Lake District 2017: Day 4

Well, I didn’t run a marathon today, but it certainly felt a bit like it. Instead I hiked/walked about 12 miles over a fell, through a village, and along a coffin road. I didn’t set out to do quite so much walking, it just sort of happened. I tend to have trouble with decision making (ask anyone who knows how many things I buy and then end up returning to the store…), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I only had a general sense that I wanted to visit Rydal and Grasmere today and do some kind of walk.

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Overlooking Grasmere Lake from Loughrigg Fell

Loughrigg Fell (pronounced “loff-rigg”) was on my list of things to do this week, so after researching the various routes to the top over breakfast, I settled on taking the trail up from Ambleside. The route is an old bridalway, so it was paved about half of the way. After that, there were numerous side trails and paths that could easily lead you in any direction. I headed toward what I thought was the top, only to discover once there that the summit was actually about another mile away. It was at the summit that I met a few other people, including a family who had come up the Grasmere side. Since I could see Grasmere and it’s lake from the top, I decided I might as well walk down that way, since I planned to visit there anyway. I’d worry about how to get back to Ambleside later.

By the time I got to Grasmere, I was pooped. The route from Ambleside over Loughrigg Fell is about 6 miles and thankfully, I found a tea room in the village to enjoy a scone and rose lemonade to recharge. I stopped in at the National Trust office to figure out how to get back to Ambleside. I knew there was a bus, but that felt like cheating, so I ended up walking the “coffin road” back through Rydal and onto Ambleside and Waterhead. The coffin road is so named because the route was once used to carry coffins from Ambleside to Grasmere for burial. The trail wasn’t overly strenuous, but there were a lot of ups and downs. My legs were protesting, but nevertheless I made it the 6 miles back to Waterhead, where I literally took off my shoes and collapsed onto the bed. Tomorrow will need to include a lot more driving and a lot less walking!

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Langdale Valley

I edited some pictures and made a brief attempt at a nap before heading out for dinner. The sun had finally come out, and it was a pretty ride out to Chapel Stile and the Wainwright Inn. I got to try a new (to me) cider and a chicken and bacon sandwich. I love British pubs. Nothing at home even comes close to the cozy rustic feel, this one complete with pillowed booths and a stone fireplace. After dinner, I continued further into the Langdale valley before turning back towards Waterhead. Since the sun was out, I headed up the road to Borrans Park and sat on a bench overlooking the water for about half an hour before calling it a day.


Lake District 2017: Day 3

Today started off damp and dreary, and pretty much stayed that way all day. I started the morning (after a lovely 10 hour sleep… I’ve slept better the last two nights than I have in the past 6 months!) with church at St. Martin’s in nearby Bowness-on-Windermere. It was an Anglican service, and very liturgical, but it was nice to enjoy the old church and the music. I even got to sample a hot cross bun after the service!

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Hawkshead Village

After church, I set off in the general direction of the Drunken Duck Inn in Barngates (my destination for lunch) and drove through the villages of Hawkshead, Near Sawrey, Far Sawrey, and Outgate before heading for lunch. In all my visits to the U.K., I had yet to indulge in a traditional Sunday Roast. I figured Easter Sunday was a good time to give it a try. The Drunken Duck is set up with a small bar area and then several small dining rooms with tables off the main bar. Families were playing board and card games, and several people were having a drink and reading books. I grabbed a small table by the window and ordered my roast beef. It was a meal with all the fixings… roast beef, potatoes, veggies, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, and Bearnaise sauce. It was heavenly. How have I never indulged in this before??

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Posing for a picture, Hawkshead

After lunch, I was ready for some walking. I went back to the village of Hawkshead and parked the car to explore. Hawkshead is a small village comprised of many tiny lanes and alleyways, a few local shops, and beautiful rolling farmland and sheep pastures. I first walked around several of the shops and then headed for the hills. At the back of the churchyard was a public footpath sign, so I decided to follow it. The path went out into a sheep pasture, where I managed to snap a few pictures of some young lambs and sheep, before curving past farmland and back down into the village. My last stop for the day was a walk near Skelwith Fold before heading back to Ambleside. A cider and dessert in the lounge by the fire capped off another relaxing day in the Lake District.

Lake District 2017: Day 2

My legs are probably going to hate me tomorrow, but I spent the majority of the day walking today. I managed to stay up until 8PM last night, and slept through until 5:30 this morning. (In other words, pretty much my normal sleep schedule.) I went for a short walk around Jenkin’s field along the shores of Lake Windermere before breakfast, then set off to hike up to High Sweden Bridge. The route starts from Ambleside (about a mile from my hotel) with a steady climb up Sweden Bridge Road before turning into a footpath. The trail follows stone walls along the eastern bank of Scandale Beck as it winds upward to the High Sweden Bridge, an old packhorse bridge crossing the river. I stopped for a few pictures, then continued the climb to the top of the ridgeline before dropping back down into Ambleside. By the time I made it back to my hotel in Waterhead, I was ready for a cat nap!

