A trip to the English countryside always seems like a jolly good idea, so for a romantic and adventurous short break, we head to the fells and farms of Cumbria in the Lake District. We chose the Haweswater as our base, actually a reservoir rather than a lake, which feels like a lucky little secret, as it houses the dreamy Haweswater Hotel and is right in by a number of epic and underrated hikes.
After checking in and inquiring about nearby short walks, the concierge suggested we drive to the bottom of the street where we’d find Mardale Head car park, the starting point of a few lovely ambles. As we passed through the fell gate starting point, we peered up at the landscape to see the afternoon sun and passing clouds cast patchy shadows on the undulating mountains.
We ascended for around 45 minutes, past winding stone fences, green hills and jutting rocks, all the while looking back at the blue Haweswater below. When we reached a small waterfall edge, we sat down to take in the view before heading back down the fell to make it back to the hotel in time for dinner. A taste of the hike we would do on our last day in the Lake District, but more on that later.
We set out in our hire car for a day of exploration, despite the squally patchy rain that kept us in the car almost as much as out. We drove around the Ullswater and stopped at Pooley Bridge, where we had clotted cream + jam scones and a ‘gingerbridge’ (that’s gingerbread in the shape of a bridge in case you are wondering) at Granny Dowbekins Tea Room. Little red-breasted robins darted about in the sprinkling rain with a trill. We then moved on and drove by rolling hills and through small towns and eventually decided on lunch in Keswick.
Keswick is a market town, declared thus by Edward I in 1276, that sits on the Derwent Water under the gaze of Blencathra to the north. We wandered the lively streets here, visiting the many adventure stores (especially the wonderful George Fisher where we purchased our handy walking guide to the Lake District – more on that below) and marveling at the traditional English pubs. We ate lunch at the Dog & Gun a watering hole with low ceilings, wooden benches and on point wallpaper and furnishings. While I enjoyed my scampi and chips, I felt envious of Skymie’s World Famous Hungarian Goulash, the obvious (and curious) specialty. Our one regret from our trip to Keswick is that we missed the exhibition Wainwright: A Love Letter to the Lakeland Fells at the Keswick Museum – which is on until Jan 2017 (just don’t leave it too late in the day like we did).
Castlerigg Stone Henge – just a short 7 minute drive outside of Keswick you will find an incredible 4,500 year old stone circle surrounded by sloping green mountains, including Blencathra (868m – also known as Saddleback). There are 38 volcanic stones, the highest of which is just short of 8m. For me, the spiritual significance of Castlerigg is much more acutely felt than with Stonehenge, despite the enormity of the stones there and resulting perplexity at their origin. The amount of fellow tourists, the fact they are surrounded by fences and that the gift shop was so close (which I believe has changed now) made it difficult to imagine what it felt like to stumble on this stone circle in the middle of a field in times past. Castlerigg was quiet (there were more playful sheep around the site than people) and felt like a man made wonder amidst a natural one. Not that this site is not on the tourist map – indeed in the Victorian era, tourists used to take chippings of the stones as souvenirs, so who knows what height they originally stood, and Wordsworth thought it too overrun by tourists to be inspiring enough to write poems about. The stones lay quietly for many years and weren’t documented until 1725 by antiquarian William Stukely, who also wrote of another stone circle nearby, but mysteriously there is no trace of it today.
We spent another evening at Haweswater Hotel (post on this delightful stay coming soon) and on checking out we set out for Mardale Head again to begin our hike of the Haweswater Skyline, taking in the imposing Harter Fell (778m). For the stark beauty of this area, I really can’t believe this hike isn’t famous. Although the weather threatened to turn, we decided to push on with this three hour walk anyway, and I’m so glad we did. Read about the hike here soon. We left the Lake District refreshed and determined to return to explore more of this charming, romantic and rugged area.
To get you inspired for a trip to the Lake District, have a read of The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks (or follow him on Twitter @Herdyshepherd1), a vivid and heartfelt account of life as a shepherd on the Lake District Fells. I read (and really loved) this book in the lead-up to my trip here, and also saw him speak at Sydney Writers’ Festival the month before. You could also read Haweswater by Sarah Hall, a novel set right in the heart of this area (I am yet to read it, but have ordered it so will soon). This is also Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter country.
If you are a nature enthusiast and plan on hiking here (why would you not?), I suggest you check out A Wainwright‘s district guides and illustrations of the area. We also used a great little guide called The Northern Lakes: 40 Shorter Walks from the Easy to the Adventurous by Dominic North, which we picked up in Keswick at the aforementioned George Fisher outdoor store.
We also watched the hilarious Withnail & I for some shits and giggles before our trip to the Lake District, starring Richard E. Grant. Don’t go on holiday by mistake.