Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

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 over๐Ÿ˜

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!

Langstrath to Keswick

From my hardest day to the easiest. The walk from the campsite through the tiny but charming village of Grange, all the way to Keswick, was like a walk through a park. I even bought an ice cream in Grange as the sun was so warm. The flavour was ‘chocolate toffee explosion’ or something equally exciting. Totally worth paying over two pounds for one rather small scoop.

I chatted to an older couple (you’d think there was no other type of people in this area, that’s how frequently I meet them) who told me that the Borrowdale Valley is often thought the prettiest square mile in Cumbria. I don’t know if that’s precisely true but it certainly wasn’t bad at all.

I stopped for an early lunch by an abandoned slate quarry and had a wander through.

On my first day in Ulverston I bought a chunk of cheddar to take with me on my walks and it lasted a surprisingly long time, especially since I didn’t have it in the fridge at all. Well, I mean night times were fridge temperatures, but it survived the days too. I would cut off bits to mix through couscous and it wasn’t a bad meal with an apple on the side. I am also loving my soft water bottles. They fit into any space in my bag and take up no room when they’re empty. I’m glad I chose those rather than the hard sort.

Here’s my first sight of Derwent Water.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up with meeting two more older couples. The first couple took my photo.

I think I look sort of happy-yet-pathetic in this picture.

The other couple were American and we talked and walked for about an hour and then we got to a little village right before Keswick and they bought me lunch! It was incredibly kind and I think I reminded them of their children, one was born the same year as me. They told me that if I couldn’t find accommodation I should come to their cottage and they would be happy to let me sleep on the couch.

People have been so generous and friendly and kind to me so far, I really can’t get over it.

I waved them farewell and headed to the lakeside campsite and found they had tonnes of room. I pitched my tent and revelled in the sunshine.

Here’s a few more photos from the day.

Splendid!

Langdale to Borrowdale: My Second Encounter With Mountain Rescue.

I caught the bus from Ambleside to The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, a place I’ve heard a lot about as it appears on many UK hiking blogs. Because the first bus didn’t leave Ambleside until 9:30 and didn’t get to TODG until 10:30ish I didn’t go inside and now I’m kind of sorry. At the same time that day turned out to be the hardest slog yet so I’m glad I didn’t hang around.

The Langdale Valley on a sunny bank holiday Saturday is less a peaceful stroll through a stunning valley and more a walk along a busy high street. So many people! More than I’d seen on all the walks I’d done previously put together. At the end of the valley the track splits off in several directions though so that helped thin the hordes. Also at the end of the valley were a trio of mountain rescue vehicles and I learned from a conversation later in the day that it definitely wasn’t a drill and they’d been there since 8am. No idea what happened though.

As I faced the steep wall of Stake Pass I stopped thinking about other people and mainly started feeling sorry for myself. No one else was carrying a huge pack and it looked like maybe 1000 steps or more to the top, most of them moderately steep and all of them uneven.

I did find, once I got going, that is wasn’t so bad. Because the path had water running down it (they almost all do) and I had to look at every step for footing, I only ended up stopping a few times and with the view getting better and better, it was exciting to climb higher. I’ve never been great with heights but I think this experience is definitely helping me take more risks and be brave. I know some people would bound up stairs like that but for me it was a challenge. When I got to the top I felt like I’d conquered the world.

Over the top was an open grassland area for a short space. It was up here I met a group of uni students from Preston University. We swapped Instagram details at their insistence, then it was down into Borrowdale. Instead of uneven stone steps the path was loose gravel, which is my least favourite surface. I ended up walking on the grass edges on the narrow path that wiggled back and forth. I stopped halfway down and cooked some pasta (taking the advice of several people to actually have decent break when I felt tired) and while I did a man from, of all places, Redcar, came past. This was funny for me because Redcar is a tiny town in Yorkshire and Luke and I stayed in the nearby town of Saltburn last time we were here. The people we stayed with had nothing good to say about Redcar and made this point quite a number of times. Then I meet this guy and he said exactly the same thing.

