Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Kendal Sewage Works.

As you'll have notice from many of my other blogs, I'm very keen to promote all that Cumbria has to offer.  I love fell walking but am aware that the fells aren't for everyone and anyway there are loads of other amazing places to visit in Cumbria, like Kendal Sewage Works for instance. I promise I haven't taken leave of my senses (well no more so than usual) and that this really is a lovely family walk, even if it doesn't have the most auspicious of beginnings

On Sunday we found ourselves with a couple of hours to kill in Kendal and, as we're expecting family visitors over the summer we thought we'd check out a pleasant stroll along the River Kent to see if it was suitable for all ages. Turns out it was so I thought I'd pass it on for those looking for a pleasant stroll away from the fells. As I've already mentioned, the walk doesn't start with the most picturesque of views but it's certainly worth persevering. Begin by picking up the river path near the Museum of Lakeland Life and head south west (follow the flow of the river). The path winds along the edge of a housing estate to Romney Bridge; cross the road (with care, it's pretty busy) and continue along the road opposite.  The path soon drops down to the riverbank and at this stage it's quite narrow and, I should imagine,a little muddy after rain; but nothing too bad.
River Kent

As the path winds around the edge of the Sewage Works look across to the field on the other side and you'll see what remains of Watercrook Fort.  The first thing you'll notice is that there's not a lot there apart from the  grass mounds, but then it does date back to the late first century.  There's some really fascinating stuff about it here - including some old maps.

As you exit the trees at Scroggs Wood don't follow the road, follow the footpath which is clearly signed through the field opposite.  At this point the landscape opens up with lovely views of the gentle rolling hills around the south of Kendal.  Granted there is some road noise away in the distance, but the views are lovely.

View from Hawes Bridge.
The route couldn't be more straightforward from here; simply follow the river until you reach the road at Hawes Bridge, then turn left to cross the bridge, stopping to admire the views as you cross over.  It's a shame there doesn't appear to be a route down to the river's edge at this point as there are some really interesting rock formations down there.  But that's probably just the geologist in me talking.  It is a little tricky picking up the path back from here as it's not marked.  Follow the road for 50 yards or so until you find a small private car park on your left.  The path starts on the far side of the car park and drops you back down to the water's edge again.  It was late in the day as we were making our way along here and back into Kendal and the Housemartins were swooping and diving overhead (the birds not the band) making a welcome addition to the scenery.

View from Romney Bridge.
As you pass Watercrook Farm you get slightly better views down over the remains of the Roman Fort, but the land is private unless you're a member of the local angling society.  From here the route becomes rather more urban again passing by a warehouse and joining Natland Road before returning you to Romney Bridge.  From here you can keep to the East Side of the river and cross back at one of the many other bridges in town, or retrace your steps back to the museum.  All told it's a little over 5 miles of easy walking, so a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon next time you're visiting Kendal.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What I don't understand is...

Ullswater from St Sunday Crag
If there's one thing I've learned in our 18 months up here, it's that I've still got a lot to learn.  Yesterday's glorious weather gave us the perfect opportunity to tackle a fell I've fancied for a while; St Sunday Crag.  I've oggled it in the sun and the snow as we've stood atop Helvellyn so a hike to its alluring summit was long overdue.  We let the gods of parking decide our route and when there was no spaces to be had at Rydal we switched to plan B and headed up via Dunmail Raise.  The ascent along Raise Beck to Grisedale Tarn is always a pleasure and I'm surprised (and rather pleased) it's not more popular than it is.

Foxglove along Raise Beck
As we made our way up the Beck we had our first encounter of the day with one of the things I don't quite understand; walking poles.  I don't have anything against them, I just don't understand them.  I can possibly see how they may have their uses on occasion when making an ascent, but on a descent they just seem to get in the way; and what use are they on the flat?  The rucksack which those nice chaps at Berghaus sent me in exchange for writing for them has somewhere specifically for storing them, which would imply they're not required for the whole of a route.  Not that I see them attached to many rucksacks.  If you have any sort of mobility issue then I can see how these would help, but as around 70% (very unscientific) of walkers appear to have them these days it would seem that mobility issues are not a prerequisite for using them.

Actually, perhaps I do have something against them - the click, click, clickety noise they make as they scratch across the rocks.  When a large party approaches, all of whom are wielding 2 sticks each, the noise is rather reminiscent of an old "Invasion of the Giant Ants" style B movie.  Those always scared me as a kid, maybe that's why I'm not fond of them.

