Friday, 29 April 2016

The Lake District Part II - A Place Called Buttermere

Today I'm going to share mostly just photos with you from our last day in the amazing Lake District because as I looked through the photos just now to see which I wanted to post, I realized they all really represent well the quintessential English countryside that most of us Americans picture and dream about.  Rolling green hills dotted with sheep and cows that can quickly give way to barren and rugged landscape, churches that are many centuries old, stone buildings, beautiful lakes… there is nothing I can say that these photos won’t say better.  

That said, I am going to share just one thing with you before I turn this blog post over to the photos because it needs a little explanation or you maybe won’t get it, and it’s terribly interesting!  When we were staying in the B&B in Ambleside, we asked the owners for their recommendation on a place to eat in town.  While the very friendly man that owns the place told us about the delicious Michael’s Bistro we had eaten at on Friday night, he also told us about another restaurant in town called The Priest Hole.  

It’s hard not to love the names of the pubs and restaurants you see in this country and I’m sure many of them have very interesting stories behind them, as is the case with The Priest Hole in Ambleside, because you see, there is something actually called a “priest hole.”  Back in the later 1500s when Queen Elizabeth I assumed the throne, the Catholic Church fell out of favor with the monarchy.  Apparently they were plotting to dethrone her and in return, she did not look kindly on the Catholic priests.  So many of the old Catholic families in England built a hiding place inside their house for the priest to hide should Queen Elizabeth and her “pursuivants” or priest-hunters come looking.  This building in the photo above is part of one of the oldest standing buildings in Ambleside dating back to the 1600s and during some renovations they discovered an odd little hole, the perfect size for someone to hid in, under the floor.  It is suspected that this is a priest hole, hence the name of the restaurant.

Now, on to the photos.  For our last day in the Lake District, we headed deeper into the national park to a tiny little town nestled between two lakes called Buttermere.  There is a beautiful trail that wraps right around one of the lakes and that was our destination.  Before leaving Ambleside that morning, we had stopped at a little shop called The Picnic Basket where we picked up some sandwiches and other items for lunch to take with us on our hike and off we went.  So I share with you these photos, taken on the drive through the national park to Buttermere, in the tiny little town of Buttermere, and during our amazing hike around the lake.  Hope you enjoy!


Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to talk much during this post, but I feel a picture of a Ferrari after all of those beautiful Lake District photos needs some explanation.  It is not at all strange to see a very posh, very expensive, and very fast car anywhere here in the UK, even in a teeny, tiny, literally about five buildings and a bunch of sheep village like Buttermere.  These British like their fancy cars and we have seen them everywhere.  

Now, that is all I officially have to say.

Except this - Man was that a great day in the Lake District!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

England's Lake District - Part I

If you mention the Lake District in the UK, everyone, and I mean everyone, will know exactly where you are talking about.  And it’s likely they’ve been there.  The Lake District National Park encompasses a huge mountainous area (that is mountainous is UK terms, not Rocky Mountain terms – not as tall, but still impressive) in the north and west of England that is famous for it’s…well, I’ll give you one guess...

It’s lakes of course.  Truly, there is so much more to this beautiful part of England than just it’s lakes though.  The breathtaking scenery not only includes the gorgeous blue lakes nestled snuggly between the huge dramatic hills, but also consists of lush green forests with waterfalls and quaint English villages.  There is a lot to see and do in the Lake District so it’s no wonder it’s the most visited of all the national parks in England.  And that is why we spent a long enjoyable weekend back in September in the lovely Lake District.
We stayed in the town of Ambleside, which sits just north of the largest natural lake in England, Windermere.  After checking into our B&B, we had a little time to waste before finding some dinner so we set out on foot wandering the streets filled with shops and headed out towards the edge of town where we found a vibrantly green forested ravine with a lovely little creek trickling down it.   

We followed the trail into the ravine and ended up high above the stream where it dropped dramatically down a series of small waterfalls.   

The lush forest was enchanting with little footbridges passing back and worth over the water below, the perfect place for not one...

not two...

but many photo opts.   

Every now and then we came upon an old tree stump with coins embedded into its wood.   

Strange is seemed, but after we passed a couple, we figured maybe it was good luck to add your own coin to the stump???    

After our walk, we found a cozy little restaurant just up the street from our B&B called Matthew's Bistro and ended up having one of the best meals I’ve had in England.   

It was chicken, potatoes and vegetables with an amazing sauce, nothing complex or crazy, just simple and delicious.  I’m sure there was dessert too, but I can’t recall what it was exactly.  This was a great start to our weekend in the Lake District.

