Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A perfect day in Coniston

Welcome to my new occasional series of blogs: "A perfect day in..." featuring all sorts of fabulous places around Cumbria and how to make the most of them on a quick visit.  First up, Coniston, because we had a fabulous day there last week and I'm terribly fond of the place.

Arriving in style

Let's assume you're driving up for the day, in which case follow the signs from the Greenodd roundabout (A5092 then A5084); for me this is the best way to get the finest first view of the lake.  You'll know when you're there, it looks like this... (for Swallows and Amazons fans the island visible on the far side of the lake is reputed to be Wild Cat Island).

Not a bad way to start...
From there continue on towards Coniston, and, if you fancy a cheeky bonus tarn, park in the car park opposite the Land Rover dealer.  Follow the footpath up behind there for 10 minutes and you'll find this place:

Kelly Hall Tarn

Right, now time to head to the village where there are a good number of interesting local shops to explore and a couple of must visit places to check out.  First of all The Ruskin Museum will give you all the background you need on the place.  Don't be fooled by the name, it actually covers all of the local history, including Donald Campbell, and is a fabulous place to visit. The harbour is also worth a look as St Andrew's Church in the middle of the village.

If you have time there is also a gorgeous walk along the lake shores where you can pause to admire the scenery or indulge in some good old fashioned stone skimming contests with the kids.


For the perfect lunch with the very best views of the lake either drive, or take the launch, over to Brantwood where The Terrace Coffee Shop & Restaurant has everything covered.  Spectacular views, fab food, colossal sausage rolls and utterly sinful cakes.

View from The Terrace


After all of that gorgeous food it would be a shame to go racing off so take a tour of the house.  If, like me, you know very little about Ruskin, there's plenty to learn and if the weather is sunny the gardens are spectacular. You can always nip back to The Terrace for a fortifying cuppa, or a G&T made with one of Cumbria's awesome local gins (so long as you're not the driver!)



After a hearty lunch you'll not want much for your tea so a beach picnic as the sunsets will be what you're after.  There are several iconic jetties around Coniston so, as you make your way south along the eastern side of the lake, look for the lay-bys and small car parks.  From there you can grab a jacket, a flask of tea and a sarnie from the car, and huddle up on the shingle to watch the sun go down.  Perfect.

Where should I go next?  If you've got a holiday planned let me know in the comments below and I'll sort out another itinerary just for you!

If you're after the perfect books to help you plan your trip then look no further - they are right here! Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What makes us love somewhere?

Someone, somewhere, will hate this view
Think of your most favourite place on earth.  Got it?  Now think of your least favourite place.  Got that too?  Doesn't it freak you out that for someone, somewhere, those two places will be the other way around?  I spend a lot of my life surrounded by people and am continually surprised by how different we are and how there are plenty of very lovely, reasonable, kind, considerate people who hate the things, and places, that I love (and vice versa).  So what is it that affects our love of a place?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been using the Times Britain's Best Walks book to revisit some favourite spots in Cumbria and uncover a few new corners.  There are 100 walks in total and all of the locations mentioned/ photographed in this blog are on, or around, one of the 11 routes in Cumbria.

Childhood memories?
Many folks will suggest that we feel comfortable with what we know from childhood;  fair point - my love for the outdoors probably comes from family holidays in Wales and school trips to the Long Mynd.  But I only ever had one, very fleeting (less than a day), trip to Cumbria in my youth so it's always puzzled me why I instantly felt at home here when I first visited properly in 2010.  I know other folks who love the outdoors but just haven't felt comfortable or been able to settle here - why does one person connect with a place but another, with similar tastes, doesn't?

Love of the mountains?

Nr Eskdale

Maybe it's just the mountains I love?  Good argument, but I get passionately excited about all the corners of Cumbria and the huge variety of landscapes I can explore - the coast, the bluebell walks and the beautiful woodlands.  I have some friends who only like the mountains and shun low level walks; I know "we can't all like the same thing" - but why is that?

As seen on screen?

Derwent Water or Takodana?

Does being seen on the big screen affect how we feel about a place?  Beatrix Potter, Wordsworth and the Victorian painters have certainly influenced people to visit the area over the past couple of hundred years - and perhaps Star Wars, Withnail and I or Snow White and the Huntsman are influencing a new generation.  Whenever I watch one of my favourite films, Stardust, I’m always overcome with a desire to head to Skye where big chunks of it were filmed.  Who needs a tourist board when you have movies?

Because of how it sounds (or doesn’t sound!)

Crummock Water - Peace & Quiet...

Here’s an interesting and little known fact about me – I find the sound of washing machines oddly comforting.  It could be the “white noise” rhythmic element or it could be that when I was very young my mum worked in a laundrette and I can remember being taken to meet her at the end of her shift.  I have a “noisy head” – my brain is always on the go and, when I’m surrounded by sound in a city it can all get a bit much for me so, for that reason I am drawn to peaceful, quiet places.  Some sounds are allowed of course – the crunch of gravel underfoot, the song of a skylark high above you and the sound of the flask lid unscrewing...

Because it’s not somewhere else!

