Sunday, 10 June 2012

Off to the land of Beatrix Potter...

Brian didn't grow up reading or watching The Tales of Beatrix Potter, so he never understood when I spoke of my love for Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy Fisher.  He soon became acquainted with all things Peter Rabbit, however, when we took our anniversary trip to The Lake District, home and inspiration for Beatrix's tales.

The Lake District is a national park in Cumbria, North West England.  It was only a 3-hour drive from Edinburgh, so seemed the perfect vacation spot for our 3-yr Anniversary trip.  National parks in the UK are very much different than parks in the States, however.  The parks are essentially just outlined areas on a map, enclosing the  moors or dales or peaks, or in our case, lakes!  Within the park are little towns and farmland.  Hiking (or 'hill-walking') trails are "marked" (I'll get to that later!) with small wooden signs, but as property laws are different over here, the paths run through farm land, across roads and onto peoples' land.  About any place you look you can find a wooden 'Public Foot Path' doesn't however mean that it's the path you're looking for!

Brian climbing over a sheep farm fence, ready to start a hike.

Coniston Water; one of the Lake Districts many lakes!

View from a day hike.  Note the grey/brown sheep with white faces.  These are  Herdwick sheep.  They were used in many Beatrix Potter books, as well as she dedicated much land to help preserve the rare, local breed.

Breaking in those LL Bean boots!
We spent two nights at a Bed and Breakfast, thanks to a groupon deal, and two nights camping at the base of Sca Fell Pike, England's highest peak.  During the days we set off armed with our Bean Boots and rain coats.  Between hikes we visited the quaint towns (Ambleside is adorable!!) and enjoyed cream tea!  Brian even tried his first taste of Lemon curd!  I've got him hooked!! It ended up being a wonderful long-weekend, and the Lake District was much more impressive than we had anticipated.  We hadn't expected the hills and views and give us such a sense of awe after having done are cross-country trips last year through The Badlands, Death Valley, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the Grand Canyon!  We quickly realized that we were mistaken, however, and the colors and views (when the clouds lift!) were spectacular! It was amazing how remote we felt, being just a few hours outside of Edinburgh and other large cities.
Frith Hall ruins.

Rolling landscape of the Lake District.

Wasdale Valley and Wastwater
Hiking up into the clouds!
  One drizzling morning Brian and I couldn't decide on what hike to do for the day.  We were far from the main roads, at our campsite in Wasdale Valley.  Driving the curvy, narrow roads, lined with hedgerows, where people go FLYING down, was not an option.  It was enough driving a manual transmission on the other side of the road (the clutch is still on the left, but the stick is too!) but I couldn't take another day of my stomach doing flip-flops when locals would speed by!  So...on a whim, after a little cranky fit from me, we decided an impromptu climb up Sca Fell Pike, the tallest peak in England (but not the UK;  Scotland's Ben Nevis holds that title.)  Off we set, among the crowds of people decked out in climbing gear and trekking poles.  We hiked in our jeans and carried only our camera, a bag of peanuts, dates and a sleeve of 'Nice' shortbread biscuits.  I'm sure we looked like real amateurs, but we soon proved that just because you're wearing expensive climbing pants does not mean we won't pass you and leave you in our dust!!
We made it to the top of Sca Fell Pike.

We're about to realize we're lost!
 Like all of our adventures, however, we ran into our fair share of trouble!  I take full blame for the first incident!  We made it 3/4 of the way through the hike just fine.  We followed the guidebook for the walk, but once we finished the second page, I thought the instructions were done and packed the book away.  We then never saw the note to "ignore the public foot path sign to the right and continue straight to the clearing where the trail will continue on the left."  Whoops.  After we hiked a good 30 min on we both decided something was wrong, but as we found another 'public footpath' sign we had continued on.  They really should mark the foot path signs with colors or trail names or something since they all cross each other so many times!  Finally, we consulted the map and it seemed like we were on the right path (but only because we were mistaking the river we crossed and the stream on the map!)  I told Brian my internal compass told me we had to continue towards 2 o-clock; and, let's face it, it's normally right on!  Brian then discovered my mistake in the guidebook and told me my internal compass needed to be recalibrated because I was 180 degrees off, and we needed to head back down towards 8 o-clock.  About an hour later, we made it back to our car, and I was no longer the sole directions-reader of the trip.
Taking in the glorious views (and looking for where we came from!)
 I take no responsibility for our second snag, though!  I blame England for this one!  There are two routes up  Sca Fell Pike (again something I did not realize until we were on the mountain.)  For most of the hike, though, you're following a single-file trail of people and thus it's impossible to get lost.  When the path split, we decided to follow the climbers that looked the most confident and legit, as they were obviously heading up the tallest peak rather than any of the surrounding hills!  Well, this assumption was right and it did lead us up Sca Fell Pike, but only after climbing on our hands up vertical mounds of rocks/mud.  Coming back down this route was not going to be a possibility unless we wanted to cause a rock slide as we scooted down on our arses. :)  Once we got to the top, though, we re-joined many of the other less-intense climbers, who obviously knew there was an easier trail leading to the top.  This trail was the one we needed to take down!
Hiking into Mordor :)

Navigating through the mist and rocks trying to come back down Sca Fell
The trail leading down was straight out of Lord of the Rings...but more the misty, scary Mordor side of the things.  During some parts I could barely see the outline of Brian in front of me!  You relied on piles of rocks people had left and distant voices to keep the trail.  When we finally got below the cloud line and looked into the valley below, however, we realized we couldn't see our Wastwater lake.  We couldn't see anything we recognized.  We had take one of the many unmarked paths that wrapped around and was leading us down the wrong side of the mountain!  WHY ARE NONE OF THE TRAILS MARKED BY NAME!  or at least with a "5km to Wasdale!"  Brian had suggested we return to the summit to try again, but I made it very clear that UP WAS NOT AN OPTION! This time we used both Brian's and my disfunctional internal compass to make a choice each time the trail split.  Over each little peak we'd say, "we'll be able to see Wastwater from here, I'm sure!"  And each time we were wrong!  The journey home was beautiful, even though it was definitely not as planned! Somehow, we eventually popped out by the inn near our campsite, so we settled in for some Lake District microbrews and good bar grub to celebrate our return!
Happily back in Wasdale Valley after seeing much more of it than anticipated!

Look at the rock walls in the background!  How did they make then going  at such a steep angle.  Very impressive!

 This trip definitely has excited us to get out and explore all the different areas of the England, but it also reminded us how very little we've seen of Scotland!  Hopefully I'll be able to post pictures of Inverness/Loch Ness and Oban and the Isle of Skye before too long!
Sun shining!! 

Early morning calm on the Wastwater

Castlerigg Stone Circle; No one knows it's true origin but there are many theories about  Druids and sacrifices and calendars and religious purposes.

View from Devoke Water

Devoke Water, Eskdale, Cumbria

My new 'stashe

Old boathouse on Devoke Water

Exams are now done, and I'm very happy to report that I have quite successfully completed my first year of vet school!!  The rest of the summer is filled with gaining experience with a variety of different animal species (tomorrow starts my week on an intensive poultry farm, complete with white hooded jumpsuits straight out of the movie Outbreak) and then I can't wait to have a nice long visit with the family on my turf!!

Hope you all are well!

PS-This is my most recent creation.  I couldn't find a bison pattern so I made 1/2 an elephant and 1/2 my own pattern.  A little bit of Americana for the mantle!