Sunday, 14 April 2013

Easter: the bits with the walking and biking

If it were not for the lingering chocolate in the house, I’d swear Easter never happened, it really does feel like that long ago. I’m not sure what that fact bears witness to – the slightly insane work situation perhaps (when four became two) or the fact that Spring has, almost, nearly, kind of, sort of sprung and the longer days and (albeit weak) sunshine feel like the end of the apocalypse and the start of life anew? Either way, Lovely Boy’s and my week away traversing the northwest and west of the UK feels like a surreal, visually stunning intermission between “before” and “now”.

The plan was to cram in all the parts of the UK that we hadn’t seen before, in the way that only Australians can. And by that I mean, casually intending to spend seven days driving 1252km and explaining to English colleagues who look at you like you’re fucking mad that hello, it’s only 876km from Sydney to Melbourne. 1252km is but a scenic spin.

For LB that scenic spin meant detours through the Lakes District and the Peak District, for me it meant the Yorkshire Dales, Chatsworth House (see also: Peak District and latent Pemberley fantasies) and Snowdonia in Wales.

I would love to have careened along some of the picturesque roads we took but as it was, LB sat behind the wheel throughout our entire English odyssey. Why? Well because my stupid Australian drivers licence has expired and I’ve already renewed it once and they don’t let you do it twice while overseas and I never bothered to get a UK licence and now, because my Australian licence has expired if I want to get a British licence I’d have to sit my learners. So, fuck that and no thanks very much #tedious.

Heading in to Keswick
Anyway, that left me with the very important job of holding the satnav and pre-emptively reading out all the directions in order to be Helpful. And pointing out all available places along the way to stop and wee and/or buy diet coke (the two may be related?)

Our first destination was the Lakes District. Opting not to waste a day driving north, we caught the train to Newcastle where we picked up our little Fiat 500 before scooting over to Keswick through ambivalent clouds of hail and snow. Two weeks earlier this part of the country suffered huge snowstorms and we weren’t honestly sure what would greet us but thankfully it was just a lot of latent, frozen, already fallen snow. Which made driving into Keswick quite enchanting.

Keswick, well Keswick is delightful – unfairly marginalised, I think, by the postcard prettiness of Ambleside, Grasmere and Windemere. I mean, hello, Keswick has a pencil museum! Booyah.

Our B&B, run by the delightful Pam and Arthur, was a short walk from the centre of town, past the old picture theatre, and a short walk again to the shores of Derwentwater, the third largest lake in the eponymous district.

After an uninspiring dinner at the local pub and a quiet night, our first and only full day in Cumbria was dedicated to the nine miles of walking track that loop their way through lamb-strewn fields and boggy marshes and rocky shorelines all the way around Derwentwater. It took us four hours in total and I probably only whimpered (half-heartedly, I was tired…) for the last hour of it. The bag of Percy Pigs I’d stashed in LB’s backpack helped with flagging energy at several points along the way. 

Heading off. 10 minutes down, 3 hours 50 minutes to go
It was a pretty special way to pass the morning and the views throughout – up towards the snow scattered mountains and out across the lake – were really quite breathtaking. And there’s something reassuringly human about the obligatory exchange of pleasantries with every other walker you encounter. A little nod, a casual “good morning” – a ritual of civilised exchange that says “aren’t we wonderful, out in nature, connecting with nature, not out being my normal prattish self behind the wheel of my expensive Range Rover.”

But the best bit about all that walking? The guilt-free gorging of the chocolate covered peanut brittle we found in Keswick’s Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe on the weary way back to our B&B. Win and win again.

We spent the rest of the afternoon poking about Ambleside, Grasmere and Windemere. All very pretty, all very geared towards the hikers, bikers, sailors and general outdoorsy types who come to Cumbria not for the chocolate covered peanut brittle. What I really wanted to do was the find the churchyard where the memorial to Kurt Schwitters lay but a frustrated google search with zero 3G made the task near-impossible. 

Derwentwater. We walked all the way around that.
In truth I’m not sure how well I would have gone anyway trying to explain the historical significance of Dada and Schwitters’ Merz collages to a Lovely Boy who only wanted to go searching for hot chips.

Another quiet night and then it was Good Friday, and you know what, it really was. We spent the day driving through the very pretty Yorkshire Dales, detouring to Aysgarth to see the falls made famous in Kevin Costner’s execrable Robin Hood. You know the scene I’m talking about – the one where we meet Christian Slater for the first time…  

Achingly pretty Yorkshire Dales
Aysgarth Falls, Yorkshire
Continuing to wind our way through the Dales, we had a late lunch in the very sweet market town of Grassington before pushing on to Skipton, another lovely market town, this one with a castle. We didn’t go to the castle – we went to the pub and sculled G&Ts while admiring the authentically quirky décor (ok, I admired the décor, Lovely Boy read the BBC sports page in a rare spot of 3G reception.) But still, it was lovely. The hotel we stayed at was not so lovely, being nauseatingly over-deodorised to compensate for the lingering smoke inhalation suffered by the upholstery and carpet of guests past. It wasn’t our greatest night.

Spotted in the pub. I really, really wanted to steal it... 
But Saturday, Saturday was another lovely drive, another physical exertion, I mean, excursion, and a stay in the charming Old Hall Hotel in the spa town of Buxton. Before we got to our digs in Buxton though (where Mary Queen of Scots also stayed apparently) we went to explore the Monsal Trail. What used to be 13 miles of active railway line is now a busy bike and walking path that weaves its way through some of the prettiest parts of the Peak District and through a few old tunnels too. 

Heading through the Yorkshire Dales en route to the Peak District
I’d read about the trail in my research leading up to the trip, being particularly enamoured with the famous, quite beautiful, Monsal Viaduct. The plan was to rent bikes for a couple of hours, pootle along, see what we see and then turn around, pootle back and head to Buxton.

I hadn’t figured on the snow. When the guys in the bike rental shop at Hassop Station, masters of the understatement, mentioned that we might encounter some further along the track we took that to mean, “oh, won’t that be pretty!” Had they explained that by “further” they meant, “50m give or take” and that by “snow” they meant unending frozen drifts and ponds of sludge, well, we might have skipped the bikes and just walked.

The Monsal Trail
Trying to a bike ride through slushy snow and ice and mud while dodging people and perilous drops down into the woodlands is something I could have just pretended to have done. I really didn’t need to actually do it. The why not is reasonably obvious…

Because I ended up pushing/dragging the bloody bike most of the way and when I wasn’t pushing/dragging I was peddling furiously to a not-so-internal soundtrack of “fuck. FUCK. fuckfuckFUCK. Fuck this. Oh for fuck’s sake. Fucking hell. fuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK.” It was pretty fucking ridiculous to be honest. 

And in the end, biking over the Monsal Viaduct is well and good, but if you can’t see the viaduct for standing on it, what’s another snowy valley at this point?  

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