Travelling back in time

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Last year saw rail chaos in the north of England. At its peak during the summer months hundreds of trains in the region were cancelled every day; of those that ran, far more were delayed than were on time. The impact on my life was minimal compared with the horrific experiences endured daily by thousands of people who depended on Northern trains to get them to and from work. By way of compensation for some of my delayed journeys, Northern sent me several travel vouchers entitling me to free rail journeys. This small collection of freebies has remained in a drawer for nearly a year, so this weekend I thought I’d make use of a couple of them before they expired.

The first leg of the journey was to Grange-over-Sands.It was going to be a changeable day according to the Met Office, and as we sped across the viaduct at Arnside the bright sunshine of early morning was replaced by threatening cloud with the first of the day’s light showers appearing just as I alighted at Grange. I briefly regretted not bringing an umbrella, but the rain had stopped by the time I boarded the bus outside Grange Station to get to my next destination.

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Just 17 minutes later I alighted at Haverthwaite railway station. This once busy branch line of the Furness Railway transported iron ore to the industrial regions of the north west of England until the industry finally went into decline. Popular also with holiday-makers travelling to Lake Windermere, the station finally closed to passengers in 1965 and to freight trains two years later. From the time of the line’s demise, work was going on behind the scenes to purchase steam engines and carriages for preservation. These were stored at nearby Carnforth until a deal would be struck with British Rail for the line to be sold into private ownership. Seven years later, after numerous obstacles, objections and with the support of parliamentary lobbying, the purchase was realised and in 1973 the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Company reopened the line. The station has been beautifully restored, developed and maintained; shiny red paintwork, window boxes, planters and shrubs offer a welcome contrast with the usual soulless modern railway buildings.

I had planned my day so that I would have an hour or so to spare before boarding the vintage train to Lakeside. Hungry by this time, I decided to try out the tea rooms for some lunch. Walking from the front to the platform I passed a huge pile of coal, obviously fuel for the steam trains. For environmental reasons, Haverthwaite and other vintage train attractions may not be around for too much longer as we seek to reduce our national carbon footprint. I wanted to ride in a train of yesteryear before the last of them are shunted off to museums.

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After a tasty and substantial lunch in the pleasant and reasonably-priced (if somewhat over-crowded) tea rooms I had just 10 minutes to wait before our engine, Victor, chugged up to the platform, whistle blowing and enveloped in an aura of steam. The returning passengers emerged, and it was time to board.

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Like the tea rooms, the train was mainly occupied by young and very noisy children, and I felt rather like I was tagging along on a pre-school outing. I tried to talk myself into a more tolerant, less grumpy mindset, but then another young family took the seats behind and started to sing with great gusto (the parents in particular) about the wheels on the train going round and round all day long. As always on such occasions I resorted to my trusty ear-plugs which remained in place for the next 20 minutes. Settling into my sagging but nostalgically comfortable seat, I appreciated the tints of autumn on display through the window as the train’s gentle rhythm merged harmoniously with the melodic sounds of Agnes Obel. The wheels on the train went round and round, the whistle blew and trails of white steam floated past the window and up above the pastoral scenery.

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Arriving at Lakeside station on the southern tip of Lake Windermere, it was time to leave Victor the steam engine and start the next part of my journey. I observed that almost all of the people with children were heading towards the adjacent Lakeside Aquarium; so that explained it. This must be a typical weekend lunch/ train/ marine life combo.

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I’m glad I made the trip, just for the experience, but I wouldn’t rush back. It was time to get in the queue for my next embarkation.

Derwent Water, North Lakes

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Derwent Water is one of the most popular of the Lake District National Park’s attractions. On the edge of the small but busy town of Keswick – a Mecca for walkers and visitors to the North Lakes region of Cumbria – Derwent Water pulls in thousands of visitors all year round.I have to confess, it’s not one of my favourite Lakeland destinations precisely because it’s so touristy. Far from being an idyllic country town, Keswick (in my experience) can become very crowded and doesn’t quite seem to have enough facilities. I know that mine is a minority view and that many people love both keswick and Derwent Water. I like it too…. I just like other lakes and Lakeland towns more.

Regular readers will know that I don’t drive, so Keswick is bit of a trek for me: a train to Penrith (that’s the easy bit) followed by an hour long excursion on a bus which runs once every couple of hours. Last time I went on my own I decided I would not return because of the crowds, struggling to find somewhere to eat and (mainly) a lot of time wasted waiting for buses. However, when a friend suggested a drive I was glad to accept. Being driven out for the day is a luxury for me, especially when it’s to a location not easily accessible by public transport.

