Thwarted. Today I missed the bus. Literally. Despite the cloudless sky and Indian summer temperature there’d be no walk along ’t’ tops for me this morning. So a change of plan was called for – a walk along’t’ bottoms. I got the bus into Tod intending to walk back along the tow-path. I alighted at Lidl’s and tried several streets to access the canal towpath. But, horror or horrors, the towpath is still closed. ‘No access, towpath closed’ read the sign. Thwarted again I found myself in a no man’s land of half ruined manufactories, spectres of the industrial revolution where broken off chimneys stand like sentinels over modern metal warehouses. A bike factory has pedaled its way into a derelict factory site. There’s even a wasp factory. No kidding.
The houses are still wedged tightly between these remnants of a bygone age and the streets are huddled together as if for protection from the grime and whirring of monster machines. Streets cower under the heavy burden of surrounding hills whose ancient mass weighs down onto the frailty of humanity. The houses here are snail shells where the sun never penetrates their exoskeleton, and from where the people venture out only to return quickly, recede, seek shelter and close the curtains on the outside world. Houses where the gentle, healing sunlight never penetrates, where Helios can never stroke his warming hand to soothe the savage breast, the bent and broken limbs of weavers, old before their time. Here where back to back houses with serried ranks of wheelie bins and bicycles cover their eight foot frontage there’s not enough room to swing a cat, and there are plenty of felines available, slinking around doorsteps that, once weekly proudly polished with donkey stones from the rag and bone man now rest, worn, grit ridden, cloudy with algae. One family have sought to bright things up a little! (see photo).
You take your life in your hands as you walk the back street in danger of being garroted by a dozen neon plastic washing lines perfectly positioned at neck height. Many of them display next week’s attire dancing in the breeze like a tormented ballerina on hot coals. I reach the last street, blinking for a moment as I emerge into the sunlight.
I find myself confronted with a tiny bridge over a small stream. As gaggle of geese shoo me over the bridge. From my elevated vantage point I look back at the back-to-back streets and think What a tip! In front of me, leaving the geese to waddle down to the water, a wooded pathway leads to a playground. A rotting piece of paper tacked to a notice board exhorts me to look out for Water figwort, Knapweed, and purple loosestrife. It’s only then I notice the name of the park: Tipside Park. For real? But of course. They don’t mince words in this neck of the woods!
This was to be my day to explore Kendal itself but the unexpected sunshine made me want to jump onto an open top bus. But I stuck to my plans – at least for the morning. I chatted to the owner and her daughter – the first time I’d met them. She’s planning a trip to Las Vegas and I recommended she read the book that I recently finished: Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas.
I decided to visit the church – which is ‘not to be missed’ according to the Trails of the Unexpected. It’s one of the widest parish churches in England. To one side is the Parr chapel, built in the 14th century. A tomb with a much disfigured marble effigy is reputed to be that of Catherine Parr’s grandfather.
Behind the locked door of the rood screen was a very old bible, complete with its chain and an ancient bible box. It’s possible that this bible belonged to Catherine Parr herself. The light in the church at this early hour was wonderful, casting wonderful colours through the stained glass windows onto the stone floor.
I was struggling to get a good place to take photos of the bible from when the assistant priest came over and offered to go and find the key so that I could get into the small chamber. Very obliging. The helmet hanging above the Vestry door could have belonged to a member of the Bellingham family, but tradition has it that it was the helmet of Robert Philipson (Robin, the Devil) knocked off his head after riding into the Church one Sunday on his horse in pursuit of his enemy, Colonel Briggs, and being chased out of a lower door by the congregation.
I decided to follow one of the online Trails of the Unexpected and set off towards the castle. Though set on a hilltop you can’t see the castle from the town because of the all the trees on the hill slopes. The first part of my walk passed through an enormous cemetery, one of the largest I’ve seen
, and then climbed steadily upwards, still through dense forest so it wasn’t until I reached the now dry moat that the remains of the castle came into view.
