Friday, 5th of May
My lady-boss very kindly let me off work early today when she found out my weekend plans–shuttling off immediately after work to the Lake District in Northern England for the weekend! It was kind of her to allow me to leave early, because as we were staying in a B&B (and considering the two-hour drive there) we wanted to make it before too late in the evening.
So, while the sun still hung high in the air H and I were all aboard the Panda, express route to Keswick (that’s “Kessick” for y’all). Lucky for us we got to again drive through the only recently visited Scottish Borders (last traveled through on the way to the Garden of Cosmic Underpaid Fairies), and even better, this time the sun remained the entire evening–no chilly weather for us!
I spent most of the ride with my nose pressed against the window, camera half-raised, ready to take desperate snaps of any wee baby lambs frolicking through the hillside. (Because blurry, action shots of baby lambs are better than none, amirite?) What I didn’t realize was that Keswick would be chock-full of the suckers, so lucky for me it didn’t matter too much just how rubbish my photos turned out.
The real surprise of the evening was when we stopped to eat our emergency travel PB&J’s in a service station. Now, when I think of service station, I think of this:
It’s like… a big toilet stop. With some vending machines. And hell, throw in some picnic tables, we’re feeling wild!
When we pulled into the rest area, or service area, hell I don’t know what they call ’em here, I was greeted with this:
Would you look at that! I was awed by the relative splendor to be found inside as Haitham and I sipped our Starbucks coffees in the cushy lounge. There was a whole mall-esque seating pavillion inside, surrounded by KFC, a touristy tat shop, a grocery store (Waitrose), and a Papa John’s. Like… what the hell. It’s only when Haitham said, “Well, where do you guys stop for a bite to eat?” that I understood. Americans drive everywhere. So, when we wanted to stop to eat, we just glance at the nearest exit for our fast-food stops of choice. It’s easy! But here, fast food is less a thing… because it’s so damned American. And yet our dirtily convenient ways have snuck their way across the ocean, and made just a little bit more palatable, and bam. You have a classy service area, complete with motel, gas station, and I even spotted a docking bay for electric cars and Teslas. (No car of either demographic made an appearance, though. But at least they’re around!)
A lot of times I take for granted where I am and forget I live in a country 4,000 miles away from home. But then others, silly wee moments like discovering the lush (in comparison) splendor of a rest area take me totally by surprise! Ha!
Anyway, as the sun was setting and the hills grew higher and higher, we finally arrived at our destination. We checked in with our B&B host, then set out for a meander around the town, a quick drink before bed at the local Bank Tavern, and then back to bed for maximum day-seizing the following morning.
Here’s Haitham taking in the view from our window. Perhaps not quite as clap-on a scenic view as we’ve had, but charming enough, especially thanks to the birdy friends making a big racket outside.
Saturday, 6th of May
I think, if Haitham and I could both summarize this day and also turn it into a warning for others it would be thus: Don’t go mountain biking in the Lake District.
Well, maybe don’t do it if you’re a total weenie. I can now say with 100% certainly that I am not built for mountain biking: riding on any surface that isn’t firmly packed or paved turns me into a quivering puddle of anxieties and “I am about to hurtle off the side of this mountain/hill/small ditch” thoughts.
And the hills. Oh my GOD THE HILLS!!!
Our morning started off promisingly enough–at breakfast we overheard our B&B host telling the two folks up at the same time as us that there was a Saturday market going on. Not to miss out on the fun (but also because our bike rental shop didn’t open until 10) we meandered down to the high street.
It was so cute! And full of things I wanted to throw my money at!! Although it was quiet enough first thing in the morning, the hustle and bustle steadily increased until it was thrumming with activity within a few hours.
We did treat ourselves to some brand spankin’ new stoneware mugs though. You can’t go wrong with handmade stoneware, especially when it’s bought from the wild-haired mum of the guy who made ’em!
Enough of that though! Let’s talk about the main event! Cycling! At promptly 10 AM we scooped up our bikes from a very nonchalant young man at the rental facility (“What about locks?” Haitham asked. “Well, I mean, if you want them, I guess I can grab them for you…?”). We had already picked our route, the easiest of the bunch, although we were uncertain about a piece of it due to the fact that a portion of the bridge washed out a very recent two years ago.