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Derwent Water is three miles long, one mile wide and 72 feet deep, so not one of the largest bodies of water in the region. It is fed by the River Derwent and above it rise the peaks of Skiddaw and Cat Bells, both popular with walkers. Walking around Keswick, almost every other person looks like they are kitted-up and bound for a hike. Cat Bells in particular is popular as at a mere 451 metres it is considered an easier climb for the non-hardcore walker. Being a cat person, I just like its name which is believed to be a distortion of Cat Bields home of the wild cat. I don’t know if there are still any wild cats living up there – I doubt it – but there have been, sadly, a number of lost dogs over the years. When I last visited a couple of years ago I saw appeal posters all over the area for two different dogs which had gone missing during walks. I can’t understand why people don’t take better care of their dogs in potentially hazardous environments. Thankfully, one of the dogs was found by a rescue team funded through a social media appeal; I remember reading about it shortly after. Brilliant news! Not all outcomes are so good.

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There were dogs aplenty frolicking at the water’s edge on this occasion, or swimming out eagerly to retrieve a skimmed branch or ball, bringing it back like a top prize to smiles and praise, eagerly waiting for it to be thrown again.

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Further down the lake there were quieter spots to be found away from the crowds at the north end near to the town.

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Like the bigger lakes of Windermere and Ullswater, Derwent Water also runs pleasure cruises but on much smaller vessels. It was far too warm to be crammed like sardines inside one of the launch boats, though I would have liked to see more of the islands. I may try to persuade my chauffeur to take me back in winter.

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Instead, we watched from the bank as the voyagers sailed off on calm water. Shaded by overhanging branches, we sat for another hour or so enjoying the gentle melodic ebb and flow of Keswick’s lake and watched the dazzling sunlight dancing on its surface.

Grasmere

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I was recently given an intriguing book: a paperback version of a travel guide of the Lake District written by the celebrated poet William Wordsworth who was born and resided most of his life in that beautiful part of England. A Guide Through the District of the Lakes was first published in 1810 and revised and reprinted several times before the final version was written in 1835. Wordsworth was strapped for cash and with a growing family, hence the artistic compromise. Wordsworth himself expressed some degree of contempt for this work, admitting that the need for funds had been the incentive behind its publication.

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Whilst it’s obviously not in the same league as his poetry, I quite like this book; it’s like a Lonely Planet guide of its time and reminds me of the later Wainwright guides which laid out walking routes across the mountainous pastoral terrain of the north of England, routes still followed to this day. I find it very interesting to compare Wordsworth’s poetry with his – albeit highly descriptive in parts – functional writing.

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Wordsworth made his home close to Grasmere Lake to the south of the Lake District region. Its name is from the old English gress and mere – the lake flanked by grass. Wordsworth first stayed at Dove Cottage, and his final home was at Rydal Mount where he died in 1850. At only a mile long and half a mile wide, Grasmere was not particularly impressive in size, but was Wordsworth’s favourite. The river Rothay feeds the lake, from where it flows on into Rydal Water and then to Lake Windermere.

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Canoes heading across Grasmere and then onto the Rothay on route to Rydal Water. You can’t see it here but one of the passengers was a dog in a life jacket.

A footpath along the west shore of the Lake leads to Penny Rock Woods, another route to Rydal Water

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I really like Grasmere, not because it is spectacular as Ullswater is, or grand like the better-known Windermere, but because it’s mostly quiet, is easily accessible for most people and because the south shore is like a pebble beach and it’s easy to paddle or swim in the water.

What better descriptions could I use than those of Wordsworth himself?

‘In preparing this Manual, it was the Author’s principal wish to furnish a Guide or Companion for the Minds of Persons of taste, and feeling for Landscape, who might be inclined to explore the District of the Lakes with that degree of attention to which its beauty may fairly lay claim’ – William Wordsworth, A Guide Through the District of the Lakes.

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‘I do not know of any tract of country in which, within so narrow a compass, may be found an equal variety in the influences of light and shadow upon the sublime or beautiful features of the landscape’

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‘…at the outlet of the lake, the stream pushing its way among the rocks in lively contrast with the stillness from which it has escaped.’

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‘The presence of a lake is indispensable to exhibit in perfection the beauty of one of these days.’

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‘the smallest rivulet – one whose silent flow is scarcely noticeable in a season of dry weather – so faint is the dimple made by it on the surface of the smooth lake.’

