, crisps and fudge already. That meant we only needed some sandwiches to make lunch complete (and to fill up the remaining space in our rucksacks).
Anyway, the route up to Baystones goes up the road that leads to Stockghyll Force. That’s somewhere which seems to be on our “every trip” roster for the Lake District. We went there in 2019 and 2021. We are creatures of habit really. But back at the plot, walking that way was a little more interesting than walking up the road. The waterfall was, as ever, watery and falling. We took a few photos before beginning the serious business of trying to get up the hill.
We made a slight error at the top of the waterfall. It looked likethere might be an exit out onto the road if we followed the path around the top. There wasn’t. So we had to go back down a bit and follow the sign (who’da thought it).
Up We Go
Once past the waterfall, the ascent starts with a short walk along a road. It then turns right onto a steep path that can be seen from most of Ambleside (if you know what you’re looking for). And by steep, I mean really steep. Baystones might not be very big, but the sides are steep and from Ambleside there isn’t really any other way.
We’d made a plan that we would try to walk for 45 minutes and then break for 15 rather than just walking until everyone was tired. Our first break came, very conveniently, at a gate alongside a wall that was good to sit on. There was also a geocache right nearby. Kas and me went to find it while the kids sat for a while.
It became clear as we were walking that the 45 minute / 15 minute policy was not adequate. We were basically having to stop for a breather every 5 minutes or so, and as a result we switched to walking for 10 minutes and then having a standing rest for a couple. By the time we reached the end of the second 45 minutes were were maybe two-thirds of the way up from the road and we decided it would be a good time to sit in the shelter of some rocks and have some pringles and fudge.
We were also slowed down, to be honest, by the constant need to adjust clothing as the weather swapped between sunshine, cloud and rain. The rain was heavy enough to warrant a coat, but the sunshine was strong enough to warrant no coat. There was a shower about every 15 minutes, and as a result, one or other of us was stopping to change clothing every few steps, or so it seemed.
Surprisingly, the top took us just another half hour from this point. The first “top” you reach from Ambleside is actually Wansfell Pike, at an altitude of 482m. For some reason, Alfred Wainwright decided that this particular hill is only notable for Baystones – a second peak a mile to the north and a few metres higher. Wansfell doesn’t get much of a mention, despite many fell walkers (apparently) thinking Wansfell is much the nicer of the two. Anyway, back at the plot, the view from Wansfell Pike is awesome. You get glimpses of Windermere as you’re walking up but from the top you can see the whole thing, as well as excellent vistas across most of the fells in the south-east, south and south-west. The view to the north is rather obscured by the peaks of the Fairfield Horseshoe. Basically, you can’t see Helvellyn or Skiddaw because Fairfield is in the way. Ho hum!
Baystones peak is, as I said, about a mile to the north. On Google streetview it looks like a short and easy walk, but it’s far from that. We made our first mistake of the day here by trying to walk there before lunch, rather than taking lunch where we were. It was only about 11:30 so we figured it wasn’t really lunchtime. So off we went, across an undulating and boggy surface. It took us maybe an hour to get to Baystones, by which time we’d had enough. We should really have taken a break but the lure of the next peak took over from any commonsense. This lead to a slightly grumpy child for a while. Fair enough. We said we’d keep stopping, and then we didn’t.
At the top of Baystones the weather seemed to have settled into being sunny and windy, but the threat of rain seemed to have gone. We joined a bunch of other walkers and sat down on the grass near the summit cairn for our lunch. We took time to pick a spot in the lee of the wind, which meant we were facing east towards Yoke and the Kentmere Horseshoe. The view was pretty good for such an average-sized mountain. And to be honest, once you got down out of the wind it was lovely weather and I could have stayed there for ages.
However, we had other appointments to be getting on with. First up was the walk back to Wansfell. On the return, we split into two parties. Kas and Venus walked straight there, and discovered it was much quicker and easier if you know the route. Ami and me ducked downhill towards Troutbeck halfway along while i attempted a geocache. It proved to be a steep descent to get to it and quite a tricky find. It also meant we were now 60m or so below the other two, but at least we had a good path to walk up.
