OK, let’s get this out of the way. This holiday is not what it was supposed to be. We had hired a cameprvan, a classic VW to nomadically wander the Scottish highlands, islands and wild camp. Except the campervan company went bust 3 weeks before we were due to hire it, now Van Life and the North Coast 500 will have to wait. Instead we are now forced to take a holiday elsewhere. We’ve come to the Lake District instead.
I’ve taken Mrs C tomb raiding across Egypt inside the pyramids at Giza, I’ve taken her snowmobiling across a frozen lake in the Arctic Circle, so where does she choose when the campervan company goes bust? The Lake District; where old people come to die. I’m convinced it’s a place where 76 year olds go, not where 46 year olds should be going. I don’t care that 15 million people visited the Lake District last year, and I don’t care in the same way we have an ageing population.
In fact, the only thing that seems to have swung it is the lure of a hot tub that comes with the premium lodge. Creative advertising being what it is, I interpreted this as a static caravan with some decking and an outdoor bath. Turns out the premium lodge actually turned out to be premium, plusher and posher than our home, surrounded with the snowy summits of Blencathra in the distance.
Having immediately dismissed the idea of a Wainwright walk, we didn’t want to be daft as daffodils or wander lonely as a cloud up the top of Hellvelyn, especially as we don’t any gear or any idea.
We opted for a more gentler walk around Aria Force and Ullswater. Except we got the wrong car park and our gentle walk ended up as a 2 hour ramble stumbling over daffodils and wondering what our words would be worth be worth (Wordsworth – see what I did there!) shouting for help under the roar of Aria Force waterfall.
Next up, we arrive at Castlerigg Stone Circle. Castlerigg is on a small hill surrounded by great views of Blencathra and snow topped Helvellyn. There are 38 stones here, 30 metres in diameter built around 3000 BC during the Neolithic age where our friends in Egypt were drawing up rather more grand designs while we rolled some rocks up a hill. Still, I suppose they had better weather for it.
Being a little bit of a misanthrope* (*huge), we head out away from the crowds for a smaller atmospheric lake at Buttermere. Taking the road from Keswick to Buttermere, a look on Google Maps suggests this is impossible as the single track road is festooned with 7 million parked cars parked up as those 15 million tourists I mentioned seem to have all visited on the same day. Luckily for us, we’ve come along when there’s been rain lashing and winds howling. A calm and serene view this is not, we don’t get to see a mirror glazed lake surface, we get to see Buttermere being battered and The Lone Tree awfully lonely. People told us we would be blown away by the Lake District, we didn’t think they’d mean it. We were forced to take shelter in the nearby pub.
We’ve got a new car to put through its paces and it just so happens that nearby we have Hardknott Pass. This is the steepest road in Britain with a 33% gradient and a heart-stopping series of steep sharp bends. It’s exactly the type of road that Jeremy Clarkson and his band of fuckwits would love to roar across except you can’t go fast unless you tumble off the side or unless you want Clarkson and his fuckwits to tumble off. If I thought the road from RAF Mount Pleasant to Stanley in the Falklands was bad (it is, its still got mines on both sides of the road) then its nothing compared to this road. It only involved one set of tears, a ruined make-up face and a frayed marriage.
The Romans built a fort here. Hardknott fort, or the more snappily named Mediobogdum fort must have been the shittest posting ever. Quite what the Romans were thinking when they decided to set up shop here, god only knows. It’s a different scale of bleakness from Housesteads but does have a great view of Eskdale. Imagine being told to up-sticks from the cushy Dalmation coast to the farthest corner of the Roman Empire on some god forsaken island at the top of a windy summit. You’ve then had to lug up a load of rocks to build the Roman Fort yourself while fighting off the native Britons.
Wanting to preserve the sanctity of our marriage, we decided not to go the same way as we came in and headed off for the coast in the distance that you can see from the top of Hardknott Pass. A coastline blighted by the industrial complex of Sellafield. Walking along the beach at Seascale, I remind my wife that I still want to visit Chernobyl, even though I’m not a fan of nuclear power. You can’t see it, taste it or feel the radiation unless its the elephant’s foot standing on you or radiations burns which I am definitely suffering from though that may have been from the sun and not the nearby nuclear power station.
Our final day in the Lake District, so we did the most touristy thing that we could, we hired a boat at Windermere. She was called Jane, but that sounded a a bit plain Jane. So we renamed her. Observing the old maritime tradition of naming ships after women, I gave this a lot of thought. She was sleek with great lines and very sexy, therefore she was renamed the USS (Undignified Sailing Ship) Taylor Swift. A fine vessel indeed. Besides, this is probably the only chance I would get to enter Taylor Swift.
This is not quite Survive the Savage Sea that the Robertson family endured but we were quite nervous. The last time we were on a ship was in the Arctic Circle and that wasn’t exactly fun. Now equipped with a Captain’s hat, Captain Cook, the salty sea dog Lord Nelson and First Mate entered USS Taylor Swift. To convince ourselves we were in warmer climates like the Med and not the Lake District, we pushed the pedal to the metal (or pushed the lever to stern on the fibreglass hull) and played the theme tune to Miami Vice. Damn that rock and roll lifestyle. As if to mark the occasion, a Eurofighter gave us a flypast by former colleagues in the Air Force , so I gave it a fine naval salute. In fact, anything sailing passed had a salute thrown at it (old RAF habits die hard).
We got a super cheap price due to booking last minute so at least I could have a sit in the hot tub and suffer a midlife and existential crisis in comfort while looking up towards a dark sky and lots of stars to wonder how many other beings on other worlds were sat in hot tubs having an existential crisis and ruing their holiday choices. Clearly, the hot tub was the first great lake we dipped our toes in, in The Lake District, but not the last. We’ve had torrential torrents and scorching sun in our few short days in the Lake District but we’ve also had some fun.