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‘… the lover of Nature might linger for hours’

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‘All else speaks of tranquillity … the clouds gliding in the depths of the Lake.’

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‘It has been said that in human life there are moments worth ages’

… never a truer word has been written 🙂

 

 

Grange-over-Sands

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Grange-over-Sands, or just ‘Grange’ as it’s known locally, was always part and parcel of family holidays in the south Lake District in the 1970s and 80s. My memories include an expansive golden beach – popular for kite flying and long walks – and an art-deco lido, always full of happy swimmers, and rather impressive. The town is small and pretty and has an air of gentility.

Moving forward three decades there is little sign of the once sandy beach, now transformed into salt marsh with wild marine grasses criss-crossed by briny rivulets.

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Out beyond the Lune estuary the Irish sea meets the horizon. It’s the end of April but the day which started with sunshine now threatens a downpour as the grey sky becomes heavy with dark clouds. No matter, this is the north of England where weather can change in a moment and we carry on regardless.

Once off the train at the pretty, Victorian Grange station, a short walk under the subway leads to the beach and straight onto the promenade. It is lovely and well-kept, clearly very popular, especially with dog walkers, and has a nice little vintage-style café and children’s play area at the south end. Under such dark skies these photos don’t show just how lovely it is – in my opinion one of the nicest promenades in England.

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The promenade includes a ‘stumpery’ where there is a surprise in every hollow.

On the last Sunday of every month from April until November, the promenade plays host to ‘Prom Art’, an open-air arts and crafts market where dozens of independent artisans set up their stalls, show off their talents and display their work for sale. Today was the first Prom Art event of 2018 and I decided to enjoy a coastal stroll and perhaps treat myself too.

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There was a wide selection of art and craft work to look at from paintings, photographs, hand-made jewellery, textiles, ceramics, wood and metal work and hand made cards and toys. Everything on sale has been made by the artisans themselves and some, including one lady seated at a spinning wheel and another crafting something on her sewing machine, demonstrated their talents to fascinated browsers.

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I love to choose items for my home which have a story, and to have met the artist and talked with them about their work – particularly the piece I am taking home with me – is quite special. One of my treats to myself today was a print of ‘The Walk’ by textile artist Liliane Taylor. Liliane, originally a fashion designer, told me that the original textile work is exhibited at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport; I shall have to call in to see it.

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Some examples of Liliane’s work
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‘The Walk’, safely home, preserved from the downpour and awaiting its frame

I am very partial to wind chimes and already have several around my house and garden. My second treat to myself was a marvellous chime made from cutlery. I have seen some of similar design, but this one grabbed my attention as the vintage spoons had been skilfully beaten and polished. No two spoons are the same and they look like beautiful old tarnished silver. No gleaming chrome for me! I chatted with the artist, David Bubb, about how he sources and crafts his creations. He and his wife, Sue, trade as  Lovebubb and also work with wood and fabrics.

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The black clouds above finally burst and heavy April showers poured down on the the pop-up studio tents as artists secured their exhibits, some darting into the shelter of their cars. It was also my cue, not a moment too soon, to put my purse back into my bag and move away from further temptation.

Bursts of sunshine made occasional appearances through the dense storm clouds, reflecting on the surface of the water and revealing the fells of south Lake District National Park in the distance.

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The 1930s lido, where I had spent many hours of fun as a child, has fallen into dilapidation and is fenced off. I managed to take some photographs which still give an indication of what a vibrant and exciting place it once was. It has now been given ‘listed’ status as the only remaining art-deco lido in the north of England. It would be amazing to see it open again in all its glory at some point in the future, but for several years now its fate has been contested locally.

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The security fencing around the derelict lido has been there that long it has been turned into a feature. A poster shows the lido in its heyday. Note how in England at that time, regardless of the temperature the older gents would still wear shirts, ties and jackets on their special day out.

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On the other side of the rail track, station-front side, is Grange ornamental garden which had drawn in a few visitors despite the wet benches and the imminent threat of further downpours.

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Across the road and a little further on from the ornamental garden is the lovely community orchard. If the weather had permitted I would have spent some time exploring the budding fruit trees.

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A few heavy drops hit the pavement and then the deluge followed. I decided to head back to the shelter of the station to wait for my train.