You’ve gotta get up to get down, as it were. We’d done the getting up, so we were suitably positioned for getting down. As we were staying in Ambleside we had little choice but to go back the way we came. Descending the path seemed just as hard as climbing, although we did go a little quicker. I think mainly we were taking fewer and shorter breaks.
Once we were back on the road we were accosted by a family in a car that was looking for the waterfall. We showed them the route, but as can be the case in Cumbria, there was no nearby parking. They parked up at the cafe we were about to walk into, but discovered quickly that they weren’t supposed to park there. So they left again.
The cafe concerned was The Force – a place so new that the attached hotel and car park were still a building site. However the cafe was open and had a fine terrace overlooking the town. By this time the sun had been out for a while and it was quite warm. The girls wanted to sit in the shade, which seemed a waste to me, but they’re in the majority. i snuck over for a peer over the edge though. The cafe treated us to drinks and some chips, which we felt we’d earned. I had beer, because I knew we only had downhill walking to do. A rather nice, locally-brewed stout, as it happened.
Back to Town
The walk back down was all along roads, so we got through it quickly. We gave the kids the key so they could go home, but Kas wanted to do a bit of retail therapy. I decided to stay with her. She wanted some new walking shoes. I was in the mood for a purchase too. First thing in the morning I’d tried my walking boots on but they were hurting, so I went up in walking shoes. These were OK but not ideal, so I decided to discuss boots with a guy in a “proper” shop.
His recommendation was that I’d been wearing boots that are way too small for me. The trick, apparently, is to take the insole out and stand on it. The insole should be about a finger’s width longer than your foot. That allows your feet to spread and move while you are walking, and prevents your toes from impacting in the front of the boot when you’re going downhill. The key to success though, is that you also need to be able to tighten the bridge of the foot and the ankles so that your feet don’t move. That causes me a problem because I have long, thin feet and narrow ankles. As a result it took me a while to get a boot that felt OK. And, of course, the ones they had in my size weren’t in the sale.
Oh bum to it! I wasn’t going to do a lot of hill walking without good boots, so I went for it. They had a policy of being able to return boots within 30 days so long as you’ve only worn them indoors. Given the location and the fact that it’s a tourist town, I suspect very few people exercise that option.
While we’d been up on the mountain, Ami had been exchanging emails with an Italian restaurant called Luigi’s and she’d managed to get us a table reservation. So after the retail therapy there was a bit of snooze time available before we had to get dressed and go out.
The restaurant turned out to be really good. So good, in fact, that we picked it for our final night meal, and booked a table while we were in there.
And then we went back home. The family dispersed, as they usually do when we’ve been out. I sat in the lounge and read a book for a while before hitting the hay. It had been an excellent day. Baystones was an excellent little mountain on which to test our levels of fitness.
I had quite a slow start to the morning. Breakfast was a quick affair for me. We’d pre-booked tickets for a boat on Windermere which would take us over to Wray Castle. We’d picked an 11am sailing and the pier was a mile down the road, so allowing for general mucking about we left at 10am.
My online receipt was exchanged for a physical ticket fairly quickly at the pier and we were directed to a particular jetty for our boat. It wasn’t due to leave for half an hour though, so we popped into a nearby cafe for coffee and hot chocolate. That passed the time for a bit.
The weather was a bit variable. It looked like rain, and the sky was grey and cloudy.
The boat turned up on time and we were fairly close to the front of the queue, so we grabbed some decent seats inside. We’d booked tickets for the “Green Cruise”, which only allows travel to Wray. That meant a short 15-minute ride out and we found ourselves at Wray around 11:20.
