It’s no wonder so many visitors from other parts of the UK and beyond flock to the Lake District National Park during the summer months. To my mind, Cumbria is without question the most visually stunning part of England. Its beauty is unrivalled. Even in the colder months the backdrop of majestic mountains and the deep and mysterious lakes and tarns provide the most awe-inspiring views.
A friend of mine loves Keswick, the north Lakeland town on the shores of Derwent Water. For a long time she had been encouraging me to visit, but I had been put off by the journey, which was not particularly long, but would involve a lengthy bus ride. I suffer from appalling motion sickness. I’m fine on trains (probably the illusion of travelling in a straight line, even when I’m not), but any travel on buses, coaches or cars must be very carefully planned. I was determined to give it a go and see if the north lakes region was as lovely as the south.
I was delighted to find the road to Keswick was for the most part a straight, very busy dual carriageway, hardly any twists and turns, and I made it all the way to Keswick and felt fine the whole time.
Summer had arrived and the tourists (yes, I know that included me!) had arrived with it. Keswick is a small town, picturesque and quaint and at peak times is ill equipped to deal with the high number of visitors. Crossing the town’s roads was a challenge.
After a tasty veggie breakfast at a local eatery I decided to explore further. I didn’t see any of the usual high street stores, but there was an abundance of independent retailers selling local produce, gifts and arts and craft items. The street market appeared to be thriving; indeed, I gave up on trying to negotiate the heaving walk ways between the various stalls. I was saddened to find one man selling cow hide rugs and furs whose origin I could not determine. I suppose that’s something, very sadly, to be expected in a region that makes its living from farming. That fur, however, had not come from any creature I had ever seen grazing in a field. I gained some small satisfaction from noticing that the man looked a little nervous and was very noticeably scanning the crowd for signs of potential opposition to his grisly trade.
There were lots of places to eat, some of which looked fashionably vintage and homely, but all were packed. It was just as well I’d had that hearty late breakfast to set me up for the day. Keswick loves dogs, which is just as well, because canine visitors also flock there (pardon the mixed metaphor!) with their people, many of whom are serious fell-walkers sporting all the proper kit. Many of the friendly shops and cafes had doggie water bowls outside and the pooches were indulging enthusiastically in the heat of the midday sun.
It’s a pretty little place in a wonderful part of the world – it’s just so busy.
I made my way to the edge of the town on my mission to reach the stunning Derwent Water. Despite it being such a tourist attraction, I have always loved Windermere and for me it remains – after Ullswater, the most beautiful of the English lakes – a firm favourite. Not so, my good friend had insisted – I had to see Derwent Water and then I would understand.
Access to the lake was by way of a pleasant walk through Hope Park, which was quite lovely and, like the rest of Keswick, very busy.
Past the ice cream vans, visitors’ centre, and a bizarrely located grazing area where a small herd of sheep seemed to be making the best of it in spite of the unwanted attentions of the tourists determined to photograph them, Derwent Water’s north shore came into view. I had to agree with my friend’s depiction of it as being much more humble than Windermere. I could imagine at quieter times it would be serene and soulful. In my mind’s eye I conjured a sunset over Cat Bells. Little rowing boats glided across the lake’s surface in contrast to the large steam cruisers of Windermere.
There were a lot of people around, most of them probably visitors. The area is a hub for walkers and campers rather than those who just want to spend a day of their British holiday schedule at a countryside beauty spot. Folks seemed to be enjoying the place for what it was, not ticking off another stop on a vacation itinerary. For my friend that was the attraction – and I get that. I still preferred Windermere’s glamour though.
I spent about three hours meandering along the lakeside. I sat; I pondered; I watched the dogs swimming and having great fun retrieving sticks from the water; I found an accommodating rock and sat for a while taking photographs, and I read. I explored the wooded areas along the shore line and rested in some secluded spots. I didn’t opt for the lake cruise as the boats were very small and the passengers crammed in like sardines.
The south end of the lake was quiet with nothing much happening there. Perfect for getting away from the noise and people and indulging in some quiet contemplation, but also a bit isolated, and possibly not as safe for the lone female traveller.
Once back in town and after a quick stocking up of provisions I boarded the bus back to Penrith. Passing through one quaint and tiny hamlet on the way back, I did feel rather envious of the lucky folks who lived there. I wonder if I would feel the same in mid winter.
Penrith has a nice little park across from the station adjacent to the remains of the town’s castle. The end of my day of travel was spent sitting in the rose garden, enjoying bees and butterflies and watching some elderly men playing bowls on the immaculate green. Pure nostalgia and a fitting end to a quintessentially English summer day.