Saturday, 8 May 2010

On getting on with the English weather

I'm in Carlisle on a sunny Saturday. After three days on the road through some of England's roughest terrain and some of its most annoying weather.

I left York under moderately sunny skies and made my way through gently rolling terrain to Ripon and Fountains Abbey. I stopped at both places and became, perhaps foolishly, a member of the National Trust at the latter. I was walking around the old abbey when I became aware of a smell not unlike green onions, or shallots to the English. I asked one of my fellow tourists if I was crazy. They pointed out a patch of wild garlic, the smell of which they rather disliked! Each to his own. I have smelt wild garlic on the road.

After lunch at the Abbey, I continued my journey under increasingly cloudy skies and increasingly common and steep hills. I stopped in Leyburn for hot chocolate as the day was getting increasingly cold as well as damp. This made thermal regulation tricky as it was very hard to find a good mix of layers.

I entered Wenslydale at Wensly (appropriately) and kept on a side road until Hawes. As tourist information was closed and they didn't have a map displayed outside, I had to ask at the White Hart Inn (a pub) for directions to the Youth Hostel. This had two sequels. The first that after I found the hostel and had supper at a fish and chips place, I went back to it for a pint of the local ale. While sipping my pint, I was amused to listen to the young barkeep going on a length about his luck (or lack thereof) in betting on horse races.

I shared a room at the youth hostel with an ex-civil engineer who was now working at a hilltop pub (possibly the highest in Britain). It was his day off and he was anxious to get some rest before the weekend when the pub would be hosting a pop festival including a group called the Arctic Monkeys of which even I had heard of. When he heard that I had a degree in history, he was amused as he would start on a history degree in the fall. I didn't tell him I had started in engineering before switching to history myself.

Leaving Hawes, I headed up towards Ingleton. Just after a wind and rain swept pass, I turned off the main-ish road onto a narrow back road to Dent. It was rather wild, beautiful and twisting descent. I stopped to photograph a stone railway viaduct and in the process realised that I hadn't seen any other traffic on the road since I got on it! If I had wiped out, how long would it have been before someone found me? Ironically, just behind the viaduct was a large transport truck (Heavy Goods Vehicle or HGV to the Brits) full of logs. Given the narrowness of the twisty roads, my personal opinion on the driver was "Better you than me, mate".

I followed stream down the valley past Dent. It ran over ledges of rock, some of which had been eroded away underneath forming small caves behind the waterfalls. At least, there would have been waterfalls had there been more water in the streams. Despite the wet weather I was experiencing, it seems it has been relatively dry in these parts. I also wonder if the paternal unit would be interested in visiting the Yorkshire Dales on account of geology. On the other hand, he shouldn't be allowed to drive on British roads as he would end up missing too much of the scenery.

I got to Sedbergh in times for elevenses. In a bakery/café, I happened to share a table with an older couple who had been in the White Hart pub when I stopped for directions! They were "relieved" to know I had found the hostel.

The weather was clearing as I arrived in Kendal where I built up mint cake supplies and had lunch. I then set off for the ferry across Lake Windermere. This was country that I absolutely knew I had seen before and indeed there was one hill that I swear I could remember from thirty years ago. As in my trip of thirty years ago, I stopped in Near Sawery where I visited Hilltop, the cottage where Beatrix Potter lived. I don't think we did that in 1980. We did stop at the Inn featured in one of Potter's stories. The sign has now faded but the beer inside is very good. The publican recommended the Black Bull pub in Coniston to me.

Between the pint of beer, fatigue and an odd sign, I missed my turning at Hawkshead. Luckily, I am somewhat obsessive about checking my map, so I noticed at the next hamlet which was only a mile or so down the road.

I entered Coniston on another familiar seeming road and found both the Black Bull pub and the YHA. As the pub was also recommended in Lonely Planet, I chose it for supper and some Bluebird Bitter. Bluebird is a reference to the name Donald Campbell gave to his record breaking vehicles including the one that killed him on Coniston Water in the 1960s. It was only in the last decade that they found both the boat and later his body.

The forecast for yesterday was relatively unfavourable as it called for relatively heavy cloud cover and low temperatures. Consequently, I opted not to take the Kirkstone pass and instead went via Grasmere. After more back lanes and at 25% pitch (down fortunately) I arrived in Grasmere only to be buzzed by an RAF Tornado jet at very low altitude. I went into Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread shop where I picked up my nibbles for the day.

As luck would have it, there was a cold wind out the North East that blew for much of the day. Not only did this blow the clouds away, it also made for some surprisingly tough biking as I was heading in that direction for most of the time. It was really quite chilly, though quite pretty. It was also wild and woolly. That is the landscape was wild and the sheep were quite woolly. I am almost getting tired of the "miiiinnnnnt saaaaaauuuuuce!" joke. Almost.

Lambs are wonderful to watch, especially when nursing as they seem almost ecstatic. The Lake District's native breed of sheep is something called the Herdwick. The adults' coat looks more hairy than woolly, and is a gray-ish brown, or possibly a brown-ish gray. On the other hand, the lambs are mostly pure black.

North of Grasmere, the main and only road rises to high-ish pass, beyond which lies Thirlmere, reservoir. The main road goes down the Eastern shore, but fortunately, there was a minor road down the Western shore which was much more peaceful.

North of lake, I veered Eastwards to Threlkeld. I visited its mining museum and was amazed to find out how many different types of minerals had been mined in the small area. It included a reproduction of the many types of old mines in the area that was quite labyrinthine. I would recommend the place to the paternal unit except he would end up annoying the guide with his lame "hacking and hewing" references.

There seemed to be some sort of bike event going on between Keswick and Penrith and I was in the company of other cyclists for a few miles. Some of them were in shorts and spandex only, and I was tempted to ask if they weren't freezing.

From Scales, I veered Northwards over a Common with grazing sheep and small horses/ponies. It was very rough and empty country. Wondering about possible overgrazing, I checked the Common's bylaws which posted at the far end. I didn't find anything about grazing rights but I was a little surprised that I had broken one of the by-laws by singing. Luckily, no one else was about.

After leaving the Commons, the landscape pulled a switcheroo and became tidily English rural splendour. After carefully navigating a succession of lanes and minor roads, I got on a major-ish road (B5299) that was signposted into Carlisle. Nearing outskirts, I got on a bike path that was part of the National Cycle Network (no. 7, the Reivers) that led into the centre of the city but then rather disappeared on me. I eventually had to ask a clerk in a Staples outlet where I actually was on my map.

After finding my B&B and showering, I dined in an Indian restaurant as well as entered in the day's mileage into my notes. It had been a bloody hard day but I had only done about 81.36 km, only 2 more than my estimate. I attribute the difficulty to the headwinds and the very cool temperatures. Still, the weather has been very pretty if not warm!

I am very much enjoying my day off. But tomorrow, Scotland!

Oh, the volcano is still making a fuss.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Too late, too late. I should have remembered. You might have had a free bed with Alison, the horses' help, who lives in Penrith. Phooey, she would have been glad to see you!

Ah well.

I see you will have fairly good weather tomorrow. Not so sure about afterwards. Love, Mummy