Wray Castle is a Victorian neo-gothic building on the west side of Windermere. It’s been in the possession of the National Trust for a hundred years or so. We were expecting there to be something significant to look at, but there wasn’t really. Most of the house is still being renovated. Two of the downstairs rooms have a photo exhibitions. One was of the family that built the house and the Potter family (of Beatrix fame). The other was an exhibition of “old skool” photos contrasting the work of a Victorian gentlemen and that of more of a rustic local. Forgive me for not remembering their names.
So that made us conclude it was lunchtime. Well, by most measures, it was lunchtime. In that it was well after nreakfast, and it was about 12:30. And we were hungry. The cafe at Wray Castle is an all-vegan affair, which I didn’t notice until we were in the queue. It’s not like there was anywhere else to go though, so what the hell. Turns out it was really good. I had a steakless pasty, which was essentially a meat and vegetable pie in pasty form, but with no actual meat. It was really good, to be honest.
What to do now
Because wandering around the house didn’t take long, we were left wondering how to fill our afternoon up. There were a few geocaches around the site but on questionning I wasn’t surprised to learn the girls didn’t want to do that. So we agreed I could go for a walk while they occupied themselves wandering around the grounds and searching for the beach on the lakeshore.
There were about 10 caches and they took me about an hour to do. Halfway round I bumped into the rest of the family, who were trying to get to the beach at the time.
We were ready for the return boat at 2pm. It really hadn’t taken long because to be honest there isn’t a lot there. We could just have lazed in the grass for a while, but equally we could go back.
Back we go
The Green Cruise took us straight across Windermere to a different location before going back to Ambleside. We weren’t bothered, but it meant the return took half an hour instead of 15 minutes.
We walked back into town and stopped off to buy a new raincoat for Minimus – I mean, everyone should have a coat that actually fits, right?
All this put us back at home quite early in the afternoon, but nobody was really in the mood for anything else, so we chilled until dinner time.
Dinner consisted of enchiladas for me and Minimus, with snacks and reheats for the others.
It had been a gently-paced day, to be honest.
In the Morning
Our fifth morning in the Lake District and not a lot going on for three-quarters of the family. I’d half-agreed the previous evening with Ami that we’d go for another hill walk in the afternoon. Notionally I needed to test out my new walking boots. Hmm! Anyway, we’d picked Helm Crag as a target.
Back at the plot, I did myself some bacon. mushrooms and toast for breakfast, because you can’t walk up big hills on an empty stomach. After that, Ami and me both had a final piece of equipment to go get sorted. When we walked Baystones she’d commented that the insoles in her boots were moving around. Eventually they got completely rutted up and were a bit useless. Cheap, giveaway insoles in boots that weren’t massively expensive… So we decided to go get that fixed. She’d initially suggested getting some superglue, but I thought a better idea would be to get some decent insoles. So off we went again to Gaynor Sports for a chat. We came out armed with some new insoles for Ami that made the boots fit more snuggly. And we came out with a similar item for my new boots, because, well, why not?
Where are we going then?
All of that insole buying meant we now had an urge to get out and walk up a hill. First of all we had to make sure Kas was back from her outdoor swim near Rydal Water. We swapped the cars around to leave hers outside the house, while me and Ami jumped in my car to get going.
Helm Crag is best accessed from Grasmere, and as it happened, one of the parking permits the house provided allowed for free parking in a number of car parks in the area. One of these was in the middle of Grasmere village. We did a single full lap of said car park before on the second lap the Gardner parking-karma kicked in and somebody backed out of a space right in front of me. Result. Put that permit in the window, Ami, and lets get our boots on!
Up to Helm Crag
From where I’d parked we had a bit of ground to cover through the village and up Easedale before reaching the footpath up the mountain. In fact, it was a mile or so, but at least it was over flat ground.
The path that leads from Easedale up to Helm Crag (the one closest to Grasmere, anyway) takes what you’d call a direct route. At the bottom it’s well marked with stones and is quite wide. A coupe of hundred metres off the road there’s a couple of gates and junctions in paths and then you come out of the trees and start to hit the steeper bits. By steeper, I mean steep. There seem to be two options and I remember reading that one is described as a scramble. We went for the other. That one takes a slightly gentler route but at least it was a discernable path of small stones through the bracken. Wherever it got really steep there were the usual built-in rocks forming irregular steps.
