Tuesday, 24 May 2016

10 Fascinating Facts about Cumbria

Writing a book with the word "History" in the title is bound to put some people off.  We don't all love history.  Hell, *I* didn't even love history when I was at school - I'd be nodding off before you could say 1066.  Our mission is to unearth facts that have the "oooohh" factor - as in "oooohh, I never knew that" - so here are 10 of my favourite fab facts about Cumbria; some are in the book and some aren't, but I guarantee all of them are more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

1.  There used to be a bridge from Bowness-on-Solway to Scotland, but it was demolished due to drunken Scots.

The bridge was over 1 mile long and was used by iron ore carrying trains to avoid the busy junction at Carlisle.  It was badly damaged by icebergs in 1881 after the rivers Esk & Eden froze - as they thawed ice broke off and demolished a third of the bridge.  It was rebuilt but eventually closed in 1921.  At that time you couldn't buy alcohol in Scotland on a Sunday so, each Sunday a number of our Scottish friends crossed the bridge to enjoy a "relaxing sweet sherry" after dinner.  Unfortunately they were prone to having one too many and, after a few folks sadly fell from the bridge and drown as they staggered home, the bridge was demolished in 1933.

2.  George Washington's Granny is buried in Whitehaven

Honestly, there are SO many fascinating things to say about Whitehaven that it's hard to pick just one - but this was the one that surprised me the most.  Mildred Gale - George Washington's paternal grandmother is buried there.  She was born in Virginia but married a shipping merchant who traded on ships between Virginia and Whitehaven (which was a very busy and important port at that time).  She's buried in St Nicholas' churchyard, though the exact location of the grave isn't known.

3.  There's a road which runs parallel to the A6 between Kendal and Shap which used to be one of the most important roads in the country.

OK, it doesn't parallel the whole way - it does criss cross a few times, but the Old North Road is still there and very easy to spot.  Most of it remains accessible and it makes for a lovely walk well away from the crowds.  There's a fabulous road map from 1675 which records all of the main coach roads in Britain - there were only 4 roads noted in the whole of Cumbria and this is one of them. And if a dusty old book from the seventeenth century doesn't impress you then maybe the fact that AW himself loved the old road and was fascinated by its history might persuade you to take a second look.

4.  Grange-over-Sands got its name from an annoyed vicar

You may have noticed that there are two Granges in Cumbria - the one up near Keswick and Grange-over-Sands in the south - but until 1858 they were both just called Grange (a name usually indicating a nearby granary).  When the Reverend Wilson Rigg arrived in the southern Grange, after an eventful coach journey across Morecambe Bay sands, he quickly got fed up of his mail getting misdirected to Keswick Grange, so he changed the name of the town to Grange-over-Sands to distinguish between the two.

5.  There's a rock up above Launchy Gill that was the site of illegal trading

Anyone who's ever trekked from Ullscarf to High Tove will tell you what a bogfest it is - unless they did it when it was all frozen solid (a top tip for those attempting all the Wainwrights).  There are only a few rocks up there and one of them has an interesting history. When the plague hit in 1665 public markets were stopped to try and prevent the spread of the disease, but people still needed money, so the folks of Thirlmere Valley had a plan...  Far away from the eyes of the law they snuck up onto the top of the fell to a place called Web Rock to trade their "web" (woven fabric) and earn money to buy food.  No-one has quite pinpointed exactly which rock it is but there are a few likely contenders.

6.  Kentmere had such rowdy drunks they changed the law of the land

Back in the nineteenth century there were plenty of mines, quarries and mills along the Kentmere valley and, on payday, things could get a bit rowdy.  In 1887 the pub in the village had its licence revoked thanks to the lively goings on.  The owners pursued the decision all the way to the House of Lords and ultimately lost but their case Sharp -v- Wakefield set a precedent still cited today.

7.  The Cumbrian Dialect is a foreign language

Many folks are familiar with the "Yan, tan, tethera" sheep counting language used in Cumbria, but the Cumbrian dialect (now sadly in decline) is pretty much a language in its own right.  During World War Two a local gent who joined the Royal Navy was stationed in Iceland - he spoke with a strong Cumbrian dialect and apparently had little trouble conversing with the locals.

