First things first, this is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
I left Manchester feeling chipper, due to my love for such a wonderful city. To ensure I wasn’t travelling for more than 2 hours at a time, I spent the night staying with Rachel and Matt, a great couple who moved to Australia around the same time that I did but decided to resettle back in the UK. I stayed at their home in Ilkley, Yorkshire and was thoroughly spoilt. Great conversation, great food and a great gin and tonic (who knew I could be a convert – well done Rachel) all meant I had a great stay and I left the following morning, feeling satiated and raring for a change of scenery, from urban city culture to the beautiful expanse of the British countryside.
The drive from Skipton in Yorkshire to Ambleside in Cumbria was one of the most scenic drives I have ever done and it was all I could do to keep my eyes on the narrow, country roads. It was on this journey that for the first time in a long time I felt pure, unadulterated happiness. The freedom, the backdrop the realisation that I have zero stress in my life anymore catapulted me into this wonderful place – mentally and geographically – that had me (wander)grinning from ear to ear. I gave everything up to follow my dream and this one moment above all others, had me realising that I had made the right choice.
My arrival at my YHA hostel didn’t wipe this smile from my face. YHA Ambleside is situated right on the shore of Lake Windermere and after parking up and being assigned my room, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the view was, after paying just 13.50 a night. The location was perfect for exploring The Lakes and the free parking and WIFI are such a bonus and the onsite bar and restaurant a real treat for the weary wanderer.
Having spent the past three weeks pounding the pavements of some of Britain’s most prominent cities and historic sites, I promised myself I would take it easy on my knees and feet for the first day and after a relaxing cup of tea by the lake, I decided to wander to the pier and take a return boat trip to Bowness, to see what the land looked like from the lakes. Everywhere you look, you get an amazing view and the moving, low-lying clouds provided a dancing backdrop of shadow and colour which meant every photo you take is different to the one before and boy, is it tough to choose what is best. Arriving at Bowness, I was advised to stay on the boat to make sure I was able to make the return trip, which was leaving in 10 minutes. A quick look at Google Maps showed me it was just a brief 2 hour walk back to the hostel. So off I got, ignoring my aching joints and hiked the road back to the hostel and a welcome local ale, poured by the friendly staff on site. Following another self cooked pasta bonanza in one of the well equipped kitchens, I retired to my room for a chat with the bunk mates I met, a quiet read on my Kindle and a great nights sleep.
The following morning, after breakfast and a refreshing shower, I dressed for a day in the great outdoors and approached the reception area to ask where to go for my first day in The Lakes. I was distracted from the friendly smile at the counter by the thudding of torrential rain poring from the low-lying clouds outside. Bugger, I thought. Wondering if it was wise to hike muddy mountains in the cold, wet weather I hesitated in reception. It was after a moment of deliberation that I noticed someone staring at the rain next to me. That is the moment I met Julia.
Julia is a beautiful, intelligent inspiring twenty year old who lives in Rio de Janeiro and has been travelling Europe for the past 5 months. It was quickly noted that Julia had all the ideas and facts about where to visit in The Lakes and I had a car. It was that simple math that made us both agree on the spot that it would be wise to harness our respective resources and spend the day together.
Our first stop was Ambleside village, where we wandered in the rain, enjoying the local feel of the place which is nestled on the shore of Lake Windermere, set against the backdrop of the dominant, lush, green mountains behind. Never one not to look up, even when it is raining, I managed to spot a small piece of street art in this picturesque little place, to add to my visual collection.
Ambleside Village ‘street art’
It was during that walk, that the rain ceased and the sun decided to stand prominently behind a wall of cloud. It was then we decided that the next destination for us was up and off we went to hike the beautiful surrounds of Loughrigg Tarn.
We meandered public footpaths, through rolling fields – scattering the grazing sheep, watching the colours of the scenery before us change shade and texture with every passing cloud. The turn of every corner released another gasp of pleasure as an even more beautiful vista presented itself to us, more beautiful than the one before, if at all possible.
Loughrigg Tarn at sunset and with blue skies
A trip into Grasmere Village later in the afternoon, afforded us a welcome late lunch and the opportunity to sample some of the locally produced gingerbread, which was delicious, and also to take a moment while observing the final resting place of William Wordsworth, the celebrated poet who wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, which resonated so much with me, while enjoying this part of my travels.
After such a busy day traversing such an overwhelming landscape of beauty, we made our way back to the hostel to relax, eat, read and write. I also had so many tips from Julia about travelling Europe, that I had to make sure I installed every suggested app and joined every necessary web page, to make sure I didn’t forget all this valuable information. We slept soundly that night.
