A Winter’s Tale
Manchester to the Lake District Out of Season
And then the road fell away to this…
Impulsive decision made on a January Wednesday to run away to sublime scenery as soon as possible, desire for log fires, taking piles of books, bottles of wine and the kitchen sink. Found a little Grasmere guesthouse which had one vacancy left for 2 nights. Out of season and still busy. Four course evening meal and breakfast included. Oh, what the hell. The lady on the phone dutifully warned of a rowdy party of 20 business men, we looked at each other and grinned, hope they’re young businessmen!!
A hundred miles door to door. Cold, wet, lack of visibility, not great holiday start or weather or mood. Nearly two hours. Not like me at all. Hot shower, change, open bottle of wine at 4pm and read one novel by dinner. Fun bloody weekend this will be. Dinner at 8pm – only to meet the 20 businessmen, having a Haggis Ceremony. T’was Burns Night you see… Kilted, poetry whisky warmed and red-cheeked – after dinner speeches told us who our fellow guests were – all Freemasons. Celebrating the life of one of their brothers who had recently died. The speeches and eulogies were so personal we nipped out before dessert. Made plans for next morning and drank too much – chatted to some of them, and eventually went to our beds.
Lakes were vast. Wind bullying. First port of call was Conniston, only on the way we found ourselves leading a convoy of cars. The Masons also visiting Conniston today to go climbing the old man it seemed…
Tree surviving Ring Wraiths at the top of Kirkstone pass
Challenging physically – flooded roads, car clinging by two front wheels to autumn leaf soaked gravel and still fiercely climbing uphill through running water. Decided to take a pass shortcut through to Ullswater from Conniston – classic statement – turn right at that cloud….. full and tremulous. White-grey Grey-Grey … The term heralded a new spectrum of rainbow descriptions. Driving and driving upwards feeling the wind against us, sign says 1500 feet highest point and dangerous in winter conditions… gradient warnings unheeded and then the heavens opened. Nothing lived. One tree, beaten down flat topped, opened car door to take photo, even with braced feet planted, was nearly blown off mountain by Tolkien’s invisible stormforce of cloaked riders. Relief and exhilaration snapped me back into seat. Smile. And then the road fell away. Great sandy-sunny, warm beach like tumbling mountain sides. Earth had been crammed into the giant’s mouth and here were the sloping piles of missed gluttony. The landscape of ancient glaciers. We were gasping our way driving in fast, silent awe through the evidence left by glacial placenta.
Umbilically twisted road, eventually opening out to narrow but even space took us to Ullswater. A lake threatened by a dark shadow. A dark feeling and I didn’t want to stop for coffee, preferring to get back into the car, to warm my hands on the steering wheel and check the local bible once again. The map. Amazed at the comparisons:
Conniston had been beautiful. Really, really beautiful. A sense of freedom and space and uplifting open honesty pervaded the very water – seagulls bounced balloon-like on the rough, wind-swept, rain-slapped, waters. But still, the beauty reached out – sunshine can be a feeling without the sun. No blue sky or sun’s rays until we were walking back towards the town, then a fifty pence piece of pure blue appeared breaking the clouds apart. The sun streaked through our hearts and lit the water. Oh, I would definitely like to go back to Conniston. Visited Ruskin’s grave, accidentally, whilst we were there. Then to Ullswater.
From Ullswater to the most exquisite Thirlmere. Map reading skills failing but laughing and feeling cleaner, fresher and happier than in ages saw a sign for Aria Falls on the way…. why don’t we stop to look at this waterfall – ok – I stop the car and simply reverse 200 yards!! Park in a packed National Trust carpark – and off we go. Hiking. No waterfall. No sign of it. Little tidy green National Trust arrows “Waterfall This Way”. Up and up and up. No waterfall. Ah ha… ask several of the people scampering down this stony pathway – oh it’s up there they say. Eventually we find it. Fast flowing and about a foot wide. Not Niagara.
Back into the car. Lake Road to Thirlmere. Picture postcard painting of Derwent Cumbria pencils. Steely blue grey. Standing, absorbing as much as possible. Until hailstones threw themselves angrily at us.
And then Grasmere via red wine in Ambleside. Refreshment needed. Sitting in a big old pub, red, gold and warm, busy and winterfueled by walkers. Bobble hats. Fleeces, sticks and rucksacks and kids and dogs! Obligatory accessories it seemed. Splashed by traffic in puddles and puddles in traffic. Time to go and find our Masons again.
The drive back was blue. Rydal looked blue. Leaning fast into the bends we nearly leaned into the lake. Deepest darkest inky blue, navy clouds, velvet skies, black trees and LOUD music, fast fast fast – spinning and whirling safely fixed low slung to the road. Great drive along those 8 miles to hotel carpark. Couple of giggling teenagers – ran in, ordered dinner for late and then off again, muddy and country stained to find the most outrageous drinking hole we could.
We creaked our stiff legs to the Wordsworth Hotel, white and turquoise wedding cake decadence and 4 star roaring fire luxury where we were ushered into the Conservatory and laughed and laughed about old school stories and on the way back, stumbled past Wordsworth’s grave – pitch black night after a broken six year ban on Baileys.
Sunday hit Rydal Mount – communed with sheep and chickens along the way, and returned to Manchester. Learnt a lot about Wordsworth, his house was closed, but this guy was so fit. I know that he walked to the post to Ambleside at least once a day – sometimes twice. He must have been part mountain goat, bless him.
The Lakes are exquisite, well worth a visit. Suggest that you definitely go – beautiful alpine scenery. Personally would never stay at Windermere or Ambleside as they are over-run with tourists at all times of the year. However they are the main towns and have loads of pubs and hotels and pizzerias even! For more rural scenic experience the lowest place to stay is Grasmere – I am aiming for Buttermere and Loweswater next but the weather was too vicious and dangerous this weekend. They are only accessible by valley passes and realistically not in winter months.
Finally, the thing which struck us the most was the colour. Life was full of colour – oranges and greens and reddish browns – absolute colour and we didn’t expect it for winter. Mountains are good for the soul. Waking up in the morning and seeing a massive, vast unmoveable mountain or four is wonderful. Go out of season for the best experience and be prepared to be silenced by vastness of beauty.