I saw people preparing for the big art installation of giant inflatable figures that would be displayed and floodlit around the castle and was sorry that I’d miss the actual event which starts tomorrow. A couple of families were exploring the grounds with its rampart which is almost two metres wide in places. The old wine cellars with their arches ceilings are still in place. From the top of the tower I could see distant hills but the area around Kendal itself is very flat and I wondered why the castle hill exists. Thankfully an explanation board answered my query. It is a drumlin – scoured by glaciers. I still remember my O level geography, at least the physical. I found that I was much more in touch with the feeling of history in this place since I was alone, rather than chatting to someone as I explored.
Back in town I crossed the bridge over the river Kent and saw some inviting looking tables on the river’s edge. Tea and a toasted teacake beckoned. I didn’t reckon with the wasps though! It was obviously a popular place with mums of preschoolers and 6 baby buggies were parked outside.
I followed the Riverwalk, which is an ancient track though now it’s lined with ugly 1960’s flats and made my way to the Abbot Hall Art Gallery. The exhibition I’d come to see was ‘Ruskin, Turner and The Storm Cloud’ which I’d missed seeing in York by one day. Now, on this trip, I’d already been immersed in Ruskin and Turner for several days, including visiting Ruskin’s house, playing his piano, and seeing his collection of Turner’s paintings.
Dr Richard Johns, from the University of York’s Department of History of Art and co-curator of the ‘Ruskin, Turner, and The Storm Cloud’ exhibition, said: “Taking Ruskin’s ‘Storm Cloud’ as a point of departure, this new exhibition explores the importance of the work of JMW Turner for Ruskin’s understanding of the natural world.With Turner’s vibrant landscapes running through his mind, Ruskin encouraged his audiences to pay close attention to the world around them, and to consider the impact of human actions on the environment at a local and global level.”
I returned to the hostel to decide what to do for the remains of the day. It was now 3 o’clock as I set off again determined to get an open top bus when it wasn’t pouring down.
I decided that my destination should be Bowness-on-Windermere, perhaps the most touristy town close by. And sure enough the boat launching area was packing with people taking advantage of the dry weather.
There were lots of food stands and bars and I contemplated taking a short 45 boat trip. However, while on the bus I’d had a call from the Kendal Theatre to say that there was now a ticket available for the stand up comedy show that I had been on the waiting list for. So I headed back to Kendal, collected a frozen lasagne from Iceland and after dinner headed over the 20 steps to the Arts Centre. I’d no idea who I was seeing, but a sign in the foyer told that this was the last of 4 shows today and that tomorrow he’d be doing 7 shows! It was crowded as I waited for the doors to open and collect a beer that had actually been brewed at that brewery. I’d certainly lucked out on my seat – second row. I asked the man sitting next to me where the performer was from.
“Ireland, of course! Don’t you know him? ” I shook my head. “It’s the star from Father Ted – Father Dougal.” Now I’d heard of Father Ted, a British sitcom about 2 catholic priests (1995-1998) and so I just about knew who he was talking about, Ardal O’Hanion. As I chatted to my neighbour he mentioned places that he’d visited around the world. ” Think I’m getting too old for Machu Picchu,” he quipped. I really enjoyed Arlan’s humour. He was trying out new material for a world tour beginning in the Spring. Part of it centred on Bucket lists, and how young people as well as old now make bucket lists, though young people often prefer to go glamping than traditional camping on the cheap. My favourite line of his is that rather than make a bucket list, he’s made a Fuck-it list; Learn Mandarin? Fuck-it. Climb Macchu Picchu? Fuck-it! It was great fun . . .and I was back in the hostel to catch the latest Brexit mess: Boris Johnson’s brother resigned.
Having checked the weather forecast the night before I was surprised to see that the sun was shining when I first looked out of the window.
