Friday, 29 June 2018

Head Hunting in the Eden Valley

River Eden - Armathwaite
This is literally a story of blood, sweat and tears - trust me when I tell you that all three bodily fluids have been shed in pursuit of this particular goal.  It was definitely worth it but not something I'd recommend to everyone.

The story goes something like this - when we were researching 50 Gems of Cumbria we scoured the web and the history books for interesting and unusual things to include, and came across stories and photos of heads carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Eden valley.  Well now, that sounded way too good to miss so off we set to try and find them (those of you who know where they are will be chuckling already!)  After a couple of minor failed missions during 2016 we set off on a proper attempt in October.

We had a lovely afternoon in the autumn sunshine before our final attempt of the day ended with a footpath collapsing underneath me resulting in a 10 foot fall into a pile of brambles (the full story is here).  That's where the "blood and tears" part came in - 3 staples in my head and a hand the size of a small football.  Still, it could have been a LOT worse.

More research told us that the heads were "more easily" accessible when the water levels were low, so we shelved our hunt over the winter.  During 2017 Steve was busy racing around taking photos for his new Cumbria in Photos book and he had another attempt - this time wisely leaving me safely at home - but still drew a blank.  These pesky things are properly hard to get at, so they sadly didn't make it into that book either (but loads of other awesome stuff did!)

Fast forward to this week and we were back up near Carlisle researching another book, which for now has to remain a secret but, funnily enough, does not require us to find the carved heads - however we are in the middle of a heatwave and it hasn't rained properly for ages so we decided to have one last crack at finding the elusive carved heads.

As you can see from the top the river looked superb but the weather meant that even though the walk along the riverbank is mostly shady, it was still a hot and sticky affair (this is the "sweat" part!).  To give you an idea, this is what the route to the carved heads looks like:

No, I'm not kidding.  The easiest way in is probably to swim but the cameras don't like that, so the only alternative is to inch along a very narrow sandstone ledge, battling weeds and nettles, with very deep water just inches away.  There was cursing, there was definitely more blood (but only bramble scratches this time) but we finally made it.  So, was it worth it?  Well, here are the pics we eventually got:


The carvings are said to have been done by William Mounsey (a local eccentric who clearly had a good set of wellies or the river was lower back then) and the quote is from The Compleat Angler (Isaac Walton).  The fish is a salmon as the River Eden is an excellent salmon river - one of the finest in England, apparently.

For me it was definitely worth it - I love tracking down curiosities like these, especially ones that are hard to find.  I'd only recommend the adventure to those who are very sure footed or don't mind falling into the river.  As well as the carvings the natural sandstone along there was also stunning.

Once we were done we celebrated with nice cool drink on a much safer rock and pondered what to tackle next now that we'd finally achieved this goal.  (If you have any ideas, do let me know!)

As you can see, we put a LOT of effort into all our books and they are all available to buy directly from us.  Yes, you can get them all on Amazon too, but we make next to nothing that way - plus if you buy from us we'll be happy to sign them for you.  Just click the pictures below to find out more.  Cheers! 😀

Click here to find out more

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Great Walks around Grasmere

Grasmere is a victim of its own success - it's a gorgeous little village, right in the heart of the Lake District, crammed full of history and the perfect starting point for dozens of walks.  This all means that it can get very busy so we generally visit outside of the main season (when there's more chance of finding a parking space!) but as a birthday treat for me we headed up there last week for a night at the lovely Lancrigg Hotel to enjoy some great food and a few relaxing walks.  Not all the walks from Grasmere are relaxing mind, one of them scared the wits out of me (and Wainwright apparently!) so here are three of my favourites.

Helm Crag

Steve on the Howitzer
Let's start with the infamous Wainwright that Wainwright himself never made it to the top of - Helm Crag.  Most of the walk is a pretty straightforward hike, and the views from the top are glorious...

At the top of Helm Crag you'll find the Howitzer which is a huge lump of rock that only the brave, the skilled or the slightly bonkers attempt to climb.  You can decide for yourself which category to put Steve in but this is as far as I got...

The route back down into Grasmere goes directly past the Lancrigg and it would be rude not to stop in for a coffee and a delicious scone the size of your head...

Easedale Tarn

We both love Easedale Tarn - it's almost the perfect tarn to visit.  The walk up out of Grasmere is varied but straightforward and it passes the fabulous waterfalls of Sourmilk Gill where you can pause, cool down and maybe dip your toes in the water.

Although it's a straightforward route right next to Grasmere it's usually surprisingly quiet, especially around the tarn itself.  It's definitely the perfect spot for a picnic and if you need sustenance on the way back there's always this...

A lap of the lake

This is definitely a walk of two halves with the first half skirting the shores of the lake and the second half following an ancient coffin route back into Grasmere.  Along the way there are stunning views, museums, historic relics, more stunning views and, if you're up for a short detour, enormous caves.

Just a short detour from the route
There aren't many walks that pack so many different things into such a short space of time.  Although not too far in terms of miles it's a walk that could easily take you all day as you enjoy the many distractions along the way - and watch out for the water trough dedicated to Wordsworth as you head back into the village - most folks miss it.