Near Dufton but not near anywhere else 

My work travels take me to lots of different cities and to London a couple of times each month – I am not a fan of cities and sometimes I’m just happy to be anywhere that isn’t a city.  A couple of cities are allowed on my “nice places to be” list – Glasgow and Lancaster – the first because it has awesome, free, museums (including Kelvingrove – possibly my favourite museum ever) and the second because it’s rammed with fascinating history and is usually my first breath of fresh air when I get off the train from London.

Because it’s interesting

Hutton Roof Crags - more than just fine look fells...
I didn’t just marry my lovely husband because he’s damned fine looking, I married him because he’s damned fine looking AND interesting to be with.  For me it’s not enough that the scenery looks pretty it also needs to be interesting.  Like Hutton Roof Crags – stunning to look at and fascinating geological history too.  What’s not to love?

How it smells

Barbondale - mmmmm - can I have my sarnies yet?

When spring sprungs and the garlic hits the woods I spend entire walks with a rumbling stomach.  I love the smell of garlic and I’m sure consumption of garlic bread rises while they’re in flower.  I also love the salty smell of the sea, the smell of the fresh earth after the rain and the smell of the freshly cut grass after the farmers have been bringing in the hay – someone should really make air fresheners that smell like that, I’d definitely pack one for my city travels.

Familiarity – love at second sight

Duddon - worth a second look
Sometimes I think we need to visit somewhere a few times before we fall for it properly.  The Duddon Valley is a firm favourite with us now but the first time we visited I wasn’t completely sold.  Of course that could have been because we got lost in an old woodland,wandered around arguing for an hour or so and didn’t get back to the car until after dark...

Previous life?

Kentmere Valley
Are there supernatural forces at work?  I am a largely a woman of science, but I don’t think science has yet explained everything – especially some of the odd touchy feely stuff; like those times when you visit somewhere and know you’ve been there before.  Or like my first ever proper visit to Cumbria when I just knew I’d come home.  I still can’t explain that feeling to anyone - I may not have been born in the county (hardly my fault!) but I know that I belong here.

All of the above?

Haweswater - my happy place
I’m guessing the truth is that it’s a bit of everything. A whole bunch of subtle messages collide in our brains which come together and produce a warm and cost “Ready Brek” glow when we connect with somewhere.  Either that or they’re putting something in the water in Cumbria and we’re all under the spell of an evil overlord.  Or maybe I shouldn’t write blogs when I’m drinking wine..?

All of the photos in this blog were taken on or around walks featured in The Times Britain's Best Walks.  All the walks were described clearly and concisely with interesting notes from the author.  It was great to see some routes away from the usual hotspots and it’s definitely a book we’ll keep on Delores for our trips around the UK.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Going to extremes in Cumbria

One of my favourite things about Cumbria is the sheer variety of things to see and do all within such a relatively small place.  You can easily drive around the county in a day and most journey times (apart from on sunny bank holidays) are under an hour.  To prove my point, here's what we did yesterday...

Scout Scar - barren limestone landscape

On the "hottest bank holiday ever" (until next year probably) it can be hard to find peace and quiet (if that's what you're after) but Scout Scar, just outside Kendal, is perfect.  There's a large free (honesty box) car park right next to an easy path up onto a spectacular ridge - in fact I'd say it probably has the best legwork to view ratio in the whole of the county (that really needs to be a thing - could we do it mathematically?  The number of steps to the view : the awesomeness of the view?)

As well as the spectacular views there are also loads of gorgeous benches from which to enjoy them.

It really was baking hot and, as you can see, there wasn't a lot of shade so our next stop was...

Brockhole Visitor Centre - Family fun!

Lots of folks can be pretty rude about the bank holiday crowds but what could be better than seeing lots of families, all out and enjoying the sunshine together?  Brockhole has tons of things to offer from peaceful gardens to high adrenaline activities to gentle pony treks around the grounds.

It also has this tucked away bench with jaw dropping views - definitely one I'll be heading to next time.

The Gaddum - dining delight!

We were booked in for afternoon tea in the new restaurant at Brockhole - named after the original owners The Gaddum is a glorious oasis of elegant calm.  I'll be honest, I generally feel out of my depth in "posh places" but Michael and his team are so utterly lovely that we were completely at ease.

The Gaddum is set in Mr Gaddum's original dining room and legend has it that after he'd finished entertaining he'd step next door into his orangery to pick fresh fruit for his guests. In these days of year round produce that doesn't sound very awe-inspiring, but it must have been pretty impressive back in the day.

As well as afternoon tea (also available as vegetarian and/ or gluten free - just book ahead), they also offer rather lovely looking lunches and will be adding evening meals to their repertoire very soon - and the best part is that every penny they earn helps to protect the National Park; as Micheal put it "Spending here supports here".

I only ate it to support the National Park, honest I did...

The range of teas from Quinteassential are superb and it would have been a sin not to be a little adventurous (White Elixer for him and Mint & Caramel for me).  The attention to detail is lovely and pretty much everything has been done by local crafts people.  Michael was keen to point out all the hidden details and also passed on a few of his tips for cooking the perfect scone.  Ask me nicely and I might tell you what they were...