I took the bus to Keswick but by the time I reached Lake Windermere it was not only pouring down but a strong wind was driving the rain horizontal. Lots of people were in the streets, all wearing suitable clothing for the weather – colourful kagools, boots and sporting bright umbrellas. The bus was surprisingly full, all retirees. It’s hard for me to accept that I’m one of these! I observed the people in the 90 minute journey. A couple my age never spoke to each other once. I was the only woman travelling alone.
Despite the weather I wanted to explore Keswick’s lake, Derwentwater, and I soon saw a footpath sign to Friar’s Crag. Suddenly bells were ringing in my head. I remember my mum talking about Friar’s Crag.
It’s a promontory on the lake, famous for its view of the lake and its islands. Streams of rain were falling as waterfalls from the rain-soaked branches as I followed the path, first through a colourful garden, and then continued through the trees, as the wind blew even more water at me which it had gathered from the lake.
I reached the Crag and its strategically placed bench. I wonder how many people get to be here without hoards of tourists. I only had a share my view with a raven! I climbed a small hill and discovered a monolith with a sculpture of Ruskin and a comment from his diary – that his first ever memory was a trip to Friar’s Crag with his nurse.
Back in the centre of town I was ready for a coffee but I wanted to people watch too so I wandered around the central square and eventually found a coffee shop with some outside tables facing the Moot Hall. A couple of people were already sitting on the only umbrella covered table but a few chairs were covered in blankets and after I’d wiped as much rain off the chair as I could it provided me with the best seat in town!
I needed to keep my eye on the time. The Moot Hall clock was showing 5 minutes past 1. My bus to Grasmere left at 1:30. Must hurry with my coffee. For a few moments I focused on watching the brightly coloured kagools shop window gazing, many pulling ragged, smelly dogs along – or ragged, less smelly children. I checked the time. Well, time passes slowly in these northern towns. The clock seemed to still be showing 1:05. Time’s probably passing slowly because I’ve been on the go non-stop for three days, I explained to myself. I checked the clock again. Yep. 1:05. I checked my watch – 1:20. The moot hall clock was stopped – and I’d missed my bus.
I had an hour to wait for the next one. I’d noticed that the Moot Hall was advertising an art exhibition so this seemed to be the perfect plan B.There were several items I’d like to have taken home with me: Ceramic sculptured brooches of faces, ceramic wall plaques with knitters.
Surprisingly I fell in love with a large – 3 ft wooden sculpture of an alien. Not my thing at all, but I really liked it. I could imagine it standing in a corner of my living room and the sort of comments it would generate at my At Homes. I told the gallery volunteer that I’d take the alien home with me if I had come by car. “Take him home on the train” she said. “Just imagine the comments you’d get!” Next to the exhibition was the visitors’ centre which told the story of the moot hall – and how it’s famous for its clock having only one hand. Ah, 1:05.
Now onto the 2:30 bus to Grasmere my first decision was where to find some lunch. The wind and rain hadn’t let up in the slightest, and I found a creperie on my way down to the lake shore. I ordered an Indian spice crepe, which was basically a veggie curry in a pancake. Nice one. I passed the church where lots of members of William Wordsworth’s family are buried. Adjacent is a daffodil garden – minus daffodils, of course, at this time of the year. But it was a lovely, quiet (very wet) spot and thought of the reading of Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ that we had selected for my mum’s funeral service. The church had a tower that was unusual in that it is painted cream. The interior is surprising too, in that it had all its roof timber exposed and looks more like a medieval manor house than a church.
I had chosen the River Walk and again, I had the path all to myself. There were lots of little bridges crossing back and forth over the little stream and the entire walk was lined with big trees overhanging the river – but it felt more like a stream than a river to me. Again the fells above me were ‘obscured by clouds’ – cue the Pink Floyd soundtrack. Pictures of my walk in Grasmere:
Back in the village I popped into the famous Gingerbread Shop where two servers dressed in maid’s outfits were busy serving a constant stream of customers – well, more like a river, actually – in the tiny 8′ x 6′ shop. Only 4 customers could fit in the buildings at once and despite the weather there was quite a queue outside waiting to get into this famous shop. The smell of the freshly made gingerbread was wonderful.
