Barrow-In-Furness

It’s not really fair to come to a town like Barrow-In-Furness after walking through the quiet sylvan dells and lofty, windswept heights of the Lake District. It’s not fair for the town and not fair for me either.

However I had problems to solve that sleepy coastal villages and emerald vales couldn’t help me with. Namely, my debit card wasn’t working, I was low on cash, and I was suffering crippling hay fever. I’d also checked my bank account and discovered that some scamming website was withdrawing $21 a month.

No problems that were insurmountable, but taken altogether I felt frazzled and anxious. It wasn’t pleasant.

Overlaying my genuine issues were the rather joyless surroundings I had unwittingly chosen. I could feel my mood darken as I wandered around town.

For example, look at this for a town theatre building and arts centre.

Urgh. Also, despite a fairly usual number of rubbish bins this sort of scene was pretty common.

Just.. why?

However a chat online with Luke gave me a few ideas re money and I’d booked into a Wetherspoons hotel/pub so I could regroup and consider my options. I don’t generally use chains when I can avoid them but Wetherspoons, apart from having reasonably priced rooms, allows the use of an app for table ordering. This means I can use my credit card without needing the PIN, which didn’t arrive before I left home. It’s also a convenient way to order food from the table while avoiding bar queues and, as a solo traveller, it means not having to choose between leaving my bag unattended or dragging everything with me to the bar.

Anyhoo. I was in a slightly cranky mood and had perked myself up by deciding to walk around town and make a collage of all the most unappealing sights and then write a sarcastic post about the place.

Apart from just general grot there were some really obvious signs that town wasn’t booming.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thorough boarding-up of a shop front on a main drag.

Believe it or not, the mall below contained actual, open shops. Not that I was willing to walk down and see what sort of shops they were. I assume gang supply stores or something. Speaking of which, when I googled Barrow the first news story that came up was about there having been 12 gang murders in one year and more expected in future. Shame, Barrow!

But at least the city centre was bustling on a Friday afternoon.

Just kidding.

Anyhow, that building on the left of the photo above was quite magnificent, so I thought I’d wander around and take a few photos of what turned out to be the town hall.

Here’s a weird panorama photo. The hourly peals from the clock tower were quite impressive.

Around the back (which turned out to be the front – a fact that I later learned was a source of frequent confusion) was a car park where people could park right up against the building. How convenient! And it doesn’t detract at all from the grandeur of the only grand building in town, either.

I noted stained glass in the upstairs windows and thought I’d go in, if possible, and have a look. I tried to open the doors but it was all locked up and it was at this point a security guard asked me what I was doing.

I explained that I was a tourist and had been curious about the stained glass and so he explained that the building was always kept locked because of people ‘kicking off’ when they came for their unemployment benefits etc (shame, Barrow!) but then, very kindly, he took me inside and arranged for one of the stewards, a lovely lady named Sue, to take me on a spontaneous guided tour!

Things had started looking up. There’s nothing I like more than doing something unexpected and this turned out to be brilliant.

For someone who hadn’t worked there very long, Sue knew a great deal about the place. She also gave me a leaflet at the end.

First stop was the little waiting area for visitors. I didn’t really hear any information about this but I like the austerity of the artwork. Also I imagine carved slate is difficult to damage if people ‘kick off’. Very practical.

Next the stained glass windows. They were very detailed and interesting. There were repeating motifs that represented the local toffs (the Cavendish family, represented, rather ominously, by a snake – also not the banana-growing Cavendishes as far as my ten seconds of googling can tell), the shipping industry and a delightful little visual reference to the actual name of the town – a bee and an arrow – B-arrow! It feels a bit like something you’d do if a town hadn’t much going for it but someone had, rather annoyingly, left a blank space in the middle of your new civic emblem and you thought it looked a bit bare.

The stained glass was in a space called The Queen’s Room.

I hesitate to say it looks like something out of Harry Potter because that’s really just ignorant tourist-speak now for anything that looks more than 100 years old … but it did. A bit.

The red-carpeted steps leading up were wide and shallow to accommodate the dresses of 19th century ladies, apparently.

I walked through several very grand rooms that were still used almost daily for a range of services including meetings of the local council, the coroner’s court, celebratory events and many other things.

It was all very grand and in the Victorian gothic style.