8.  The monks of Furness Abbey engaged in both smuggling and bribery

Furness Abbey is a beautiful place to visit, sadly now a ruin but back in the day it was one of the most powerful Abbies in the country.  The monks built the castle on Piel Island to support their import and export trade which, as they didn't pay any taxes on it, was basically a smuggling operation.  The Abbot is also said to have paid a "ransom" to Robert the Bruce to protect the Abbey.  Some call it a "ransom" others may call it a "bribe".  I bet their confessions were interesting...

9.  George Stevenson planned an enormous bridge from Morecambe to Ulverston

When they were originally planning the expansion of the railways in the region, George Stevenson proposed the idea of running a railway line directly out across Morecambe Bay.  The enormous structure would have connected Morecambe to Ulverston, but the backers of the time understandably got the jitters and backed out of the idea, leading to the current railway and viaduct we see today.

10.  There was once a plan to heat Cumbria using geothermal energy

Shap Granite with its big pink crystals is easily recognisable and was much used in architecture across the country (including the bollards around St Paul's Cathedral in London).  As recently as the 1980s the British Geological Survey carried out test drilling to see if there was enough residual heat deep down in the rocks to provide heat to the county - sadly there wasn't, but then the rock is over 400 million years old.

Our books are PACKED with hundreds of fascinating nuggets just like these so please don't think it's just another boring old history book.  Click here to find out more and buy your copy.

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We also offer a number of guided walks, visitng places with lots of interesting history.  You can find out more about those right here.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Don't pay the ferryman

The A591 may well now be open but on Monday I tried to take Glebe Road in Bowness out of commission using only my head.  We were running to catch the last ferry back to Lakeside when I tripped & fell head first onto the pavement.  Contrary to popular opinion the road was harder than my head and I ended up in Westmorland General for 2 nights with a severe concussion and a broken right arm.  I'm home now and doing OK but very light-headed and washed out and learning how to type with my left hand - but back to Monday...

The day had started out so well - as a thank you for the April Fool's Day blog the jolly nice folks at Windermere Lake Cruises sent us a free ticket to enjoy and we waited for a clear, sunny day so we could go along and take plenty of lovely photos.

We took the first ferry of the day from Lakeside - our plan was to travel to Ambleside, catch the little ferry across to Wray Castle, explore the castle then walk down to Claife Heights before getting the ferry back to Bowness and then down to Lakeside.  Their excellent Walkers Ticket will let you do a shorter version of our cruise starting and ending at Bowness.

The weather was perfect and the lake looked superb.

Wray Castle is always fantastic fun to visit with games and activities set up in many rooms, an excellent cafe and a great guided tour.

I should stress that the following photos were taken before any head injury occurred - honest!

Then came the lovely sunny walk back along the lake shore - just beautiful!

The last time we'd been to Claife Heights it was all boarded up so we were delighted to find it now fully renovated and offering superb views up and down the lake.

By now time was getting on so we headed for the small ferry back to Bowness.  We somehow managed to miss the Windermere Cruises one so took the chain ferry giving us 10 mins the other side to run back to the pier for the 16:55.

This is the last photo I took before my fall and the following 8 hours remain a complete blank despite the fact I never actually lost consciousness.

Apparently when we reached the other side we started to run for the ferry; Steve was ahead and about half way along he heard a shout followed by a big crack as I hit the deck.  I was clearly very dazed and when he tried talking to me I was spouting more gibberish than usual and he realised that an ambulance was required. (I have no recollection at all of what happened next so the following is based on what Steve has told me). 

As he made the call some lovely people sat with me (I have NO idea who you are but thank you!) and I was stuck in some sort of brain loop with my conversation apparently going something like this...

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Ans:  Yes
Me: Oh that explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head.

Short pause

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Ans: Yes
Me: Oh that explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head.

Short pause

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?

And so on until the ambulance arrived - very funny now but probably quite disturbing for those folks who were kind enough to sit with me.

