The Tour pt 12 - Normal service has been resumed

Good morning. Yes, on the morning of Thursday 31st May after a week or so of great weather - the rain is back. We are supposed to doing  a cruise on Coniston water this afternoon but will see what happens to the weather first.

Ok, Coniston is where we are - not in it, obviously, or even on it but an a beautiful wooded site just a short walk from the shore and a short drive from the village of Coniston in the heart of the Lake District. It is a large site - probably one of largest we have been on - and also one of the best. There is not  a uniform layout like some club sites. There are sunny and shaded areas, and plots hidden away amongst the trees. Idyllic.

We left Moffat early Monday morning. I drove the first and frankly the easiest bit. Straight down the A74(M) and on to the M6, crossing the border back in to England for the first time since April 10th. We paused at some services for over priced coffee then swapped over driving . Site instructions had stressed that it was best to approach the site from the south so we came in via the bottom end of Lake Windermere before turning off to go up to Coniston. Well, if this was the best way, one can only wonder how bad the other way would be. The section from the turn off was only about seven miles but at times seemed a lot longer. Steep inclines combined with roads so narrow you struggle to squeeze a fart through made for an interesting end to the journey. The site was easy to find though and arrival, siting and set up went about as smoothly as possible. Not only that but they said they could squeeze us end for an extra three days meaning that we wouldn't have to go to Blackpool for the long weekend. Even better.

A plan was formulated for the afternoon. A quick stroll down to the lake. Back to put the awning up, a fry up then a couple of ales in one of the nearby pubs later. Well, we got down to the lake easily enough. The sun was out and it was warm - absolutely lovely. Then Trev suggested a short cut back. Now this won’t mean much to most of you, but remember, I’ve been travelling with Trev many times and have been on some of his ‘short’ cuts before. Instead of insisting we go back the same way I foolishly agreed.

Well, three days later when we got back to the site, hot, thirsty and with aching feet, plans were amended somewhat. We got in the car and drove straight to the pub……

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Tuesday, and still warm although there was some cloud about. We drove down to the southern end of Windermere, to Haverthwaite to get the steam train from there to Lakeside, then a cruise up and over to Bowness-on-Windermere. We’d actually done this before, some fifteen years ago I think, albeit in reverse - we’d brought my Mum & Dad up for the weekend for Dad’s 60th birthday, and stayed in  lovely hotel in Windermere. As many of you will know, Dad was pretty much wheelchair bound and had to ride in the mail carriage but it didn’t matter - he loved it. It was October and pretty cold too but a round of hot toddy’s helped as I recall.

Anyway, it was just as much fun as I remembered it - the old carriages and the sounds of smells of a steam engine. The train doesn’t go very fast - it’s only an eighteen minute journey and in fact you could almost walk it quicker but that’s not the point. The cruise on the lake was good too - and nice to be able to sit outside and freeze to death as on Loch Ness. Steam engines of course are nothing if not dirty. I wore black - just for a change - so the inevitable smuts from the chimney would not show up. However, Trev’s white jacket is now not quite as white as it was….

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Bowness is the central point for lake cruises and is a pleasant bustling little place. We had a good walk around, pausing for tea and toast in the morning and lunch later on. The journey back was just as pleasant and not a little soporific, the sun having broken through too. A very enjoyable day and it brought back some happy memories too.

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Wednesday. Cloudy but still dry and not cold. I coaxed the old crate in to life - that’s the car, not Trevor in case you were wondering - for a drive around. First up was Hawkshead and one of the most beautiful picture postcard villages in the Lake District. They sensibly banned cars - well tourists cars anyway - from the centre of the village a while ago and it was certainly the right thing to do. A great place to walk around and lots of quaint shops, cafes and pubs to explore. Of course, the Lake District is Wordsworth country and every corner boasts some connection. Here, the Young William went to school and boarded at one of the houses in the village.

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Next up was Ambleside, at the northern end of Lake Windermere. ‘Disc Parking’ was proclaimed by the road signs and this reminded me of the ridiculous voucher parking system that Brighton council used to run - you parked up, went to the shop to buy a voucher and come back to find a parking ticket on your windscreen. However this turned out to be much different. You pick a disc up from any shop, or one of the on street dispensers - indicate the time you park on the disc and leave it on the dashboard. You get up to an hour’s free parking. We spoke to a traffic warden about this and he confirmed it - it operates all over Cumbria. What a good idea. Coffee and bacon rolls were procured and devoured after a walk around - it’s hard work this sightseeing lark you know - then we were back in the car heading north.

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We passed through Grasmere, where Willy had a home - which you can visit - for a fee, and then continued north stopping at Keswick at the northern end of Derwent water and utilising our shiny new parking disc again. Keswick has a pencil museum. Yes, you read it right. Graphite mines nearby ensured Keswick was a centre for pencil manufacturing. Indeed, Derwent pencils are still a favourite amongst discerning artists. When I worked in the office supplies business, Derwent pencils were always in our catalogue. One of the  attractions though is the worlds largest pencil - some eight metres long. We thought we could manage without seeing this though, so didn’t go in.

Next up was Cockermouth, old Willy’s (yes, him again) birthplace. Famous too, more recently for the horrendous flooding of November 2009. I can still recall as am sure can many the tv pictures of the eight foot high water running down the streets. The town has, largely, recovered now and there are lots of shiny new shopfronts - although all probably now uninsurable. We took a tour of the local brewery - Jennings - put out of action for nearly a year after the floods, but now happily back in full swing. They donate 10p from every pint sold to the Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund. Good on ‘em. The tour itself was interesting and we both actually learnt something too. Generally, northern water is too soft for brewing as it is. Brewers like the sort of water found in the Midlands so they add salt and gypsum to harden it a little. Further on in the process, as most will know, hops are added. There are both male and female hops but the female hops are almost always used as they are much more erm, bitter. No comment.

The tour ended of course with a sampling - and quite a generous one too. We loved it so much that we came away with a four pint keg drawn straight from the barrel as well as a couple of cases of bottled ale for the weekend.

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Heading back south now and along the coast we paused at Whitehaven for fuel but nothing else. I can’t recall a specific Wordsworth connection but no doubt he stopped for a sarnie or a pee or something at some point. And no doubt there will be a plaque somewhere to tell us.

We passed the Sellafield nuclear power station further on and stopped at Ravenglass, another pretty little village right on the coast that unusually did not proclaim a Wordsworth connection.

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Right as I finish up the rain has stopped - just about. The Coniston water cruise doesn’t start until nearly five pm so hopefully it will have brightened up even more by then.

So, until next time…

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