The job of the stewards seemed very varied. Taking tours (Tuesdays and Thursdays if you’re in the area and you’d get to go up the clock tower too), moving furniture, keeping an eye on council sessions – if the councillors get too rowdy the stewards may remove the mayor’s official mace and end the meeting! Sue seemed very hopeful of the prospect that she may one day get to wield such awesome power.

‘Semper sersum’ means ‘always aim high’ in Latin. An admirable sentiment that goes nicely with the arrow, if not the reality of the place.

That’s the snake, not a pretzel, in the arms under the ships.

Sue kindly took photos on me in a few spots and I walked away from the Barrow town hall feeling much better than when I’d walked in.

Although I’d seen barely anything of the city I felt I’d seen enough (and I didn’t have energy to walk around Walney Island or any of the actually nice spots not too far away) and retired to my room to plan my next move, deciding to go to London for a few days. There’s a branch of my bank there, I can avoid pollen, and there’s plenty of things I wouldn’t mind doing within a short distance.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo from the day – my in the mayor’s seat, gavel in hand.

A Bit of Buttermere

I camped the night by the lake in Keswick and then caught the 77a bus to Buttermere via Honister Pass. Last time we were in the UK we risked death and drove Honister Pass ourselves in dark and misty weather. This time I wasn’t driving and it was broad sunshine. Far superior!

It is still one of the most dramatic roads I think I’ve ever been down (almost equal to Canada’s Icefields Parkway and certainly more hair-raising) – if you’re in the Lake District do yourself a favour and catch the bus and see for yourself.

Although I wasn’t driving I didn’t manage any decent photos through the bus windows so you’ll have to take my word for it and go.

The bus was packed and it was a relief to get off in Buttermere village, a tiny hamlet that sits between the two bodies of water that are Buttermere and Crummock Water. Naming towns and lakes the same thing is annoying and it happens a lot in Cumbria. There’s also about a dozen each of Angle Tarns, Castle Crags, Raven Crags and Blea Tarns, to mention but a few. Also you wouldn’t believe how many Grouse Butts I’ve found on the maps (tee hee).

The bus stops at the picturesque Fish Inn.

Buttermere has been recommended to me by many people and also features heavily on Lakeland Instagram communities but nothing really prepares you for the beauty of its steeps mountains and crystal waters.

First I walked up the side of the valley towards Bleaberry Tarn until the path became too steep (story of my life) then I did a lap around the lake.

The water was so inviting that I took off my shoes and socks and hobbled a little way along (some of the stones are a bit sharp) and was surprised at how warm the water was.

It was good 6km round and there was a man in a van selling ice creams halfway.

There were many people and many dogs all the way along, a great deal of whom seemed to want to speak in a shouting volume or walk in large groups across the path and at a glacial rate. Still, I was there, so I suppose I can’t really resent everyone else for wanting to be there as well. I just wish they’d all pipe down.

The bus back was even more packed than the bus there and we got to experience that classic moment when two large vehicles come around a bend and one has to reverse, with a stone wall on one side and cliff wall on the other.

I had complete faith in our driver as he reversed the bus about 20 metres back around a sharp corner so a truck could get by.

We all gave him a round of applause after, obviously. As the truck indicates, it was indeed pure Lake District;-)

Back in Keswick I felt in need of an early night but first had to take a few photos of the canada geese that had brought their goslings up the bank to ravage the grass.

On my Instagram and Facebook I’ve posted a video of the moment one of the geese took offence at my presence and I squealed and scurried away.

Into town for a bite of dinner and a couple of little bottles of gin and I was set to lie in my tent giggling away to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Joy in the Morning’, which is the best Wooster and Jeeves book I think I’ve read yet.

I’m not really achieving my reading goal for the year but it’s mainly because I’m so tired each evening – not a bad thing at all!

Goodbye Windermere

So that’s chapter one of my trip over. How quickly it goes! I thought I should record a last few snippets before closing the book on Cumbria – for now, anyway.

Auschwitz to Ambleside

While I was walking in Windermere I noticed the library had an exhibition that chronicled the lives of a group of Jewish children who had escaped Nazi Germany but also lost their parents and so were brought to Windermere to be rehabilitated before being sent to live with other families. The photos and videos were poignant and well-done. If you feel like a bit of a cry in a public space I highly recommend going.

All the children who had featured in the display had gone on to do well, one even representing England at the Melbourne Olympics.

