Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Memory Lane–or memory Loss Bway

We started holidaying in the Lake District because of Arthur Ransome and his Swallows and Amazons series of books. I had enjoyed them whilst in Primary School. So much so that when our Headmistress (of our two classroom village School in Somerset) retired she gave me a copy of Winter Holiday. In those days we either read school books or borrowed them from the library.

I read them to my son when he was young and that led to heading up to the Lakes for our holidays. The first time we went (or maybe the second) it also happened that a friend and colleague was on holiday in the area. They had three girls and suggested we meet up and go for a walk and brought along a book called On Lower Lakeland Fells by a chap called Bob Allen.

We had a wonderful walk with them, one of the high spots was a picturesque stone bridge over the River Brathay. 

We bought the book at the first opportunity and have also acquired two other books of his – Short Walks In And Around The Lake District, and On High Lakeland Fells.  We returned to the Lake District for our summer holidays a number of times after that (seven-ish) and tramping the fells became part of our holiday routine, along with popping in the swimming baths in Troutbeck to “wash the dust off”. We have also eaten in quite a few of the restaurants in Bowness, although the Pub at Near Sawrey is probably one of our favourites – Tower Bank Arms.  We also used to make a dated note in the books when we went on a particular walk

The Fells, even in summer can be tricky, so we always used to carry waterproofs along with an OS map and compass and we would wear suitable walking boots and had walking poles (plus water and snacks).  Quite often the first task of the holiday was a trip to Ambleside to buy boots for the kids because their feet had grown. It was also easier to buy decent walking boots for small children.

What we liked about the Bob Allen walks was his ability to create a route by connecting different types of paths along some beautiful scenery and we used to find that the routes were generally pretty deserted.  We still talk about his “delicate little paths”, one of which turned out to be a 5cms-wide notch halfway around and halfway up a mountain.

The weather forecast looked good so our plan was to do that first walk, seventeen years later.  Despite having rucksacks and the like back home we hadn’t brought them, so the first job was to pop out and buy one (and a sun hat), on the way to the start of the walk in Elterwater.  We didn’t bother with an OS map or compass, it was a walk we had done three times before and if the worst came to the worst we had our Smartphones. We did wear proper walking gear and took waterproof coats with us just in case. (Along with water.)

We did discover a few things,

  • There has been recent seismic activity in the area as the hills have most definitely gotten steeper than when we were here last
  • Not taking an OS map and compass is a bad thing
  • The hills were alive with the sound of walkers – the last time we probably met a handful of people walking the route. This time there must have been nearly two hundred people along the way
  • Parking in the area was almost impossible
  • We were so fit we were able to fit in an extra hill for added cardio-benefit
  • The walks have become very popular – we saw loads of people out walking

Here is a map of the walk and here is a link to the route if you wish to download it.  The distance is 12.5Km / 8 miles but you can reduce that by 2.2Km/ 1.4 miles. According to Bob Allen’s notes it should be 8.8Km/5.5 miles, so all that seismic activity must have stretched the paths as well. Bike Route Toaster reckons the total ascent/descent was 190m – it certainly felt like it.

A walk around Elter Water, Colwith and Little Langdale

To be fair (to ourselves) we got up reasonably early in order to prepare for our walk, with a hearty breakfast, well it would have been rude not to. The hotel clientele was a mix of older people, young families with pre-school kids and a coachload of Japanese Tourists.  Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit is a big thing in Japan.

There were clouds in the sky, but the Lake was very still, it was good walking weather.

Just to be on the “safe” side we set the SatNav to guide us to Elterwater as our shopping trip to Ambleside had delayed us and we were keen to get going. It all looked quite familiar though. As I mentioned earlier we were a little concerned that we weren’t going to find somewhere to park.  There are two official parking areas and one less official. We parked in the latter one. Three old ladies parked in it after us, the last of the unofficial spaces and commented how they had never seen it so busy.

We then wandered into the village passing the old ladies, they seemed to be struggling just getting to the village from the car park.

The first part of the route has been improved since the last time we were here.  It follows the Great Langdale Beck and then around Elter Water. It has been upgraded and cyclists are encouraged to use it as well (It is a bridleway and NCN route 37).  It was very popular with people picnicking and we also passed two photographers with tripods taking views of the landscape.  Still we reckoned it would be a bit quieter once we had cleared this first bit.

