Sunday, 30 September 2012

Cumbrian Nightlife

I'm taking a break from the outdoors today (well, mainly) and continuing my campaign to prove that there's much more to Cumbria than Wainwright and the fells.  As you'll know if you've been following this blog for any length of time our first 18 months or so up here were very frugal indeed, nothing desperate, but there was certainly no budget for eating out.  In fact during that time we ate "out" only twice, both times were at the fabulous local chippy and on both occasions other people paid.  Last week I ate "out" for 3 nights out of 4, and the variety of experiences show just what Cumbria has to offer.

Wednesday night I was in Bowness to meet up with fellow blogger and soon to be published author Heelwalker1 (otherwise known as Tanya Oliver).  Being rather better acquainted with the local hostelries than I am, Tanya selected the venue; the rather lovely Village Inn opposite the church in Bowness.  I was running late and couldn't find the place so after a few laps of the church I finally asked someone where it was.  "Turn around" she said, and there it was, directly opposite with the words Village Inn helpfully written in large letters above the door.  And the windows.  And on the sign at the edge of the road.  Hard to believe I can make it up and down the fells in one piece isn't it?

The dinner and the company were lovely, though I confess to being a little like a fish out of water in such places - I'm always worried I'm wearing the wrong clothes and convinced that I'll drop and break something expensive. (Sorry Tanya - that might explain why I fidgeted and fled so early, it wasn't your company I promise!).  But if you're looking for a wide choice of "gastro pub" style dining options, plus a variety of other restaurants, it would appear that Bowness is your place to go.

The prom, Grange-over-Sands
Friday night saw us visiting an altogether different place; the At Home Bistro in Grange-over-Sands.  This is tucked away underneath the cafe on the corner next to Higginson's and is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings.  The dining area is cosy  but everyone is so friendly that you really do feel as if you're being welcomed into someone's home.  The food was fabulous and all served on non-scary crockery.  The night we went it was really quiet and I worry that small independently run places like this will vanish in the face of corporate chains.  If you're ever in the area do try and take time to visit, I promise you won't be dissapointed.  (And don't just take my word for it - check out the reviews it gets on TripAdvisor.  It really is a hidden away gem of a place.)

A view to dine out on.
And so to Saturday night.  Well now, that was eating out on a whole different level.  What if I could offer you somewhere to eat which had ample parking, was so peaceful & quiet you could actually feel yourself unwinding as you ate and with views like the one to the right from each dining position?  I'm sure restaurateurs across the land would kill for stuff like that.  Well, this time dinning experience came courtesy of the RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss .  We had to bring our own food and the "dining room" was the newly rebuilt "Allen Hide" just next to the railway tracks.

Rudimentary but effective.
As we ate dinner we watched Little Egrets, Curlews and Herons fishing for their dinners, we saw Oyster Catchers and Lapwings settling down for the night and we craned our necks to see flocks of geese in wonderful V formations heading south for warmer climates.  Admittedly the food was a rather more basic affair (2 flasks of tea, a box of Ritz crackers, a tube of Primula cheese and 1/2 an Eccles cake each), but the setting really couldn't be beaten.  Plus there was no crockery to be broken, but you'd be well advised to wrap up warm, especially if you want to keep the hide windows open for the best views.

On our way back to the car we both took shots of the moon - I managed a happy accident by wobbling and turning the moon into a heart whereas Steve took a rather more "moon like" shot, but we were both very happy to have our path back to the car well lit enough for me to treat the remaining local wildlife to a rousing rendition of Moon Shadow.

So there you go, next time you visit Cumbria there should be no complaining that you can't find somewhere to eat; just watch out for the singing locals.

My wobbly heart shaped moon.

Steve's rather more lovely shot.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Thank you for being nosy.

Pike of Blisco is the big lump on the left.
Well, it's been a while since last I wrote, mainly due to work and life in general getting in the way.  If I'm honest, I've also been mulling over why I think I'm so special that anyone would want to read my mad ramblings.  There are apparently something like 6.5 billion people in the world all of whom are equally as interesting as me and many of them substantially more so, so why do I keep pestering people with this blog?  What on earth could I have to say about the fells which hasn't already been said a hundred or more times before by people many times more eloquent than I.  (Or should that be "than me."?  See, I'm still getting to grips with basic grammar!)  Eventually I came to the conclusion that, being a nosy so and so, I'm hugely interested in what everyone else is getting up to and, there being 6.5 billion people in the world, I figure many of them are equally as nosy as I am so, if that's you, thank you for being nosy and reading my blog.

Langdale Valley.
Right, what have I been up to?  As I said, mainly work, but yesterday we finally managed to make it up Pike of Blisco on our third attempt.  On our first attempt Pike of Blisco was, at the last moment, usurped in favour of Crinkle Crags and our second attempt was scuppered by a combination of failing light and legs.  This time we had only one thing on our agenda and nothing was going to stop us; the weather was fantastic, we had plenty of food and drink and we were in no mood for getting distracted, however fate wasn't going to let us get away with it quite that easily.

