Travel

Scotland: The Lake District

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The Lake District is not actually in Scotland, but our visit to the region was a continuation of our Scotland travels. A national park, in Cumbria northwest England, the Lake District is just a stones throw across the border from Scotland. Our travel group was based in Penrith for four nights while we explored the region.

The Lake District – Penrith

Penrith is a sizeable town just outside of the national park and it proved to be a good base for our exploration of the Lake District. Although we didn’t have much time to explore the town, we did manage to find one of our favorite coffee shops and an excellent bakery. It can be said we have a gift for finding noteworthy bakeries wherever we go. Our four night stay at The George Hotel proved to be quite comfortable; a bit of an old world experience dating back to 1597. If those walls could talk!

The George Hotel lounge
An Evening in Penrith

A local Penrith pub, The Loft, was the setting for one of our favorite evenings of entertainment while based in Penrith; storytelling with Taffy Thomas. In 2009, he was awarded the position of the first laureate storyteller in the UK. He was witty, wise and gracious with wonderful stories to share. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Lake Ullswater

Never let it be said we are not up for an adventure, no matter the weather. It’s not an exaggeration to say the weather in Scotland and northern England is unpredictable at best. You know the old saying, wait 15 minutes and the weather will change? Yep. It fits, and it’s all about wearing layers.

A boat ride across Lake Ullswater was one of our first adventures in the Lake District. It was cold, windy and rainy, but with a little imagination we knew that on any given sun-filled day, the same trip would be glorious. Lake Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District National Park. Second in size to Lake Windermere, which was not only large, but equally beautiful.

See Abi?

The lake is about seven miles long, and there is a 20-mile walking trail circling the lake. Visitors to Lake Ullswater can enjoy camping, (and cabin rentals) kayaking, canoeing and hiking. Apparently, there is a secret beach as well. Let us know if you know where it is! Visitors can also find nearby villages for shops, eateries and galleries.

Pasties & Pencils in Keswick

One of those nearby villages was Keswick, which was our lunch stop. Gail, our guide, sent us on our way to explore the town and have lunch – and fun! Dodging the rain drops we made our way to the center of the town where we found Cornish Bakery. Remember I said we have a gift for finding noteworthy bakeries?

Hungry for a bit of lunch we decided it was time to try a pasty or two. Yum! We thoroughly enjoyed a cauliflower and potato, and a beef with veggies. Dessert was a wonderful almond croissant, coffee for Abi and chai for me. It was the perfect English spot of lunch.

Fortified we once again set out to explore a bit. We found a shop sporting our grandson’s name, and we took a quick self-guided tour through a pencil museum. Because, well, how often can one visit a pencil museum?

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Back on the bus we made our way east of Keswick up into the hills to visit the Castlerigg Stone Circle. By this time it was absolutely pouring rain, but we didn’t let it stop us. And, along our way we finally spotted a few highland cows. Wouldn’t you know it they were in England, not Scotland?

What I don’t know about stone circles could fill a book, but they are mystical to say the least. Apparently, Castlerigg Stone Circle dates back to 3000 BC. When I think of such things, people walking around and living their lives 1,000’s of years ago, I find it somewhat unfathomable. So, when we visit places such as Castlerigg or Jedburgh Abby, I find it all fascinating.

What I can tell you about the stones is that they are indeed mystical, even more so with the mist on the surrounding hills. Much like our boat ride on Ullswater Lake, I can imagine the landscape of the stones on a sun-filled day would be spectacular. But, I have to say seeing them in the rain and mist was magical.

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall. It’s been way up high on my must see list ever since our friends at A Change in Longitude walked the 84-mile trek. An 84-mile trek that is high on our must walk list. Visiting Hadrian’s Wall did not disappoint, it was awe-inspiring. I must admit we crept away from the park guide’s history talk so we could walk a few steps up the hill and feel the wonder of being there. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Roman’s way back in 122 AD. Think about that for a moment. The Roman’s built a wall that stood 15′ high, nearly 2,000 years ago.

Standing there, touching the rocks of the wall, and climbing a short way up the hill, was truly a gift. We loved it and we genuinely hope to return sooner than later to take on the trek. If we can walk 350 miles across Spain, we can certainly take on 84 miles.

Vindolanda

Just down the road and a bit south from Hadrian’s Wall is the on-going archaeological site of Vindolanda; a Roman Fortress. Roman’s occupied the fort from 85 AD to 370 AD, approximately. It is estimated that only 27% of the site has been excavated and excavations will carry on for another 150 years. Crazy, huh?

Our Hadrian’s Wall guide was also with us at Vindolanda and he was a wealth of knowledge. We stayed with him as his knowledge was vast and so interesting. It makes such a difference visiting historic sites when the history is shared by someone in the know. Alongside the fort there was also a village. What we found extraordinary was the daily lives of the Roman soldiers and the villagers.

Doctors were practicing cataract surgery. There were bath houses, gyms, butcher shops, everything one would expect to see in daily life. But this was 2,000 years ago. An excellent museum sits adjacent to the ruins. The exhibits include shoes, yes, shoes! And, children’s shoes. The writing tablets, the oldest surviving tablets in Britain, are extraordinary.

Women Before Their Time

One of my absolute favorite aspects of travel is being able to walk in the path of those who came before us. Especially women who made a difference; who had a story. As our time in the Lake District was coming to an end, there were two more highlights. Grasmere Gingerbread and Hilltop, the home of Beatrix Potter. Like so many other experiences during our time traveling with Scotland Folk Tours, we had never heard of Grasmere Gingerbread. But Hilltop, now that I knew and keenly looked forward to.

Sarah Nelson was definitely a woman before her time. I found her story empowering and moving, and her Gingerbread is quite tasty! In need of providing for her family, Sarah took the bold step of quitting her employment and starting her own business of baking and selling gingerbread from her tiny cottage kitchen in 1854. One hundred seventy years later Sarah’s gingerbread is synonymous with the picturesque village of Grasmere. My carry-on bag was considerably heavier on our flight home as we bought gingerbread for all.

Sarah’s gingerbread is a bit chewy and spicy with a crumble top.
Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter is probably best known as the author of The Tales of Peter Rabbit as well as all of his cute forest friends. However, Beatrix was so much more, she was definitely a woman before her time. She bought Hilltop farm as a retreat from city life. In Victorian days women didn’t leave home before they married. Beatrix’s fiance was her publisher, but he sadly passed away before they married. Years later she did marry and she and her husband, William Heelis a solicitor, farmed Hilltop.

More, or equally so, important to her than her writing, Beatrix was an environmentalist and a farmer. Along with the income from the 60+ books she wrote, Beatrix realized the benefit of merchandising her work and how she could make a difference with the profits. She actually hand stitched the first Peter Rabbit stuffed animal. At the time of her death, Beatrix donated 4,000 acres of land she had acquired over the years to the National Trust, thus ensuring the incredible beauty of the Lake District would live on.

Back to the Beginning

Our time in the Lake District came to the end, as did our time traveling with Scotland Folk Tours. A return trip to Stirling brought us back to the beginning. It was an exceptional experience; seeing so much of Scotland we didn’t even know existed.

  • Click HERE to watch our Scotland and Lake District video highlights.

We said our good-byes and wished everyone well before heading to the Stirling train station. We were bound for Glasgow and Edinburgh. Stay tuned!

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