Sunday, 18 July 2021

A Beginners Guide to Cumbria and The Lake District

I decided that now might be a good time to put together a (not entirely serious) user guide for those folks visiting us for the very first time.  Please feel free to add things I missed in the comments below.

Roads & driving


These still operate in much the same way as they do wherever you are from, but that will probably come as a bit of a shock to many.

Pedestrians - the cars still have right of way on the roads and allowing children and/ or dogs to play in the middle of a country lane is generally a bad idea.  In line with the rest of the UK we drive on the left, so it's advisable to look both ways before crossing. 

If you have to walk along a country lane then do so in single file on the right hand side of the road so you can see oncoming traffic. It's also a good idea to use your ears as well as your eyes - the person you're walking with may be a riveting conversationalist, but when there are large lumps of metal hurtling around at 50mph+ (often being driven by people unfamiliar with the area) it's best to keep your focus on avoiding those and save the in depth chat for the pub later - or a nice quiet footpath.

Drivers - we have a lot of very narrow lanes around here. They are incredibly pretty and many of them command spectacular views. Driving everywhere at 25mph so you can fully admire them, or stopping your car in the middle of a lane to take a photo of said views, will be frowned upon by anyone else trying to use the lane to get to work. We have lots of car parks and laybys perfectly positioned for you to enjoy the scenery.

Saying thank you - always polite, but up here we shy away from the big friendly wave and insted favour the "half nod with index finger raise slightly from the steering wheel" approach. Do anything else and you'll stick out like a sore thumb. 

Parking - a thorny issue.  As I have mentioned, we have lots of car parks and laybys but, on a hot sunny weekend or bank holiday, many of those will be full and overflowing by 10am. When that happens, please don't try to "squeeze in one more", or think that "just because that person has parked there, then it must be fine", pretty, pretty, please, park responsibly.

Please avoid parking in the following places: 

  • passing places - these don't always have a sign in them, but use your common sense to spot them - a small pull in along an otherwise single track lane will be a passing place. 
  • across the entrance to a field or rammed up next to a field gate - farmers work 7 days a week and need access to their fields at all house of the day and night (seriously, during the summer they will often be out until 11pm and later, then up at the crack of dawn again the next day.)
  • opposite other cars along a narrow lane - emergency vehicles will need access from time to time, esepcially during busy summer days when there are more people around than usual - this isn't a city centre, the lane you are blocking could well be the only route in and out of the location so think, if it was you or a loved one who needed an ambulance, would you be happy for it to be delayed by inconsiderate parking?
  • on the drive of a random house because it looks empty - sounds bonkers, but has been done more than once.
Food and Drink

Hazelmere Bakery & Cafe - Grange-over-Sands
It may come as a surprise to a lot of folks, that those of us living up here do not exist on a diet that solely consists of Cumberland sausage and Kendal Mint Cake. Other local delicacies you may wish to sample include Cumberland Rum Nicky, Morecambe Bay Shrimps (available here) and XL Cheese crisps (not made here, but a grab a bag of these, and a can of Vimto, and you'll blend right in like a local).

There are loads of wonderful local food and drink producers up here so do try to make the most of them. Whilst Cumbria can, of course, offer you the big chains that you are familiar with, this is the perfect opportunity to try out local cafes and eateries.  Some of my favourites include:

Wildlife



Red squirrels, sadly, do not scamper around every woodland - in fact you'll be really lucky to spot one - and when you do see one, it will pose perfectly until it sees your camera, whereupon it will disappear at high speed into the undergrowth.

Other wildlife to look for up here includes red deer, osprey, seals, and even beavers, although they will be trickier to find.  If you want the full lowdown on the local wildlife then check out Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Sheep and cows may not count as wildlife, but you will encounter plenty of them. Please keep your dog under control at all times around them and, when driving, remember that sheep and cows are unfamiliar with the finer details of highway code so expect to find them sleeping on roads, having lunch on roads and playing chicken with anyone driving towards them.

They are also contrary animals - if you want them to leave you alone they will follow you closely, but if you want to get a nice photo of one, they will walk the other way.

Walking up hills



First the serious part: If you are unfamiliar with hiking up big hills, or maybe just a bit rusty, then pleasse, please, please take a look at the Adventuresmart.UK website before heading out.  It is FULL of useful information to keep you safe on the fells. I am also assuming that taking your litter home and closing gates behind you goes without saying - although I'm saying it just in case...