Seriously. Get it together guys!
Anyway he assured us we would have no trouble (lies) and highlighted the changed route from there, and off we went!
I don’t know if we missed a turn somewhere, but right off the bat it was hilly.
Lucky for me there were lots of baby sheep and lovely views to stop and enjoy whilst gasping for breath on my many numerous stops. Haitham managed slightly better than me, I think mainly due to his much larger nostrils and subsequently better oxygen intake. (It’s a solid theory!)
After a lot of incredulous laughter and wild looks of “What the heck is this madness?” at each other as we wondered just what we had gotten into, we made it to our first stop: the Castlerigg stone circle.
Blah blah, it’s super old, blah blah, someone probably got sacrificed here. I dunno, it was just neat to see and we were glad to have made it that far at all (maybe a mile). To be fair, the above photo looks more like a drunkard’s stone circle. But it was totally worth a visit, and we enjoyed the momentary lapse of tourists within it–and also saying hello to the scenery-oblivious cows!
We were also impressed with the ingenuity of these stepping stones placed within the stone wall containing the cattle. Haitham in particular enjoyed testing them for structural soundness!
Up till this point we were still enjoying ourselves and the cycle. We stopped for lunch in nearby Threlkeld village. However, upon leaving our cycle route became difficult to pick up, and our path seemed to be only going straight up.
Then we got took a wrong turn. Our hard-pack path suddenly became a logging path, full of branches strewn all throughout the barely walkable path. Being the weenie that I am, I dismounted, visions of spokes jamming and tumbling headfirst, and trundled down the hill. At the bottom we conferred and came to the agreement that yes, we were indeed going the wrong way.
Well. By that time, admittedly, I was having a big ol’ sense of humor failure.
Good thing I married a secret knight in shining armor. When my crunchy knee, major anxiety on the paths, and other neuroses morphed into a minor Rissa meltdown, Haitham swooped in, scooped up my bike, and marched them both up to the tippy top peak of our ride, no questions asked.
Can you see him there? A tiny speck, just gettin’ on with it while letting me get my shit together? What can I say? I’m lucky he puts up with me!
Finally… finally we made it to the top. And were greeted with a view that almost made up for the trauma.
The rest of the trek was all gravel-packed and downhill, swerving around poor innocent pedestrians, all the while white-knuckled and chanting my mantra of “Oh God Oh God Oh God pleasegetoutofthewayholyshit–”
And yet, somehow we (I) survived.
The rest of the evening we (I) regained my wits and composure. Did a mite of relaxing in the B&B, bought some excellent new shoes in town, attempted to visit to what turned out to be a wholly and disappointingly abandoned pencil museum despite its very modern-day welcome signs.
The crowning glory though was the evening. After an excellent dinner we meandered the streets of Keswick marveling at how any place could be so quintessentially cute, peering into shop windows, pausing in the awnings of a church to eavesdrop on the choral performance inside.
Then we decided to meander down to the lake, because ya know, we hadn’t yet and we were in the Lake District for chrisakes.
And there were so. many. lambs. And they were having the BEST time: I couldn’t stop taking videos and laughing at the sheer adorableness!!!
In the end: all it takes is some baby lambs runnin’ for the pure hell of it to make a sketchy bike ride a distant memory!
Sunday, 7th of May
A new day breaks in Keswick! And it looks to be a total stunner. That, folks, is just about as lucky as you can possibly get while vacationing anywhere even relatively close to the Scottish border.
During our stay we discovered that our B&B host, while supremely friendly, was also just a little… too interested in what his guests were up to. That is, a good B&B host to our minds is there to provide help if need be, but also to know when to leave your guests in peace. Well, our host was just a smidge over-helpful–picking apart plans, offering multitudes of suggestions, and just generally letting a simple “We were thinking of doing ____” conversation last for far too long. For example, he went on and on the prior day about our cycling, despite us already having decided to just ask the bicycle rental folks because, ya know. It’s what they do?
And yet, despite our introverted need for only the bare minimum amounts of British helpfulness, our host’s sheer, utter determination for us to have a good time on our last day there … well, he totally nailed it.
