Friday, 21 June 2013

Cumbria has something to suit every mood.

"Hi ho, Hi ho, it's off to hike we go..."  Well, not necessarily.  There's an assumption that a trip to Cumbria means hiking and the outdoors, but that doesn't have to be the case.  Whatever your mood, Cumbria has something to offer to suit you perfectly.


From 26 - 28 August 2016 Lakes Alive will have something to cheer even the grumpiest of souls with its new annual free family friendly festival - it's centred around Kendal (growing from the ashes of the awesome Mintfest).  There are lessons in drone flying, creating clay murmurations and the chance to experience a virtual bird hide - c'mon, admit it, you want to have a go don't you?  The full line-up of events and activities is here - what are you waiting for?

If it's big name comedy you're after then check out places like the Brewery Arts Centre and the Sands Centre in Carlisle, both of which attract the very biggest names in comedy so there's bound to be something to tickle your funny bone.

Throughout the year Taste Cumbria run a series of fabulous food festivals, and who doesn't love good food?  You can check out their events right here, and if you're still feeling grumpy after all that then fear not - there are usually plenty of amazing local microbrewers at the food festivals so you can drown your sorrows if that works better for you.


"The hills are alive..." and where better to dance for joy than right on the top of one of the many fells?  You don't have to hike Scafell Pike for the best views; if you fancy something a little lower then try Gummer's How for spectacular views of Windermere, Hampsfell for glorious views of Morecambe Bay or Loughrigg for a hike with a decent pint at the end of it.


Just not in the mood to do anything much?  Then hop on a boat and let someone else do all the hard work for you.  There are excellent boat trips to be had along Coniston, Ullswater and Windermere all of which will allow you to chill out and drift through the landscape, usually with a drink in your hand.  But don't doze off or you might miss something important!


Hayfever suffer?  Then worry not; the Cumbria Coastal Way stretches for 182 miles taking you from Lancashire to Carlisle the long way around.  There are dunes, cliff walks and plenty of paddling to be had and, most importantly, the fresh sea breeze is a little easier on the symptoms than the pollen laden inland routes.  The coastal railway is perfect for returning you to base if you fancy a linear walk, or you could stop along the way to explore seaside towns like Grange-over-Sands or Whitehaven.


There are so many outdoors pursuits in Cumbria that your health will improve without you even noticing it: walking, cycling, swimming etc. etc. etc.  We all know that exercise if great for our heart, lungs, joints, bones and pretty much every other part of our anatomy, plus physical activity is also great for your mental health so get out there and get active!  Exercise is also important for helping burn off some of the calories from the excellent Cumbrian food provided by the many artisan cafes, restaurants and delis.


Not a fan of crowds?  Me neither.  Sometimes it can be hard to find peace and quiet, especially on some of the more popular fells so here's a couple of tips for escaping the crowds.  Firstly find an unusual route; Helvellyn from Thirlmere is a much quieter route than the routes from Glenridding (for example) and secondly start out later in the day.  Come 4pm the fells are pretty much deserted even in the middle of summer when it doesn't get dark until 10pm; we're rarely on the fells much before 11am and by the early evening we have the place to ourselves. Bliss.


There are plenty of museums in Cumbria where you can learn about the county and its wonderfully varied history: Barrow Dock Museum will tell you about the industrial past and has some amazing models of ships.  The Ruskin Museum covers the story of Coniston including all you'll ever need to know about Ruskin & Campbell while The Museum of Lakeland Life fills in any gaps that might be remaining.  Lastly my personal favourite, The Pencil Museum in Keswick.  I absolutely LOVE this place; the name completely undersells it and it merits far more than a "oh it's raining so we may as well go there" kind of visit.  Just go, trust me, it's quirky, informative and downright fabulous! (They were sadly badly flooded during Storm Desmond and are still waiting for the building work to finish, but watch this space, for they will be back soon!)


If you're looking for a romantic break without the kids then this is definitely the place to be.  You're spoiled for choice when it comes to romantic getaways but those nice folks at Trip Advisor have listed the top 10 most romantic hotels in Cumbria for us.  Of course there are dozens more, most of which will offer you breathtaking views, a truly personal service and wonderful locally sourced food that's hard to fault.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

10 Views of Cumbria that most people miss.

Amazing when you think of it that millions of folk visit the area every year and yet the ten views below are generally only seen by a relatively small number of people.  For such stunning views that seems an awful shame.  Some of them are easy to find, some are a bit of a hike and others simply require you to stop and look a little more closely at what's around you.

Frozen Bubbles, Place Fell

We spotted these in a small tarn on the top of Place Fell in January.  Just down off the summit were two frozen tarns which we wandered over to explore. They were both partially frozen and had the most beautiful patterns of frozen bubbles in them; one of those things that looked stunning but was really hard to do justice to with the camera.

Laurel & Hardy, Ulverston

Ulverston is best known for the Hoad monument and being the birthplace of Stan Laurel.  The Laurel & Hardy statue is not exactly hidden away but most people only look at it from the front.  I love this view Steve captured from behind with the little dog nipping at Hardy's feet.

Launchy Gill, Thirlmere

We found this view (and perfect picnic spot) because we're nosy; there's a way marked path from the shore of Thirlmere to Launchy Gill, but that only takes you part of the way.  Once we'd admired the falls from the wooden bridge we noticed a very small path leading up into the woods so we followed it and were rewarded with this.  Well worth it I'd say.