Lancrigg Hotel

As I mentioned, we stayed at the Lancrigg Hotel and would certainly recommend it - both to stay at or to visit at the end of a good walk.  The rooms are spacious and the food is spectacular - a perfect birthday treat for me!  If the walks above all sound a bit more than you fancy then you can take a gentle wander around the hotel grounds, visit the memorial where Wordsworth used to work, or let the more adventurous folks enjoy the adventure playground while you put your feet up with a drink.

Lancrigg Hotel
Wordsworth Memorial
Gorgeous walks around the grounds

Lovely short walks nearby

Stunning views from our room

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Picture Perfect?

We are beyond thrilled that Steve's fantastic book "Cumbria in Photographs" is now out - how fabulous is the cover shot?

Although this project was his baby and he spent much of the time working alone, he took some of the shots when we were out together and, for me, one of the things I love most about our books are the memories and the stories behind the photos, things like...

Wordsworth's Daffodils

He took this one just a few months ago and it was the very last photo taken for the book.  He knew he wanted a shot of the daffodils and he'd been over to Glencoyne Bay (the reputed site of the flowers that inspired the poem) several times to see how they were getting on, but The Beast from the East meant everything was late flowering and the book deadline was looming.  Eventually, 2 days before the book had to be delivered to the publisher, we went over together and Steve got the shot, lying on his stomach in a bog.  Worth it though.

Ennerdale Water

This was one of the days that sticks in the memory without the aid of photos.  It was an absolutely stunning day and perfect for hiking - clear, fresh but not too hot.  Steve wanted a couple of good shots of the heather so we headed up onto the open hillside above Ennerdale Water - we knew the heather, the trees and the fells would look fantastic, but we had no idea that there would be pink rocks which really add to the photo.  We spent ages up there, munching our sarnies and enjoying the views.

Boats on Bassenthwaite Lake

Throughout this book Steve had been very keen to show that Cumbria isn't just a county of amazing views but also a county of action and adventure.  Over the past couple of years we've tried our hands at watersports - only kayaking and canoeing - and he wanted to find a way to include this in the book.  We didn't know this event was taking place and stumbled on it by accident while looking for a good shot of Bassenthwaite.  We wandered into the yacht club and I tried to look as if I belonged there while Steve raced around taking photos and getting annoyed at the boats when they weren't quite in the right place.  Luckily his patience eventually paid off.  Or maybe they heard him muttering on the shoreline...

Kelly Hall Tarn

"There's a tarn up there" he says "Where?" says I, "Up there" he says, as he points beyond the edge of a notveryexcitinglooking car park.  Over the years I've learned to trust him on this so dutifully followed him up and, as usual, he was right, there was a tarn up there and it was a cracker.  I really love the Coniston Fells and this view captures them perfectly.  

St Mary's Church, Wreay

I love eccentric things and what could be more eccentric than an Italian basilica in a tiny Cumbrian village?  It was built between 1840 and 1842 under the direction of Sarah Losh and is regarded as being one of the finest historical buildings in the country.  This photo of the apse clearly shows the fossil windows high above the alter - but the church is crammed with amazing artefacts and quirky details and really is well worth a visit.  (As is the Sarah Losh Heritage Centre and trail in the village.  Oh, and the pub does a rather lovely lunch too!)

Approach to Thirlmere Dam

If either, or both, of us are writing a book then you can pretty much guarantee that Thirlmere will be in there as we both love the place.  The day we took this we were out playing with a Skoda Kodiaq and our bikes and really weren't thinking about photos for this book, but because the road was closed the autumn leaves were undisturbed (yes, I'm having a Justin Hayward moment) and the colours were beautiful; far too good to miss so good job Steve had his camera handy.

Fox's Pulpit

I know it sounds obvious but it's not just the location, it's the weather that often makes or breaks a photo.  We'd been out all day taking other shots, with varying degrees of success, and we were heading home when we decided to nip up to Fox's Pulpit to see if we could get anything.  The sun was setting so it was a bit of a race against time following the tiny single track road and dodging tractors along the way.  There is minimal parking but we were lucky and there was no-one else there.  I scampered around taking long shots of the views while Steve perfectly captured the commemorative plaque and the warm glow of the sun on the rocks.

Silloth Sunset

This is another day when we were out playing with a car, this time a Toyota Hilux which Steve was very taken with.  We'd spent the weekend having picnics in the back of it and generally taking it on a Grand Tour of the county and ended up in Silloth.  I'm rather fond of Silloth, it has a very pretty church, a lovely park on the coast and spectacular sunsets.  This was one of those "quick, take the photo before the birds move" shots while we sat on a bench finishing off our flask of tea,  Perfect.

Frozen Bubbles

These were taken on a very cold hike over Place Fell.  There are few finer fells in the Lake District; all of the routes up are interesting and offer glorious views and, with the fell being sat right next to Ullswater, there's always plenty going on down on the lake to keep you amused.  On this particular day we'd taken loads of photos from the summit and were on our way down when Steve spotted these.  In Canada there's a lake called Lake Abraham which is world famous for it's frozen bubbles, but who knew we had our own mini version right here on top of Place Fell?