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Yesterday, a sign at the Waterhead Coffee Shop caught my eye advertising their special: a scone with hot rum butter and fresh cream. I’ve been dreaming of it ever since. I found a table in the tiny shop, and the scone did not disappoint! Then it was off to Stagshaw Gardens up the road. The gardens had several flowering trees in bloom, but the highlight ended up being a hike up to Jenkins Crag overlooking Ambleside and Lake Windermere.

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My last outing of the day was by car, heading to the village of Troutbeck, about 3 miles from Waterhead. It was a white-knuckle drive since I managed to be talked into an upgraded SUV with built-in GPS yesterday. These narrow, single-lane roads are not made for big cars! I parked the car and walked through the churchyard and up the hill to the main village before heading to the Queens Head for dinner. Having had all of my favorite British foods (a scone, some English cider, and sticky toffee pudding) today, I think I can call it a successful day!

Lake District 2017: Day 1

I’ll just say it again: I love the U.K.  I mean, what’s not to love about English cider and scones with clotted cream?  They certainly have it down when it comes to food on this side of the pond.  And a week away from people and reality, enjoying the English food and countryside, is exactly what I need right now.  

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Borrans Park, Waterhead

I knew I wanted to head back to Great Britain again this year, but was torn between northern England and Wales.  What convinced me to head to England was seeing pictures of the Lake District National Park.  Hundreds of walking paths, tiny quaint villages, and local pubs aplenty sold me.  I literally plan to spend my days walking across fells and from village to village with the local sheep and some newborn lambs as my company.

My first day didn’t go exactly as planned.  We were late leaving Boston (thanks to some auxiliary power failure with the engines) and I missed my connection in London.  The next flight they could get me on was 4½ hours later, so I didn’t arrive in Manchester until 1PM.  Since I was operating on about 2 hours of sleep, I knew there wasn’t going to be much walking or sightseeing today.  Instead I picked up the rental car and headed directly to my hotel in Ambleside, right in the center of the Lake District.  I was exhausted.  To top it off, the weather today is cloudy and drizzly and on the cool side (around 50 degrees).  I dropped off my stuff at the hotel and went for a short walk around the village of Waterhead before heading to the hotel bar for dinner and calling it a day.  My hope is that a long sleep will recharge me for my first day of hiking in the hills around Ambleside.

Scotland 2016: Day 14

Home. A place I love to return to, but also love leaving once in awhile. The hotel I stayed in last night was the only one that had an optional breakfast rate, so I decided to book “room only” and go out for breakfast this morning. I had seen a little cafe called So CoCo, which specializes in chocolate but has a full breakfast menu, on my walk yesterday. Who can pass that up? (Hint: not me!) I had already decided to have Eggs Benedict this morning, but the scones were calling to me. So my last scone was actually a breakfast scone! Then it was off to the airport for my hop down to London, followed by a 3.5 hour layover before my flight to Boston.

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Last breakfast at So CoCo in Inverness

Sometimes, I just know I will return to a place again. I felt that way last summer when I left Ireland. But I didn’t feel that way about leaving Inverness today. The vacation was good overall, and I saw some amazing places, but I don’t know that I will ever return to that part of Scotland. There are just too many other places I want to see in the world. I wasn’t sad to leave; I just felt content that I had seen everything I wanted to see in that small part of the world.

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Leaving Inverness

I spent time on the plane making a list for my favorite post-vacation activity: grocery shopping! I love restocking the fridge after I’ve been away for awhile. My body may go into carb withdrawal after everything I’ve been putting into it the past couple of weeks, but it’s back to my regular diet starting tomorrow! And since I’m pretty sure long pants and long sleeves haven’t helped my tan at all, clearly the rest of the day will be spent by the pool! I plan to write one more follow-up blog at some point, but my body thinks it’s 4AM right now, so clearly it is time for bed!


Scotland 2016 – Day 13

I didn’t see Nessie today. But I am pleased to report that the Loch Ness Monster tourism business is thriving in Drumnadrochit. I am very happy to be going home tomorrow, but I managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing on my way back to Inverness today. The ferry left Stornoway at 7:00 this morning, bound for Ullapool. I got very little sleep last night, so I grabbed a front row seat in the lounge on the ferry to rest and watch out the “front window”. I planned to drive off once we got to Ullapool, but it is such a cute little village that I spent about an hour walking around.

