Sunday, 7 May 2017

7 Sunset Trips

Steve has been putting up with my wayward ways for 15 years now - really the man deserves a medal - but I warned him when we first got together that I didn't plan on growing up anytime soon.  This mean he still finds himself embroiled in my "crazy ass plans" from time to time, but it also means I still get childishly excited about a good sunset and am hopelessly romantic enough to enjoy watching them together.

Be warned though, a Cumbrian sunset often requires a good degree of tenacity and several layers of warm clothing - but the results are always worth it. 

1.  Hampsfell

This one is right on our doorstep so I had to include it first.  The photo above was taken on the evening we all lit beacons to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee, which explains why there are so many people on top of the Hospice.  It was an absolutely perfect evening and the fells looked utterly stunning as the sun went down and, as the beacons were lit, we could see right across to Birkrigg Common and down to Warton Crag.  It wasn't the most perfect night though - we were still fairly new to the fell and managed to get lost taking a "short cut" down, resulting in us wading through a huge blackberry bush and climbing a large wall - no one said romance was easy!

2. Wansfell 

The thing about Wansfell sunsets is that after you're done admiring the view there's a really big, clear and easy to follow route back to the car.  This photo was taken from the south side of the fell at High Skelghyll and from there the track will lead either down to Waterhead (near Ambleside) or around to Troutbeck.  If you're up on top of Wansfell Pike it's more of a challenge, though there's still a relatively straighforward route back down to either Ambleside or Troutbeck - but you will need a head torch and lots of warm clothing as, even in the summer, it will get cold quickly once the sun has gone.

3. Whitehaven

Whitehaven is only a 40 minute drive from Keswick and absolutely worth it for the views.  There is tons of interesting history in the town and a beautiful walk up along the cliffs to St Bees Lighthouse - with plenty of places to pause and spot a range of sea birds along the way.  Once you're done head back to the town, grab a bag of chips and settle down to watch the sunset from the harbour walls - there are views over to the Isle of Man to the west and the south coast of Scotland to the north.  Perfect.

4. Windermere

This one is super easy for everyone to access, although the small car park there is now pay and display.  As you leave Bowness heading north watch for the car park on your left just before the roundabout to Ambleside (the perfect spot to turn around if you miss it).  From there you get a spectacular view clear along the Elterwater valley to see the sun set behind the Langdale Pikes away in the distance.  Many's the time we've been on our way home from a hike and pulled in there for 10 minutes to admire the view and finish off our flask of tea.

5. Red Screes Inversion

This was such a spectacular evening - just me and Steve above an inversion on top of Red Screes watching the sun set.  He took so many stunning photos that night with the clouds first glowing gold before deepening in colour to resemble hot lava pouring from the sky.  If you're heading high to see a sun set then do please make sure you're properly kitted out - this was a stunning evening but despite our many layers of clothing we were still pretty cold when we got back to the car.  (Our secret is to leave another flask of hot tea in the boot ready for our return)

6. Sandscale Haws

I'll be honest, this is a very new discovery for us, but what a place!  Just 5 minutes drive from Barrow and your surrounded by enormous sand dunes and spectacular views.  We walked all the way to the south of the dunes for a picnic on the beach and, after the sun had gone down we wandered back around the edge of the dunes enjoying views like this across to Black Combe (one of my favourite fells).  You'll need to check the tide times before you head out but, if you keep close in to the shore, you should be absolutely fine.

7.  Arnside

We have seen hundreds of sunsets from Arnside and they never get boring.  What I love about Arnside sunsets is the way the sun plays on the different patterns across Morecambe Bay at low tide - it's never the same twice.  There are so many places you can watch from - Arnside Prom, the pier, the benches out along the coastal walk or, if you have folks with you who don't love the great outdoors quite as much as you do, then there are ringside seats available at The Albion (and excellent food and beer too) but, be warned, it's a very popular place.

And all the others...

There were so many others I could have included, but then the blog would have been really long and boring, but here's a few more if you fancy seeking them out.

Duddon Valley

Sunday, 30 April 2017

8 Perfect Election Escapes in Cumbria

This blog is a politics free zone and, luckily, so are big chunks of Cumbria.  You may still pass the obligatory roadside signs en route but, once you're there, these places offer a blissful escape from the barrage of interviews, accusations and fake political smiles plastered across our TV screens and mobile news feeds.  I've also tried to pick places that fewer people visit so you won't have to overhear someone else's political views while you try to enjoy the scenery.

1.  Ennerdale and Pillar

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **   

One of the most spectacular and untouched valleys in Cumbria the route up Ennerdale via Pillar is blissfully quiet and benefits from a distinct lack of phone signal - although on the top of Pillar your phone may try to connect you to the Isle of Man or even Irish networks so the best advice is to leave it switched off.

