Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We booked a day trip with ‘Elegance Tours‘ (possibly the most basic-looking shop front you could imagine – all laminated photos and hand-drawn signs – nice people though) in Zadar (pronounced ZAHdar, not ZaDAH as we kept saying) for our first full day.

Our trip was basically just the bus there with a stop at a restaurant/minimart for supplies on the way in. We were told food was expensive at the park but we found it to be fairly similar to other places we’d been – more expensive than buying at a supermarket or bakery though.

The falls are a two hour drive from Zadar and involve travelling through quite a number of tunnels until you reach the other side of the mountains. The landscape on the coastal side is very rocky and dry but once you get through the mountains it is lush and there are fields of wildflowers. I panicked a bit as I’d stopped taking my hay fever meds but there isn’t much in the way of grass near the lakes – mostly trees and bushy plants.

Our driver was German and spoke almost no English. When he asked if anyone spoke German I indicated (rather foolishly) that I had the tiniest fraction. Luckily I understood his instruction that we’d stop for twenty minutes and then it was twenty minutes to the park. We had a little bit of confusion regarding whether we’d be at the park four hours or be picked up at four o’clock, but eventually cleared it up.

The bus company suggested a particular route around the park which took in the upper and lower lakes but used a train/bus to cut down one leg and a boat transfer (both included in the ticket cost) to speed it up. In the end we possibly could’ve walked the whole way as we took just over four hours to do the loop but it’s hard to estimate that sort of thing on your first go. We are moderately fast walkers and didn’t linger anywhere, however in a few points the crowd bottlenecked to the point where people stopped. I’d guess that we walked about 8 km in total.

The lakes and falls are all exceptionally beautiful. The intense colours come from a combination of limestone sediment, moss and algae. During most of our visit there were clouds and a cool breeze, which was good, but I imagine that sun would bring out the colours even more.

I was pleased to see many, many fish in the lakes and threw a few crumbs in, even though I probably shouldn’t have. The fish do hang around near the boardwalks so I think I’m not the only one.

Our biggest moment of excitement was when a fellow walking in front of us mis-stepped and fell into the water at a point where the boardwalk crossed a small fall, which meant he got stuck on some rocks but with the water flowing very fast around him. We leapt forward and Luke helped a couple of other people grab him and pull him up and I picked up a camera that another lady had put down in order to help as I could see it was going to get kicked in. Poor guy was ok but wearing jeans – he must’ve had a very unpleasant time walking around after that!

We made it back to the point where our driver was meeting us with nearly two hours to spare so we had a drink, took some photos by the largest waterfall viewpoint and relaxed. We saw people from our bus group congregate but they were a fairly standoffish lot who didn’t return our smiles so we left them alone.

The bus got back to Zadar at 6pm and we thanked our driver and walked back to our apartment to make some dinner and plan our next adventure!

Bus: 220 kuna/$55 AUD each

Park entrance: 250 kuna/$62.50 AUD each

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!

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!

A Day In Coniston

The guidebook I bought for the Lake District years ago did not have nice things to say about Coniston. It basically implied it was a tiny mining village with little to offer. Times must have changed if property prices are any to go by.

One of the main intersections in Coniston.

Actually Coniston has a number of historic pubs, beautiful views, a useful range of shops and most of the accommodation, if booking.com is anything to go by, isn’t cheap. A lot of the houses in the village are built of stone and have that dark, brooding gravitas that slate lends to a place. I really like it.

I decided, on my one full day here, to go for a boat ride around the lake then go and look at Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin. The only other person staying at the pub is an American fellow who is an historian with an interest in John Ruskin so he told me a little at breakfast and then I ended up seeing him at Brantwood later in the day.

I walked down the hill to the lake and did a little Facebook live video while I waited for the boat and went for a walk. Being a teacher, I’m perfectly happy to drone on at length about nothing in particular, although I did find myself talking about socks and wondering if anyone was still listening. When I listened back to it I realised the wind noise was unbearable but lesson learned, I will do them indoors or on still days from now on.

I had meant to go on the steam boat but this was the only one there when I got to the dock.

I was the only passenger on the boat so I had a private tour and enjoyed asking lots of questions and getting a more personal insight into the area. We motored past the island that features in Swallows and Amazons, which is a series of children’s books and two movies and is apparently a big deal even though I hadn’t heard of it until I read my guide book. I have downloaded the first book though and will read it next.