We had a chat about things other than Redcar and he told me I should definitely do some wild camping at some stage and I agreed (we’ll see) then he moved on. I slowly inched my way down the slope and then struggled along the rocky and muddy valley floor. This was the point that I finally gave up trying to keep my feet dry and just walked through the mud. Within about two kilometres there were about 20 streams to cross and I managed most ok but it was slow going. I met an older couple (I should start tracking how many times I use that phrase) who told me this was as dry as it gets and quite often water is sheeting down the valley walls. Christ almighty.

The water was beautifully clear though.

I decided, as I always do, to stop at the first campsite I came to. It was pretty basic and so busy it looked like there was a music festival going on. I pitched my tent then went in search of the closest pub and had a pint of cider in their sunny beer garden. Lovely!

Coniston to Ambleside

Keen observers will note that Ambleside isn’t anywhere near the Cumbria Way – I made a diversion late in the day via bus because there was no accommodation in Elterwater. But I shall begin at the beginning!

I had a mostly lovely day’s walking. When I set out from Coniston the sun was out, the birds were singing and I stopped far too frequently to take photos of the countryside and listen to fighter jets zoom overhead as I passed through Tarn How Wood. I watched one come up the valley, flying really low. Another classic Lakeland experience!

I met a group of ladies who were also doing the Cumbria Way and they goggled at my pack. They told me they were stopping at The Old Dungeon Ghyll, probably the most famous walkers’ pub in the Lakes (well, in my limited understanding) but I had a strong feeling I wouldn’t get that far that day, which turned out to be correct.

At some point I took a wrong turn. For most of the walk I had assiduously checked my map every five minutes but I walked through a field of adorable sheep and terrific views and I think I missed a turn.

I ended up heading back south towards Coniston Water instead of north to Tarn How. Fortunately I found a local in my wandering and he looked at my map and set me right and I wasn’t too far out of the way. I ended up walking through a beautiful forest and saying hello to a lady who was also off on a solo camping expedition, the only differences being that she was on a horse and also (I imagine) not suddenly filled with raging jealousy, like I was. Then I remembered that I’m allergic to horses so it’s probably just as well I didn’t try to mug her.

Eventually I made it through the forest and found public toilets, right after spending the previous hour wishing I could find one. How fortuitous! Also it turned out that Tarn How is a super popular spot that people can even get around in wheelchairs so it’s not surprising that there were public toilets. I was grateful anyhow, and walked around a corner of the lake. I’ve heard it described as one of the prettiest tarns in the Lake District. Personally I think it was ok, but maybe the weather wasn’t doing it justice and it didn’t really compare to the magnificence I’d walked through on the previous four days.

I talked to a man who bore a startling resemblance to his bulldog and we discussed dog training for a while then I headed off again, away from civilisation.

This was the bit where the rain started, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the walk. I decided to cut a section off and walk alongside the road for a bit. At one point I heard a loud ‘HELLO,’ and who should I see cycling past but the landlord of the Stan Laurel where I stayed in Ulverston. I literally know two people by face in this whole corner of England and I walk right by one. What are the chances?

I found that the combination of nice solid and flat road surface and rain really sped up my progress and I made it Elterwalter fairly early in the afternoon. I’d set off from Coniston at about 10 and got to Elterwater at about 2:30. I stopped at a fancy hotel, the Eltermere, for a rest stop and had a nice scone with jam and clotted cream, made even more pleasant by their open fire right next to me.

I looked up the accommodation nearby and realised Luke and I stayed at The Britannia in Elterwater last time we were here, but nowhere had rooms and the bus to Ambleside left in five minutes so the choice was made.

I ended up at The Queen’s Hotel, and it was much cheaper than The Sun, although also not quite as nice. I ended up sitting at the bar and chatting to the dour barman and the upbeat barmaid all evening. Well, when I say ‘all evening’ I mean until 7:30, when I went to bed to read and then was asleep by 8:30.

Travelling is tiring! Even though I’m not working I feel exhausted by the middle of every afternoon. Do you find this when you’re on holidays? Maybe I need to develop a coffee addiction so I can push through ๐Ÿ™‚ .