So there you have it, folks. Sometimes it’s worth it to listen to someone ramble on, because they may just know what they’re on about. As our B&B host offered a multitude of suggestions all centering around a driving tour of the area, Haitham dutifully jotted them all down in Google Maps. They ended up all being perfect suggestions for the day, and we had a blast experiencing them all.
First up in our tour though, we were mercilessly mocked. As it happens, there was a 2,000+ member cycling event happening on the roads of the Lake District. Somehow our Panda ended up right in the middle of them, winding along the narrow roads leading into the mountains while marveling at the sheer number of cyclists, and just how the heck they were doing what they were doing.
We eventually left the throng by detouring to our first stop, a picturesque view called something like Surprise View. And indeed, it was a pleasant surprise!
We next continued winding our way through the rapidly-narrowing and ridiculously bendy roads, stopping at a tiny picturesque village called Watendlath. Which was basically like, two houses and a farmhouse. Sadly the tea room was closed for the day, so we poked our noses about and then carried on. Our next stop, a slate mine!
Thrilling, I know. And yet, the Honister Slate Mine actually was (to my mind) cool as heck. Perched precariously on the top of a mountain, it was surprisingly modern and full of good humor with its sign inside (on slate, of course) that says “IF YA WANNT SERVICE HOLLER!!” You could also watch some of the workers there smoothing and polishing the slate in an extremely satisfying manner. They had a photo of who I can only presume is their inspiration hanging up by the window.
As it turns out they also offer mining tours and had a tea room, so, basically they took their schtick and ran with it. (And nailed it, too!) We examined all the slatey things for sale in the gift shop, pondering if slate candle holders were worth it, but ultimately left having purchased only a few cheeky cards. We sat outside in the sun to watch the progression of the cyclists, who it seemed we had managed to catch up to somehow. Did I mention the skull and crossbones sign on this bit of road? No? Yeah, it was really damned steep, as this sign just after indicates. We both wondered what the state of the cyclists’ brakes would be after this leg of the journey. And also the state of their legs having made it up in the first place!
As we basked in the sun a chopper began circling overhead, and eventually landed to airlift some poor soul away. Was it an errant tourist having taken a tumble in the mines? Did someone fall off a nearby cliff? Did a cyclist’s heart give out from sheer terror at the drop below? Who knows. I hope they’re okay though! It seems that people often get into trouble in the Lake District, as evidence to all the “donate to the Lake District Search & Rescue Team” cups on every shop counter we strayed into.
We continued our scenic journey, stopping only for snacks and photo-ops!!
Next stop, the Rannerdale Valley bluebells. Our B&B host had shown us a grainy photo on instagram his mate had sent him showing the progression of some bluebells in flower, saying “blah blah it’s so good you should go,” so Haitham dutifully plugged that in as our last stop of the day before shuttling off homeward. I had my doubts again, because I am an untrusting turd.
And yet again we underestimated our host. What a total star. This was us on approach of Rannerdale Valley.
And then we began to wander. UGH IT WAS STINKIN’ PRETTY. The bluebells seemed to stretch on and on, carefully preserved from the chomping mouths of sheep and the wandering feet of instagram-eager hikers with stone walls and signs.
We even took a photo together. A rare occasion to be sure, and one that H only agreed to after heaps of wheedling. He may be my hero of mountain-biking-related-disasters, but you gotta have your flaws somewhere, eh?
The gorse in bloom made a particularly striking backdrop, and it smelled heavenly. Sort of like coconut.
After that, we trundled back to the car to began the meander back to Auld Reekie. We did stop at a Forestry Commission site along the way and had a quick wander through the forest, but left feeling a bit burnt because not only was the wifi in the cafe inside not free, we had to pay for parking, and the birds wouldn’t even accept crumbles of fruit from us!!
Psht. What an outrage.
What a fantastic trip. I would absolutely love to go back to the Lake District–we hardly explored even a fraction of it, and even that was absolutely stunning. Maybe one day–considering it was hardly two full days that we stayed though, I think we made the best of it! Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end of this long-ass post… You definitely deserve a treat!