Other things to think about:
  • DO NOT RELY ON GOOGLE MAPS - honestly - have you ever looked at Google maps near your home and wondered why it directs you along a random street that makes no sense? Well it's the same in the hills. Google maps is not a navigation tool.  Yes, it could help Mountain Rescue to to find you if you need them, but that's about it.
  • What Three Words is not a navigation tool either. Again, it can help you be found if you need to be, but no more than that.
  • More comprehensive maps are available via apps such as Viewranger - but you need more than a map to keep you safe. For a start you need to know how to read it and be able to differentiate between a parish boundary and a footpath.
  • When you gotta go... There is a comprehensive guide to pooping outdoors here - no-one ever talks about it but maybe we should, then people would know what to do. Basically leave no trace - carry a pooh bag with you and do not leave stained white tissues blowing around in the wind.  
  • Peeing is a lot easier - especially for boys!  Ladies, the SheWee is a waste of time and money, plus squatting is great exercise. Be wary of nettles and anything with thorns and try not to be put off by nosey sheep. Also, no tissues - or if you do use one, take it away with you.
  • The weather conditions in the valleys will a) vary from valley to valley and b) be very different to the weather on the top of a hill.
  • Above 600m you will not find many trees meaning that you will be exposed to the elements - sun, wind, rain etc., so be prepared with extra layers and/ or sunscreen. I would say 'depening on the season' but, frankly, in The Lake District you could need factor 50 sunblock at the start of the walk and full thermals and waterproofs an hour or so later.
Things to do


Whilst we are the self styled 'Adventure Capital of the UK' and have plenty of high adrenaline activities to keep even the biggest adrenaline junky satisfied (check out Honister.com for starters), there are also hundreds of quiet places to get away from the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Tips for avoiding the crowds:
  • Avoid Bowness, Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and all of the other 'honey pots' - great if you like a crowd, not if you don't.
  • Does it have to be a lake? The lakes will be rammed on hot sunny days, but we have well over 120 miles of coastline to explore, with stunning beaches and bays, so there is always somewhere to escape to.
  • East of the M6 - most folks coming up here only head west from the M6, but there are some amazing places to explore to the east - the Eden Valley for starters, so head east and prepare to be surprised.
  • Read a map - if you can get to grips with a map of Cumbria you'll find plenty of fells, tarns and quiet spots that are far from the beaten track - places you can walk all day in the middle of the busy season and still not see another soul. And if your mapreading is rusty go back and check out the AdventureSmart.UK website I mentioned earlier.)
Useful websites:

Here are a list of useful websites to help you find your way around and make the most of your visit:

Accomodation in Cumbria - from tents to 5 star hotels
Check how full the car parks are - live updates (thanks Jill Holliday for the idea to add this one)

And finally

If you want to find out more about Cumbria and the Lake District, then buy one of our books - you'll be helping to support a small local busines AND learning more about the county. Win Win!  Click this link to browse & buy. Thank you.


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Dog walkers, runners and psychos...

Sunshine on Grange prom
I inherited my love for walking from my dad.  He never needed an excuse to walk and neither do I. Walking was his 'thing' and it's also mine. It never really occured to me that some people might find it odd to go out for a walk on your own when you don't have a dog, or aren't clad in lycra and cluitching a water bottle, but then last year I was asked to judge a podcast comeptition and one of the entrants focused on how they felt a little odd 'just going for a walk'.

The title of the blog comes from my friend Rachel, who used it in a Facebook post after she'd been on a morning walk. I know she was joking, but it got me thinking...

...And then I was invited to review the book 'Do Walk' by Libby DeLana - Libby goes for a meditative walk every morning at 5am; the book is a reflection on those walks, and it's made me reflect on my own morning walks.

I never used to go for a 'morning walk' until 'Lockdown 1' curtailed my work travel, and now I don't know what I'd do without it. In fact we recently went on hols to Scotland - we had an amazing time walking, cycling, swimming and kayaking but, after we got home I was feeling antsy and I didn't know why. We'd had fun, I didn't mind being home and I was quite happy to get back to work, but I just wasn't settled.

A lovely bike ride to Port Logan


Kayaking - so much easier without the water...

It wasn't until we headed for Coniston Water on Bank Holiday Monday that it all fell into place. After going for a lacklustre swim I left Steve to head off for a longer paddle in the kayak while I headed off up into the Blawith Fells, and then I realised - despite having loads of fun, I'd not had my morning walk and I really missed it. Suddenly I was alone with my thoughts again (despite the large crowds on the water, the fells were pretty quiet) and I began to feel so much better. Nothing against Steve at all - I love going for walks with him - I just needed some alone time.