My bus back to Windermere was an open top affair though the weather was too wet to sit in an open air seat. Then I changed buses at Windermere to a regular bus and, of course, at that point the sun came out and as we approached Kendal a slight rainbow was visible over the town.
It was 5:30 when I got back and I opted for a Thai takeaway on the recommendation of my concierge. I spent the evening writing my journal and then watched two history programs on the TV in the lounge – one about Mary Queen of Scots, and the other about the archaeological finds at Sutton Hoo – while the only other guest played with the hostel kitty.
I looked out of the window. The mist was so thick I could hardly see to the end of the garden in the brewery complex – and it was pouring down. It’s not called Lakeland for nothing. Undeterred I helped myself to a continental ‘help yourself’ breakfast and was on my way.
I’d collected a bus timetable from a helpful lady at the tourist information office yesterday. I asked which day she suggested I spent outdoors, weather-wise that is. “Well, me ‘usband’s got ta go under t’ car one day this week, and ‘e’s gooin under tomorra so . . .” So I decided to take the hop on hop off bus to the farthest place I’d be visiting, Coniston. It was a direct bus from Kendal, a little zippy one, just like the buses up to Heptonstall and Blackshaw Head in Calderdale. And boy, did we need such a bus. The journey as far as Ambleside was along the main road but once passed the bigger town we were on narrow, winding, steep roads where the bus had to pull over every few minutes to let cars pass. As we passed Lake Windermere I could only just see the hills on the other side of the lake.
At almost 10 miles long and a mile wide at its widest it is England’s largest lake, though it’s comparatively shallow. Many of the photos I took during the day’s adventure appear to be in black and white, so dark and gloomy was the sky the whole day.
I’d decided to go to John Ruskin’s House, Brantwood, on the far side of the lake from the village, and I was going to arrive in style – on a famous steam driven boat, powered by logs, called Gondola which had actually spent several years at the bottom of the lake before being hauled out in 1978 and completely renovated by the National Trust. It had first been launched in 1859 to specifications approved by John Ruskin. I knew the time of the boat’s departure and I didn’t have time to wander around Coniston, so I headed straight down to the water’s edge where I could just make out the gilded dragon of the Gondola through the driving rain. There were only a handful of travellers on this, the first sailing of the day. The interior was beautifully upholstered and the captain kept us informed of things to see, though it was impossible to see out of the rain drenched windows, and it was too wet and windy to stand outside. We passed the site of Donald Campbell’s fatal crash as he attempted to break world water speed record. I remember seeing the crash on TV in 1967. His body was discovered in the lake in 2001, 34 years after the crash.
At one point the captain pointed out a house, almost hidden by trees on the far side of the lake. It had been the home of Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons, one of the books that my children had relished. Apparently he had been married to Trotsky’s secretary, something I didn’t know. In fact, the only thing I knew about him was that he’d based the books on scenes of the Lake District. Just then the purser passed and I commented that my children would love to see his house. “Well, bring them here,” he replied. “It’s rather a long way from California!” I quipped. “California?” he exclaimed, and continued, ” I used to live in a place called Santa Cruz! Do you know it?” Small, small world. We chatted about Santa Cruz for the rest of the journey.
We docked at a perilously long pier that was barely above water level. Another lady alighted with me and we had to be very careful not to slip into the water – I guess that’s why it’s called a slipway. She was enjoying her ‘free day’ on her Holiday Fellowship tour. My mum used to belong to the Holiday Fellowship and made many friends from that group. I’ll have to find photos of this when I get home.