After passing Elter Water you walk alongside the River Brathay to Skelwith Force (waterfall).

River Brathay

Skelwith Force

To get to Skelwith Bridge you pass through a site owned by Kirkstone Quarries which unfortunately went bust last year.  The stone will be available from Burlington Stone though.

Skelwith Bridge

The route then crosses the River Brathay before heading a little way up the road (A593) and then onto Cumbria Way past Park House and Elterwater Park Farm along what seem to be a variety of path surfaces and yes, quite very busy as well. The path comes out onto a road and we had a brief moment where were weren’t sure which way to go and couldn’t really remember the place either.

Fortunately we deciphered the instructions correctly and found a path into the woods, just before Colwith Bridge which also crosses the River Brathay – it is a river that gets around.  One thing you really don’t get a lot of around the Flatlands of East Anglia is waterfalls.  Well the Force is certain strong in the Lake District the route took us to Colwith Force.  This is a picture I have taken before, the last time the steps to the left were made of wood.

Colwith Force

There is a saying, which I have just made up, “where there’s a force there’s a hill to climb”. After dropping down to the Force we had to climb up back to High Park Coppice.  By this point the sun was shining, it was warm, although there wasn’t much of a breeze it was most welcome when it did blow.

Wish Tree – High Park Coppice

As you might imagine this place isn’t flat and we were at about 140m above sea level. The views were tremendous. The mountains all around were dappled with the cloud shadows.  I can’t quite remember which way I was looking when I took this picture.  I think it was north.

The view North from High Park Coppice

The route then followed a small road to a Stang End.  Although the road looks deserted in the picture it wasn’t there were loads of people about.  If you look closely there are people in the picture.  We passed a group of women sitting down to eat their sarnies. We also passed a woman with a baby on her back who asked us if it was the way to the Tea Room. Well not the way we had come that’s for sure.  Her fellow walkers, who caught her up seemed to think it was though.

The Road To Stang End – looking back the way we had come

When we reached Stang End I think the MapBearer decided that we needed a bit more solitude so instead of carrying on to the West we headed South.  Or rather we headed South and UP. It was a bridleway but not as popular which perhaps should have alerted us.  It was a very pleasant diversion though. It climbed up through the hills towards a quarry. To be fair we only actually climbed up (and then back) through an elevation of 30m.  

Occasionally I did check with the MapBearer, she was sure we were going in the right direction.

 Winking smile

As we got closer to Hodge Close Quarry I began to think we might not actually be heading in the right direction. There was also some heavy plant moving around, so I used my Smartphone.  Now I don’t actually think that relying on a Smartphone is that sensible – but needs must.  In the Lake District Internet connections seem to use wet string and the cellular network seems to have a bit rate of 1 bit per hour. Whenever I tried to send pictures via MMS it would take 30 minutes and then fail nine out of ten times. 

Fortunately as a cyclist I use an App called Cyclestreets and on an Android Phone (but not an Apple phone) you can download off-line maps for the UK. Which I had done – I can’t claim any planning, I’d done it for my cycling. On locating our position and Stang End and Little Langdale Tarn it was clear that we had strayed from the true path.  Mind you it was a rather nice and secluded path, apart from the Quarry.   This was a parallel path leading off from ours back to Stang End. We stuck to the bridleway though – we had had enough excursions for one day.

Little Fell

On our way back to Stang End we also passed a couple of cyclists going the other way.  I was thinking of bringing a bicycle with me, although some of these paths would have been a bit rugged for my Brompton. They might have also been a bit rugged for a Flatlander as well.

The area has loads of tracks ranging from restricted bridleways to byways and BOATS and country lanes that anywhere else wouldn’t be a road.

Cyclist Heading to Hodge Close and maybe High Oxen Fell

Once back to Stang End we headed off along the one true path, passing loads of people and then this Stone Bridge came into view.  This is one of the high spots of the walk. (although metaphorically rather than actually).  It is called Slater Bridge and as you can see it is two-part bridge and yes you’ve guessed it, it crosses the River Brathay.  It is an ancient pedestrian bridge, connecting the hamlet of Little Langdale with slate quarries in the area.  Mind you, just to be different Wikipedia notes that it crosses the river in three spans and was a former packhorse bridge built in the 17th Century.  Whatever, it is a picturesque place.