The climb up is not very long, because to be honest it’s not very far, despite the steepness. It’s about 300m of altitude above Grasmere village. The steepness made it a challenge but it was definitely quicker and easier than the walk up Baystones.
Once we were at the top, we were treated to excellent views back over Grasmere and Rydal Water to our south-east. To our north-east was the Helvellyn range and the top end of the Fairfield Horseshoe. Over the western side there was a decent view of Silver How, Blea Rigg and the more distant Langdale Pikes.
We decided to treat ourselves to a snack break whilst watching the skies and guessing how far away all the other hills were that we could see.
We were peering across to the west wondering which of the peaks along the ridge was Gibson Knott and which was Calf Crag. It all looked pretty flat and as a result we weren’t really sure. Estimating the distance was tricky and there are multiple, small hilltops there. But we were feeling full of energy so we decided we’d set off and try to get to Gibson Knott anyway. It looked about a mile away, but after a sharp drop from Helm Crag it wasn’t too steep.
It took us under half an hour to walk over to where my GPS said was the top of Gibson Knott It was the nearer of the two bigger crests we could see. The weather was still good so we sat for 10 minutes having another snack break. Ami decided this would be a good moment to fill in the relevant two pages in her “Diary of Doing the Wainwrights” that she’d acquired from Amazon. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or windy. That made for a pleasant 10 minutes for me staring at the clouds and along the views.
We decided that we were getting a bit short on time though, and the next stretch up to Calf Crag looked like further than the walk from Helm Crag. It also looked uphill. So we decided that would be enough for the day. We still had to get back down the hills, and heaven knows how long that would take.
Is it a Path?
Between the afternoon’s two peaks we’d noticed what looked like a better route back down into Easedale. It didn’t involve climbing back up to the top of Helm Crag to get to the original path, anyway. That made it better.
It turned out to be a challenging route back down, because it’s a footpath still under construction. What looked from above like steps below us were just big bags full of the stones used to make the steps. So the footpath was more of a loose gravel-covered slope with a few bits of grass. At least it was mainly dry though, and not very far down. Soon enough we were on much more level ground and close to the footpath that runs all the way along the base of Easedale.
The path at the bottom was mainly flat, so we walked it pretty quickly and got back to Grasmere Village. We’d been away from the car for a little under four hours, which seemed good.
In the village I persuaded Ami to let me go and do a couple of geocache stages near the church, and then we jumped into the car to come back to Ambleside. There were a couple more stages by the museum out on the main road, so we did those two.
Back at home, all was well and the two remaining members of the household had decided we were having dinner at the Flying Fleece in Ambleside. It turned out to be a good choice. We had some moxed starters. Venus picked a tomato soup, and it was very, very good.
After hill walking I felt I’d earned a pie of the day, and they confirmed that it was indeed a proper pie, rather than a casserole with a hat on. The pie-ness was enhanced by it being served with chips, mushy peas and gravy.
And that was us for another day. Nobody had the space or energy for pudding, and the girls were tired, so they all jacked it in as soon as we got home. I probably stayed up for a while typing notes for blog posts or reading a book.
What the Actual?
When we were planning the holiday, all of, ooh, a few days ago, Minimus made a request that we had a few days that didn’t involve massive amounts of walking. Fair enough. So we had to find a few other things. One of the suggestions was from a blog about quick walks to do in the Lake District. That suggestion was to go to Buttermere and walk up to find the infinity pools. I think the blog concerned is walkmyworld.com.
To be honest, I’d only ever heard the phrase before in the context of a swimming pool. You know, the ones where at least one edge of the pool is absolutely level with the water. What was new to me is that the term is also used in the context of pools in a stream. And at the head end of Buttermere is one such place.