Alone again...

In her book, Libby explores this, and it's a fascinating read although, being from New England, some of her winter walks are a lot more extreme than mine, plus I only ever walk for around 40 minutes whereas she heads off on some pretty hefty hikes. I love the part where she talks about really seeing things on your walk and quotes a friend as saying "you never see anyone running through an art gallery" - I'm pretty good at slowing down on my walks, so that made me smile.

She also talks a lot about the solitude of the walks and that has had me pondering too, especially since lockdown restrictions have eased. I find I am torn between the part of me that says it's selfish to want my beautiful morning walks through the woods all to myself, and the part that truly resents seeing other people on 'my' walk.

And here's another question - is 'Good Morning' compulsory? My working life requires me to talk to people all day, so I savour my solo morning walks and specifically take less popular routes. If I do meet someone else and they offer a 'good morning' I will smile and return the greeting - but there's one gentleman on my walk who, if I don't reply loudly enough, will stop in his tracks and shout 'GOOD MORNING!" at me until I reply in a manner that satisfies him.

It's mine...all mine!

I've seen some really sharp comments on social media recently with folks getting angry when others share pictures of their favourite quiet spot, thus 'ruining it'. Wordsworth thought that only the 'right sort of people' should come to visit the Lake District - but who gets to determine what the 'right sort of people' are? (I don't have a complete answer to that, but I'll kick off with people who know how to park properly, close a gate and take their litter home, for starters.) 

The 'right sort of people' on my morning walk would be those who slip past quietly, in their own little world, and definitley not the ones who shout at me but, for them, the 'right sort of people' could be the person that stops to chat a while. Who's to say which is right?

My favourite view from my morning walk

As well as meaningful insights and reflections the book also has lots of practical tips too - very handy for those new to walking or needing a bit of inspiration. I can also vouch for the fact that, as with most things, it goes splendidly with a spot of sunshine and a big mug of tea.


You can find the book at thedobook.co and it really is a rather lovely read, full of great quotes and interesting photos.

You can find me in Eggerslack Woods most mornings. I'm also full of great quotes, but best left alone at that time of day. And please don't shout 'good morning' at me either. Thank you. 😀



Monday, 10 May 2021

Don't blame The Townies

As lockdown restrictions finally begin to properly ease - hopefully for good this time - there will be some people dreading the thunder of a million feet heading towards the Lake District.  This is understandable, last year there were some dreadful scenes of people disrespecting the landscape, leaving litter, wrecking trees, parking inconsiderately and, sadly, leaving gates open that resulted in the deaths of livestock.  Hopefully things will be better this year but, if they're not, please don't collectively blame 'the townie'.

I was raised a townie.  I had no control over where I was born and raised and, as soon as I was able to, I escaped to greener pastures, but it was drilled into me at a very early age to respect the countryside.  (For anyone who knows the West Mids, Walsall Arboretum was our nearest decent sized area of greenery, trips to Sutton Park were a *massive* treat and Cannock Chase was like taking a trip abroad!)  

Closer to home we'd play in the rough strip of ground behind the house, making dens and swings and eating enough blackberries to make us sick.  Although we promised that we would never to go further than the end of the road, clandestine trips to Reedswood were the highlight of many a summer - untethered by phone calls demanding to know our whereabouts, or trackers to show where we were at all times, we explored and adventured far beyond where we were supposed to. 

We may have wandered beyond our boundaries, but we never left litter or caused any permanent damage - although there were no mobile phones, or CCTV, we all knew that our mums had eyes everywhere and would somehow know if we'd left an empty crisp packet in one of our dens.

Me, somewhere in Wales, circa 1977

I was lucky enough to holiday in Wales regularly, and that always included a daily walk somewhere.  I was taught how to dress properly and wear the right shoes and I was expected to observe 'The Countryside Code' at all times (as well as being sure to 'Keep Britain Tidy')

Because I grew up far away from the countryside, to me it is still a rare and beautiful thing and I still get excited every time I see lambs, or calfs, or birds, or the sea, or a million other things that I never saw regularly as a kid.  I am keen to protect it, plant the right flowers and bushes to encourage bees and butterflies and try to keep my 'footprint' as small as possible.