Walking St Ravens Crags

My last big day of walking was initially well-planned. I’d decided to catch the bus up to the Kirkstone Pass, thereby cutting out some of the uphill, then walking around via St Ravens crags to the head of the Troutbeck valley then along the ridge that includes High Street and Ill Bell.

There weren’t too many people about and the day was very fair with hardly any wind.

I managed fine up to the descent down towards the pass at the top of Troutbeck. The path pretty much disappeared and I had to put my sticks away to use my hands to help lower myself down the rocks for a short way. The hillside in the photo below is the one I scrambled down.

As I was clambering down (which was actually quite fun) I had a good look at the opposite side, which I was planning to go up. It was another of those steep paths strewn with loose slate. Along the side though, I could see a man coming down the grassy slope, which seemed to be faster and easier. It was perhaps 3-400m of steep climbing to the top. I gave it a go but after 50 metres of climbing and looking back and looking up, I decided to turn back. I don’t know if I’d have done better with someone else there, or whether I’d have given up sooner. I don’t know if I’d pushed myself to get to the top whether I would’ve felt a great sense of accomplishment or just felt sick from vertigo and the adrenaline. I watched other people come down, sliding on the scree so, for better or worse, I decided to climb down the valley.

I passed a big group of men huffing and puffing their way up the slope and cheerfully pointed out that they were doing it the hard way then stopped for a chat for a moment while they caught their breath.

After I left them I didn’t see another person in the valley until I hit the farm at the end. If nothing else, the walk along the valley confirmed that my early exit and climb over the ridge a couple of days earlier had been the right move. The upper end of the valley was even more boggy than the lower end.

I felt a bit disheartened at giving up and having shoes filled with water and so decided to hurry to Troutbeck to catch a bus back to Windermere. Since the buses only ran every two hours, I had five km to go, and wasn’t sure where the bus stop was, I had to hurry. I started walking in straight lines through the sodden ground rather than picking my way around the edges, which eventually led me to putting my foot almost knee deep into actual mud (bogs are annoying but at least the water is clear). I half laughed and cursed. Fortunately it was right next to the river so I waded in and shook my foot around so at least I would be clean. In doing so I leant forward and my phone slipped out of my pocket and into the river.

At this point I hailed Past Me a hero for upgrading to the water resistant iPhone7.

Moments later I looked up to see a huge military plane swoop low over the valley ridges and pass right over my head, almost in slow motion, which really raised my spirits. I picked up speed, determined to make the bus, and emerged into the village with a good 40 minutes up my sleeve. Enough time for a pint and a bowl of chips.

Bless the ubiquity of English pubs.

When I got back to the Rum Doodle (tee hee) I discovered hot spots on my feet from all the sideways slipping and awkward walking I’d been doing for hours. My first foot issues – and on the day when I walked almost the shortest distance yet. Boo. So I had a bath, read The Ascent Of Rum Doodle and decided to spend the following day, my last in Windermere, doing not much at all so my feet could have a break. And why not enjoy my cosy attic room and claw-footed bath tub while I could?

Next: Cambridge!

A few more bluebells to tide you over😁

The Dales Way

But you haven’t finished the Cumbria Way! Yes, I know. I am thinking I will come back after Belfast (which is where I am going after Cambridge) and finish the Cumbria Way by walking from Carlisle to Keswick, then go and do the rest of the Dales Way from Burneside to Ilkley.

Yesterday I inspected my maps and decided that a good challenge would be the westernmost leg of The Dales Way. It is a long distance walk that goes from Ilkley to Bowness and takes five or six days to travel 80 miles/124 km. It is generally considered one of the easiest long distance walks in the UK.

I got the bus to a spot outside Burneside and walked to the point where I could start on The Dales Way. I’d estimated that the walk would be about 15km but I’d already done 4 just walking from the B&B to Windermere station and then down from the main road to the first DW sign. I seem to always underestimate how far I’m going to walk but then hugely overestimate how long it will take.

Apart from an amusingly-named fish and chip shop that was next to a church…

Burneside was unremarkable. Oh, the church was nice too.

Also the weather was perfect.

The Dales Way mostly follows waterways and so there aren’t any huge hills.

There were lots of lovely scenes but also the smell of cow manure and many many flies.

I ended up walking 20km/13.5 miles and it was the easiest day’s walking I’ve done so far – I was home by 3:30 and now I have to work out what to do with the rest of the day… probably plan tomorrow’s big adventure to my highest peaks yet!

