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!

Walking in Cambridgeshire.

After a slow start this morning (due to spending too much time on the internet as per usual), Luke and I finally grabbed the new map and headed out on foot to explore and practice our navigation skills.

A charming country church.

We walked through little copses and along quiet country roads. We saw a number of cute little rabbits but no pheasants. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my favourite countryside game of pheasant spotting. Pretty much every time I’m in a car or on a train going through fields I’m looking for pheasants. Even though Andrew says they’re ‘dumb as a brick’ I think they’re extremely pretty – like birds of paradise, really. They also tend to stand in places where they’re easy to spot (as would I if I looked as good as them). Luke will tell you, should you ever ask, how ridiculously excited I get whenever I see one – and because I’m in a car or on a train there’s almost never time for anyone else to see them too so it’s also like they’re my secret. Which is all beside the point because I didn’t see any today. Boo.

So many trees covered in blossoms.

We initially headed for a nearby village called Dry Drayton but there was nowhere to get lunch so we headed to the next village, where the pub wasn’t serving meals and didn’t even have packets of chips for sale (criminal!) but the guy behind the bar gave us instructions to get to a shop half an hour away. So we walked. And walked. And walked and came across one of those stretches of road that goes on forever, has no footpaths and lots of traffic. We continued along for a while, alternately stepping in mud and almost being knocked into a ditch, before getting quite cranky. At that point, fortunately, we spotted a path that went off between some fields and was signposted as ‘Cambridge 3 miles’.

After a short stretch in which we were encouraged by the signage to stay on the path rather than get shot into a million pieces due to the paddocks on either side being a military firing range (and we could hear them firing), we came across the charming village of Coton. We stopped at the pub and ate some generous tapas portions before heading on to Cambridge and then catching the bus back to Bar Hill.

Blossom trees everywhere!

A not-too-shabby 17kms in total. It felt really, really good to walk a decent distance for the first time this trip.

Almost at the end!

Several lessons were learned today.

Firstly, pack food and water. Feeling compelled to buy whatever is on offer simply because there are no other options is less than ideal.

Secondly, stay on the map. When we took the directions from the guy at the pub they led us off the map and we both felt more anxious.

Thirdly, plan ahead if deciding to stop for a break – make sure the place will be open and serving food if that is what is planned.

Lastly, get off our lazy butts and leave the house before lunchtime. I used to get up before 6am to go walking… what’s happened to me?!

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the day – apparently we’ve missed the opportunity to see some Morris dancing. Shame.