Route up St Sunday Crag from Fairfield
Reaching the top of the Beck we paused for sustenance overlooking Grisedale Tarn and witnessed something rather more problematic than walking poles.  Away in the distance someone had lost control of their dog which had taken off after a number sheep.  As we watched through the binoculars the owner ran helplessly after the dog screaming its name at the top of his voice.  Fortunately the dog failed to catch any sheep and eventually returned to its, now exhausted, owner.  Attacks by dogs on sheep are a big problem up here with some farmers considering closing permitted footpaths across their land.  Farmers can, and do, shoot dogs worrying their livestock and, much as I love dogs,  I have no problem with that. What seems a little harsh is that the dog is only following its natural instinct; maybe if they shot a few of the owners the message might sink in.

Grisedale Tarn
The route from Hause Gap up to Fairfield is steep but steady with many excuses to pause and admire the views along the way.  As is to be expected on a sunny Saturday in July the top of Fairfield was as busy as ever sitting as it does a the crossroads of several ridge routes.  And here I have to confess to something quite controversial.  I don't "get" many of the Wainwright baggers.  I completely understand keeping track of the fells you've climbed, but I don't understand those who steam through 6 or more peaks in a day in an attempt to bag as many as they can as quickly as they can.  Wainwright himself took 13 years to write his guidebooks and was a self confessed "plodder".  For him the beauty of the fells lay in appreciating their detail, taking the time to pause along the way to drink in the views.  In his later years there are stories of him resting next to a route watching in puzzlement as hikers streamed past him clutching his guidebook intent on bagging the next peak.

To summit all 214 "Wainwrights" is a milestone for many and, on some levels, it is an admirable achievement. But if all they have been is a "to do" list; done once via one route before moving on to the next challenge, then perhaps that's missing the whole point.  I'm going to take the lead from the man himself, 13 years seems about long enough to explore the fells in the right amount of detail.  Plus the fells are only one small part of Cumbria; suddenly 13 years doesn't seem nearly long enough.

The finest quartz crystal of the day.  Honest.
St Sunday Crag didn't disappoint and afforded magnificent views down to Ullswater and over to Striding Edge where an army of ants could be seen marching across towards the summit of Helvellyn.  Whilst the views are indeed stunning, next time you're up there take the time to look down at your feet.  There are many fantastic examples of near perfect quartz crystals scattered around on the surface and we spent a very enjoyable half hour or so trying to outdo each other with the finest specimen.  Steve's convinced he won.  I beg to differ and he can start his own blog if he wants to disagree.

We took the easy option back and rather than summit Fairfield again we dropped down the path from Deepdale Hause to Grisedale Tarn before heading back down Raise Beck to the car.  Much has been said about the awfulness of the summer this year, but maybe all those rainy days just make you appreciate the good days even more.  We arrived home with a rosy glow and the sort of tired ache in your limbs that can only be cured by a cold beer.  Heineken don't make days on the fells, but if they did...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Free for all.

Welcome to another one of my mini rants.  This time inspired by two articles in the recent news.  Offending article number one: UK families are being priced out of day trips.  This is probably very true, with a day trip to the big theme parks costing over £100 for some families and even trips out for lunch costing easily in excess of £50.  The second article appears today:  Inactivity killing as many as smoking.  Again, I'm not going to argue with that; there are definitely too many inactive people for whom reasons to go out and do something are far outweighed by a list of excuses not to.

Enjoy the outdoors!
My problem with both of these pieces is their tone and implication that fun and activity cost money.  Children are going to be "cooped up at home" because their parents can't afford to take them out and activity, apparently needs to be "more affordable".  Whatever happened to cheap, outdoor fun?  When did a "day out" need to be more expensive than bus fare/ car parking and a packed lunch?  I am a girl of the technological era, I love my Xbox and assorted other gadgetry but it's not a replacement for getting out and about.  As my gran would say "all things in moderation" (except perhaps Gin) - in other words, it's all about balance.  Family day trips can be cheap and fun and walking to the shops costs a lot less than driving there.  What's lacking here isn't money, it's imagination.

I could quite happily rant on for another page or so, but instead I will turn this blog piece over to cheap and/ or free fun activities.  I'll kick off with a list of things I know about in Cumbria, but please feel free to comment below with any others you know of, especially if you're promoting small businesses.

