Friday, 20 February 2015

The Bacon Buttie Test

Ravenstone Lodge
I have a foolproof, 100% guaranteed cast iron method of sorting the great hotels from the merely mediocre and it doesn't involve peering behind wardrobes or checking under the toilet seat.  My simple test is this - order a bacon buttie for breakfast.  Despite most hotels having breakfast menus almost as long as their dinner menus and despite this being Great Britain, home of the great bacon buttie, pretty much nowhere has it listed as a menu item at breakfast.  (And I'm talking proper hotels here, not those nasty ones where breakfast consists of a tasteless undercooked buffet and a fight for the toaster.)

Under the pretext of "essential book research" we treated ourselves to a romantic night away at the Ravenstone Lodge Hotel on Bassenthwaite a couple of nights before Valentine's Day and I was looking forward to a bit of pampering - well I say pampering, I was actually looking forward to someone else cooking dinner and doing the washing up for a change, I'm pretty easy to please.

HUGE bed

Bath with a "come hither" look
When we arrived we were welcomed with big beaming smiles and shown around the dining rooms and generous conservatory before being taken up to our lovely big room.  The bed was HUGE which is perhaps as well because at 6ft 4ins Steve takes up a lot of space (and can you believe he is the shortest of his 3 brothers?  Imagine that - 6 ft 4ins and still "the little 'un").

"Take me to bed or lose me forever!"
I wasted no time in equipping myself with a G&T and sinking into the bath before heading down for dinner - all of which was home cooked and tailored to any and all food fads and allergies.  Replete, we sprawled on the sofa in front of the fire in the conservatory with a glass of whisky (they have a HUGE collection, it was very hard to choose) and I told Steve that if he really loved me he'd carry me up to bed.  He refused but offered to get a blanket and leave me on the sofa if I wanted. Charming.

Next morning it was time to unleash my secret hotel test - it may sound like a simple test but those of you who follow me on Twitter may remember that about six months ago I was in a smart hotel in London which refused to serve me a bacon sandwich but agreed to serve me bread and bacon separately on a plate.  I can only assume they skipped catering college on the day of the "bacon sandwich construction" course.

Perfection on a plate!
The waitress came to take our order.  Steve shifted uneasily in his seat, knowing what was coming next.  "A bacon sandwich please." I said and, sensing this was the sort of establishment that could cope with a curve ball, added "on brown bread, with grilled tomatoes if possible."   The waitress didn't bat an eyelid and 10 minutes later returned with the perfect bacon buttie.  Passed with flying colours and firmly on the list of hotels I'd recommend in a heartbeat.

The only downside to our romantic interlude was the weather, which refused to play ball.  There's a route right from the front door of the hotel leading up onto Ullock Pike and Skiddaw, but the mist was so low we couldn't even see the top of Ling Fell across the lake, so we decided instead to go and find some fun in Whitehaven (which was technically what we were supposed to be doing anyway).
View of Ullock Pike from the car park

Whitehaven is another of those fabulous but overlooked places in Cumbria.  The views from the sea front across the Solway are breathtaking, the harbour is fascinating to explore and there is a superb seaside chippy just a hundred yards from the front. (Something I've ranted about in the past.)

Our object of desire for the day was The Beacon Museum next to the harbour and I'd like to say we spent a very grown up few hours exploring serious things like local history, but the reality is we reverted to being kids and played with every single one of the many brilliantly thought out interactive kids displays.

We spent hours in there, laughed a LOT and learned loads - honestly, every museum should be more like The Beacon and that way we'd all learn more and the world would just be a much better place.

Heamatite literally asking to be touched.

Very hard to find an unsmutty caption for this.

Hard at work on history research.

He lied!  He said this was a photo of me as a beautiful princess!

Unfortunately he caught me before I started gurning...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Back in the day...

There are many places on the internet where you can find lists of the kit and equipment needed for fell walking - none better than the information provided by Mountain Rescue – but what if you had no choice?  What if you absolutely had to hike over the high fells but you didn’t have the correct waterproofs or several layers of the latest high tech thermals to protect you?  And what if, on top of all of that you had to manhandle a very large, very heavy box and/ or a truculent horse and cart?

Our recent research has often had me ensconced in nice warm libraries while Steve freezes outdoors taking pics – trust me, I LOVE the libraries part, but it’s a lot of fun when we get out on the fells together to get up close and personal with some of the stuff I’ve been reading about. 

Fairy Steps nr Silverdale
We’ve been uncovering old trade routes recently and, more interestingly, old coffin routes.  If a community didn’t have a church, they had to carry their dead to the nearest consecrated ground and that’s how coffin trails, or corpse roads as they’re also known, came to be.  Some of them are obvious and clearly labelled – such as the one we tackled this week near Haweswater – but some are hidden away and require a little more effort to track down.  There are also some, like the fairy steps near Silverdale, that make you wonder how they ever managed it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to know where public footpaths and rights of way came from, how were they established in the first place?  Who were the first people to walk along them?  Why do they exist here and not there? Why did more than one person think it was a good idea to walk that particular route?

Obviously the answer to all those questions is never going to be straightforward – many began as communication routes between farms, others were old trade routes, some were built by the Romans, whereas others have symbolic significance or are shrouded in folklore and myth.  Whatever their origins one thing always strikes me when I’m standing on one; back in the day, folks would have walked these routes in all sorts of weather, without the protection of the many layers of expensive thermals and high tech waterproofs we have today.

The Old Corpse Road
At best routes would have been marked on rudimentary maps, but more often than not passed down from generation to generation simply by walking them – that they still exist today is testimony to how important they were back then.  There are many stories of people losing their way, surviving by sheltering in caves, falling from crags after getting lost in bad weather or just simply never returning.

You don't have to sit in a library to learn about the fells - next time you're up there take a closer look at your map, or study the hills around you while you're enjoying your coffee, and spare a thought for the poor folks through hstory who had to go up there whatever the weather, long before Gore-Tex was ever invented.

Tarmac road? Luxury!