Lakelands Walking Holiday September 2013
The Windermere Centre is a large house with a peaceful and friendly ambience. It is allied to the Gothic-style United Reform Church nearby. I was allocated a spacious family room with an armchair where I spent many fruitful hours of writing beside the open window overlooking the tiny garden.
We enjoyed a delicious, well presented meal: melon starter, roast beef and Yorkshire pud, and apple pie which melted in my mouth. The food is wonderful, and lovingly served. But my stomach wasn’t used to an evening meal, so I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. I read and re-read a booklet of anecdotes picked from the bookshelf downstairs, which made me think. Our host had given us an impassioned history of the Centre, then he recited the Windermere Centre prayer, used for its dedication in 1986.
I resisted cooked breakfast on Monday but succumbed to porridge laced with prune juice.
No one was able to answer my question, which of the lakes were the setting for the Arthur Ransome stories? Was it Windermere or Coniston? It was such a long time since I’d read his books.
Our four mile morning walk took us up the road to Orrest Head, through Elleray Wood and on a steep climb to a breath-taking circular viewpoint – except, it was raining all the way, and the only visibility was a brief glimpse of sun on the Yorkshire moors to the east.
It was still raining as Julie led us back the long way round through emerald green fields bordered by stone walls and dotted with sheep.
Back at the Orrest Head signpost we split up, and I headed for the station with a small group to enjoy delicious turkey and stuffing sandwiches. It was a sign of things to come – all our packed lunches were superb, we had different choices every day, and they even gave us one for our return journey at the end of the week.
The plan was to go on an exploratory walk round Windermere, but I cried off. My shirt was damp because I’d removed my mackintosh when sweating up the forest track in the rain, and I didn’t want to spoil my holiday by catching a chill. Now, I know people never “catch” chills – but I always do, so I am obviously not a proper person. I found my way back to the Centre (going wrong twice) for a hot shower, a cuppa tea and fruit cake left over from my lunch pack. Then another cuppa, and the Twix – also in the lunch pack – with an orange. This habit was to repeat itself every day of the holiday. No wonder I put on 5lbs.
Supper was early, a delicious starter of liver pate, then chicken breast, cheesy aubergine and courgettes – and tiramisu! Now I understand why travellers like to write about their food: there’s so much time to savour it, and when the cuisine is good, one can enthuse at will.
We trooped into the nearby church afterwards, impressive in its gothic simplicity, for a talk by Rev. Richard Church. He was sincere and honest, with delicious touches of humour. His ‘holiday photos’ were of a 33 day pilgrimage, walking and praying the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain (I found this clip on the internet). We felt privileged to be there.
An early start the next day for the Bowness Ferry crossing and a six mile walk up the hill, looking back over Lake Windermere. We passed a distinctive church on the way to Hill Top and Beatrix Potter House.
then onwards and upwards towards Claife Heights. It was a fine day through rolling green fields, dotted with sheep, as we trudged up a farm track to tiny Moss Eccles tarn, a jewel of a place, where Beatrix Potter would go of an evening with her husband.
Another tarn revealed itself, Wise Een, with a breath-taking view to the mountains beyond. We sat on stony tufts to savour the idyllic scene and enjoy our second packed lunch.
I had been looking forward to Wednesday all week. Tina and I drove the 50 mile round trip to Millom for two blissful hours of riding the farms on Cumbrian Heavy Horses – as seen on BBC’s Countryfile. Ollie, my 18 hands high Clydesdale was an utter joy to ride.
I’d never been on such a high horse before, and had to negotiate two steps onto a wooden platform in order to put my foot in the stirrup. I soon settled into his powerful, free going, and immensely long strides. We were broken in gently by individual walk, trot and canter exercises under Yvonne’s discerning eye. Then we had plenty of opportunities to canter, when Ollie would tense up with a squeal and a fart, before leading off. It was exhilarating to be back on a horse after four long years, but it was a very long way down when I dismounted.
Thursday saw an arduous seven mile walk skirting round Lakes Rydal and Grasmere, up the hill along the Coffin Path, through woods and past a “penny tree” where we inserted copper coins. We hammered them firmly in, to the amusement of a passing Japanese couple.
This is Wordsworth country, and we walked by his two houses before crossing the main road for the western route back to Grasmere village.
The hard stony paths played havoc with my feet and legs, and the trudge to find the loo after returning to the car park was agony.
I was almost too tired to clamber into the shower when we got back to the Centre, but after another delicious dinner, we could not resist the venting of good-natured spleen on each other over the deadly game of UNO.
Our final day was wet. We went to the Windermere Visitor Centre and I dallied in the shop while the others went on a boat ride. I found a colourful booklet that solved my problem over Swallows and Amazons. The answer was neither, and both. I flicked through the pages of photographs and sketches for an hour in full view of the lady behind the counter, and then felt I had to buy it. Then she offered me a first-edition autobiography of Arthur Ransome for £1 so I had a bargain after all. I’ve nearly finished it now, and think every student of Russian history should read it. Ransome was a respected foreign correspondent as well as author, and he gives an interesting eye-witness account of the start of the Russian Revolution.
It was a relaxed and fruitful day to round off a memorable week. I’d had opportunities to progress my new book, and the journey home was accomplished with a minimum of stress.