the gondola on Consiton Water

The Gondola on Coniston Water in the Lake District

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My favourite places in Cumbria and the Lake District

Raindrops on Coniston and whiskers on Herdwicks. Actually, Julie had her mind in the right area when she mentioned warm woollen mittens.

My favourite things are in the Lake District (other than French Cathedrals, I do like a French Cathedral), and a few other things, and places. In fact, I like loads of stuff that isn't in the Lake District, but its no surprise that we chose this area to settle down when we could have lived almost anywhere in the UK.

The following is written off the top of my head so will contain a few inaccuracies! I'm going to be adding a few photographs to this page over a period of time. Let me know if there are any porkies in here and I'll put them right.

Cumbria and the Lake District is all about the outdoors. Since moving here I've discovered fell running isn't just for mountain goats and stringy athletes with weather beaten faces. Its maybe the best value sport in the universe, and its heart is right here. When we first moved to Grange over Sands we bumped into a guy who Sue recognised from her school days back in Liverpool. Steve Jeffs - a stingy athlete with a weather beaten face... he was bemused at my insistence of jogging up and down the prom multiple times in pursuit of physical fitness and inner happiness. The views from the prom stretch up and down Morecambe Bay and were a revelation to me compared to plodding along the blind country lanes around Elswick in Lancashire. So one day, Steve dragged me out to run up Hampsfell, a four mile loop which entailed rather a lot of walking and wheezing on my part. But wow, the variety of the ups and downs, the different feel of surfaces, I didn't need telling twice that this was more exciting than my old prom beat.

The world of fell running has increased my knowledge and appreciation of the Lakes. You don't need to run to see it all, but it gets you there quicker!

My favourite places in the Lake District:

Cartmel, best described as a Cotswald Village in the Lake District. Built of local limestone, its a contrast to the more familiar slate seen throughout the rest of Cumbria. The centre piece is Cartmel Priory, one of the larger churches in the area, and once the site of a monastery, though Henry VIII wasn't overly keen on that.

The Lyth Valley and the Winster valley is a quiet area that most tourists buzz past on their way to the honey pot of Bowness. Walking and cycling are the way to see it. Plenty of nice pubs too. The two valleys are separated by Whitbarrow Scar, a limestone ridge with a full panorama across Lancashire, Bowland and the Lake District - riddled with paths.

To the east of Whitbarrow is a similar ridge, Scoutscar, forming a barrier between The Lyth Valley and Kendal. At the south end is St Peter's Church, Helsington, a pretty church with commanding views. There's a delightful walk along the full length of Scoutscar. Below Helsington to the South is Sizergh Castle and gardens, with its Japanese maples which are wonderful in autumn. Then a few miles south of there is Leven's Hall with its superb topiary gardens that look to be straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Kendal is the major southern town in the Lake District, often described as the gateway to the lakes - though the bypass kinda cocks up that description. The Brewery Arts centre has stages and cinemas (good sound systems) and galleries. The Abbot Hall and Museum are also very good - The Abbot Hall gallery having shown some excellent displays, works including Lucian Freud, Spencer, Bridget Riley.

To the north of Kendal is Kentmere. The Kentmere Horseshoe is a popular circular walk and one of several horseshoe fell runs. The Garburn Pass takes you over to Troutback (on foot or mountain bike) and another pretty valley. Or you can walk over the end of Kentmere and drop down to Hawswater with options to loop back via Longsledale if you fancy a big day out. High Street stands at the head of Kentmere valley, and from there paths drop down to Ullswater. High Street is named after a road built by the Romans who also built forts at Ambleside and Hard Knott.

Troutbeck is at the base of Kirkstone Pass, the highest road in the Lakes and links Patterdale and Ullswater to the southern lakes. Parking in Troutbeck gives walking options over to Ambleside, either staying reasonably low on a good track above Lake Windermere, or going over the top and taking in Wansfell. Wansfell is the final race in the fell running calendar - a chance to get out for a blast and blow the cobwebs away after Christmas Day, usually taking place on the 27th December.

