A while ago Andre and I made a list of the things we really wanted to see before we left the UK. On that list was the Lake District and Hadrian’s wall – so a few weekends ago we made a trip to cross two things off our list.
We both got the Friday off work, and set off first thing in the morning to catch a train from Euston station to Carlisle, which is just outside of the Lake District. From here we picked up our hire car and some lunch, and headed north-east to check out Hadrian’s wall.
Hadrian’s wall was built by the roman Emperor Hadrian who started construction in 122AD. It marked the most northern limit of the Roman Empire and ran right across Britain from east to west. Not only was it a wall, but not unlike The Wall in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (the similarities are not lost on me!), it had forts and milecastles built along it. There are multiple sites you can visit along Hadrian’s wall, all easily accessible by car. There’s even a Roman Army Museum too. Many of the visitor centres are located at points of particular interest along the wall – often the remains of forts. We stopped briefly at one but decided not to go in because it didn’t look interesting enough to justify the entrance fee, especially as we were going on to another site where we would need to pay to get in. We also stopped at a road-side lookout by a section of the wall.
We did pay to go into the Housesteads Fort site, which was quite extensive. There are, of course, no actual buildings left – just foundation stonework and a few walls.
Once we were done there we headed back south to the Lake District to check in to our B&B in Ambleside, which is at the northern tip of Lake Windermere. I must admit that, despite its reputation, I didn’t have terribly high expectations of the Lake District. Lakes and hills? It didn’t really sound that spectacular to me. Driving into the valley, though, was beautiful, especially at sunset as the sun is casting golden light across the hills right down the valley.
The next morning we started at Hill Top farm, which was Beatrix Potter’s first Lake District property and something of a holiday home for her. It is also where she wrote most of her stories (although not Peter Rabbit, which was written on holiday in Scotland). Even when she got married and lived in Near Sawrey permanently, she and her husband bought a different house and Hill Top remained her personal place where she did her writing. I was especially intrigued by the fact that many, if not all, of her illustrations incorporate actual items from her home, as well as places around the village. Apparently whenever she published a new book, the villagers would rush to buy a copy to see if their house, or front gate, had made an appearance!
In the afternoon we went up to Keswick to have a look at the Cumbria Pencil Museum to see if it was worth visiting. If I’d been on my own I probably would have – it is the home of the world-famous Derwent Pencils and is where pencils were first manufactured – but Andre wasn’t interested, and I wasn’t so keen that I wanted to leave Andre on his own. Instead we went for a walk through the town to a visitor centre where we asked for recommendations on places to see a red squirrel.
Red squirrels are very endangered and there is really no way to guarantee a sighting. However the lady at the centre gave us directions to a track where she sees them most often, so off we went. Unfortunately we didn’t see any squirrels, but the walk was nice and had some lovely views, and we enjoyed the cherries we picked up from the markets in the town!
We made a last-ditch effort for the day to see some red squirrels by heading to Whinlatter Forest west of Keswick. It was a short drive, but when we got there we discovered you need to pay for parking (which you do everywhere in the Lake District). It was a bit late in the day to justify paying for parking for only an hour, so we decided to come back tomorrow. We got some beautiful views of the valley and hills on the way up though.
We stopped for tea at a pub on our way out of town – as we were in Cumberland, we decided to have Cumberland sausages – the most disappointing ones we’ve had our whole time in the UK!
On our last morning in the Lake District we headed down to the lake to take a sight-seeing cruise. Unfortunately about twenty minutes into the cruise we got quite a lot of cloud cover which was a bit of a bummer, but at least it didn’t rain. On our way back to Whinlatter Forest we stopped to see the Castlerigg stone circle, much like many of the stone circles we saw in Scotland. Then it was back to Whinlatter Forest to go for a walk to try and see some squirrels, but again had no luck. So it was a rather squirrel-less weekend but it is certainly beautiful countryside, and I loved seeing the home of Peter Rabbit and friends.