I have created another Technical Masterpiece below to show my journey. The red is where I walked and the yellow is where I caught the bus. The red squiggly mess is where my B&B is in Windermere.

Most of the way was through fields and a bit of footpath walking. Two fields of cows – and close cows too. That was the worst of the walk. The best was the BLUEBELLS!

I actually swore a bit when it first came into view. Such colour! Such density! It was gorgeous and totally made my day.

Then I saw another one! It was on a different hill and it was interspersed with ferns, but it was also wonderful. I was pleased that the sun was behind a cloud so that my phone didn’t struggle to pick up the colours – well not as much as last time.

Magic!

Town End, Hill Top and Beatrix Potter

On a recommendation from Luke’s Aunt Sue, I decided to visit Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter.

The day before I’d been to Town End, a farm in Troutbeck, and taken a guided tour. A friend of Ms Potter’s lived at Town End and she apparently visited often, though only stayed one night. Town End has been preserved very well and the tour guide did an excellent job, sharing many interesting facts about the buildings and the family who had lived there from the 15th century to the 20th.

One of the funniest things I learned on that tour was that one of the men of the house, who did a lot of furniture carving, used to carve dates like ‘1684’ into his pieces even though he was producing them in the 19th century. This made dating the furniture quite a challenge for the National Trust staff.

There were also lots of interesting associations with modern phrases. The dining table was a giant board that had a smooth side for eating off and a rough side for doing work on. The master of the house would sit at the top of the table and he was known as the chairman of the board.

Dancing on the table was ‘treading the boards’ and games played at the table were board games. I’m not entirely sure how strong the links between these and our modern expressions are but our guide was convinced.

So then the next day I set off for Hill Top.

First I caught the ferry over from Bowness on Windermere. On the boat I met a woman and her mother from Dubbo and it turned out the woman had gone to the same high school as me.

Everyone else got off the ferry and caught the shuttle bus to Hill Top but I, despite registering the name of the place, didn’t take the obvious hint and decided to walk. Well, it wasn’t the most steep climb I’ve ever made but the walk took me through some muddy paddocks and by the time I got to the right village I was puffed and annoyed with myself.

One of the local houses.

The village that Hill Top is in is quite pretty but the density of tourists was a bit of a shock for me, having spent most of my time in the Lake District by myself. Her house was lovely though and so was the garden.

It was filled with interesting objects. My favourite was her dolls house.

A peek through the window.

There were lots of guides around to answer questions, which was nice. Even a Japanese guide. I had heard someone say that Beatrix Potter was very popular in Japan and that her books were so often used as English starter texts that Japanese people came to her house like pilgrims. Maybe someone who reads this can confirm or deny?

After sneaking aboard the shuttle back to the pier then catching the ferry back over I was left with half a day to fill. I noticed a bit of a hill behind Bowness and wandered up through the back streets until I finally ended up on Brant Fell. The views were lovely (surprise surprise) and I sat there and ate my elegant repast of a piece of pita bread, a tiny piece of cheese, a hard boiled egg and some cherry tomatoes.

Classy!

I had a chat to a guy who jogged to the top but then looked kind of like he was going to die. My conversations with random people have fallen into a pretty standard pattern. First I tell them I’m from Melbourne, they tell me they have relations in Perth. Then we both express amazement at how incredibly good the weather has been for the last fortnight then it diverges into discussions about cultural differences between Australia and the UK.

I don’t think I ever think about my Australianess when I am at home but when I am overseas, particularly in the UK or US, I spend a lot of time either dispelling or reinforcing stereotypes, depending on what mood I’m in.

Anyhoo, I shall leave you with this serendipitous floral/sign arrangement and start a post about today’s walk. Then I shall be all caught up, hooray!

Bowness On Windermere

I am heading to Cambridge on Saturday so I decided to have a few nights of luxury at a B&B called The Rum Doodle. Ridiculous.

I dropped off my big bag in the morning and then wandered down the main strip of shops. I found a pub to sit and write a few postcards in – The Hole In ‘T Wall.

Sometimes you go into these places and think that if anyone tried to copy the interior and set it up in another country as a traditional English Pub people would tell them to dial it back a bit.

I don’t envy whoever has to dust the place, anyhow.

I bought a couple of second hand books that I can easily leave behind somewhere. The first I’m reading is called ‘The Life of a Scilly Sergeant’ and it’s true stories written by a policeman who was posted to the Isles of Scilly. It’s quite good and reminds me a lot of small towns I’ve lived in. Mum, I think you’d like it.