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Then it was off to Loch Ness and the Urquhart Castle. I don’t think I realized the last couple of weeks how far removed from the main tourist routes the Hebrides are. I saw more busloads of tourists in that one spot than I have seen in days. And American accents galore! While I was dressed sensibly in my long pants and sweatshirt, there were people walking around in shorts and t-shirts carrying their selfie sticks everywhere (mind you, it was about 55 degrees out today!). But I digress. The castle was nice, in a tourist trap sort of way. Not anything like the castles I explored in Ireland last summer.

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Urquhart Castle

My final stop tonight is in Inverness, where I will be flying home from tomorrow. Inverness is everything I hate about cities, but on a smaller scale. I had actually been looking forward to getting back to “civilization” tonight, until I remembered that civilization involves mobs of people and tacky touristy souvenir shops and things like McDonald’s (have I just not eaten in McDonald’s in a long time, or are self-service kiosks a U.K. thing?).

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I did the obligatory walk around town and tried to find dinner. Nothing really struck me, so I ended up at Zizzi (I think there’s one on every street corner in London) for a chicken and prosciutto dish, cheesecake, and an Italian cider. After dinner, I did the traditional unpack/repack of the suitcase and carryons. Repacking is always an adventure!  I am obsessively neat and organized at home, but somehow when I travel, all of that goes out the window. (Last spring, I found a piece of fudge I had completely forgotten I had bought hidden in my suitcase!) The bed in my room is looking awfully inviting right now, but I’m hoping I can stay awake long enough to check out another traditional music session at Hootananny later tonight!

Scotland 2016 – Day 12

My problem is that once I start thinking about home while I’m on vacation (or on “holiday”, to borrow the British terminology), that is all I think about. So while it was a good day for exploring in Scotland, and I saw some beautiful scenery, my thoughts were in New England. Nonetheless, I spent my last day in the Outer Hebrides exploring the Isle of Lewis. Lewis seems to be more densely populated and less “off the beaten path” than the other islands I visited. There are far fewer single-track roads and the villages are more frequent and have more homes. Here are a few highlights from the day…

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Tolsta Beach/Garry Beach: I spent the morning at these two beautiful beaches. Tolsta Beach is a long, white sand beach about 15 miles north of Stornoway. When I was there, the beach was completely deserted and I enjoyed a nice quiet walk. Garry Beach is past Tolsta, at the far north end of the road and has incredible (and accessible) sea stacks at one end. Since it was low tide, you could walk right out to and around the stacks. There was only one other family out walking on the beach while I was there.

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Tolsta Beach

Butt of Lewis: The Butt of Lewis is the northernmost point in the Hebrides. There is a lighthouse there and some rocks just offshore, then it is open ocean all the way to Canada. It was in the low 50s and the wind was whipping (it is said to be the windiest spot in the U.K.) and despite being bundled in my usual t-shirt, sweatshirt, and raincoat, I was still cold! Afterward, I stopped at The Buttery for a scone and Diet Coke (sadly, they were out of hot chocolate).

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Sandy beach near the Butt of Lewis

Blackhouses: I visited two separate blackhouses today. Blackhouses were homes built with stone walls and thatched roofs. They had no chimney, so the smoke escaped naturally through the thatched roof. The first one I stopped at was Arnol Blackhouse, a preserved blackhouse from the 1880s. The woman in the visitor center loaned me a copy of the guidebook so I knew what I was seeing. In the blackhouses, livestock lived inside with the family. There was also a more modern “whitehouse” across the street and a ruined blackhouse to see. Next up was Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, which is actually a collection of 9 blackhouses, only two of which are open to visitors. These were more restored. There was a gentleman weaving Harris Tweed in the blackhouse here as well!

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Ceilidh: I ended the night in a local bar enjoying a traditional ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”). There were 6 locals playing fiddles, harp, accordion, and keyboard. I sat at a table with a couple originally from England who have retired to Lewis, and we spent almost 3 hours chatting between songs about everything from politics (both U.S. and U.K.), religion, music, and travel. It was a very memorable night. It’s still funny to see it light out so late; it was past sunset but still light out as I was driving back to the hotel at 11PM!

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Scottish Ceilidh

Random fact: I filled my car with the most expensive gas ever this morning… £1.20/litre (I accidentally put in super unleaded; regular was £1.16/litre) which is about $7.05/gallon!

I have the alarm set for 5AM because I have to be checked in for the ferry to Ullapool at 6:15. I was going to go north from Ullapool and loop back to Inverness, but I am ready for vacation to be over, so I’m going to head straight for Inverness and check out the town instead.