This trip has been full of surprises. Two months ago as we drove past the village of Butt’s End before making our way to Toil in Vain Hill, I thought we were driving through some kind of a comic strip. Since that time we have passed many roads called ‘End of the World’ and have managed to somehow survive. Two months have passed by so quickly and we have seen so much.
As we left Scotland we were in the ‘going home’ mood. Really all we were thinking of was making our way past the chaos of Birmingham and London’s ring road to get our car back and get on the plane
. However we had a week to kill before our plane left so we decided to see what we could of the Northumberland and Cumbria.
It was a rainy day as we crossed the border to England so what better place to make our first stop then a National Heritage site that regularly floods. Actually, it is one of those places (appropriately named Holy Island) that you can only access at low tide and hope like hell you are off before the water rises along with the price of the few bed and breakfasts available. Unfortunately the bus was not running to Lindisfarne Castle (very long walk in the rain) but we were able to wander around the Priory. The village is very touristy place but a kick to see.Did a drive by Bamburgh Castle (way too many families on school holidays wanting to visit the castle to stay dry) before finding a bed and breakfast in Alnwick. Now this is a pretty little town. It is also the place where many scenes from the Harry Potter movies have been filmed. Wandering down the narrow streets makes me want to watch the movies again. We were too late to go through the castle which was too bad. Alnwick castle is known locally as Hogworts school. The price for entry quoted in our guide book ( a couple of years old) and the price they are charging has risen with the popularity of the movies it seems. That being said it is a stunning castle set on a river and still home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. We would have stayed two nights in Alnwick but there were no rooms to be had
. Sadly we pushed on the next day towards Hadrian’s Wall. On our way we toured Cragside house, the home of Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius! Little every day inventions to make the household staff’s lives easier as well as their own. Cragside was the first house to be lit with hydro electricity.In the tiny village of Holdbankgate (near Brampton) we found the best Bed and Breakfast I have ever stayed at. That might seem like a stretch but it got full marks in every area….Chris even made her own bread….and the local pub had cheap beer and good food. It’s called ‘The Old School House’ and I would encourage you to stay there. We enjoyed it so much we spent two nights. The village is central to Hadrian’s Wall and Chris and Peter have all the information you need for hikes. They sent us on a great hike (about 5 miles) along the wall and back through a valley which gave you a greater perspective of the wall itself. Built in AD122 to keep the nasty Picts out of the civilized south, it originally stretched unbroken for 73 miles. There are only a few places left where the wall is very obvious, though now it stands at only half of it’s original 15 foot height. Still you can see where forts once stood as well as what they called mile castles. The afternoon after we did the walk (in the rain) the sun shone so we took advantage of it and just lazed on the hillside by Housesteads Fort.Then it was off to the Lake District
. We really weren’t too sure what to expect from the area but we knew the weather was supposed to be pretty good and that you could do some hiking so we booked a place for three nights. We were totally surprised with the beauty of the place…three days was not enough.The first stop in the Lake District was to wander silently around Castlerigg Stone Circle. Every bit as mystical as Dromberg Stone Circle in Ireland, Castlerigg is situated on a hill in the middle of (yet another) field of sheep. It was the first archeological site to be protected by National Trust and has inspired many a poet and writer. After checking in to our B&B we decided to do a drive around to see what all the hype was about the Lake District. Taking the back roads you find yourself stopping whenever you get a chance just to take a look around. Lakes, mountains, narrow passes, sheep(!) and lots of opportunities to park and hike. We had been encouraged to stay in the north where it is less touristy. Great choice for us. Found a place near Keswick in the village of Braithwaite. Took a drive south along a narrow road to Buttermere then headed north along the B5289 towards High Lorton. Drove the Whinlatter Pass then headed south through Ambleside to Hawkshead. Hundreds of tourists in this area but it is something you should see. Unfortunately the quaint village of Ambleside has two main highways going through it which makes it uncomfortable for walking around…especially with those hundreds of tourists I mentioned
. Our, or should I say my, goal was to get to Hawkshead to see the Beatrix Potter museum. I grew up on her books loving how she made the animals have personalities of their own. The lovely lady in the museum assured me that Mr. McGregor no longer lived in the village but there were a few men who were equally grumpy in her opinion. They had her original pen and ink sketches as well as original drafts of her first book. I was amazed….Shane was tolerant.The next day we didn’t even have to drive to do a great walk. Behind the B&B, up the hill, up another hill, down and up and up again to conquer one of the highest peaks in the Lake District. At the top I brought out our little bottle of Irish Whiskey (with an e) and a package of Scottish shortbread. The perfect place to celebrate the three distinct areas we visited on this journey. Apparently it’s all about ‘bagging peaks’ around here. The woman who runs the B&B is training to do ten peaks in ten hours…..hmmm…we figured that, including hills, we bagged 6 peaks in four hours. Pretty good huh?Next day we drove down to Ullswater Lake, another pretty area of the Lake District. We hiked to Aria Falls as our first stop. This is, apparently, a place that was an inspiration to Wordsworth. Don’t know if it is the water or not, but we met a very chatty couple on the trail. Our conversation started when Shane asked him why a fallen tree was absolutely chock a block full of 2 pence pieces hammered in to the bark
. He didn’t know but he did he fill our heads with tales (some of which his wife said were actually true) and he continued with the stories when we ran in to him at the tea house later. He made me promise to look up Lilly Longtree and find out about the relationship she had with King Edward in a lodge just over the hill from Ullswater Lake. He talked about politics, his admiration of the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince William (who he thinks is just as wonderful and his Grandpa), birds, Ethiopia….just about anything you could imagine. At close to 80 he and his wife are an inspiration. When we finally said goodbye to our new best friends we headed for a hike up a craggy knob at the end of Ullswater Lake. Then did a drive home via the Kirkstone Pass. Stunning!The next day, after fortifying ourselves with yet another English Breakfast (don’t think I’ll be able to look another bean in the eye!) we headed off to tackle the M6, making our way to Oxford. I took the first shift which meant Shane had to tackle Birmingham. It actually went pretty well, uh, except for the part where we were parked on the M6 for an hour (actually got out and stretched our legs). Five cars broken down (that we saw) and a truck fire. That meant we didn’t get in to Oxford before 4PM. The place we booked was on a direct bus line to city center which was great because we’d had quite enough driving and really wanted a cold pint. At the tourist info we were directed to the Turf’s Tavern, a 13th century pub tucked in the alley of an alley near the Bridge of Sighs
. Sufficiently hydrated be began to explore this fascinating town. What a strange mix of languages and classes (pretty obvious here… and I mean social classes not university classes). Where else can you watch professors on bicycles while listening to an Argentinean waiter (from Portugal) ask you if it’s true what his friend (who is a tree planter in Canada ) told him about bears? We had a great wander around before hopping the bus back to our B&B.Now, the M6 has been conquered and the car is back at Hertz in Heathrow. Our Hertz struggles continue but the good thing is the car is back in one piece and so are we. Tomorrow we fly home to hug our family. It has been a journey of discovery…family….new friends…new landscapes….Guinesss and whisk(e)y. What more can I say? I am really looking forward to our English family visiting us in Canada…we don’t have the ruins but we do have the wildlife!
In Wales you say Araf (I pronounce it like a dog would “Arrruff”), in Ireland you are encouraged to Go Mall but however you say it, if you go slowly you will get “Two Tud Ot”! That being said we managed to keep up with the cars on the M6 (without getting tooted at) and made our way to Heathrow Airport. Tomorrow we fly home to Canada.