The following morning, I woke to beams of sunshine twitching at the curtains, dancing around the room and lighting a smile on my face. Following a hearty breakfast, Julia and I regrouped near the hostel’s map of The Lakes and Julia pointed out where we should visit on our second day as hiking buddies. One of the many things I love about travelling is that it can bring two random people together of varying backgrounds who wouldn’t normally interact and form a friendship, a bond, which you know will ensure that whenever the day will be, you will meet again and reminisce about the times we travelled together, all those years ago.
The next location proffered by Julia was Tarn Hows and the Tom Gill Falls. Tarn Hows was quite simply the most beautiful lake that either of us had ever seen. With bright blue skies, white, fluffy clouds, crystal clear water and tumbling hills of green, we were in awe of our surroundings and the beams of sunlight was only matched by the beams of our smiles as we wandered and explored.
As we ambled around the lake and sipped the water from the natural springs near the cascading waterfall, we stumbled upon the money trees. For those of you who have kids who believes money grows on trees, don’t bring them here as they’ll be proved right! There were logs and branches everywhere with coins pressed deep into the grooves, glistening in the sunlight. Assuming it was a symbol of luck, we both decided to cast our pennies into the log and make a wish, which we hoped would come true. After trying to bash the coins in with my phone, a selfie stick and a metal tin (its amazing what you can find in your bag), I asked Julia to move the big heavy rock out of the way, so I could take one last smash before giving up. It was literally as the penny dropped, that we realised that is why the rock was there. What a pair of bloody idiots! we bashed them in with ease after that and continued on our merry way.
Money tree and my lucky penny
From the lake, we headed to Skelwith Bridge and kept our steps and spirits high as view after view unfolded beyond us. Following lots of laughs, even more photos and an equal amount of stunning landscapes, we decided to call it a day and head back to the YHA and say our farewells as Julia was leaving that night, after she cooked us the sturdy travellers favourite – pasta and whatever we can find to make it taste edible, while I supplied the wine. We parted ways as friends like I have done with many a travel companion in the past, left with a promise that we will see each other again, some time in the future.
My final day at the Lakes was meant to be another rest day for the ever persistent aches of a man approaching middle age and I took myself to Hilltop Farm, which was previously owned by Beatrix Potter. Despite being closed, I managed to take a few snaps of the outside and decided to make my way to Coniston Village, to have a stroll around. On the way to the Village, I braked to a hard stop to admire and absorb the Old Man of Coniston. The Old Man is a mountain which overshadows the village and today, it was dusted in snow, making him look even more magnificent. I pulled into a car park and whipped out my camera to take even more photos. It was from my vantage point that I noticed a path leading into the forest and also noticed an actual old man who was also taking photos beside me. Discussing the path into the forest, he said he has got lost many a time following it and not to take the risk, especially as I was new to the area and somewhat of a novice hiker.
As I took the path into the forest, I was catapulted into a winter wonderland, with snow topped pine trees, fluttering robins and the icy cold blasts of the northern winds. Thinking I was taking an easy circular route back to the car, I was somewhat surprised that I was completely lost. With no phone signal or clue as to where I was, I was still lost three hours later. With the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel shuttling grimly around my mind, I tried to back track my steps but to no avail. Having not climbed a tree for a while, I was surprised by my own agility when I did and overjoyed to get the ‘GPRS’ signal on my phone. I managed to type in ‘High Cross’ which is the car park where I started and hiked for a further hour, only to come to a clearing and High Cross House (not carpark) flanking the view beyond the trees. Bugger, I thought once again. After a further sprint/stroll down the street, I happened upon the town of Hawkshead and was kindly assisted by Lyn from the Red Lion, who pointed my in the direction to my car. It’s a shame that direction happened to be up. Following a further hour striding uphill and upstream, I came to a forest road and a sign post of hope. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in the driving seat of my car, heating on, heart slowing and the traces of yet another adventure etched into my relieved smile. I decided then that it was time to leave this magnificent part of the UK before it literally consumed me and I became the new Old Man of Coniston.
The Old Man
The jaunt into the Lake District was one of the most memorable of my trip and has left me with an aching (not just in my knees) for the outside and the wilderness. With two more cities before my next countryside adventure, I am counting the days before I arrive in Whitby. I do implore you though if you ever get the chance to visit the Lake District, do so. You will not be disappointed. But rather than get actually lost, just get lost in the wonder and the beauty of this magnificent part of England.
For the full album of my The Lakes photos, please search Wandergrin on Facebook and like my page.