I was taken to Westmorland General where my brain loop continued but with a few added elements now:

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Steve: Yes
Me:  That explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head
Steve: Yes
Me:  I'm in hospital aren't I?
Steve: Yes
Me: Is it Barrow or Kendal?
Steve: Barrow
Me: Do I have any training courses this week?
Steve: Yes
Me: Oh well we need to cancel them
Steve: I have
Me: OK

Short pause

Me: Have I been on a ferry...

Apparently on one loop Steve got his middle answer wrong and this happened...

Have I been on a ferry?
Me:  Do I have any training courses this week?
Steve: Yes
Me:  Oh well we need to cancel them
Steve:  Yeah, I will do
Me:  So you haven't?  Go and do it now - you need to call them else they'll all be waiting for me...
Steve:  OK
(Good to know I'm a control freak even when I've completely lost the plot!)

The great thing is that it was like GroundHog Day so once Steve knew that one answer was going to bother me, he just changed it on the next loop so I was happy again.

I was CT scanned (all clear but I'm gutted I don't remember it) and X-rayed.  Because of my continued gibberish they clearly weren't letting me out of their sight so I was admitted.  The odd thing was I was processing everything like a dream so when a nurse I'd seen earlier reappeared I'd gaze at her in wonder and tell her I'd had a dream about her and wasn't that amazing?

Eventually they got me up to a ward and although it was late Steve was allowed to stay for as long as we wanted.  By now I was beginning to return to the land of the living and realising what had happened to me I was getting very frightened and upset (I know a bit about brain injures and the dangers of the first 36 - 72 hours).  After I'd calmed down a little Steve headed home (it was now gone 2am) and he left me in the care of Jess who checked my blood pressure and shone a light in my eyes every hour or so.  

I was too scared to sleep and as clarity began to return I was doing whatever I could to keep my brain working - counting the ceiling tiles, pacing the ward, reading all the notices on the ward - anything so I didn't fall asleep.

As dawn broke I heard oystercatchers outside (one of the joys of hospitals up here - there's plenty of green around) and watched herring gulls circling above the warm air vents.

Dawn from the ward
Slowly I was beginning to piece together the day before and I could elaborate on my "Have I been on a ferry?" routine though to be honest, even though I can now recall it all I remember it more as a dream than as an actual event.  Of course what wasn't helping was that when anyone asked what I'd been doing that day (to see how my memory was getting on) my answer started "well, you see I wrote this blog about submarine tours under Windermere..."

The docs decided that I was still confused enough for them to want to keep an eye on me so I stayed put for another 24 hours.  The nurses and the doctors were all absolutely amazing - superb care - I honestly don't know how they do it.  My only teeny tiny, eeny winey complaint is that there were no decaff drinks on offer on the drinks trolley, (there wasn't any G&T either, but that was probably pushing things to be fair) but one of the nurses took pity on me and gave me some of her fruit tea teabags.

I took a wander around the ward and noticed that they were somewhat blunt with their medical notes...

Just glad this wasn't my medical chart
Anyway, the upshot of all of that is that I'm now back at home though still coming to my senses.  If any of you has been unfortunate enough to have a similar style clout on the head you'll know how scary, confusing and disorientating it is.  I know I'm still not processing things properly and I feel tired after doing almost nothing.  

For once I've cleared my diary to give myself time to recover - though being freelance if I don't work I don't get paid so it is a bit of a worry (you could always encourage your friends to buy our book to help fund our "not beans on toast again" coffers :-)  )

I've promised everyone I'm gong to take it easy and I mean it - I've given myself (and Steve) a proper scare and this isn't the time for bravado, this is the time for looking after myself a bit.  It may be a while before I'm back on the high fells but I'm sure I'll still find some fun things to do.  

Meanwhile, there really is only one person who can have the last word on this blog... 

Friday, 6 May 2016

Nearly mist the summit...

