Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lake District

The Lake District is located in Cumbria, on the north-west coast of England, in the part that I think of as England's neck. I have just spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out what exactly Cumbria is, because it does not appear on any of the county maps of England that I've been looking at. This, I now know, is because the counties showing on the maps -- Cumberland, Westmorland, and a bit of Lancashire -- ceased to exist in 1974, when they were merged into one larger county called Cumbria. Why almost all the county maps of England on the internet are more than thirty years out of date is, to be perfectly honest, not surprising. This is a country in which they have not yet figured out that the hot and cold taps can be combined for a very pleasant handwashing experience in which no nerve damage need be sustained from extreme water temperatures. This is also a country that makes sixteen billion dollars yearly from overseas tourists but neglects to label its streets. No, the map thing is really the least of England's peculiarities.

Fortunately the most important thing to know about the Lake District is in its name: it has lakes. It looks like the same person who clawed western New York got to Cumbria, too, although I think they were formed differently. You may research that on your own; I wore myself out with the first paragraph.

Cumbria is fairly large and we only had two days, so we only saw one lake: Windermere. I rate it highly as a lake because it has islands. All that greenery to the right of the frame is an island, not the other side of the lake. The islands reminded me of Swallows and Amazons, and I have since learned that Arthur Ransome, who wrote the series, went to school in the town of Windermere. But apparently the books are based mostly on Coniston Water.

The extent of our boating was to take a ferry across Windermere to Beatrix Potter's house, but we had a remarkably good view of it from our hostel. Considering that hostels don't usually come with views, I was impressed. Also interesting: I saw many more sailboats in Windermere than I did in Cornwall. This and one particular episode of Inspector Lynley lead me to believe that everyone in Cornwall with a boat is probably a smuggler.

But there's more to do in Windermere than boat on Windermere or sit around and look at Windermere. You can also hike around Windermere and marvel at the lovely scenery.

Locals would probably call this a "walk" but at the ninety-minute mark, when you have gotten lost at least seven times, and your feet are thoroughly drenched, and you have just nearly lost your sneaker in three inches of foul-smelling mud, it automatically becomes a "hike". The main problem with this walk/hike was that we did not know that a stile could look like this:

Those are VERY HARD TO SEE from the other side of the pasture. I take comfort from this entry in Beatrix Potter's journal, in which she describes a similar experience: "Went to Hawkshead on 19th. Had a series of adventures. Inquired the way three times, lost continually, alarmed by collies at every farm, stuck in stiles, chased once by cows." And poor Beatrix didn't even have farmer Polly looking out for her like we did. As we were passing by Polly's farm, we ran across this little setup:

Polly (who we never met) had set out a basket of water and orange juice, and a container of treats for the hungry, ill-prepared, or thoroughly charmed hiker. We fell into the last category. We signed her little book, put some pence in her little honesty jar, petted her dog (who could leap fences by the way, very impressive), and went happily on our way.

We were making our way toward Orrest Head, which against all probability we did eventually find. This is what it looks like from the bottom:

And here are some views from the top. They will be more impressive if you click on them and look at the large version. It was a very "the hills are alive" kind of place.


Windermere and the fells beyond

I thought you would like a close-up.

What we had just walked through, more or less.

Incidentally, if you have ever wondered what happens when you check the little box on your customs form that says you've been walking through pastures, the answer is not very exciting. All they do is mark your form with an A (not for Anarchist, fortunately, but for Agriculture), put you in another screening line, make you put your luggage through what I guess was an x-ray machine, and let you go. Here is the odd thing: our luggage did not go through any pastures, our shoes did. And our shoes were not looked at. I suppose if in answer to the question, "Is there any soil on your shoes?" I had said, "Yes, clumps of it, teeming with nasty microbes," it might have been more interesting. But alas, for our own comfort, we had cleaned them.

In spite of the debacle with the stile and the six hours we spent walking around in horribly clammy shoes, the Lake District was my favorite of the new places I saw. This is my way of warning you that I will be going on at great length about Beatrix Potter in my next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures! How wonderfully eccentric to find a refreshment stand out in the middle of nowhere. Looking forward to your post about Ms. Potter's house.

Was taking a ferry the only way to get to her house, or just the shortest way to the other side of the lake?