Hampsfell Hospice

Steve would probably be the first to admit that he's not a morning person - in our books you'll find far more pictures of sunsets than sunrises.  I, on the other hand, am definitely a morning person and can be really annoying about it too. To be fair, on this particular occasion, I had warned him the night before that we'd be getting up early to see the sunrise on a snowy Hampsfell - we knew the snow had fallen overnight and there were clear skies forecast for the next morning - but it still didn't make it any easier.  While I organised flasks of hot coffee and some breakfast sarnies to enjoy while we were up there, Steve cursed and muttered at me - but we knew we had to be up there before the dog walkers to get a footprint free shot.  As you can see we made it - but literally only by about 5 minutes.

If you want to see more you'll find over 120 fantastic photos in the book - we have a VERY small number currently available which you can order directly from us here - if you want, Steve will even sign it for you.

Failing that you can also find it on Amberley (the publisher's) website, or, of course, on Amazon.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Teenage Kicks in Cumbria

Entertaining teenagers is not for the fainthearted - especially if, like us, you don't have kids and therefore have no real "hands on" experience.  This week we looked after our nephews (aged 11 and 13 so one of them isn't technically a teenager but if you know any 11 year olds you'll know the teen years start early these days) and our remit for the three full days we had them was to a) keep them alive, b) keep them entertained and c) wear them out.  Well, challenge accepted - and if you have teenagers and aren't sure how to keep them entertained in Cumbria, here's what we did.

Day 1

AM - scare them silly at Go Ape in Grizedale.  Actually, scare everyone silly at Go Ape. Yes it's commercial but we did the High Ropes course and found it good value for money - our session began at 11am and we weren't done until 2:30pm.  There's a great variety of challenges and the blustering bravado beforehand was soon replaced with shrieks and "Yeah, I'm not scared, I'm just checking you're OK" moments.  The giant Tarzan Swing is properly scary but the whole event was brilliant fun for us all.

Insider tip:  Smother yourself in insect repellent before you start - there are quite a few midges in the woods and you're likely to get bitten as you queue for some of the activities.

PM - wear them out properly on mountain bikes.  Grizedale is great for cycling and there are loads of excellent tracks and trails with something to suit everyone from the novice who just wants a nice tootle around a forest to the hard core black runs for the experts. We hired bikes from Grizedale Mountain Bikes and they were really good value for money - they give you a map with plenty of routes to choose from and lots of support before you head off.

Insider tip:  If you're worried about keeping up with the kids hire an electric bike for yourselves - a little more money but worth it for flying up all the hills with ease!

Day 2

PM Kayaking - for some strange reason they didn't bounce out of bed the next day so we had an easy morning before heading to Ullswater for a spot of sea kayaking.  We've used Distant Horizons in the past and we love them - lovely folks who will totally cater to your individual requirements.  Our instructor, Rob, was superb and had plenty of ideas and activities for keeping the nephews engaged and entertained.  There were plenty of cries of "My arms are SO tired" but I just ignored them - is that what I'm supposed to do?

Insider tip:  If you can't see something on the Distant Horizons website that suits you do drop them a line or give them a call, there's a very good chance they can sort something that will be absolutely perfect for you.

Evening BBQ - although there are many superb places to eat out in Cumbria, surely there is nothing better than eating outdoors?  Food just tastes better outdoors, doesn't it?  All we took was a large disposable BBQ, a few burgers, sausages and buns and a sense of adventure (plus a couple of beers for the grown ups!)  Unfortunately we picked the only rainy evening in the middle of a month long dry spell, but we set up camp under a tree and enjoyed it anyway.  The boys skimmed stones and had rock throwing competitions while I tended to the burgers and sneakily supped the spare bottle of beer (Steve was driving anyway!)

Insider tip:  Check the weather forecast before you set off and do make sure you take everything away with you when you're done.  The boys had fun throwing cups of water over the BBQ, generating huge clouds of steam, so we could cool it and pack it,

Day 3

All day - hiking in the hills!  You can't entertain folks in Cumbria without taking them out in the hills now, can you?  As our nephews aren't used to the great outdoors and as it was another blazing hot day we veered away from the high peaks and instead headed up through the woods alongside Derwent Water to the top of Walla Crag.  The views from the top are spectacular and there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy your sarnies.  We headed down via Ashness Bridge where I put my feet up while the boys (and I'm including Steve in this) played silly devils in the stream.  As well as the hike we also spotted a stone fly exoskeleton, a wood wasp and assorted other butterflies and birds.

Insider tip:  It doesn't have to be big to be fun so don't feel you have to tackle the high peaks - plus there's pretty good mobile signal up there but it's always a good idea to download bird, flower and insect ID apps into your phone so you can put names to the things you spot along the way.

As we drove home for dinner the car was silent (apart from the sound of scorn being poured upon our choice of music!) - I'm still not sure if having kids around keeps you young or makes you feel really, really old, but either way it was excellent fun and I can't wait for them to come back up.

If you're after inspiration for things to see in Cumbria check out our new book - out June 15th and available to pre-order right now via Amazon - or, if you wait until June you can order it directly from us and I'll even persuade Steve to sign it too.  😀