It was time for our wonderful Welsh adventure to head south a little.  Next destination was Arthog, not too far from Dolgellau.  This time we were at Graig Wen - a Camping and Caravanning Club listed site with superb facilities and drop dead gorgeous views.  (Yes we are big fans of the C&CC - they have a great variety of sites and, because they welcome tents, the facilities even on the smaller sites are usually excellent).

Our first day there was a little murky so we took a walk into Barmouth for a nostalgic trip along memory lane.  At least it was for me as I took childhood holidays there - for Steve it was just a long soggy walk...  We have an excellent way of passing long flat walks when the weather's not too chipper and you're a bit on the tired side - Random Movie Connections.  The game is collaborative not competitive and involves one person naming 2 random movie stars which we both proceed to try and connect via films only.

Barmouth Bridge
For example Lawrence Fishburne and Samuel L Jackson: Lawrence Fishburne was in The Matrix with Keanu Reeves. Keanu Reeves was in Speed with Sandra Bullock.  Sandra Bullock was in Practical Magic with Stockard Channing. Stockard Channing was in Grease with John Travolta and John Travolta was in Pulp Fiction with Samuel L Jackson.

Our rules are that it's movies only, no TV series or marriages etc. and Google is not allowed - but really, you can make your own rules.  It usually passes a good half hour or so as we shout at each other - "you know - him - he was in the one with wotsit - you know - wotsit - with the hair!" and generally alarm passers by.

The true object of our affections for this leg of the tour was Cadair Idris - a very beautiful sweep of peaks just to the south of Dolgellau.  The weather during the morning had been apocalyptic rain but I had faith in the forecast that it would brighten and I was mostly right...

Info board at the start of the walk
The route follows a very pretty stream up through the woods and out into a stunning cwm.

Llyn Cau

Onwards & upwards - I had faith that the mist on the top would clear but Steve had his doubts.  Steve was right (obviously I'm not going to admit that this happens often and will deny this if anyone reminds me of it.)  :-)

View back down to the Cwm

Summit shelter
We're used to hiking in Cumbria so mist holds no fears - apart from stopping every 10 paces to check you're still on the right route - undaunted we soldiered on round to Mynydd Moel.  I reminded Steve how breathtaking the views out over the sea were from this point.  Steve may have glared at me,  I don't really know - the mist was in the way...

We'd enjoyed the hike but it was with a degree of despondency that we began the trek down.  We paused on a rock about 200m down from the summit for one last view of Llyn Cau and to finish the last of the tea and guess what happened?  The mist lifted - fully and completely - giving crystal clear mountain tops.

Well - there was only one thing for it - shove the flask in the rucksack and race back up there,  We were knackered at the top but it was worth it - even if only for me to gasp "I told you so" in between pants.

After half an hour or so the clouds showed signs of returning so we headed back down again.  I think it's fair to say that the route had suffered from some sort of storm damage and the first section is one of the worst descents we've ever attempted.  (I'm not having a go - that's just life in the hills!)

It became such a long, slow and, at times, tedious, challenge that we completed an epic round of Random Movie Connections - connecting Kevin Spacey to Kevin Costner (*our answer is at the end if you're interested!)

Things picked up lower down as we argued over whether portrait or landscape was the best orientation for this scene.

Job done and holibobs now over it was just a case of getting back to the campsite for a long luxurious shower and a glass or two of "essential muscle relaxant" before beddybies.  We've had an absolutely cracking time in Wales and are already busy planning our next trip - gweld chi y flwyddyn nesaf (possibly - hope that's not rude - I'm relying on Google translate to say See you next year!)

* Here's our answer to the Random Movie Connections: Kevin Spacey was in The Usual Suspects with Benicio Del Toro. Benicio Del Toro was in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with Johnny Depp.  Johnny Depp was in Pirates of the Caribbean with Keira Knightly.  Keira Knightly was in Love Actually with Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson was in Star Wars with Ewan McGreggor. Ewan McGreggor was in I Love You Philip Morris with Jim Carey.  Jim Carey was in Bruce Almighty with Morgan Freeman and Morgan Freeman was in Robin Hood with Kevin Costner.  I told you it was a long descent!