Levers Water
The Lake District.  All of it.  C'mon, in Cumbria there really should be no excuse for not getting out and about and wearing your kids out on the fells.  Start small with Catbells if you're not used to hiking, but don't underestimate the stamina of kids; my 3 year old nieces have already scaled Skiddaw completely under their own steam.  I'm told they slept well afterwards.

And if you don't happen to live near a great big adventure playground, then what?  Well I grew up in the middle of urban England, but greenery was just a bus ride (or occasionally 2) away.  Pack a picnic and head for the nearest large green space.  For us Sutton Park or Cannock Chase were a huge treat with loads of space to tear around and have adventures while the adults read a book or snoozed.

View from Fell Foot Park
Indoor fun.  So the summer hasn't been the best lately, so what?  There are cheap/ free indoor play areas in many locations.  Around here there's Bowness, Ulverston station and Kendal (near K Village).  If you know of others, please add them below.  (Thanks to my friend Gary for the pointers on that one.  He's got 2 lively youngsters and, if I know him, there's probably a hostelry near each play area.)

Barrow Dock Museum.  For older kids perhaps, but a fabulous, interesting and FREE place to visit.  Even the parking is free.  And there's a nice little cafe if you want to splash out while you're there.  The exhibits are displayed over several floors indoors in an old dry dock and if your kids have any sort of interest in boats they'll be mesmerised by the huge scale models of boats from all eras.  (Or maybe I should call them ships.  Apologies to any old sea dogs reading this.)

Fell Foot Park.  If you're in the South Lakes then this is a must any day when it's not raining.  There's loads of space for picnics, a small adventure playground and easy swimming in the lake.  It gets pretty busy on warm sunny days and the parking can be a little pricey.  But if you're there early enough there are a few laybys on the road which are free. Having just checked their website it seems they'll be allowing camping there during August this year; brilliant idea.  There are few sites with better views.
Just get out there and have some fun!

Local Farms.  Holme Farm is just down the road from lovely Grange-over-Sands and is refreshingly un-gimmicky.  No entrance fee and they've got home made ice-creams (modestly priced), a small play area and usually a few animals for the kids to see.  No website but you can find them here: Holme Farm Dairy Ice Cream - David & Brenda Lawrence, Holme Farm, Meathop Road, Grange-over-Sands 015395 32991

Well, I think that's me done for now.  I found both articles quite sad and feel sure there is a link between them.  The concept that fun or activity need to cost money is being used as an easy excuse not to get out and about, when that's simply not the case.  As a society we've gotten overly reliant on someone else doing our thinking for us and telling us how to have fun, be it via technology or at theme parks.  If we used our credit cards a little less and our imaginations a little more we'd be financially better off and may live a bit longer too.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

London, more or less...

London; more or less the same as last time I visited.

We've been living in Cumbria for 18 months and last week saw me revisiting my life in the South East complete with London commute.  I spent 22 years living and working in the South East and a fair chunk of that time commuting into various parts of London so, had it changed or was it still the way I remembered it?

More people, less chat

Rush hour commute.
I'm sure some people will think this is a good thing, but I'm amazed at how quiet London commuter trains are.  Thousands of people literally rammed together and barely a word is spoken.  Compare that to my regular northern commute where I've learned plenty about the people around me; their lives, their families, what her at number 43 is doing and the fact that Bruce Dickinson apparently played a gig in Kendal last year.  Not that the teenager telling the story had any idea who he was mind.  Some people buy magazines to read this kind of stuff, I get it first hand.

More clothes, less colour.

I don't mean the people of the south actually wear more clothes, but there's generally a greater variety than I see in South Cumbria where outdoor clothes reign supreme (regardless of whether anyone has any intention of heading for the fells).  Black is the new black down south.  Walking through the City recently I witnessed several thousand people spewing out of Cannon Street station and it was as if all the colour had drained out of the world.  Does everyone wear black because they're miserable or are they so miserable because they wear black?  A couple of daredevils were wearing grey; they must be in marketing.
Small details, interesting histories.

More cars, less patience.

Now I know how a rabbit feels when caught in the headlights of a car.  The traffic light changed to red, the little green man lit up and I started to cross.  Next to me I was aware of three lanes of very impatient traffic desperately waiting to get going again, seemingly regardless of whether I'd made it across in my allotted time or not.  I'd watched one of them screech to a halt halfway across the crossing and the driver now sat glowering at me as I nervously made my way over to Baker Street station.

Great Gable on a sunny Cumbrian morning.
It's not that northern drivers are saints, it's simply that there are fewer cars and I've got surprisingly used to that.  Last Monday my journey to work took me to Junction 36 of the M6.  As I approached the junction at around 8am I thought it seemed quite busy; there were six cars ahead of me.  It's no wonder London is now a bit of a shock to my system.