 

Aira Force

Aira Force waterfall and woodland, Cumbria

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Foss, meaning fall in Old English, has morphed over time into Force; the spot where the River Aire tumbles gloriously over the rock face into the gorge below. This stunning spray is hidden deep inside woodland not far from the shore of beautiful Ullswater Lake. The landscape was once the playground of landed gentry, developed in the 1800s and covered with specimens of trees from all corners of the empire for the pleasure of a few. Happily, Aira Force and surrounding woodland is now a place of delight for thousands of visitors to the Lake District National Park.

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The approach from the road leads through a hive of activity. Families sprawl on the grass or sit at picnic tables in conference over well used maps; routes are plotted, laces tied and rucksacks packed in preparation. Well trained dogs sit patiently, tethered to table legs; perhaps like their people they are appreciating time out from a long trek. The National Trust shop is doing a brisk trade in bottled water and visitor guides, whilst the refreshments van dispenses hot chocolate and cheer to weary walkers.

Walking away in the direction of the woodland, the grass gradually becomes longer and untamed. A gravel path crunches underfoot, forking off in different directions. Laughter comes from the river bank and a bright-eyed dog suddenly comes into view, vigorously shaking water from his coat before turning back.

Which way should I go? I’ll follow the sound of the water.

Sinuous roots rise up from beneath the ground. Trees so high, their tops seem lost. Deep green pine and fir perfume the damp air with the heady scent of resin, conjuring memories of childhood Christmases. Olfactory sensors prickle and drink in the woody aromas. Myriad shades of green, layer upon layer, merge to create a leafy collage. The earth is soft and springy beneath the tramping of hundreds of feet, eager ears focused in the direction of the gushing water in the distance. We are drawn to water; a primal call that pulls us towards the life force. Feathery ferns and winding hemlock glisten as the sun highlights the beads of rain water on their lustrous leaves.

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Steep and uneven, a red earth path leads upward and onward. Still out of sight, the roaring water can be heard in the distance. Next, a flight of steps, hewn from the rock, steep and mocking challenges all except the young and the fit; more will follow, steeper and harder as we climb higher towards the peak. With some trepidation and with heart in mouth I look down into the gorge hoping that feet and path will not betray me. Eighty feet below me the rocks are edged like knives. A long way down, a small crowd is gathered on the wooden footbridge, eyes wide and cameras clicking, sharing the view. I continue my ascent.

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The majestic waterfall cascades over grey boulders, frothing white and forceful. The clear beck follows its course over the cobbles and rocks. Children, noisy and exhilarated, clamber over the stones, revelling in nature, splashing and laughing in the shallow water. Dogs, released from their leads, frolic and roll, happy to cool down. Even in the shade of the woods the day is humid and takes its toll.

Felled tree trunks fashioned into benches provide respite and an opportunity to imbibe the beauty of this place. Signs relate interesting facts about some of the other inhabitants of the woodland; no red squirrels are around to greet us today, but maybe they survey us from the safety of the tree tops, curious about the human visitors; or maybe they’ve seen it all a thousand times and have better things to do.

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The path down presents another challenge. Muddy in parts and uneven, it requires careful footing. It’s a long way down! Eventually I get to the bottom with calves aching but mind invigorated.

DSCF3827An enormous monkey puzzle tree fascinates those who gather at its base, curious fingers exploring the ridges of its exotic trunk. Cypress and Oak stand proud nearby, each a labelled exhibit in this green gallery. The strange stump of a Douglas Fir twinkles as sunlight dances across the edges of the silver coins embedded in its surface; a years old tradition.

Onward again into the daylight, I choose my  path and continue my journey.

 

 

 

 

Ullswater

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420Ullswater lies in Cumbria’s aptly named Eden Valley, nestled in between some of the region’s highest fells. It is England’s second largest lake. It is also my favourite lake retreat, a destination for those times when I want to empty my head and become absorbed into the land and waterscape.

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Despite its popularity with visitors, Ullswater has been able to retain a tranquil presence and serenity which can become lost when a place of great beauty becomes a magnet for tourists. To my mind this can be explained in two ways. Firstly (and rather more mundanely) people who visit Ullswater tend to be there with a purpose: walking; climbing, orienteering, sailing, often hiring a cottage for the week or pitching up tent at one of the many lakeside camping sites. Families and groups, when on the lake, are usually sailing across or trekking along the shore line on route to a next stage in their day’s activity. Sporting backpacks, waterproof clothing, climbing gear and dogged determination, high-spirited and motivated they happily endure rain and wind to reach another point on their map. They are on a mission and on the move.