The boat dropped me off at Brantwood, which is almost directly opposite Coniston on the other side of the lake. It’s a group of buildings where John Ruskin spent the last few decades of his life. He was a great thinker, writer, artist, poet… basically a Victorian renaissance man. He went mad in his later years and it sounded a lot like bi-polar to me. The video introduction, that the man at the front desk insisted we watch, was a bit odd. Apart from having weirdly dramatic synth music playing over the top, it completely neglected to mention any female or non-famous person’s presence in JR’s life. I came away wondering if he’d ever married, which of course was a tip-off that his relationship was scandalous and not entirely happy. The gift shop had lots of books on his wife and her achievements but I didn’t investigate. Really, I was here for the gardens and wallpaper.

He designed this wallpaper himself and JR was a big supporter of my favourite art movement, the Pre Raphaelites.

The inside of the house was lovely although insanely creaky. No creeping up on anyone here!

The views from from the windows were stunning in every direction. Forest on one side, lake on the other.

The grounds were supposed to have areas with distinct themes but mainly they were semi-wild with a few bluebells and ferns. From the dock to the buildings was better maintained but I dare say it’s one of those National Trust places where the income doesn’t really cover the upkeep of everything.

John Ruskin’s chair. Surprisingly comfortable in angle but I can only assume he took a cushion or two.

Several people had touted the cafe and it was indeed very nice. I had a carrot and honey soup. After the oversized breakfast at the hotel, soup seemed like a good choice on a cold and relatively sedate day.

All in all a very pleasant day where I learned, looked and listened. My feet and shoulders enjoyed the break and by evening I felt almost ready to tear myself away from the cloud-like comfort of my bed at The Sun. Onwards and upwards tomorrow!

Cumbria Way : Day 2

Most people would walk to Coniston in their first day of TCW but I am a bit unfit and quite lazy so I decided to get there on day two. Also people in other blogs said the last few kilometres by Coniston Water is a real slog and I wanted to enjoy it.

I actually slept better than in the hostel in London. Nothing beats an absence of snoring. Nothing!

So I had a cold and small breakfast (having a huge Full English Breakfast before saddling up for a major walk seems like insanity to me, but it’s tradition here) of cheese and hummus on tortillas, then set off.

If I didn’t see many people yesterday, I could halve that number today. I saw literally no one, not a soul, for the first four hours. I have read that the Lake District can be heaving with tourists all year round but that hasn’t been my experience so far. Maybe I’m not in the busy part yet? Anyhow, I enjoyed the views and took my time.

The stream above was my last view before I climbed a hill to reach Beacon Tarn, my first proper geographic feature.

And still no one in sight.

I sat to dry out my map (I’d used it as a ground sheet the night before – it was a waterproof OS map. So useful!) and have a snack and look at the water. After twenty minutes I looked behind me and a bunch of sheep had snuck up and were giving me baleful looks.

I like sheep. They are quiet and easy to ignore. Not like cows! Anyhoo, right after Beacon Tarn the landscape really opened up and there was a fabulous vista across to the Langdales. Probably. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

While the landscape was stunning it was also difficult to walk across. The path couldn’t decide whether or not it wanted to be a stream or a bog, and so in many places it was both.

The problem in the photo above isn’t actually the steam crossing, it’s the getting to and from – it’s all mud. I spent a lot of time walking back and forth at places like this, working out how to keep my feet dry. I succeeded though, so in your face, nature!

I will admit that the pack continued to weigh on me, and after about 10 km I got to a point where I was just bent over, dragging my walking poles like a cave man would drag his club and thinking tired thoughts. Fortunately I came to a stream that had a grassy bank, wildflowers and sun shine. It was time to sit down.

Over the next hill was Coniston Water and also phone reception. I took this stretch pretty easy, stopping to take photos, upload a few photos and rest every kilometre. My shoulders were getting very sore and dark clouds were rolling in.

Eventually I staggered into town and found The Sun Inn an a bunch of other walkers outside. I ended up sitting with them for a few hours then booking into the hotel when the rain started coming down in sheets.

I cannot tell you how good my pie and chips tasted. I might have even had a small tear in my eye at the fact that I was indoors by an open fire, I’d walked through stunning scenery and I had a comfy bed and my own private, indoor bathroom to use for the first time in nearly a week. In fact it was so good I booked two nights.

Marvellous!