I approached the large house, Brantwood, through the lower garden, designed by Ruskin, and for a large part, actually planted by him, where the flowers were often taller than myself. The estate is 250 acres and he lived here for the last 28 years of his life. A call of nature rarely warrants a record in a travel journal but for once this one did. The walls of the washroom were covered in large mosaic flowers and the toilet seat was made from clear perspex into which shells had been floated. Amazing. I want one!
Inside Ruskin’s home the rooms were not roped off, like they are in most museum homes, and many of the chairs had Please Sit On Me signs. Even Ruskin’s study was not off limits for wandering through. The turret which he had built became his go to place for one of the best views in England, right across Coniston Water to The Old Man of Coniston. He’d also had an expansive dining room added for the many guests he entertained. There were 3 pianos, 2 were Broadwood uprights and the third was a grand, a Wolkenhauer with a sign encouraging people to play it. Of course, I took up the offer, remembering that the last piano I played in an author’s home was Elizabeth Gaskell’s. I soon had a large group of people gathered around me and I asked the docent to take a video of me playing. The view I could see as I played was particularly special for me because this view was part of my earliest memory. Unfortunately, when I’d finished playing another group of people had assembled and I was encouraged to keep playing again and so I didn’t check the video . . . and it transpired that it wasn’t on my phone. Shucks!
Ruskin’s bedroom was filled with 18 Turner paintings, though now they are all reproductions. As in the other rooms Ruskin designed his own wallpaper – and the fire shovels! He was truly a polymath, collecting fossils and sea shells, over 2000, painting and writing. His ideas inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement and his beliefs influenced the formation of the National Trust, the NHS and education for women. Gandhi was influenced by him too. He was also one of the first people to become aware of climate change.
I had a Ploughman’s lunch in the lovely cafe on the lakeside and then wound my way back through the gardens to the jetty where a group of rain-coated humans were fighting losing battles with umbrellas and trying to stay afloat on the almost submerged pier. All rather fun! It’s probably more like a zoo on a sunny day.
Rather than explore Coniston I took the bus to Hawkshead where I had stayed in the Youth Hostel with my mum when I was 14. On one of the windy roads the bus came to a juddering halt as an ATV pulled across the road, followed by a flock of sheep.
Once in Hawkshead I’d hoped that I’d remember something and sure enough I recognised the Minstrel’s Gallery where the second storey forms an arch over the road. I also remembered Ann Tyson’s cottage where William Wordsworth lived when he attended the grammar school in the village.
I recall seeing his initials that he’d carved on his desk when I stayed in the Youth Hostel in the village with my mum when I was 14. Many of the picturesque cottages are painted white and begonias seemed to be the preferred flower of the hanging baskets and window boxes, though, of course, they were somewhat water laden today.
Since I had half an hour to wait for the bus I bought an ice-cream from the famous ‘Little Ice-cream Shop’ and chatted to a lady at the bus stop. It was quite a short ride to Ambleside, which, as a larger village, was packed with tourists.
One of the ‘must see’ things in town is the house on the bridge so I headed in that direction to take the required photo. Ambleside Youth Hostel where I once stayed is out of the village, and perched right on the bank of Lake Windermere. I remember thinking it was very grand and posh at the time.
Back to Kendal on the bus where I had a quick supper and headed out to the movies to see Mrs Lowry and Son. I was glad it was only 20 strides from my room because rain was still pouring down. The movie was superb. I’m a great fan of Timothy Spall. By way of coincidence one of his previous roles had been that of the painter Turner, whose work I had been surrounded by earlier in the day at Ruskin’s house. There were only a dozen people in the theatre, and I was back in the hostel soon after 10 to catch the latest Brexit shenanigans on the 10 o’clock news! A long and varied day.
