Ask just about anyone to give you a list of their top things to do here in the UK, and I’d give good odds that the Lake District, in Cumbria, north England, is going to feature. We’d been meaning to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site for longer than it had been one (it was only inscribed in July 2017), and so for a long Easter weekend we hired a car and drove up to have a look.
We picked up the car after work on Thursday from Heathrow, as usual, and drove up to stay the night in Sheffield, which we’d picked simply as a rough halfway point with good access to some easy hikes in the morning. Sheffield disappointed on neither of these fronts, which is about all I can say about the place – we arrived well after dark and left fairly early on Friday morning, so we didn’t have time to see much else of the town. Our first stop for the morning was a tiny little place called High Bradford, where we dropped the car and went for an easy little countryside amble around Agden Reservoir (definitely not a lake, as we were helpfully informed by some friendly locals out being walked by a dog. Never quite ascertained why this mattered at all). The weather was a little average, but I actually thought it was perfectly suited for the activity: brooding low cloud, almost raining and cool enough to want a jacket without actually being cold. After making our way around the
lake reservoir and some out the surrounding farmland, we ended up back near the car and had a nice yet incredibly cheap lunch at the Old Horns Inn before hitting the road again.
After a couple hours on the road we made our next stop at a place called Aysgarth Falls, up in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I think this was mainly just a place to go stretch the legs and break up the travel, but it was pretty nice. The water was lower than it looks in many of the photos I subsequently saw online while looking for the name of the place, but this was a good thing as it meant we could scramble all over the rocks rather than just view from the banks.
A quick drive down the road was a short walk to another nice looking waterfall noted on the map, so we headed there next. Despite a fairly prominent walkway there was nowhere apparent to park, so after some deliberation we ended up pulling up on a grassy bank, near a farm entrance but completely out of the way. Leaving the car and one of our group inside for a nap, the rest of us set off for a quick stroll. The waterfall was indeed nice, but we came back to the car to a very angry note stuck under the car’s wiper. It was entitled ‘polite note’, but having lived in England for a while now we saw right through that. This essentially informed us we were parked right in the way (definitely wasn’t) and that this was causing a lot of inconvenience (definitely weren’t). According to the friend who’d stayed, nearly immediately after the rest of us had left a lady had stormed all the way down the drive, stomped around the car, left the note and then stormed back up to stand at the top and stare, which she continued to do until we left. I’d read that Yorkshire folk we notoriously frugal, and I can now confirm that, at least when it comes to goodwill, this is certainly the case. Never mind. We waved and left for the Lakes District.
We’d rented a very nice little place in Kendal, right on the edge of the Lakes District. After a comfortable night there, and a try of the famous Kendal mint cakes (carried by Ed Hillary on the first successful ascent of Mt Everest & tastes like eating a solid bar of toothpaste), we set off towards our Saturday hike – Langdale Pikes. This was a walk which seemed to come in two parts: an easy stroll up the valley next to a stream with a series of nice little waterfalls; and then a much harder hike up to the top of Pavey Ark, above the picturesque Stickle Tarn. The first half was busy with people, even pretty early in the morning (though this would be nothing on the crowds we’d encounter on the way back down). Most of them seemed to be what I’d call ‘city tourists’ – doing the walk in sneakers and jeans, and not prepared for any bad weather or cold. Once the path made it to the edge of Stickle Tarn and was no longer protected from the wind, pretty much all of them turned back and left the rest of the route to the hardcore walkers within which I will modestly categorise ourselves. Here the going also got a lot steeper, at times even getting close to a proper rock climb at some points. One of the few who carried on with us was a tiny Scottie dog, who actually ended up being something of a pace-setter – we had to keep up, as it wouldn’t have done to let a pup with 10cm legs beat us up the hill. After some healthy competition (smashed the dog) and some brief stops to rest and shelter from the freezing wind, we made it to the top and were rewarded with some fantastic views back down the valley.
We completed the very steep decent and regathered ourselves over lunch and a couple of beers (gingerbeer for the driver) at the Sticklebarn, a nice little pub near the carpark. The drive home to Kendal took us past Windermere and into Windermere, lake and town respectively, and in the town we decided to stop off for another little walk up to Orrest Head viewpoint. This one only took about 90 minutes and was a very gentle wander, but was definitely worthwhile as the views were fantastic. We completed the day with some homemade burritos and some more board games and beer by the fire – a great end to the day.
Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England, as 978m, though as someone born in a hillier country I maintain this doesn’t actually qualify it to be called a mountain. Whether that or simply a tall hillock, Scafell was on our schedule for Sunday. It had snowed on the top overnight, and the weather had taken a significant turn for the worst. By the time we had parked the car at Seathwaite Farm it had begun to drizzle, and by the time we reached the point at the end of the valley where the path began to properly climb the rain had really set in for the day. I think B and I made it maybe 70% of the way to the peak before deciding that we were soaked, we were cold, and that there was really only so much dense cloud you could see in a day. The other guys decided to persevere on to find the highest point of indistinguishable grey they could, but after agreeing a pickup time we went back down to the car, found a lodge just up the valley and spent the next couple of hours warming up next to a roaring open fire with a series of hot chocolates. We may not have had the satisfaction of making it to the top of Scafell, but we were certainly the warmest two in the car on the way back to Kendal for the evening. We concluded our last evening in the lakes district with some homemade lasagne and banoffee pie, and then to change things up some board games and beer by the fire.
(we took no photos at all on Scafell – the weather was too bad to get the phones out, and in any case there was nothing to really to see aside from clouds and rain)
On the way home to London on Monday we passed back through the Peak District again and stopped in at a little town called Castleton. The drive in was beautiful, and after dropping the guys off at the start of the walk B and I popped into the town for a look around, and eventually a nice pub lunch. Castleton is at the right of the middle of what used to be a reasonably lucrative mining area, for lead as well as a mineral I’d never heard of before: Blue John, which a type of fluorite with bands of yellow and purple. It’s very distinctive, and every second shop in town seemed to be selling it in some form. We managed to extract ourselves without buying anything, and after picking up the rest of the group we made it back to London without further diversion.
All in all – a great weekend up in the Lake District.
Until next time, B and A.