Ambleside - home of Zefferali's Cinema (Ken Russel, who used to live in Borrowdale, premiered several films at Zeff's) and loads of places to eat - or you could choose to spend all your money on outdoor equipment. You could park in Ambleside and throw away your car keys until its time to go home, which is just as well as we hired a cottage there one cold February - and the clutch started slipping on day one. Not a good place to be with a slipping clutch - so we walked everywhere but for a day of mountain bike hire. Lots to do and loads of walks centre on the town. Loughrigg is an easy walk (steep at the start, but not so steep after that) and a couple of good fell runs over that each year. Or if you prefer to stay low there are nice walks to Rydal Water and Grassmere beyond.

Grassmere - Very pretty church by the river. The Heaton-Cooper studio houses some originals and many prints of this great lakeland artist. The Lakeland Artists also have shows in the Village Hall. The Grassmere Show is one of many throughout the Lakes, and very popular. Again, loads of walks from the door. The Fairfield Horseshoe is a classic (starts mid way between Grassmere village and Ambleside, or the car parks between Grassmere and Rydal Water). The annual race always attracts a large field of runners, maybe three times a typical fell race. Navigation at the Fairfield end can be tricky if the cloud is ticking the ground as paths are not obvious across the stoney summit - its easy to end up in the wrong valley if you don't use your head and compass.

Above Grassmere is the Lion and the Lamb, the peak which appears to be topped by a giant lion and tiny lamb, ahh - though I can never remember the name of that one. And a confession, so far, I've not been up there! Silver Howe is another good peak above Grassmere - Langdale being on the other side. To the north is Helvellyn, one of the 4 English peaks over 3,000ft high. You can approach Helvellyn from any direction, Grassmere being one of the classic starting points, though Glenridding is maybe the most popular.

From Grassmere, the main road climbs up and over Dunmail Raise to link to the Northern Lakes. Dunmail Raise, the road crossing for the Bob Graham Round - that's going to be worth adding a page for itself. The BG is a 42 peak 24 hour challenge first done in the early 20s by a pyjama clad in tennis shoes carrying a couple of hard boiled eggs for sustenance. Nobody knows his exact route, or choice of 42 peaks to celebrate being 42 years old - the previous year he'd failed to achieve 41 peaks so had to add an extra! The feat is difficult to appreciate. He did it without support, with basic kit and in areas with few paths. And nobody else managed to repeat the round for 28 years. Today, a regular set of 42 peaks has been established and about 50 more names are added to the Bob Graham Club every year - paths becoming more obvious, better lines in the ground discovered. I completed the round in 2007 to become member 1413 with thanks for the amazing support from Dallam Running Club. I'm by no means a top runner, and this took me beyond my perceived limits. My BG round report is here - but that's getting well off the subject of wedding photography!

The photograph below is the full Bob Graham round panorama of peaks taken from Dale Head. You can't quite see them all, the ones with dotted lines are hidden behind closer peaks. Click on the photo to see it full size - its pretty wide, so will take a while to download depending on your connection speed.


bob graham round panoramic photograph

Oh, where was I - ah, Dunmail Raise.

Drive down from here and take the old road to the West of Thirlmere. There are good walks from there over to Watendlath and Derwent water. The wiggly dam at the end of Thirlmere is also worth a look. Or you could drive down the west side. The trees were recently thinned on this side, opening up the lake views. There's a carpark at Wythburn, popular for a very steep ascent of Helvellyn. Its also the first feeding station for the Three Old County Tops fell race. That one takes in the highest points in the old county boundaries of Lancashire (Consiton Old Man), Cumberland (Helvellyn) and Westmoorland (Scarfell Pike). Now run for over 25 years by Achille Rattie Club, and an absolute favourite round in the Lakes. The route cleverly links these three peaks with minimum additional climb, roughly 36 miles and 10,000ft of ascent (if you get it right).
Wythburn Valley is the wettest place anywhere, ever. The Met Office will insist Borrowdale is wetter, or at least has more rainfall, but I'm yet to go to Wythburn and not get my feet wet. Getting knees wet is more likely, or you could go for the full bog treatment and go as deep as you like.

Time for a break... more to follow



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