Slater Bridge

I have quite a few pictures of this bridge taken on past visits.  Here is one last picture of the bridge from the other side.  We also stopped for a customary rest near the bridge to admire the view and not because we were tired – honest.

Slater Bridge – the other side

Although I didn’t take huge numbers of pictures I did forget to turn my camera off and just as we sat down something or other beeped. It was my camera announcing there would be no more pictures today as the battery was flat.  Fortunately I had my trusty Galaxy S4 Smartphone which does a pretty good job, although it is not quite so versatile.

Little Langdale Tarn

Little Langdale Tarn

The walk then takes a fairly direct, but uphill route back to Elterwater, which lay 3Km /1.9miles North-East and up 58m and down 107m.  I had forgotten this until we started climbing again.  It wasn’t that bad climbing though. The route was signed as a challenging cycle route and yes there were loads of walkers, a tractor and several cyclists using it.  There should have been warnings that it was also a challenging route for walking. The bit back down into Elterwater was a steep, rubble strewn track,  my legs wanted to go on strike, but the thought of sitting in the pub garden and having a cold drink kept me going. So we did sit in the pub’s garden.

It seems to me that the Lake District attracts loads of people out for challenging, healthy, invigorating walks in glorious countryside. It also attracts other tourists who seem to want to sit in the pub gardens, drink beer and smoke continuously.  (Yes I know that was a Victor Meldrew moment I was having.)

Despite the hordes it was a wonderful walk and we were very fortunate with the weather. As a reward we drove home by the scenic route via Hawkshead and the Windermere Ferry.  I also got to play chicken with on-coming cars on the narrow lanes. Most vehicles tend to give a Land Rover Discovery room. However you also see single-decker buses on some of the country lanes and they take no prisoners.  It always impresses (and frightens) me how they hurtle around.

We stopped in Hawkshead and had a local ice-cream with cream and bought some post cards and then headed back to the ferry. When we used to stay in Far Sawrey there was a wonderful “Little Red Shop” that sold loads of stuff and had a Post Office (old picture and old blog).  We got to know the proprietors.  Before going on a walk we would stroll there to pick up our provisions. Butter pies were my favourite. We would also stock up on sweeties – they helped to motivate my daughter up each hill.  The shop is no longer red, it is still there though and has a cafĂ© and tables for people to stop and have a snack. The target clientele will be tourists staying nearby and walkers – my Disco would have completely blocked the road if we had stopped.

After that bit of nostalgia we took the long towards the Windermere ferry.  Mind you we were surprised to see one or two woods missing on the way (yes complete woods as in groups of trees). As we got to the ferry we waited in a queue at a point where a sign said there would be a possible wait of 20 minutes. The ferry turned up and disgorged its load and we were on within a few minutes though – it is a bit Tardis like. It is a chain ferry – called the Mallard. 

We have also used it as foot passengers and I have taken my bicycle on it as well. It seems rather more expensive than I remember it - £4.30 a trip. We used it so often that we would buy books of tickets – currently £43.00 for 20 tickets.  Any spare we would use the following year. I think we paid £18.00 for a book of tickets when we were regular visitors.

Mallard – Windermere Chain Ferry

We were quite peckish so we nipped back to the hotel, changed and popped back to Bowness for dinner. For a change we went to another Italian Restaurant. Although we first stopped at the co-op to stock up on water. It is funny I hadn’t realised that Christmas is only 3 months away.  It is a good job they had displays selling Christmas Cakes to remind me. Clearly once the Summer Season is over they want to bring on the Winter Season as soon as possible.

Christmas Cakes – Bowness Co-Op in September!

I can’t remember the name of the Italian restaurant we ended up in – since we weren’t impressed there isn’t much point. I had a chilli pasta bake, quite nice, but not a patch on the Lasagne of the night before.

Whilst walking through Bowness we saw that most of the restaurants we had visited regularly were there, however it seems that Italian Restaurants are the most prevalent and counted 6. I would still definitely recommend Rastellis of Bowness at the top for Italian.

Unfortunately Helen’s Chocolate Shop was closed. Presumably they only stay open late when there are lots of kids around during the School Summer Holidays? We went back to the hotel and whilst I used the WiFi, which didn’t work in our bedroom, but did work upstairs in the bar/reception area my wife wrote the postcards.

Next: How to spend a rainy day in The Lakes

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