Saturday, 26 March 2016

20 things to do in Cumbria if it rains

No holiday in Britain comes with a rain free guarantee but that doesn't mean the day is wasted - here are 20 fab things you can do in Cumbria if the day turns out a little soggy.  (Please click on links to visit the websites and check opening times, charges etc.)

1.  The Rheged Centre - Penrith

Very easy to find, just off the M6/ A66 near Penrith.  There's loads of parking, lots of shops, exhibitions, films and lovely cafes serving local food.  Plus there's an adventure playground outside for kids when the rain eases off.

2.  Boat tours

You can take a boat tour along Coniston, Windermere and Ullswater - there'll be an interesting commentary along the way and many of the boats even have a bar on board so you can sip a G&T while admiring the beautiful views.

3.  The Lakeland Motor Museum - Backbarrow

The main museum has plenty to keep you busy for hours, then there's the separate Donald Campbell museum to explore.  When you're done with all that, or if you just need a rest, there's an excellent cafe serving freshly cooked local food.  (Check out special combined deals with Windermere Steamers)

4.  Honsiter Slate Mines

Set in the most breathtaking location there's stuff to keep you entertained here whatever the weather - cave tours and a cafe when it's soggy plus high adrenaline action on the Via Ferrata if you're feeling brave!

5.  Zeffirellis - Ambleside

Zeffirellis (or Zeffs as we usually call it) is a local legend.  The perfect place for pizza and a movie - or music, or whatever else takes your fancy.  There's a number of cinemas in Ambleside all under the same umbrella so check the webistes to see which one is perfect for you.

6.  Go and see a waterfall

Colwith Force

Who cares if it's raining?  Grab your waterproofs and go and splash in some puddles!  Waterfalls are definitely at their best when it's been raining and many of them don't involve a big hike - check out Skelwith Force, Colwith Force or Lodore Falls.  If you don't mind more of a walk then Stickle Ghyll and Dungeon Ghyll are well worth a visit, PLUS they come with the bonus of an excellent pub (The Sticklebarn)  to dry off in afterwards.

7.  Take a train around the coast

Did you know you can take a train the whole way around the Cumbrian coast?  Hop on at Grange-over-Sands (or Arnside) and stay on the whole way around to Carlisle.  Be sure to ask for the Round Robin ticket when you book then grab a window seat for one of the best train rides in Britain - fells on one side, stunning sea views on the other.

8.  Check out our towns & cities

From Carlisle in the north to Kendal in the south (or keep going to Lancaster - yeah, I know it's not in Cumbria but it's a great city) we have loads of towns to keep even the most enthusiastic shopaholic entertained.  Most folks find Ambleside and Bowness, but how about exploring Grange-over-Sands, Barrow or Whitehaven?  There's tons more there than you think, plus loads of local shops selling locally sourced goodies you won't find anywhere else.

9.  Climb the walls!

Let the kids climb the walls instead of you for a change - take them along to one of the indoor climbing walls at Ambleside or Kendal where you can wear them out, give them an early night and pour yourself a large glass of wine.

10.  The Puzzling Place - Keswick

It's mostly free here - there's a shop packed full of every kind puzzle you can imagine and a Puzzle Area where the whole family can try solving puzzles.  You only need to pay if you want to visit the World of Illusion and truly melt your brain....

11.  Beatrix Potter

If you're into Beatrix Potter then there's 2 places you need to visit - Beatrix Potter World in Bowness and Hill Top in Near Sawry.   The latter has the added benefit of being right next door to one of my favourite pubs in Cumbria - the Tower Bank Arms where you can enjoy home cooked food and a drink while you plan your next adventure.

12.  Museums at Keswick and Kendal

There is SO much to do at both of these museums - loads to get your hands on, plenty to explore and fun tunes to play!

13.  Chocolate Factory at Orton

Really - is there anyone who doesn't want to visit a chocolate factory?  Divine home made, melt in the mouth, chocolates and great big steaming mugs of chocolate plus a menu that has more chocolate on it than a toddler with a king sized Mars bar.  AND, did you know, that all chocolate consumed on holiday is calorie free?  Honest it is...