Contrast this scene with one from Windermere – the best known of the English lakes – where in parts the water’s edge is lined by throngs of day-trippers queuing at the various burger kiosks and throwing the scraps from their chip wrappers to the flocks of swans and lake fowl waiting in anticipation. Even when you have successfully woven your way through the selfie-sticks, home movie makers and familial huddles of ice-cream eating toddlers and buggies to eventually make your way to the lakeside landing stage, you might find your view from the deck of the cruise launch obscured by enthusiastic tourists, blissfully spatially unaware in their attempts to find the best vantage points to click their cameras.

Windermere, much more commercial and accessible, is a haven for tourists and those who want a nice day out in a pretty setting; for Ullswater visitors it is more about ‘doing’ than taking the photograph.

I think there is a second way in which the serenity of Ullswater is preserved; there is an aura of tranquillity, a magical haunting quality with which one’s mind can meld even whilst being seated on a crowded ‘steamer’. Every time I have visited Ullswater, regardless of the season, the sky has been grey and the surrounding hills have been enveloped in mist. I recollect that most sailings have been in the rain. Rather than detract from the experience the weather has added an almost metaphysical element to that already mysterious ambience. It is hypnotic.In essence, a visit to Ullswater offers the possibility to get lost in the crowd.

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The village of Glenridding lies at the southern tip of the lake, overlooked by the imposing form of the Helvellyn fells, a Mecca for serious walkers. These giants provide a gateway to the southern lake region beyond. Pooley Bridge, a small but thriving village at the lake’s northern point has proved to be as hardy as any of the local flora and fauna in recovering in fighting spirit from the devastating floods which brought life to a standstill and destroyed so much property during the onslaughts of relentless rainfall during the winter of 2015/16. Life goes on; excellent cafes continue to serve delicious food; hotels, hostelries and B&Bs display their ‘no vacancies’ signs and the lake‘s currents and rhythms continue, timeless and unperturbed.

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Ambleside

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The wheel of the year has turned. The temperature is barely above zero and my fingers feel like the ice formations I see in the puddles and ditches, but the grass looks lush and these verdant landscapes shout out their promise of blossoming and ripening in the months ahead. The land is quickening. Winter is taking its leave as spring impatiently waits to step into the breach.

I don’t mind the cold at all, as long as it’s dry, and February sunshine and blue skies are a joyous combination. A day like this couldn’t be allowed to go to waste, so I decided to get out into the countryside and tap into that vernal energy. Cumbria is my favourite county and the villages, woods and footpaths around Lake Windermere are some of my favourite places to relax and appreciate the land. Where better then to spend a beautiful day on the cusp of the seasons?DSCF3486

Ambleside’s history can be traced back to Roman times. Then known as Galaca, the remains of the fort near Waterhead Pier are a reminder of when the settlement was part of the Roman defences against the possibility of invasion from the Scots to the north. Centuries later, the town is reputed to have taken its name from Hamel, a Viking who owned land there. Evidence of Nordic occupation is evident in the present day lexicon of the land. Words like beck (brook with a stony bed); fell (rock, cliff) and tarn (mountain lake) are synonymous with the power and mystery of this rugged, often-bleak, but always awesome northern landscape. When they first set foot on the mountain paths and beheld the icy clear tributary streams flowing down into the vast lakes below, the Scandinavian invaders would surely have felt they were home from home.

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Putting Viking warriors to one side, for me, the town evokes other more peaceful and relaxing associations. How could a place name which contains the verb ‘amble’ not conjure up images of quiet green lanes shaded by towering trees, expanses of pasture land, dry stone walls and the sound of bird song? The footpath from the northern pier of Lake Windermere up the gentle incline to the town certainly matches that description, though the town itself, small and unspoiled, is a hive of activity.

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Situated at the gateway to the Langdale pikes (another Scandinavian word, meaning ‘pointed mountain’) and south lakes fells, Ambleside enjoys enormous popularity amongst tourists and serious walkers and climbers. It has an abundance of hotels, B&Bs and restaurants, mostly full, even out of season…………..if there is such a thing as ‘out of season’ here.

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One highlight of this particular visit to Ambleside was being able to see the magnificent view of the white-topped peaks before the strengthening spring sunshine melts the snow, transforming it into crystal water.

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The views from the lower valley are breath-taking. High snowy peaks merged with sky line; I’m sure I even saw some fluffy sheep amongst the stratus, perhaps spirits of a fell-dwelling flock from Viking times, still holding on to their connection with the land. It’s easy to let the imagination run wild in such an inspirational setting.

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I love my visits here and feel so blessed that I live quite close to this bit of England’s green and pleasant land.

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