Before All That
So before all that, I had some toast for breakfast and Kas wandered over to our favourite sandwich shop in Ambleside to get some stuff for lunch. The plan was to have a lazy drive and walk up to the place, then have a freezing cold swim before eating lunch and coming home. All very laid back and non-strenuous, you’d think.
The drive over involved us going to Keswick and then down Borrowdale and over the Honister Pass. We could have gone the long way round, but in summer this is probably the best route, despite the big hill. Anyway, we parked at Gatesgarth Farm, in a public car park which was great apart from having to pay by cash. Thankfully, I had my pot of coins in the car with me.
The infinity pools were about 2km away from where we parked, in the valley at the head of Buttermere. The pools themselves are in the Warnscale Beck, and accessing them required a walk along a (mainly) flat and well-maintained footpath. We were not alone, though. Two women walked past us as we were on the way, and we could see another group of people already there as we walked.
It would be fair to say the weather was marginal too. It had been raining for much of the way over. Well, it always rains in Borrowdale, so that’s no surprise, but it was raining when we parked up too, and it continued to drizzle a bit while we were walking. Thankfully it was quite warm still.
Anyway, we followed the exact walking instructions whilst also just heading for where everyone else was.
In We Go
At the pools we found a set of rocks we could easily use to form a base camp. Kas had gone up in her swimming cozzy, and I had my swimming kecks on under my trousers, so we were both prepared. I’d also anticipated I’d be better off if I took my “floppy feet” that I’d bought a year earlier at the water park in Crete. I knew they’d come in handy one day.
Neither of the kids had either dressed in, or taken with them, any swimming clothes, so they had obviously both settled beforehand for just having a plodge in the water.
Kas went straight for a swim in the main pool. I was a little more circumspect and started by going upstream a bit and plodging in the stream up to my knees. The water was really quite cold. I was glad I had the floppy feet with me, because the underfoot conditions were rather unforgiving in the top pool. After a while, and once a few of the others had left it, I decided to gird my loins and go for a dip in the main pool.
The pool itself was maybe 4m across and 6m long. Not very big at all, but it lived up to the description. there was essentially a flat lip with a barely discernable lip where, I suppose, the water flows when water levels are low. There was a bit flowing out all the way across on the day we went, but then it had been raining quite a lot. I have to say that whilst the water was take-your-breath-away cold, it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience. I was able to bum-shuffle over a smooth rock and then gradually ease myself into the pool. There’s a nice rock slope that allows you to climb in gently rather than just diving in all at once. So in I went, admiring the view down the valley as I went.
I won’t say it was a life-changing experience, but it was certainly worth the trip and definitely not something I’ve ever done before. I didn’t last very long though. Becuase the pool isn’t big enough to move around in very much, you get cold really quickly. So out I climbed and grabbed my towel to get dry and warm. Kas wasn’t far behind me.
As we were getting out, a group of older ladies from (I believe) Hartlepool arrived to have a go at it. So while they were getting ready to go in, we were getting ready to go back. We left them alone at the pool.
First of all we walked back to the car, and it was very conveniently where we’d left it.
On the way over I wasn’t over keen with driving over Honister Pass. Descending the Buttermere side seemed a lot steeper than climbing from Borrowdale, especially at the top. But I manned up a bit and went for it. A part of that is that there’s a National Trust cafe at the car park in Rosthwaite and we were about ready for some warming refreshments.
The refreshments ended up being hot chocolates and coffees and some cakes. What else are National Trust cafes for? That experience was made better by being able to par in the NT car park for nothing.
That was about our lot for the day though. It was supposed, after all, to be an easy day. So from Rosthwaite we made the 45 minute drive back to Ambleside and got back home quite early in the afternoon.
We’d booked dinner at Ishaa’s Indian Eatery and we had ample time to get ready for it. It turned out to be very good. I was also quite impressed with both kids exploring the menu a bit. Both orderied things they normally wouldn’t order at home. Maybe they are growing up a bit.