Saturday we woke to rain.  Not just a little rain, but pouring rain.  As we sat in the cozy parlor of the B&B sipping our hot coffee, enjoying breakfast and gazing a little sadly out the huge bay window as the rain splattered on the ground outside, we came up with plan B for the morning.  While the main attraction of the Lake District is clearly to enjoy the great outdoors (and that was plan A), there are things to be done and seen inside as well and one of them happens to involve Beatrice Potter - you know the author who created the likes of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jemima Puddle-duck just to name a few.  As a child, Beatrice Potter’s family spent time in the Lake District and she loved it so much that as an adult she ended up moving there permanently, purchasing a place called Hill Top Farm with the earnings from her adorable children’s tales.  As she made more and more money from the sale of her charming and creative books featuring animals as the main characters, she bought more and more land in the Lake District to keep it from development.  When she died, she left most of this land to the National Trust and is credited in large part for preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park.

You can tour her home at Hill Top Farm and the gardens that surround it.  It’s old and chilly and dark inside, looking today much like it did when Beatrice Potter lived here.  It’s nice enough though, nothing fancy, but from what I learned about Beatrice Potter, that is just how she was.  You can still see the mouse and rat holes in the walls, as apparently she had quite a problem with these rodents when she first moved in.  Yikes, right!  Well, for most people anyway, but for Beatrice, her rodent battle just fueled her imagination even more, and those little rascals became the inspiration for some of her beloved animal tales.  

We had a lot of fun learning about Beatrice Potter, seeing one of her homes and discovering the 24 animals tales she not only wrote but also illustrated during her lifetime (did you know she published that many stories?).  It's not hard to figure out why she chose the Lake District as her home.  

The land surrounding her farm is beautiful and peaceful.  And it was the perfect way to spend a rainy morning in the Lake District.

By noon the rain clouds had past and the day turned brighter.  We took advantage of the turn in the weather to finally spend some time outside.  We found a beautiful trail along the lake of Windermere and spent the afternoon passing in and out of the forest and getting some amazing views of the lake.   

We also had a bit of a scare during our peaceful hike.  The trail we followed was nice and wide, not paved and not gravel either, but compact and easy to walk and bike on.  We were on a wooded part of the trail, about half way up a decent sized hill with a tall muddy embankment on one side of us and on the other, the tree covered hillside dropped quickly and steeply towards the lake.  I’m not sure what I noticed first, the father running full speed down the hill on the trail towards us, or the little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, who was speeding down the hill several feet in front of him, clearly out of control and unable to stop on one of those little scooter bikes – you know the one that looks just like a bicycle but doesn’t have pedals.  The look of bewilderment on his tiny little face is etched into my memory - something like, “I think this is suppose to be fun but something is clearly not right about this situation and I have no idea how to fix it. HEEEEELP!!!” And several steps behind them both comes mom, running as fast and she can while pushing a baby in a stroller.  It would have been a comical sight except that is was very clear that this little boy had somehow gotten out of the grasp of his father and while he was keeping his balance on the little bike quite well, he was careening down the hill faster and faster and faster, totally and utterly out of control, unable to stop. 

Ellie, Leah and I were right in his path.  I knew he was going to hit us if we didn’t move so I shoved the girls into the muddy embankment on our left as the other side of the trail wasn’t an option – the hill dropped steeply down to the lake and there was no place to stand.  And then I realized what I really needed to do - I needed to try and stop this little guy or he was going to get seriously hurt.  But, how do you stop a little boy who is coming straight at you, racing down a hill out of control on a bicycle without hurting him and you?  This kid was flying and he still had a lot of hill to go before he reached the bottom. 

Well my friends, I didn’t have to worry long because as I was standing in the middle of the trail trying to figure out how best to grab him off his bike as he flew past without seriously injuring him, the front wheels started to wobble and down he went, face first onto the trail (thank goodness for bike helmets) right in front of me.  His parents finally caught up to him and immediately scooped him up.  He was more whimpering than crying.  He didn’t appear to be hurt.  I think he was simply shocked and glad his “bike ride” was over.  But the funny thing is that both of his parents just stood there looking at me.  Now, I’m thinking, “Why the heck are you looking at me?  Your kid just did a major face plant in the ground while going high speed down a hill.  Aren’t you more concerned about him?”  And then it dawned on me.  I was standing there a few feet away from them, my hand covering my wide-open mouth with a complete look of shock and horror on my face at what I had just witnessed and I bet they felt like the worst parents ever. 

Five minutes later as we continued our walk, my heart had finally stopped racing, the little boy was fine, and I just had to giggle at the look on the parents face as they looked at me.  I know they felt awful, but it was an accident and in the end, he was okay.  And, I know this will sound strange, but since I know he is okay I can say it – I am glad he wiped out because trust me when I say that was the best possible way for him to stop given the circumstances.  This could have ended much worse and now we have our own tale to tell from the Lake District, even if it’s not as cute as Beatrice Potter’s tales.  The rest of our walk was much less eventful, but very beautiful, so I leave you today with more photos from Windermere and our first day in the Lake District.

Remember those electronic football games when we were little, the ones that vibrated to move the players around.  Well, this is apparently the English version of that game.

Prettiest mailbox ever!