More sun, less time to enjoy it.

Much as I love to argue the fact the Cumbria is really not as wet and rainy as everyone seems to think, there's no getting away from the statistics; it's one of the wettest counties in the UK.  And the South East really does get the most sun.  But with the long working hours and commutes, people seem to have less time to enjoy it.  In the UK we work some of the longest hours in the EU and that can't be good for our health.  And although the South East gets less rain, when it does come they whinge about it a lot more.  I'm not saying we all jump for joy when the rain clouds gather, there's just more of an acceptance that it's part of the deal when living up here.  Plus we're better kitted out to deal with it.  We have to be.

More historical buildings, less appreciation of them.

Easy not to see things you pass every day.
On Saturday we took a stroll through London, covering routes that I'd walked thousands of times on my way to or from the office; the difference was, this time I was a tourist.  I always thought I'd appreciated my surroundings, but it turns out there's much more to see when you're not racing along trying to be on time for meetings or trains.  It was fun joining in the throng of tourists clamouring to take pictures of Tower Bridge.  I used to walk that way to work and I'm sure that, somewhere in the world, there are hundreds of holiday snaps with me somewhere in the background looking miserable.

The whole trip was a great reminder for me about how easy it is to take your surroundings for granted.  Something I hope I never do in the Lake District.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tern the other cheek.

Foulney Island is another of those largely ignored places in the South West corner of Cumbria.  To find it you need to take the coast road from Ulverston to Barrow; when you get to Rampside take the left turn at the roundabout heading towards Roa Island.  Halfway along the causeway you'll spot a carpark on your left, this is the entrance to Foulney Island.  I'll be honest, at first sight there's not much there, but it's a fantastic spot for views stretching from Blackpool Tower to the Lake District and, if you're patient, you'll probably spot some interesting birds.

Looking towards Roa Island

At this time of year much of the "island" is closed off to protect the ground nesting birds, and dogs aren't allowed, even on a lead.  I say "island" because it's not been a proper island since the causeway was built in the 19th century, although do check the tide tables before you head out as it can still get cut off at high tide.

View from Foulney Island to Piel Island

We headed out as far as we could then settled down with our lunch and binoculars to see what was going on.  We soon spotted an array of Terns - both Common and Arctic apparently, ducking and wheeling in the sky.  Even though we're rank amateur bird spotters we spied something we knew wasn't a Tern; we knew it was some sort of bird of prey and a quick check with a local twitcher confirmed it was a Kestrel.  

Kestrel - posing beautifully.

The whole story now began to unfold; the Terns were nesting but the Kestrels were feeding.  Apparently the Kestrels had wiped out 2 clutches of chicks already and seemed to be intent on their third.  We saw 5 altogether "working" through the nests.  According to our knowledgeable guide Tern colonies are usually much larger and able to see off such predators; to be fair they were having a pretty good go at seeing off these guys, dive bombing and screeching, but there were sadly too many Kestrels and not enough Terns.

Fab action shot captured by Steve.

After watching them for a while our attention was caught by another Tern on the other side of the island; I've thought hard about how to describe it and all I can think to say is that everything about it was just more elegant than the other Terns; the Darcey Bussell of the Tern world.  We were reliably informed that it was a Little Tern, which is a whole different bird and not just a smaller version of the ones we'd already seen.  Turns out it's quite rare too but the pesky thing wouldn't keep still long enough for us to get a decent shot, so you'll just have to take our word for it.

On the way back we spotted what we think was probably the lunch area for the local gulls; thousands of Mussel shells scattered across the shingle; looks like they have hearty appetites!  As we made our way back to the car we spotted one more interesting creature; a 6 Spot Burnett Moth, not at all rare, but very pretty.  I was most surprised that they showed no interest at all in flying away from us and happily posed for several shots.

6 Spot Burnett Moth

I wrote a piece recently about what it was like starting a new life in Cumbria and one thing I'd have to add is that we now do amazing things that we never did before.  Spending a lovely sunny Saturday sitting in the long grass, eating lunch and watching Terns and Kestrels battling it out against the backdrop of the sea and fells is definitely another wonderful first for us.  There's a load more pics here if you're interested, and next time you're visiting Cumbria or the Lake District and fancy something a little different, pack a picnic, grab your camera and head over there, you'll be glad you did.

See ya!