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