14.  The Beacon  - Whitehaven

Whitehaven is a much underrated place.  It's one of only 52 Gem Towns in Britain, has breathtaking views across the Solway to Scotland and has The Beacon where, amongst other things, you can ride a Raleigh Chopper, play Space Invaders, read the weather forecast and run your hands over exhibits with big PLEASE TOUCH signs next to them.  There's a cafe when you're done plus a fab chippy nearby and a great little town to explore too.

15.  The Lakes Aquarium - Newby Bridge

Where you can see fish, walk through underwater tunnels and watch diving ducks dive, learn about otters and handle snakes and giant snails.  Your kids will LOVE it.  You may not...

16.  The Pencil Museum - Keswick

I have to be honest, I absolutely LOVE the pencil museum.  Sadly the main museum was closed for a over a year due to the flooding from Storm Desmon BUT they are now OPEN FOR BUSINESS again!   Pencils, and graphite in particular, were hugely important to this region and gave several words and phrases to the English language that we use today - things like the "black market" - plus they have a fab cafe too - what's not to love?

17.  The Brewery Arts Centre - Kendal

There's ALWAYS something going on here - films, live music, comedy, exhibitions - if I'm not up a mountain you can often find me here.  There's a great bar and restaurant and it you fancy something different, check out their Warehouse films where they show classic and independent films which you can watch while sitting in big squishy sofas and enjoying a drink,

18.  The Dock Museum - Barrow

Another much underrated place - this is a superb gem of a museum, especially for anyone even remotely interested in ships.  The small museum near the entrance traces the local history, but once in the large museum you can check out scale replicas of many of the boats built in Barrow, get involved in hands on activities and watch wonderful short films telling you all about the local natural and industrial history - and it's all FREE!

19.  Carlisle Castle - Carlisle

A castle with a properly colourful history - sitting right on the Scottish border this castle has changed hands more times than you've had hot dinners - as well as the usual exhibits there's plenty of interactive stuff and loads of family activities during the school hols.

20.  Curl up in front of the fire with a good book

Clearly the very best thing to do if it's raining is to buy one of our books and curl up in front of the fire!  You can buy them directly from us here or they're available in all the local branches of  Waterstones, plus Keswick Museum, Kendal Museum, Yew Tree Barn, Catstycam, Low Sizergh Barn and lots of other places.

And if you REALLY don't want to leave the house then you can download my book of short stories direct from Amazon right here, right NOW!  10 short stories, all set in real Lake District locations and all with photos and a guide at the end so you can plan your visit.  Oh, and 5 star reviews.  Yay!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A Very British Hike

Perfect spot for a brew!
"If something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing" that's my motto. We needed to come up with an idea for a blog about tea - of course we could have gone no further than our kitchen, or perhaps a pleasant picnic in a local park, but oh no, not me, far too tame,  My plan involved packing our rucksacks so we could enjoy Afternoon Tea on top of a 778m fell - obvious really...

It all started with an invite from the lovely folks at Birchall's tea - no they're not Cumbrian but they are a 5th generation owned by the same family company, which is the sort of thing I really rather like. (* See note at the end)

First up we needed to pack the rucksacks - not your average hike, so not your average packing - alongside our smoked salmon sandwiches we were planning to have a cream tea, so decanted some home made jam into a suitable tub and dusted off my posh picnic rucksack.

We thought long and hard about where to head and settled on Harter Fell for its magnificent views of Haweswater.  We also needed to wait for the right weather because a) I can't fit a full set of waterproofs and ice spikes in my posh picnic rucksack and b) a cream tea on top of a fell is no fun in torrential rain.

When we arrived Haweswater was looking as lovely as ever with Harter Fell looming large ahead of us.

Harter Fell

Those of you that have followed our blog will know that we never go far without our flasks of tea but it seemed wrong to put such lovely tea into flasks so we took up hot water and a tea pot and proper china mugs.  (Having chatted to the nice folks at Birchall's they inform me that Breakfast Tea is the best tea for flasks because the flavours are stronger which overcome the "flaskiness" - I may have just made that last word up.)