2.  The other Borrowdale

Phone Signal: *         Other People: *    

I've been banging on about this other Borrowdale for years and even Wainwright described it as being one of his favourite valleys, yet it still remains a quiet, unspoiled, get-away-from-it-all valley.  There's not a lot in the way of phone signal along the valley floor and, even on a sunny bank holiday, I can pretty much guarantee you'll find a parking spot in the layby on the A6.  It's just a few miles north of Kendal and for a really interesting walk follow Breasthigh Road over to the deserted village of Bretherdale Head - glorious!

3.  Cathedral Cave

Phone Signal:           Other People: **** 

This election has had many of us wishing we could jut crawl into a cave and emerge once it's all over - well now you can.  Cathedral Cave is tucked away in Little Langdale and is a man made relic of the quarrying industry which once dominated the area.  Although the thick rock walls will block pretty much all phone signals, it is a more popular spot so you may have to share your hideaway - let's just hope everyone else is there for the same reasons you are and politics remains off the agenda.

4. La'al Ratty

Phone Signal: **        Other People: *****

Although chocablock with other people this really isn't an "I'm on the train" kind of a train ride.  Winding up from Ravenglass along the breathtaking Eskdale Valley the signal is so patchy that there's no chance of refreshing your newsfeed - plus the scenery is utterly stunning and most people tend to chat about that.  Apart from a suspicious number of men who prefer to talk about steam pressures, regulators and piston strokes...

5. The middle of Morecambe Bay

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **** 

PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS ALONE - yes, the middle of Morecambe Bay is the perfect place to escape mobile phone signals and politics, but you should only ever go there on a Cross Bay Walk.  (Sorry about the photo but the day we did it the weather was grim!)  Standing in the middle of the bay, over a mile from "land" in every direction, the sense of isolation and desire to stay there may be overwhelming.  There will, of course, be other folks on the guided walk with you, but the bay is HUGE so you can keep your distance from anyone who's annoying you.

6. Foxfield Bank

Phone Signal: *         Other People: *    

We found this beauty a few weeks ago when we decided to ditch the car and take the train around the coast.  Hop off at Foxfield and follow one of the many paths winding through the valleys around Broughton - it's part of the Cumbria Coastal Way so you may bump into the odd long distance hiker but your much more likely to bump into a Herdy.  If you don't fancy a challenging hike then there's a lovely disused railway route you can amble along instead.

7. River Glenderamackin

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **   

While there may be hoards of people tearing up and down Blencathra there aren't many who follow the route along the Glenderamackin (on the side that doesn't lead to Scales Tarn).  It's not the easiest valley to access but it's definitely worth the effort - the views back to Blencathra and Sharp Edge are utterly stunning.

8.  Cartmel

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **** 

An odd choice I know, but hear me out.  First up it's a beautiful village and, although there may be quite a lot of other people there, it has all of this going for it: very poor mobile signal, Unsworth's Yard where you can buy bread, cheese and freshly brewed beer to enjoy on the courtyard, very pretty river walks and a number of pubs where, if someone decides to start spouting about the election, you can order another round of drinks to numb the pain...

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Voyage to the middle of everywhere

Dunstanburgh Castle
When I was a kid I always wondered where people who lived at the seaside went for their holidays.  Now I live at the seaside I know the answer – or at least I know the answer for us – we usually head for Scotland.  Over the past few years we’ve explored huge chunks of the country but there is still so much more to see – and we haven’t even started on the islands yet.

This trip began just south of the border at Alnwick (and a trip to the rather lovely Dunstanburgh Castle) before heading up to Dunbar, Biggar and finally Moffat. I’m simply not one of those people who can keep returning to the same place time and time again – there’s just too much to explore.

John Muir
In Dunbar we learned about John Muir who was born there before emigrating to America when he was just a child and going on to become one of the founding fathers of conservationism. We also spent a fun day in Edinburgh journeying back to the Big Bang (courtesy of Dynamic Earth).

After all that activity a change of pace was called for so we parked up Delores for a lovely night in the Tinto House Hotel – it’s an absolutely perfect spot for accessing loads of wonderful walks (including the Tinto Hill) and is a great base for seeing lots of the sights in this very pretty corner of Scotland.  It's only an hour from Dunbar, 40 mins to the Edinburgh park and ride (free), 40 mins from the glorious walk up to Loch Skeen (at the top of Grey Mare's Tail) and a short 30 minute tootle from Moffat, home of the toffee, “miraculous health giving spring” and a number of very pleasant and not too taxing family walks.

Tinto Hill
The only downside to life on Delores is the lack of a bath so I made the most of our room with a long hot soak in the huge tub – surrounded by bubbles in the tub and in my glass!  The hotel is a lot like The Haweswater Hotel but bigger and a bit posher with a stunning Art Deco stained glass window half way up the main staircase.