Back at home, I had a beer and read for a while. It had been another good day, doing an activity I wouldn’t have chosen. I really enjoyed it though. It turned out to be one of the best things on the holiday.
The plan for today was to do a massive mountainous walk. Minimus wasn’t bought into the idea so she decided to stay home and have a day of chillin’ in Ambleside. The rest of us had an appointment with the Langdale Pikes. Langdale is home to a seven Wainwrights in close proximity, which offers the opportunity for a monster hill walking day. Of the seven, we’d all done Pavey Ark before. I’d also been to Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise and Sergeant Man. That was on my weekend with the lads in 2018. So two new Wainwrights for me, and six for Ami and Kas.
My day began with a light breakfast and the by now traditional fetching of sandwiches from the shop down the high street. From there, we fetched my car round to leave it outside the house. We all jumped in Kas’s car to head up Langdale.
The accommodation we were in had streetside parking and provided a permit for one car. We had both with us though, because Kas was off to Swansea for an event at the end of the holiday. They also provided a permit to use in multiple public car parks in the south lakes. That meant we could always have one car at the house and one in a public park. During the day, while we were out, we made a habit of leaving a car outside the house, just to make sure we had the space available when we came home.
We left home at about 9 am.
Up We Go
So at about 9:40 we were in the National Trust Car Park at the foot of Dungeon Ghyll and ready to rock.
The walk up to Stickle Tarn took us about 80 minutes, which I was quite happy with given my poor state of fitness. We had a short break at the tarn before setting off for Pavey Ark. As ever we decided to climb the so called North Rake, which leads fairly steeply up the eastern side of the mountain’s crag. The weather had been distinctly iffy all the way so far, with the peaks going in and out of cloud and there being a bit of breeze. When we got to North Rake it was also raining.
The weather forecast said it was due to get better as the day went on, so we didn’t shirk. The walk up the rake was quite slow because of the damp, but it’s still the best route, in my opinion.
We reached the top of Pavey Ark at about midday and decided that was good enough for lunchtime. After peering over the edge and taking photos we found a sheltered hollow and nestled down for our sandwiches.
The Other Pikes
After lunch we made our way over to Harrison Stickle. It looks easy from Pavey Ark, but in fact it was a pain in the backside. I think we chose the worse of the two paths across, and as a result we were doing a lot more ascending and descending than we needed as well as it being uneven underfoot.
Harrison is the highest point of the four pikes though, so it was always going to be a bit uphill from where we were. Finding the top of Harrison Stickle proved a challenge, but by this time the weather was improving and the views were pretty spectacular.
From Harrison, the walk over to Loft Crag was the next in sequence. Loft Crag is relatively modest compared to the peaks surrounding it, but nevertheless the view was impressive.
Next up was Pike of Stickle, which is much more prominent. When we got to the foot of this one we started the scramble up and I frankly had a bit of a moment where I nearly didn’t bother. It seemed really steep and craggy to me. Sometimes my onboard defense mechanism kicks in, especially if I’m a bit tired. Ultimately though, I decided to go for it.
The view from the top was excellent again, and we took the time to have a second lunch break. It had been more than a couple of hours since the previous lunch break at Pavey Ark.
All the time I was up there I was a bit apprehensive about having to come down again, but once I got into it I gained a lot of confidence and we were down in no time. Looking back, I wonder what I was worried about, especially after looking back at North Rake on Pavey Ark while we were walking back down.
Over the Flat(ter) Bits
Next up was a long but flat-looking walk over grass from Pike of Stickle to Thunacar Knott. It wasn’t as flat as it seems, to be honest. We actually descended about 50m and then ascended another 70m, but you don’t notice because it’s a long way. It was sufficiently far that we needed a little rest halfway over.