To be fair we soon whipped up Gatescarth Pass and up onto the top of the crags - so now it was time for tea,  As well as all the proper gear I also insisted on laying out the picnic cloth - though I think referring to Steve as Carruthers and chiding him for not bringing the family silver may have been a step too far...

I was gasping for a brew!
Smoked salmon sandwiches safely dispatched, it was now time for pudding - a fabulous cream tea with a HUGE tub of clotted cream on account of the fact it was on special at Booth's.

Really, all hikes should be this way.

Even though it was a lovely day, by now we were getting a bit chilly so headed down - our route took us over the top of the fell then down along Nan Bield Pass and the views were pretty impressive the whole way along.

On our way down Steve spotted a good spot to pause and enjoy the view - I suggested it would be a great spot for our post lunch digestif of half a bottle of Wainwright and a Kitkat - I am SO classy!

The rucksacks were now considerably lighter than when we started out and we'd been lucky enough to enjoy fantastic weather the whole way around.

Done and dusted!
If, like us, you enjoy your tea then do pay a visit to the Birchall's website where you can order the tea directly.  They have a huge variety on offer and, having sampled the entire range, I can vouch for them all (even the fruit teas which I normally hate as they smell divine but taste like dishwater).  They're also an incredibly ethical business which these days is hard to find.

Note: As you'll notice we don't host any paid advertising on the blog (Google ads pay naff all and "click bait" ads are generally demeaning to the poor folks involved or telling downright lies to convince you you can loose 2 stone in a week) - we host ads from Leighton Moss and Cumbria Wildlife Trust for free because they're fab and we like them.

We only ever say yes to products we can genuinely say nice things about and also stuff we can have some fun with.  (If filling your rucksack with tea pots, china mugs and enough clotted cream to sink a battleship before hiking up a fell can be counted as fun).so hopefully you'll forgive us for accepting the odd freebie in exchange for a few kind words and some nice photos.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Glenridding - Backstage

'Ello Alfred!
Glenridding rocks.  It's always been a lovely little place and it always will be.  The storms over the winter arguably hit Glenridding harder than anywhere else - and it certainly drew the media attention - but this isn't a place to take things lying down.  Glenridding is open - a few of the shops remain closed, as does the Glenridding Hotel, but the village is well and truly open for business and there's plenty to do - hikes up Helvellyn, trips on the steamers, walks along the banks of the lake etc. etc. etc.

With Easter looming large the good folks of Glenridding got together and put out a community appeal to help spruce the place up a bit ready for the impending visitors.  Led by the Glenridding Hotel and Catstycam they whipped up a possy of people eager to to help.  

By the time we arrived work was well under way with over £600 worth of plants etc. donated by Hayes Garden World in Ambleside and B&Q in Penrith

Steve getting stuck in

After a quick break to meet the legend that is Alfred the dog we cracked on.  The only problem was that so many people had turned up that they'd done most of the work already, so we were assigned to sign cleaning.

I was clearly starstruck.
"I like it because it is clean"
Steve learned how to remove gaffa tape from a sign...


....and after

While we were busy cleaning more planting supplies arrived and they soon began to brighten up the whole of the village.


It was also great to see the diggers hard at work repairing the walls to protect from any further floods...

...and to see the local TV crews coming along to give the village a much needed boost.

And why wouldn't you want to visit Glenridding?  After we were done we took a short drive along the lake to Aira Force and enjoyed a lovely sunny stroll.

Before heading back along the lake with me leaning out the car window trying to take photos.  Never works does it, but still we keep trying!

With Easter just a week away many hotels, B&Bs etc right across the county are reporting a big slump in bookings - THIS IS SERIOUS - please come and see us - the weather forecast is great, there's loads to see and do and the towns and villages are putting in a huge effort to look great and make you feel welcome.  (You could do FAR worse than book into one of my favourite places the Netherdene B&B, just a very short drive from Aira Force and Glenridding)