Cool down in English Lakeland.jpg

Cool down in English Lakeland

By NIGEL WRIGHT [email protected]

Nigel Wright and his wife Sue moved to Portugal five years ago and live in the countryside near Paderne with their three dogs. They lived and worked in the Far and Middle East during the 1980s and 90s and although now retired, still continue to travel as much possible and enjoy new cultural experiences. His other interests include tennis, gardening, photography and petanque.

Colourful Keswick

We could see the huge summit cairn ahead, perched above a tumbled wilderness of boulders. But we were also watching a thick bank of black cloud roaring towards us from the Irish Sea. Just as we reached the summit of Scafell Pike, the highest point in England at 3,210 ft (978m), we were enveloped in thick mist and pelted with icy drops of rain. This was the third time we had toiled up this superb mountain and due to Lakeland’s notoriously fickle weather, had failed to see the view!

We lived in the English Lake District for many years and this was one of our last fell-walking trips before retiring to the Algarve. This summer we decided to take a break from the Algarve’s seasonal heat and revisit some of our favourite places in England’s largest National Park with its beautiful mountain landscape. We chose Braithwaite as our base. It is a picturesque village just outside Keswick, an attractive town in the northern part of the Lake District. The town has immense community pride and its clean tidy streets and gardens were colourfully bedecked with flowers in readiness for this year’s Britain in Bloom judges. Keswick has won the ‘small town’ category on a number of occasions.

Catbells and Mrs. Tiggywinkle

No visit to Keswick is considered consummated without an invigorating climb up Catbells – a small shapely peak overlooking nearby Derwent Water. The best and most scenic approach is by one of the boats that encircle the lake all day dropping hikers off at key points. The climb, steep in parts, is justifiably popular. The reward at the summit is an outstanding mountain view, with the lake far below on one side and the green pastoral valley of Newlands on the other. A short stroll north from the top gives a bird’s eye view of Little Town. This was the home of Mrs. Tiggywinkle, the hedgehog who became one of Beatrix Potter’s most endearing characters. Beatrix Potter was one of Lakeland’s most important literary figures and a whole tourist industry has grown up around her children’s books and drawings. A visit to Hill Top, her house at Sawrey near Windermere, is well worthwhile. This astute lady was a significant landowner and years ahead of her time regarding ecology and effective land management.

Haystacks and Buttermere.
Haystacks and Buttermere.

Beautiful Buttermere

Buttermere is our favourite lake. It nestles among mountains on three sides, their heights accentuated by sheer slopes and precipitous cliffs. In our younger days, we would have toiled up rocky paths to stroll on the superb ridges linking the mountains, but this time elected to relax and enjoy the tranquillity of the 6km stroll around the lake’s perimeter. The path passes through forests of oak and larch trees, where, if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the red squirrels. Near the top end of the lake, you walk below the forbidding rock walls of Haystacks. This mountain was the favourite of Lakeland’s most famous fell walker, A.W. Wainwright, whose mountain walking guidebooks sell in thousands and have become hiking ‘bibles’. If we had a choice of just one mountain to climb, this would be it.

The Hermit of Borrowdale

At the head of Derwent Water lies an area nick-named ‘The Jaws of Borrowdale’. A rugged and independent pyramidal peak called Castle Crag dominates the landscape and the River Derwent gurgles its way below, through a sylvan scene of silver birch, oak and meadows of wild flowers. Wainwright describes it as the most beautiful square mile in Lakeland. We took the picturesque walk along the riverbank, culminating in a steep climb to the summit of Castle Crag. Here there is a fine view of the whole of Derwent Water backed by Skiddaw, one of the district’s highest mountains. We were caught in a very heavy rain shower on route and dived into one of the many caves (from former slate quarrying activities) for shelter. This was Millican Dalton’s cave. He was an extraordinary eccentric who abandoned a career in insurance to become a ‘Professor of Adventure’ and a rock-climbing guide. During the 1930s and 40s, he spent every summer here living as a hermit and outside his upper cave (his bedroom) is his carved inscription “Don’t!! Waste Words. Jump to Conclusions”.

Fell walking for retirees

Lakeland is probably the finest fell walking area in Britain with routes for all ages and levels of fitness. There are guidebooks galore everywhere and many peaks can be enjoyed by the more elderly without straining muscle and sinew to reach the summits. Latrigg is one such mountain and is right on Keswick’s doorstep. A three-hour round walk involving just 300 metres of climbing will yield one of the finest mountain views in England. Even better, you can cheat! On this occasion, we drove our car up the steep road around the back of Latrigg and after parking in the ‘Skiddaw Mountain Car Park’, strolled gently to the top in 20 minutes on a path smooth enough to take a baby buggy.

We had a happy time on our return trip to Lakeland. It is an excellent destination for all ages. With a little planning and imagination, it was easy to avoid the crowds and enjoy some of the National Park’s peaceful and stunningly beautiful places. The weather, however, was as fickle as ever. On arrival, it was hotter than the Algarve and very humid. During our ten-day stay, we had thunderstorms, sunshine, heavy showers and daytime temperatures as low as a chilly 16 degrees. Some things about the Lake District never change!