I had a look in the local church, mainly because it was a little oasis from the noisy bus loads of tourists who clog the local footpaths.

The inside was lovely, with a pice of stained glass that was from the 13th century and hand-painted walls that looked like tiles in some places.

There was a comfortable homeliness to the place that larger, more ostentatious churches lack.

Next I went to the movies and even though I enjoyed the film (I Feel Pretty) I was most tickled by the size of the theatre and screen. There was no way the screen was more than twice as big as our home tv and the elaborate curtains that initially covered it had a real Muppets feel.

Hopefully the exit sign on the side can help you gauge the size.

The theatre itself – nothing about it felt like it had altered since the 60s, even the staff.

After the movie I went to the Indian restaurant next door and had a korma and coconut rice before power-walking back to the Rum Doodle in the rain. I had been wondering if I’d squandered the money I’d spent on my room and should’ve gone camping instead, but when I saw the bath tub I was reassured it had all been worthwhile. All I’ve wanted for two weeks was a soak in a tub – something I do about once a decade at home. Then the bed! So fluffy! So full of springs and so not a blow up or foam mattress!

Like sleeping in a slightly creaky cloud.

My least active day of the whole trip so far but it was nice to read, watch some light entertainment and finally get in a curry. Is it just me or are Thai restaurants taking over from Indian in the UK? I have no problem with Thai food but it seems to outnumber Indian 3-1 everywhere I’ve been so far. Times change, I suppose!

An Unexpectedly Long Hike

I set off from the YHA in Troutbeck with a determination to walk at least 15km and picked a trail that headed up the valley then circled around the top and came back. I really need to put more planning and thinking into the walks I improvise because, as I go along, I keep changing my mind about how far I want to go and where. I keep thinking that a highlighter would be useful so I can keep track of which track I meant to stay on. Not that it matters too much, I suppose, as long as I know where I am.

I walked along the valley floor, enjoying the sun and the fact that, despite it being a sunny weekend, I couldn’t see a soul – except high on the ridges of Ill Bell and the other peaks along the Kentmere Horseshoe. I like looking up and seeing the little silhouettes of people trudging along.

I crossed this rather prehistoric looking bridge and wished the water was warmer. It always looks so clear and inviting!

I walked through a farm then the bog began and didn’t really stop for the rest of the walk. I looked at the maps and decided I wanted to climb up and out of the valley. The walls weren’t that steep and I saw that the Kirkstone Inn wasn’t terribly far and I could possibly even make it there for lunch if I was willing to climb a few stone walls and do some navigating. So I did!

As I climbed up the side I saw a herd of wild deer on a spot very appropriately named Hart’s Crag. See if you can spot them in this appallingly zoomed-in photo.

I stopped about ten times on the way up. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed anything so steep! When I got to the top there was a wall to climb, then rocks to negotiate around, then I finally saw another person, walking right where I expected the path to be. He confirmed my location and so I drank the last of my water and headed along the path.

I took my picture at a cairn then headed down to the inn. It was after 3 and I prayed the whole way down that it was still doing food as I hadn’t brought any.

I can’t remember feeling less guilty about eating so many chips.

My adventures weren’t over though. I left the inn, thinking I’d walked the four or five kilometres back to Troutbeck by road so I could put the map away. It didn’t take long for me to get sick of the cars whizzing past to look for an alternative. I struck out across a field to climb over the back of Wansfell but it was less a field and more a thinly-disguised pond. My feet were sinking in up to the ankles. I was unimpressed. Still, I waded up the hill and was rewarded with great views that don’t really look like much on screen. Trust me, it was lovely.

As I neared the hostel I checked my distance walked – 22kms/13 miles. My longest day yet, and most of it up or down. I have no trouble walking much further distances when it’s flat but the hills really kill me. I’m probably getting fitter but it’s such a gradual process that I’ll only really notice when I get home and bound up a walk that is normally challenging. Well, that’s the hope, anyway.

Look at this high-tech masterwork below! The yellow is when I was on a proper path and the red bit is where I scrambled up the hill. It won’t mean much to many people but it was fun tracing my journey.

The thing that really surprised me was how much energy I had on the home stretch and that my feet didn’t hurt at all. In the middle of crowing about it to Luke the next morning I realised I’d cut my foot open and was bleeding on the hostel floor. Murphy’s Law, I suppose.