A fellow hiker.
Our plan was to park up at the National Trust car park at Dungeon Ghyll.  We've parked there many times before and although it can get busy in the summer we can usually find a small corner to squeeze into.  What we hadn't realised was that yesterday was also the day of the Langdale Marathon which started and finished at Dungeon Ghyll so several hundred other people were also trying to squeeze into a corner.  Eventually we persuaded a kindly official to turn a blind eye to the huge rucksack on the back seat and pretend we were with the runners.  Stage one complete, now all we had to do was tootle up the fell, but fate wasn't quite done with us just yet...

Local wildlife.
Our route took us out along Oxendale Beck and past Stool End farm before we began to ascend.  Before we'd even made it as far as the farm I'd slipped off a rock and gone up to my knee in mud, dropped our main flask which thankfully bounced and now sports a proper outdoors style dent, broken a fingernail and realised that I was wearing entirely the wrong underwear for the day.  You know, the sort that disappears into the dark recesses of your anatomy and needs to be coaxed back out again on regular occasions, ideally when no-one else is looking.  Not that that's how I broke my fingernail, no, my rucksack did that.  I'm not a girly girl and don't really give a damn how my fingernails look so long as they're clean, but as I caught the rucksack awkwardly it broke the nail right down below the quick - see, you're wincing aren't you?  I gave serious consideration to calling mountain rescue but feared they'd scold me for my lack of nail repair kit.  Instead, as  a huge admirer of antarctic explorers, I asked myself "What would Scott have done?".  So, I discarded the nail, consoled myself with a ration of Pemmican and soldiered on.
Collective noun for Paragliders anyone?

One of the benefits of everyone being in the area for the marathon was that almost no-one was there for the hiking and we had the fell pretty much to ourselves.  As we were making our way up Brown Howse we had some excellent views of proper climbers over on Gimmer Crag.  I have a deep admiration for proper climbers as I lack the dexterity, flexibility and, if I'm honest, courage to launch myself up a rock face so will forever have to content myself with only achieving the grade of "hiker" so far as the great outdoors is concerned.

View from the summit. Minus elderly gent.
Now, let me tell you what I like most about Pike of Blisco.  What I like most about Pike of Blisco is that in order to climb Pike of Blisco you have to set out with the express intention of doing so; you can't simply "knock it off" as you make your way along a ridge route, and that appeals to the purist in me.  Although I'm not a "bagger" I do log each fell we hike, but I've always felt a bit of a fraud claiming to have made it to the summit of, say, Broad Crag, when the only reason I did so was because it was on my way to Scafell Pike.  According to our widget we've done 70 or so "Wainwrights" but that's not strictly true in my book as we didn't climb each of them individually.  There's a lot of ridge walks in there which make us sound better than we actually are.  Still, no such problems with Pike of Blisco, granted you could probably tag it onto a Crinkle Crags route, but it's enough of a fell to merit its own specific hike, and it really doesn't disappoint.
Blea Tarn

Making our way past another group of proper climbers getting some practice in on the craggy outcrops, we were soon on the summit and I was not prepared for the view.  I expected the stunning views along the Langdale Valley but hadn't banked on the glorious vista which stretched down along the length of Windermere.  We settled down with a flask of tea (dented) and an Eccles Cake while we took it all in.  As we sat there congratulating ourselves on our strenuous hike and elderly gentleman sprinted past and with a cheery "afternoon" was gone again in the general direction of Wetherlam.  Pesky fell runners.

Our route back dropped us down to Wrynose Pass before doubling back via Blea Tarn.  Of course we lost the path somewhere in the boggy, marshy wilderness but thanks to the combined efforts of Steve's strategic navigation (finding the path of least resistance) and my rather more direct approach (the path of least distance) we were soon back on the straight and narrow.  Or rather "broad and boggy".
View from descent.

We'd heard a lot about Blea Tarn and although it's small as tarns go it is in an idyllic setting and we caught it just right, arriving as the late afternoon sun was illuminating the surrounding fells and creating the most spectacular reflections.  I sank onto a nearby bench downing tea and painkillers as I enjoyed the view and negotiated with my back to hold out for just an hour or so longer.

As numbness blissfully kicked in we headed on down via the National Trust campsite and back to the car.  Interestingly there were still 2 other cars in the field when we got there so either some other hikers had managed to sneak past the officials too or there were a couple of poor runners still out there somewhere.  Or perhaps they were in the pub already, I've only ever run one marathon but I do recall beer being rather high on the list of things required in the immediate aftermath.  Purely for medicinal reasons you understand.  Whatever the reason, it made an unusual change not to be the last car in the car park as, underwear retrieved for the final time, we headed for home.

Windermere sunset en route home.