If you knew the Lake District, you'd probably say you can't get around much in a short period of time without a car. Well try me!
I love using public transportation, especially when I travel. Get in the car and get out again at your destination? How boring! What exchanges have you witnessed? What commentary do you have on the ways of the place you're passing through? However little I see in short visits, it is made richer (for me) if I travel alongside those who live there.
And so I ask my lovely hosts -- Angela and David -- if it's possible to see the other lake in a day trip. You know, the bigger lake. The one thought to be the grand dame of them all. I must admit, Angela a little bit frowned at that.
It may be possible, but I don't know if you can also fit in a hike while there.
I persevered. Let's look at the bus schedules.
Angela does that and comes back with the news that I'd have to take three separate buses to get to Lake Windermere.
And would it be easy to walk around, say, the town of Windermere?
Angela's frown grows even deeper. It's very touristy there, she tells me.
Point well taken. I study a book from her shelf -- an excellent little volume titled "Exploring the Lakes and the Low Fells." Maybe I don't have to go into Windermere, the town. There's a hike from Ambleside, just short of Windermere. I could try that.
We figure out the bus combinations: the 10:36 to Penrith, then the 11:15 to Keswick (don't pronounce the "w" in these English names!), then the 12:25 to Ambleside (which is the town just before Windermere).
The weather site tells me there may be rain. Fine. I take appropriate precautions. I smile at the sign in an English sporting good store in Keswick:
It is a beautiful set of bus routes. The first bus, from Pooley Bridge to Penrith, is nearly empty. I share the ride with local seniors going to the "big town" to shop, or in two cases, to visit the infirmary.
(Here's a Penrith update on the old red English phone booth!)
The second ride is lovely still, but we're picking up a few trekkers now.
The third ride is completely exasperating because only now do I learn that instead of purchasing individual tickets, I could have bought a day "explorer" and saved myself 15 pounds. Bummer summer. I learn.
That third ride -- from Keswick to Ambleside -- is also dominated by tourists. In fact, the bus fills with them.
I am in the Windermere region. I am in a different world! (Though the views out the window are very nice indeed.)
If I thought Pooley Bridge was a tad busy on Saturday and if I thought the half dozen tourists strolling about after the weekend felt "crowded," well now, I understood today that Pooley Bridge and Lake Ullswater are like an undiscovered sanctuary of peace and calm compared to the towns I pass through on my way to Lake Windermere. (Notably, Pooley Bridge does not have an ATM. That says it all, I think.)
Places I had been excited to see -- Grasmere, where Wordsworth lived for 14 years, believing it to be the "loveliest spot in the world," is thick with people and tour buses. Rydal, a hamlet favored by Wordsworth and his descendants, is an avenue of cafes and souvenir shops. Everything seems named for some aspect of the poet's life. It's like the significant elements of his existence have been immortalized in B&B names and eating venues.
My own Guest House host was right. It's different here.
I get off at Ambleside with some trepidation. Did I waste my precious day on coming here?
Let me interrupt this narrative with a little editorial insert. Here it is: if there is one Grimms fairy tale that drives me nuts as a parent of daughters and as a human being inhabiting this earth, it's Snow White. That whole shindig about "who is the fairest of them all?" should be stricken from a young child's thought process. I suppose in some way we all strive to find the beautiful, to be ourselves beautiful, to fill our world with elements of beauty, but must there be a hierarchy? Is there a best cheese (as the French would have it)? A finest wine? A loveliest flower? A better view? Is there? A dowdy dandelion looked so gorgeous around my chicken's legs one fine May morning. It moved me to take a photo and it remains one of my favorite cheeper photos. Possibly not yours, but you weren't there inhaling the beautiful spring air, so full of hope and warm sunshine and cheeper enthusiasm for every worm that crawled to the surface!
Okay, back to the narrative. Straightaway, I take out my hiking book and direct myself onto the trail and away from the "village" of Ambleside.
Follow along: please, just follow along. (It's a 3.5 hour hike, which I did in 3.25 hours only because I ran the last mile in order to catch the bus out of here; in any case, it will not take you 3.25 hours to follow along. Just look at the photos. They don't do justice, but they give a hint. It's not necessarily that it is a best view out there, but it is a damn good set of views!)
The book labels it as a difficult hike. True, it is a hellacious ascent, but I differentiate between strenuous (which you can always do slowly if you tire easily) and dangerous (which means steep drop offs, sheer cliffs, treacherous climbs etc). This was not dangerous.
I loved this hike. I loved every bit of it. Every view -- down to the town...
...up to the fells, and then, to Lake Windermere.
(oh wait, I should post the photo taken by a passerby, to commemorate this hike for me)
I loved the steep ascent and then the meandering path down, through "the Hundreds"...
...down to the walled on both sides Nanny Lane. Sweet name, no?
I loved the fact that the weather was perfect: warmer than yesterday, but still in the sixties, with bouts of sunshine, but never too much.
There isn't a single thing about the hike that I did not love. The sheep. Yes, I loved them too.
True, I felt I had to run the last thirty minutes. I passed every hiker out there. Run. Make the bus. Run. In the end, I worried for naught. I got to Ambleside in enough time to even visit a lovely cafe-restaurant (actually I dont quite know what it is, but it's delightful and when I'm in these parts again, I'll be sure to linger). Lucy's. I bought a scone for the ride back.
Would you like some clotted cream to go and some jam too? -- the young woman behind the counter asks.
Oh how delicious was her desire to give me the full deal! I would have loved to sit down and have what I have not had for decades! A tea with a scone with clotted cream and jam! (Ask my daughters: I have, over the years, recreated that ritual at home for them. The cream may not have been clotted, but the point was the same: in the afternoon, a tea with fresh scones -- I have the best recipe for them! -- and cream and jam, give you a minute to exhale. No troubles ever rise to the surface when you are pouring tea and smattering a scone with cream and just a touch of jam. I learned that early. I stuck by it for years.)
Still, there was no time for a "cream tea" today. I allowed her to pack some jam in with my freshly baked scone and I caught the series of buses back to my beloved, quiet Pooley Bridge.
I'm eating at the third pub tonight, where the food is equally pub-ish -- my Cumbrian roast chicken is fine, as are the boiled veggies. At home, across the quiet street, I'll enjoy the rest of my scone from Lucy's.