With the new school year just about to begin I decided, at quite short notice, to take myself off to the Lake District for a few days. I’d been working on an art project involving torn maps and so I’d been going around the local charity stores to buy ordinance suvey maps I could tear up. A few of them happened to be maps of the Lake District, and as I used them in my torn paper art project I saw that several were of the Lake District. I’d first gone there as an 18 month old, and stayed in a converted bus with my parents. This memory is my first memory and when I described the inside of the bus to my parents much much later, not believing that it could possibly be correct, my mum had assured me that it was right. The bus had been converted into a caravan and I remember my dad saying that if I didn’t stop crying the Old Man of Coniston would come – and sure enough he tapped on the door soon afterwards! (The Old Man of Coniston is the name of the extict volcano that overshadows the small town!) My mum had spent some very happy happy times in the Lake District with various hiking groups and I have photos of her at Youth Hostels there in the late 1940’s.
The first vacation I had with just my mum was Youth Hostelling in the Lake District when I was 14, I think. Somewhere in a storage unit in California is my journal that trip! Then in 1984 Colin and I hiked the western half of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk, hiking over some of the toughest terrain in England from Richmond to St Bees – yes, over Striding Edge on Helvellyn and up to the top of Great Gable. Again, we’d stayed at Youth Hostels.
So on this trip I was to stay in an independent hostel, though on inquiry I was told that it had once been Kendal Youth Hostel. It’s part of a collection of buildings in the centre of the town that had once been a brewery. It’s now an arts centre, cinema, theatre, exhibition area, bar and cafe – and hostel in an imposing Georgian house. The perfect spot for me! Though it had taken me three trains to get from Hebden Bridge to Kendal it had only taken three hours, and I kept wondering why, in the almost two years that I’ve now been back in England, I hadn’t been up to the Lake District before.
The covered entryway, part of a network of over 100 alleys leading off the main street traditionally to artisan workshops. Many of these alleys have buildings above them, and are now colorfully painted with street scenes, portraits, pop icons – you name it, it’ll be there. It all reminded me of the place Rachel and I stayed at in Iceland where the alley was painted with a giant kitty and ball of wool.
My room had a lovely view of the arts centre and garden, and I hoped that before I left I’d be able to sit and admire the garden. As it was, it had rained incessantly on my journey and the sky was heavily laden with more rain clouds. I’d been sent the check-in code and my room number through the AirBnb site and when I arrived I had the whole place to myself. There are 16 rooms, a large dining room, self catering kitchen, with free tea, coffee, milk, and a nice lounge with TV, snooker table and piano. Oh yes, and also a lovely kitty who visited me in my room from time to time!
I unpacked, had a cup of tea and set out to explore Kendal. Nothing was familiar, though I think I had been there with my mum.
I wandered through several of the artisan yards, wishing for better light for photos, explored a shopping area called Wainwright’s yard after the man who wrote ‘the’ book that we’d followed on our coast to coast adventure, and soon I found myself by the river Kent, one of the fastest flowing rivers in England. The tapestry museum was close by and Jane had recommended that I take a peek. I had expected a collection of tapestries, ie woven designs, but this was tapestry as in Bayeux tapestry – embroideries. “Journey through the Quaker influence on the modern world: explore the industrial revolution, developments in science and medicine, astronomy, the abolition of slavery, social reform, and ecology; and delight in the detail of the stunning needlework and the craftsmanship involved in its creation.” 77 panels, 15 years and 4000 people were involved in this. What impressed me the most about the work was the sense of movement in the panels, both in people’s clothing and in the furs of the animals depicted. I would love to take a lesson (a distinct possibility) and learn the stitches involved to make such flowing images. Beside these cross stitch seems very angular.
Dinner was a Chinese take away from a shop along the street and later as the lights came on at the arts centre it all looked very pretty from my room. I’d discovered that Mrs Lowry and Son, a film that I wanted to see, was playing at the arts centre the following night, and on Thursday night a well know standup comedian was performing. I booked a ticket for the movie and was added to the waiting list for Ardal O’hanion who made his name staring in Father Ted, a program beloved by many Brits, but one I’d never watched.