From Thunacar Knott, the walk over to High Raise is similar to the last stretch. It’s about a mile and a half with about 30m drop and then 80m climb. It takes a long time to notice you’re going upwards though. Eventually you reach a point where you can no longer see the summit from the path, and it gets a bit steeper from there.
The top of High Raise is good from the perspective of having a view around most of the area, but you can’t see any lakes and can only see the (unimpressive) backs of the Langdale Pikes. It is the highest point in the area though.
By this time it was nearly 4 pm and I was getting tired. The others were a bit too. So, one more Wainwright to do, which was the barely noticable Sergeant Man. Wikipedia describes this as a secondary peak of High Raise, but notable because it is rocky and craggy. The rest of High Raise is grassy. To be honest though, the grassiness means the paths are tricky to follow. We needed the GPS maps to show us which bit was actually Sergeant Man. When we were there, there was another guy there who was unaware he was on a separate Wainwright.
Where’s The Path
The best reason for going to High Raise and Sergeant Man is that you get to avoid descending the North Rake. That means a flatter and grassy way down, but also, as I should remember, a route down that is very difficult to follow. We strayed a bit and kept ending up on seemingly impassable bits. Eventually, we were at a point where we could see a clear route over grass back to the path around the tarn.
By the time we got back to the tarn it was well after 5 pm and the sun was well and truly out. So much so, that I topped up on suncream, just to make sure. It was a gorgeous evening, but we were feeling the press of time by now. A while back, Minimus had asked what time we’d be home, and I’d estimated about 7 pm. At the time though, we were still on High Raise, and it was a wild guess.
So the walk back down the Stickle Ghyll was quicker than the climb. I was about out of beans but we made it back to the car for 6:40, and hence we were back in Ambleside not long after 7.
While I was getting changed and showered, Kas and V walked down to the nearest chippy to get some dinner for us all. They were good. Especially because of the wonderful supporting performance made by a couple of beers.
In total we’d walked about 14km over the flat, but had climbed a total of 1200-1300m. We’d been away from the car for 9 hours. We’d earned a beer or two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who could possibly resist climbing a mountain called Barf. We couldn’t. Well, V nearly did, because they’d woken up feeling nauseus and a bit feverish. But we went for it anyway.
So today’s plan was to walk up to Lord’s Seat and then Barf. If we had time, there was the option to trudge over to Broom Fell too. The three mountains sit in a cluster just south of Bassenthwaite Lake and are accessible by climbing the Whinlatter Pass and parking in the Forestry Centre there. Parking there takes about 150m of ascent out of it.
Kas did the now customary trip to the sandwich shop while I moved my car round to outside the house. We were only parking my car there to occupy a spot for the day though. We went in Kas’s car. We set off not long after 9am and took the also now very familiar route past Grasmere, over Dunmail Raise, past Thirlmere to Keswick. From there we headed along the A66 and then up the Whinlatter Pass from Braithwaite. We arrived at Whinlatter Forest before 10am.
So we did a quick change into our walking boots and had a tactical wee before heading off. The walk up appeared mainly to be through trees until the last 100m of climbing. That meant it would probably be warm and a bit clammy. The weather looked pretty good for the day. The sun was out and the clouds were all fluffy. That meant it was quite warm while we were in the trees.
Legging it up
Despite being a reasonable gradient and mainly on graded paths/roads in Whinlatter Forest, it seemed hard work getting uphill. Maybe we were all just a bit tired. V certainly wasn’t enjoying it very much. Ami and Kas had climbed a smaller peak the day before and I’d spent the day walking around Penrith. Venus had been out on a pedalo with Kas all the previous afternoon. You get the picture. We were all maybe a bit tired.
The slow speed over the ground meant we were getting a good look at the forest and the attendant wildlife though, which was nice because most of the other walks on this trip had mainly been over unwooded open hill country.
We made it to Lord’s Seat at about 11:45, so we called that lunchtime and nestled down for half an hour somewhere on the lee side of the summit. As ever it was a bit breezy up top, despite the sunshine. So we picked a slope facing towards Skiddaw and camped down for a few minutes.