Grange Prom

Being controversial, in my experience, sometimes it's the people who grew up with all of that around them that take it for granted.  We live in a conservation zone and have neighbours who have lived in the area all their life, but they have ripped up every flowering plant and concreted over their entire garden, turning it into a natural desert.  Every leaf is swept the moment it touches the floor and jet washing of the paved backyard is a monthly event. A very few, select, green things are allowed, but they are strictly confined to colour co-ordinated tubs.  On the brightside it's inspired me to go a little bit 'wild flower crazy' to try and compensate for their concrete wasteland.

The point is that it's never as straight forward as blaming one type of person or another, that simply causes division where there doesn't need to be any.  We need to focus on doing more to educate everyone about what, I absoultely agree, should be basic common sense, such as taking your litter home, closing gates behind you and not parking like a wazzock.  

I don't have all the answers to the big questions, but I do know that there are amazing groups like the Lakes Plastic Collective who are doing fantastic work to keep the region looking beautiful - check out their Facebook page here and support them if you can - we can achieve a lot more by working together than we can by creating more division.  (You can also find them on Twitter here and Instagram here)




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Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The best benches in Cumbria

Yes, I'm back blogging!  It's been a while I know but, to be brutally honest, like many folks, 2020/21 pretty much kicked the stuffing out of me and it was hard to find things to write about that were chirpy and positive when we were stuck indoors all winter, but now we are out and about and things are looking up (at least for now!)

What better way to bounce back than with a quick blog about benches?  I flipping love a good bench - who doesn't?  Actually, I'll tell you who, because benches are more controversial than you'd think.  One of the most important things we can do to help the older population is to help them keep walking - it's great exercise, plus it's a social activity, giving them a chance to meet and talk to other people, thus staving off loneliness. But, in order to encourage them out more, we need to give them more benches to sit on, where they can pause and catch their breath, and the problem with that is that in many urban areas they are actively removing benches as they are a natural gathering point for ne'er do wells and rowdy youths.

Tis true, I found out about it a few years ago when I was working just outside Preston.  As per usual I'd packed my sarnies and headed out at lunchtime to a nearby park, planning to sit and eat my lunch in the sunshine, but this lovely park didn't have one single bench - so I asked why and that's when I found out about the conundrum.  Scary isn't it?  I wish I had an answer, but maybe highlighting it so more folks are aware and talking about it is the best first thing I can do.

And now - onto my favourite benches in Cumbria... (Yeah, I know you'll disagree, but that's part of the fun.  Plus I am not including *that* bench on Friar's Crag as it's already too popular by far! 😀 )

1. The one with the view of Blencathra


A friend recently stumbled upon this bench and reminded me of this fabulous walk - it's pretty out of the way but the view is utterly spectacular.  Don't be fooled by the idyllic image though, after we left this bench we got a little bit lost in a very big bog, and I had a proper dodgy old pair of walking boots on and had to wring my socks out at the end.  Still a great bench though!


2. The one on Scout Scar



I love Scout Scar - it's utterly perfect for a family walk with free parking nearby and an easily accesible walk along the ridge.  You can just do a tiny toddle to a bench for lunch, or wander around the scar for the entire afternoon, admiring the far reaching 360 degree views.  There are loads a juniper bushes up there too, in case you fancy brewing your own gin.


3. The surprise bench


If there's one thing better than a bench, then it's a surprise bench - a beautiful bench that pops up when you least expect it.  I pretty much literally stumbled across this one on an 'off the beaten track' kind of yomp around the hills near Millom.  The town often gets a bad rap, but I have a huge soft spot for it, and who wouldn't with benches like this?

4. The one that requires a bit of effort


How's this for a bench with a view?  You can find this beauty half way up The Band, and it was absolutely flipping perishing the day we took that pic.  We'd been testing out a small stove that was supposed to brew up water in super quick time, but took so long that I half froze to death and vowed to only travel with flasks of hot tea in the future.

5. The Royal Bench


This bench was so good that we took William and Kate to see it, and they loved it too!  You can find it above the shores of Ullswater, although it is a little off the main path.  You get amazing views of Helvellyn and the boats tootling too and fro along Ullswater.  I can't promise that you'll always bump into a member of the royal family up there, but you never know.


Buy our books!

If you're planning your perfect post lockdown escape to the Lake District then what better than one of our books to guide you around?  We're always happy to sign them and promise to pack them with love and skip to the post office to send them off - now you won't get that offer from anywhere else!  CLICK HERE to check our bookshelves and place your order.  Thank you!



Sunday, 10 January 2021

Keeping things on the lowdown...

Another year, another lockdown, and we're as fed up and frustrated about it as everyone else, but it is what it is.  As someone who walks, writes and shares photos about our Cumbrian adventures I feel it's important that everything I do and share is in line with... well, I was going to say 'government guidelines' but the reality is those guidelines should be common sense by now.