Had the weather been a little warmer we could have enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in their lovely gardens but instead we headed straight for the restaurant.  There’s a good range of food on offer with an excellent selection of vegetarian and vegan options (they even have a vegan night once a month when the chef whips up an array of vegan delights).

After the obligatory whisky and a good night’s sleep we dragged ourselves back downstairs for more food – this time a full Scottish breakfast – after which I couldn’t manage another thing until tea time.  All of the food is sourced locally and cooked just how you like it.

Tinto Hotel Gardens
We reluctantly bade them farewell and continued off on our adventures...  I can’t resist a good roadside monument so we screeched to a halt just after a particularly large one we spotted near the Devil's Beef Tub (awesome name!).  The monument is for two postal workers who died in 1831 trying to deliver the mail during a particularly vicious snowstorm.  You can discover the full story in the small, but perfectly formed, Moffat Museum and their graves are in the local churchyard.

As I write this I’m sitting in the sunshine on Delores with two snoozing cats beside me – it may sound idyllic but we’re actually waiting for someone to give us a jump start as our battery has died...  But it’s not all bad news - for me the very best thing about living “beside the seaside” is that fact that I never dread going home in the way I used to when we lived in a town – it’s so lovely to return home from holiday and feel, just a little bit, like the holiday never properly ended.

PS Delores sorted and now safely home again.  😊

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Curious Corner of Cambridge

OS Maps are fantastic - not only do they guide us and keep us safe on high mountains, they also enable us to discover hidden away treasures in the middle of busy cities.  My non-writing life takes me all over the country and, whenever I can, I try to do a spot of exploring.

Last week I was in Cambridge and had an afternoon to myself to explore the city.  It was a bright sunny day and the place was heaving, so I kitted myself out with a £1 walking guide and set off.  The guide was perfect for navigating me around all the "must see" honey pots but I was keen to stretch my legs along the river - cue my OS map!

I spied a rather pleasant river walk so set off to explore.  It's hard to believe but although I was less than half a mile from the jam packed city centre I hardly saw another soul.

As I crossed the river I noticed what I thought were the remains of a large building but, it turns out, it was actually the complete remains of a fabulous Victorian folly known as Hodson's Folly.

Hodson's Folly
It was commissioned by John Hodson (a butler at nearby Pembroke College) and built around 1897 - purportedly to enable him to keep an eye on his daughters when they were bathing in the river while he tended to his nearby land.  The folly itself is at the far end and the walls were erected later (1904) to give additional privacy.

Like the many other thousands of visitors in Cambridge that day I took plenty of photos of the colleges, chapels and other landmarks - but I'm pretty sure I'm one of only a handful who ventured out and found this little gem.

(And, just for the record - here are all the other lovely things I saw)

The Mathematical Bridge

Kings College

Trinity College

Apple tree grown from a cutting from Sir Isaac Newton's "gravity" tree

Henry VIII - note missin scepter - it was replaced
with a table leg by students in the late 1800's

St John's College

The Round Church

A busier stretch of river

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Massive makeover for Elter Water

The new Mount Rushmore
Elter Water is to be renamed and revamped into a bold new family friendly attraction.  In a tribute to the Disney movie 'Frozen' the popular tourist destination is to be permanently turned to ice and become a year-round skating rink.

The lake was selected as it's one of the smallest and shallowest in the National Park and it was anticipated that it would take months for the initial freezing of the lake to be completed.  We have, however, been advised that thanks to the coronation of a local young dignitary, this process could be drastically speeded up.

In honour of the transformation the lake will be re-named Elsa Water and a special "Kristoff Express" bus will run from nearby Arendelle-side (formerly Ambleside) complete with a pair of giant antlers strapped to the front.

To complete the Disney/Frozen theme the Langdale Pikes are to be given a massive face-lift and turned into a UK version of Mount Rushmore with Loft Crag, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle being carved into giant likenesses of Elsa, Anna and Olaf respectively.

Naturally there have been a number of vocal opponents to this ambitious scheme, but a spokesperson for the company behind the transformation flicked back her long white plait before saying "We know people are annoyed, but we think it's best if they just let it go, let it go, they can't hold it back any more - I don't care what they're going to say; let the storm rage on, the cold shoulder never bothered me anyway."

Advance tickets are selling fast and anyone interested is recommended to reserve their place by emailing

(And if you want to help us raise some funds to help Mountain Rescue buy a much needed glow in the dark Hoverboard please click here)

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY - a few other important events occurred on this day...

2016 - Lake District Submarine Tours make their debut
2015 - Amazing new gadget boots launched
2014 - Major new Lake District Sponsor announced
2013 - Global warming affects the bird life on Morecambe Bay
2012 - Construction of the Ambleside Bypass begins

Sunday, 26 March 2017

10 Curious Cumbrian Keepsakes

From crystal used by James Bond to mattresses filled with Herdy wool and some of the finest gin in the land - I have nothing at all against Cumberland Sausage and Sticky Toffee Pudding, but there are a whole range of gifts you could buy to remind you of your Cumbrian hols.  Here's my pick of the best!