Harnknott Roman Fort - adrenaline fuelled history lesson

Hardknott Pass is surely one of the most spectacular drives in England - and definitely not one to do in either bad weather or when it's busy.  After our afternoon tea the weather was perfect, it was getting late and, as most folks had already headed home, we headed up.  We passed a few cars but when we were at the fort we had the whole place to ourselves.

Of all the many historical/ Roman places I've visited this is, for me, the most evocative - I can really imagine what it must have been like to be stationed at what is now an isolated outpost but was then a stopping point on an important communications route.  Glorious on a warm summer evening but wild and scary during the winter months.

It's also the one with most impressive views and the most spectacular backdrop.

Much as I would have loved to whip a tent out of the back of the car - or simply curl up in the back seat for the night to make the most of this incredible location, sadly work the next morning called so we had to head home.

From barren limestone landscapes to raucous family fun and from afternoon tea elegance to white knuckle driving routes and jaw dropping views all in the space of a few hours - I'm pretty sure that no other county can match Cumbria for breathtaking variety,  (And if you want to disagree I'm going to require photos to prove it! 😀 )

If history and variety is your thing then you'll find plenty of both in our books - soon to be joined by two more so watch this space! Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

Saturday, 5 May 2018

I'm so excited!

As you'll know if you follow my social media posts, I travel around the UK a LOT and it's easy to get jaded with travel but something happened when I was in Cheltenham a few weeks ago which really
made me smile and has stuck in my mind.  We were walking through the town centre and a man just in front of us had a small child with him.  There were a number of roadworks in the area and the pavements had clearly been marked up prior to digging resulting a mish mash of confusing graffiti and a large number of white crosses. Each time the small child saw a white cross he excitedly shook his dad's arm, pointed at the cross and shouted "Look daddy, treasure!" - after the forth of fifth time I was still behind them chuckling away but daddy was becoming less enthusiastic.

How cool would life be if every time we saw a white cross on a pavement we thought there might be treasure there?  How easy is it to lose excitement at the things we see every day?  I know I'm somewhat over excitable (my husband may step in here and edit that to "very over excitable"!) but even if I don't jump up and down over white crosses on the pavement I still think the world is a pretty amazing place.

Take yesterday for example, we tackled a long low level hike to the east of the Lake District and I got excited over the following things.
  • Lambs - because, well, just look!

  • My first cuckoo of the year - no photo of the bird but it was in these beautiful woods.

  • My first swifty swallowy thing of the year - no I don't have a photo of it and no I haven't yet figured out the differences between them all, but it was still lovely to see. 
  • My first ever ash flowers.  Clearly I've not been paying close enough attention, but I've honestly never seen these before and had to ask someone what they were.  Fascinating!

  • An old milestone buried in grass with barely any markings on which we only knew was an old milestone because the guidebook we were using told us so.
  • Blue skies and a good breeze - my favourite weather combo (probably makes me weird as well as over-excitable!) 
  • Finding a lovely stream to sit next to in the sunshine and enjoy our afternoon tea and cake

I have a friend who is fortunate enough to have travelled the globe and seen many spectacular sights - but I feel really sorry for her because she once told me that because she's seen so many amazing things the typical sights in the UK don't really move her any more.  She doesn't dislike them, she just doesn't get a buzz from seeing them and I think that is so sad.  Are amazing sights like some sort of drug where your tolerance increases the more you have meaning you have to have bigger and bigger hits?  To be honest, I'd rather be like the little boy getting excited over all the white crosses on the pavement - life is way more fun that way.

Another thing I still get excited over is when folks ask if they can send me something to review - I don't always say yes, but this time it was a rucksack and, as I needed a new one and as I seem to be perennially potless (seriously, all writers and NOT JK Rowling! 😀), I agreed.  It was a gorgeous bright orange rucksack from Thule and I was very excited and loved almost every single thing about it!

First up I love the colour - it goes with my coat, hat, sunglasses, scarf and flask - plus it clashes nicely with the purple in my hair.

Secondly I love the two handles on the top - SO easy for lugging it on and off luggage racks on trains and moving it around the house.

Thirdly I love the fastening on the top - it rolls over and clips at the back so it's a) a little more shower proof and b) a little more thief proof when I'm using it in big cities.

Fourthly it's a bit like a TARDIS - when there's not a lot in it, the side straps can pull it in nice and tight so it's small and sleek, or you can expand them and cram a couple of days worth of stuff in there.  

It's also narrow enough that I can put a flask in the deep side pockets and walk along the aisle of a Virgin train without conking people on the head as I pass, and it tucks nicely onto my lap when the train is busy.

Oh - and it has a very handy little pocket where I can store my phone cable and spork - both items essential for both hotels and hills. (The waterproof cover is also in that pocket)

The only thing I wasn't excited about was the interior pocket arrangement - they're undeniably handy but one gets in the way of the other a little - but it's a minor niggle in an otherwise great rucksack.

And if all of that has got YOU excited about my new rucksack, you can find more about them on the Thule website here.  

PS Don't forget that I am ALWAYS excited about our books - they are full of fab photos and fun facts and we are happy to ship directly and cut out the Amazon middle man.  Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