I'll be honest, I'm running out of patience with the endless debates amongst some of the outdoors community who are quoting and re-quoting their interpretation of government guidelines as if to find a loophole that allows them to race to the top of Scafell Pike.  The way I see it is this: we all know what's going on, by now we all probably know someone who has been affected by the virus, so we all know that even though it's a pain in the ass, the best thing we can do is stay low, stay local and stay safe.

And it's not just me saying that - Mountain Rescue are also facing enormous challenges.  They are all volunteers and many of their members are fronline NHS workers - the last thing they need is to be called out for fully avoidable incidents.  None of us set out with the express aim of having an accident and calling Mountian Rescue, we all think it will never be us, but the reality is that accidents can happen even to the best prepared of folks, but by staying on low, safer, local routes, we can vastly reduce the chances of that happening.

Interesting fact:  Hardknott Pass is technically a national speed limit road.  That means that, if I wanted to, I could tear along it at 60mph - but we all know that's a bad idea.  I should imagine that "But, your Honour, the sign said I could do 60mph!" will carry little merit as a defence after I've embedded my car deep in the Roman fort...  I don't need a sign on every bend telling me precisely what speed I should be doing, instead I will revert to the guidance in the Highway Code that tells me something like I need to be in control of my vehicle at all times and be able to anticpate hazards.  For me, it's the same with this guidance, just because, on a technicality, I could justify a hike up the nearest snowy peak, doesn't mean I should.



I fully appreciate that we are supremely blessed at being locked down in Grange-over-Sands with stunning Morecambe Bay on our doorstep and Hampsfell just across the road, and I never, even for one second, take that for granted but, wherever you are, every walk can be made more interesting and beneficial (I grew up as an urban kid on a council estate so I absolutley know what it's like to live with limited greenery).  To try and help a little, here are my top tips for making every walk more interesting, plus some ideas for those with kids (or those of us who refuse to grow up!)

  • Walk with all 5 senses - take the time to see, hear, smell and touch (where safe) your environment.   Run your hands over a tree  trunk, a wall or a rock.  Take some deep breaths to truly smell the air, listen to your feet and the different noise they make on different surfaces.  Look for the small details on houses, street signs etc.  Taste is tricky at the moment, especially since they reclassified a cup of coffee as a picnic, but take a chocolate with you, pop it in your mouth halfway around, and let it dissolve slowly on your tongue as you take in your surroundings.
  • Spot something different on each walk - make it your mission to find smething new every time you go out - doesn't matter how big or small it is.  We've spotted fossils in the prom wall that we'd never seen before, and noticed dates and initials on different houses. We've also watched closely as the seasons have changed around us and spotted lots of tiny details that we would otherwise have missed.
  • Tool up and do a litter pick.  Obviously we have to be a lot more careful now, but a pair of Marigolds and a bag should see you in good stead; there's still plenty of litter that needs clearing, including far too many face masks blowing around...
  • Make up stories as you go!  I honestly thought that everyone did this, but turns out they don't.  Invent stories about people you pass - maybe they're spies, or brilliant scientists, or a world famous opera singer that you just don't recognise because they have their mask on.  Is that just a tree or is there a door around the other side leading to another world?  Perhaps there's a spaceship inside?  And that hut at the back of the park - just the workman's hut or is it covering the top of a stairway that leads to a secret subterranean hidden world?  Yes, I know it's all a bit bonkers, but it takes your mind off the here and now.
  • Build up a photo story - take a picture in the same place, of the same feature, each time you go out.  Watch how it changes over the months.  It will be great to look back on when you put them all together.
  • If you can get off the beaten track with your kids a little,  collect leaves, twigs, or other bits and pieces to make a collage when you get home.  Or, if you feel more comfortable, photograph them then draw, paint to model them when you get home - and then make up stories about it.
  • Learn about your local history - there are loads of fantstic online local history resources  so have a dig around and learn about your neighbourhood.  Find old photos online and match them up to today's view, find out who built where you live and what was there before.
Please join me in staying low and staying local - I'll only be walking from the door until things change and I'll only share posts on social media where people have done the same.  It feels like forever right now, but I can guarantee that during the summer of 2025, we'll be sat around in a pub garden, enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine with our friends and family, and someone will say "The pandemic?  Wow, I can't believe that was 5 years ago."

And if you have any other ideas and tips for making local walks more interesting, please feel free to share them below!