Ambleside in the English Lake District

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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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Grasmere village, Cumbria – Wordsworth country

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

The opening verse of arguably the best Known of William Wordsworth’s poems gives an insight into the way in which the natural world inspired Wordsworth’s romantic and metaphysical poetry. A visit to Grasmere, the tiny village where Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) was born, provides an opportunity to experience how he was moved to put pen (or quill) to paper, and share his joy in his surroundings.

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The Wordsworth connection was not the reason behind my little expedition to lovely Grasmere, though it was an added point of interest. The village is named after Grasmere Lake, which lies about a mile to the south and is one of my favourite spots in the south lakes area. This quaint and quintessentially English location is small and charming. Basically, it’s built on a loop road off which shoots a lattice of small streets. Grasmere boasts some pretty little independent shops and some quality hotels, guest houses and restaurants. It is exactly what any visitor to this region would come to expect. Husbandry and its subsidiary trades are no longer the way the locals earn a crust; it’s mostly catering to the needs of tourists.

There are certainly plenty of those -tourists, that is – though not in the numbers to be found just a few miles away at Lake Windermere. It’s less than 40 minutes away by bus with Ambleside being the half way point. The main attraction is definitely Wordsworth, more specifically his final resting place in the Wordsworth family section of the parish church yard, and also the daffodil garden, centred on the title of arguably his most famous poem. The path which meanders through this delightful little garden is made up of paving stones engraved in dedication to Wordsworth appreciators who have paid for the privilege of being part of it.

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Another popular Grasmere pull is the world renowned gingerbread shop. This establishment is to Grasmere’s visitors like the witch’s gingerbread house was to Hansel and Gretel. The first clue to the delicious treats inside this tiny place is the intoxicating aroma of ginger, cinnamon and sugar which is carried along the street on an inviting breeze. Its popularity is such that it can be impossible to enter the shop, which holds about 6 customers at any one time, without a considerable wait. On the day of my visit back in August the queue was winding around the building, and somebody was advising that the wait was about 20 minutes. Expansion could be a solution, but that would spoil the whole point. I hope that a visit at a quieter time of year might result in some tasty treats for my own delectation

Greens organic restaurant on the main street offers an excellent menu of both veggie and non-veggie fayre and the service is with a smile. Coffee shops and tea rooms all seem to be very pleasant and offer beautiful views and space to relax.

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