Piel Island

Another place not exactly hidden from view but very few people find their way to the end of Walney Island, which is a shame because the views across the sand to the castle at low tide are fabulous.  As are the views in pretty much every other direction too.  This was one of those perfect timing shots; dark grey clouds behind and the sun briefly lighting up the castle.

Wild Pansy, Eskmeals Dunes

Wild Pansies don't only exist on Eskmeals Dunes but they did look particularly stunning there, somehow surviving in the middle of barren looking sand dunes.  We're guest bloggers for Cumbria Wildlife Trust and thoroughly enjoy learning more about the wildlife of Cumbria as well as exploring hidden away corners we would otherwise have missed.

Pillar Rock from Ennerdale route

A very recent one this but already one of my all time favourite views in the Lake District.  We were making our way up Pillar via the rather long Ennderdale route; by the time we reached this point we'd already hiked over 7 miles.  We emerged from woodland, rounded a corner and BAM, there it was; it quite literally stopped me in my tracks.  We only saw 1 other person that day on the route, a crying shame when there are views like this to be had.

Smardalegill Viaduct

Not all of the stunning views in Cumbria are natural, some of them are man-made, like the fabulous Smardalegill Viaduct.  This now disused viaduct sweeps elegantly across the valley; a huge viaduct for such a small gill.  Built in 1861 the viaduct fell into disrepair after the line closed in 1962, the structure was threatened with demolition in the 1980's before the Northern Viaduct Trust saved it; they fully restored it and in 1992 it was reopened to the public.

Blindtarn Gill Waterfalls

Now this one *is* tricky to find.  The easiest approach is to follow the main track from Grassmore towards Easedale Tarn then peel off towards Swinescar Pike.  Half a mile or so along the track a "sort of a path" drops away steeply towards the falls, slither down there and this is what you'll find.  Be warned though, the approach is very steep and isn't easy in either direction.


Is there anything finer on any sunny day than being serenaded by a Skylark to two?  They're often heard but hard to see, well hard to see close up anyway. This particular chap posed perfectly for us during one of our longer hikes, but it's a good job we were quick with the camera, he didn't stay still for long!

Barkbooth Lot

Barkbooth Lot is another of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust's nature reserves and lies just a few miles south of Bowness.  Half woodland and half open heathland this is a wonderfully varied little spot plus on all of the occasions we've been we've never seen another soul, so it's the perfect place to escape the crowds. It's beautiful at any time of the year but really comes into its own when the bluebells and garlic are in full bloom.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The best part of the hiking day

Last Saturday we embarked on an 11 hour hiking extravaganza tackling Pillar via Ennerdale.  Hiking days are always special and I love to savour every moment but the enjoyment for me begins way before I even strap my boots on...

Planning:  Is there anything to beat the anticipation of planning a good long hike?  Pouring over maps (and couple of glasses of wine) and debating the pros and cons of each route?  Perhaps checking out what others have done before and then arguing the toss before settling on a route that you may well change again at the last minute.

The real reason they make waterproof maps.

Preparation:  Getting up early to make the sarnies and the flasks whilst gleefully stuffing chocolate into the rucksacks.  Covering the maps with toast crumbs as you double check everything before heading off.  Even last minute cries of "darling, where did you put my woolly hat?" fail to dampen the spirits. Double checking the weather reports even though you know they will bear little resemblance to reality...

Starting out:  Nabbing a parking space and finally starting off.  I love this bit as I know in my mind that several hours later I'll be returning to this very spot with a head full of wonderful memories.  The first sight of the fell for the day and slowly settling into your stride.

The view along Ennerdale
Settling in:  You've found your stride, you're on the right path and you're passing other hikers with a cheery "good morning" whilst secretly hoping they're not on the same route as you so you'll have it all to yourselves.  Honestly, is there any better feeling as you settle down for elevenses and crack open the flasks?

Elevenses.  Essential on any hiking trip.
Lunch:  You've done it, you've actually found a spot for lunch that isn't blowing you sideways and has somewhere decent to sit.  Quick, get stuck in before the sheep nick it all!  (And if you're lucky there'll even be a nearby stream where you can top up your flasks.)

River Liza. Beautifully clear.
New Views:  I love the feeling as you gain height and new views open up around you.  On this particular hike I was stopped in my tracks by the stunning sight of Pillar Rock looming high above a waterfall as we rounded a bend.  Stunning.

Hard to get to but worth every single step.
As we potter along we also have a laugh making shapes out of the forests below us - can anyone else see the happy elephant in this pic?  (There's also a sleeping gecko too if you look closely enough).

And then there's the game of "name the fell" as you try to identify the many fells disappearing away into the distance.  

"But if that one's Haystacks then that MUST be Fleetwith Pike"
The summit!  You've made it, you've reached the summit!  Often at exactly the same time as the mist...  But don't worry, it won't last long, will it?

Summit of Pillar

Haycock emerging from the mist.
The descent:  I'm not a big fan of the descent but it really helps when the sun is turning everything that wonderful golden colour and Ennerdale valley is stretching out ahead of you. (Even if that does also remind you how far away the car still is!)

Lovely woodland.

Mixed emotions.

The walk back to the car:  The flasks are empty, your feet are sore, assorted limbs are aching, your head is stuffed full of wonderful new memories and the topic of conversation flits between your favourite part of the day and just how large a portion of chips you're planning to demolish.  Carling don't make days on the fells, but if they did...