While we were at the top of Lord’s Seat we decided it was at least and hour to go to Broom Fell and return. Maybe more. V wasn’t up to it (and nor was I, if I’m honest) and it wouldn’t be fair to leave someone lying on the side of a mountain for an hour waiting for us, even if the view was nice. So we decided to leave Broom Fell for another day. I assume it’ll still be there when we come back.
So having decided on an easy (well, easier) afternoon, we set off down the hill towards Barf.
Barf is quite a low mountain at 468m. Technically, it’s probably opnly a hill. It does, however, have one very, very precipitous slope on the north side which affords an obstruction-free view from (roughly) west the long way round to south-west. There’s only really the higher Lord’s Seat and Grisedale Pike that get in the way of a full 360 degrees. As a result the view over Bassenthwaite and Skiddaw is brilliant. It’s perfect (on a clear day) to pick out all the sub-peaks on Skiddaw and you can see all the way across to the Helvellyn massif too.
We took a mini break on the top to take in the scenery.
It’s All Downhill from Here
The way home involved descending a steep and winding path back into Whinlatter Forest. It was the steepest bit of the day and in places quite slippery. Thankfully nobody came a cropper though.
Once back in the forest, Ami plotted a route back along the various forest paths. There was some debate about how low we should go, but we turned out to have made the perfect choice. This path also took us back over some of the paths that we’d walked with our alpaca buddies a few days earlier.
Back at the Forestry Centre, we had an ice cream in the cafe before driving home.
When we got home, we popped out for some shopping for souvenirs and essentials. I wanted some pieces of artwork to stick on my wall in the study, because it needs a bit of personalisation. We’d some that I liked in a shop on the very first day of the holiday, so we went back there for me to make a purchase.
In the evening we went back to Luigi’s Italian for dinner. We’d booked it the previous week, when we were last here. Amazing we remembered to go, really. The food was top-notch again.
Me and the girls had resolved to do our packing in the morning. Kas had pretty much done hers already, as she was planning to leave early. So after dinner we went home and chilled for one final time, dreaming of when we can come back again on another holiday. We do seem to have a bit of a thing for the Lake District. This had been our fourth visit since 2016. Well, the fourth as a family. I’d also been for a long weekend with the lads in 2018, so my fifth visit.
What is there to say!
Enough is enough, as Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer once told us. And so it proved to be with this holiday.
Kas left at about 10am. She had an appointment with several English and Welsh motorways to get her to Swansea, where she had a half ironman event. The amount of driving invlved plus the requirement for early mornings over the weekend, meant she didn’t want to linger.
Back on Wednesday night I’d floated the idea of doing much the same. The kids were happy with it, so we were making ready to leave too. We were busyily packing up as Kas was leaving.
As it happenend, the weather was a bit rubbish too, and none of us really felt like staying longer. We wouldn’t have done much on Friday anyway, even if the weather had been nice.
Left Ambleside at about 11:30. We dropped keys off at the place we’d collected them. They were slightly surprised to see us leave early, but I explained it was nothing to do with the place per se. We were just holidayed out and fancied an extra night at home.
So off we went, and headed for the motorway. We stopped for lunch at Costa at Lancaster Services and then joined the traditional Friday afternoon queue on the M6 around Manchester and Stoke.
We took a quick leg-stretching break at Norton Canes, which was, as ever, heaving with people.
The dirve from there was made more painful by the utterly lousy weather. It was raining very heavily and I was struggling a bit to see where we were going.
We arrived home at around 6pm – nice and early. So we were able to order pizzas/McDonalds and have a chill night.
We got a ping from Kas mid-afternoon to say she’d made it to Swansea for her half ironman.
It had been quite a busy and very enjoyable holiday. We dunked ourselves in lakes, climbed mountains, walked alpacas, visited castles, eaten some brilliant food and generally made the most of the great outdoors. It also re-kindled our smouldering love affair with the Lake District.