1.  It's Crystal, Cumbria Crystal

Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a James Bond?  Well, here's your chance to own a glass that was used by Bond himself in Casino Royale.  Each beautiful crystal glass, bowl or goblet is crafted by hand and takes around 14 days to produce - you can even visit them and see the whole process for yourself. They're based in Ulverson, down on the south coast of Cumbira and it's free to go and take a look around the factory - plus there's plenty of free parking for your Aston Martin. (Or you can shop online here.)

2, Gin - the perfect tonic

Those who know me know I like gin.  There are a number of gin distilleries in the Lake District (on account of all the lovely water we have for them to work with) but my favourite is the One Gin. Brewed by the Lakes Distillery - it even managed to replace Plymouth Gin in my affections (trust me, that's no mean feat!). The tour of the distillery includes a free tasting of their gins (so make sure you've ducked out of driving duties).  (You can also find a number of gin parlours across the county - such as the excellent Virginia House in Ulverston.)

3. Perfect reminder of a dirty weekend...

After you've got good and dirty on the fells (what other sort of dirty weekend did you have in mind?!) - what you'll need is a good long soak in the bath and some lovely hand made soaps.  The Soap Company Keswick is a social enterprise offering a fabulous range of soaps and soap related products all made by a local team of disabled and/ or disadvantaged people.  The shop smells divine and whichever part of you is dirty, they're bound to have something to clean it (except perhaps for your dirty mind...)

4. Candle in the wind

We all know that no county can hold a candle to Cumbria (you see what I did there?) so picture the scene: you're lying in your bath full of Soap Company bubbles, holding a Cumbria Crystal glass full of One Gin (with a dash of tonic) - all that's missing are the scented candles.  Well, here they are!  These candles don't contain any paraffin or palm oil - they're 100% Eco Soy Wax, which means you won't get any of that nasty black smoke.  They're made by a tiny family business up on the Solway coast and there's no better way of bringing a piece of Cumbria home with you.

5.  Aaaannnnnddd relax...

OK, this one isn't exactly a pocket sized keepsake, but it is utterly awesome! Those fabulous folks at Herdy have recently collaborated in the launch of herdy®sleep, to make luxury wool mattresses with all the wool responsibly sourced from local Herdwick farmers for a proper price.  The mattresses are so snuggly and comfy that you'll be able to skip sheep counting and head straight to dreaming of Cumbria.

6.  Back on the bottle...

Whitehaven is just a short drive from Keswick and if you haven't been then you're really missing out.  There are LOADS of interesting things to do and some spectacular walks along the sea cliffs with stunning views out to sea.  The town has a fascinating history involving the deepest darkest mines, the slave trade, George Washington's granny and rum.  The Rum Story, in the middle of the town will tell you everything you need to know about to town's deep connections with rum - plus you can buy a bottle (or two) to remind you of your trip.

7.  Not a Cumberland sausage

If you don't want a Cumberland sausage but you're still craving meat products, then how about Cumbrian Biltong?  Originating in South Africa, biltong can now be found in most supermarkets, but the stuff you buy in little plastic packets doesn't compare with the real thing, properly made.  James Alexander Fine Foods is owned and run in Cumbria by Cumbrians who are passionate about showing the world that there's more to the county than sausages (although the sausages are really, really, good!)

8.  New Balance trainers, ainers, ainers, ainers...

A global brand, loved by Rihanna, and made in the heart of Cumbria - a pair of New Balance trainers are the perfect keepsake for slightly sulky, super trendy teenagers.  Their "quaint village" roots fascinate our American cousins who can't quite believe that something so cool could come from Flimby (right on the coast between Whitehaven and Maryport) - a tiny town with a population of around 1700 (though that's according to Wikipedia - it could be closer to 2.5 million in reality).

9.  Pick a peck of pickled peppers...

Hawkshead is right in the heart of the Lake District and Hawkshead Relish are right in the heart of the village.  Everyone loves their perfectly made pickles - even the Queen has had a taste - and whatever your piquant preference, there'll be something to suit your palate.  All of the positively perfect pickles and spreads are hand made in small batches in a converted 16th century barn on the edge of Esthwaite Water and taking home a jar or two is the perfect way to preserve your happy holiday memories.

A two hundred year old family business, still based in a tiny village in the Lake District and run by the great, great, grandson of the founder - that's something you don't find very often.  They closed their retail shops a few years ago, but you can still buy beautiful stationery from them here - absolutely perfect for sending wedding invites for Lake District weddings and just wonderful  to work with for those who, like me, enjoy a spot of good old fashioned letter writing.