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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. I don’t even know what to see in the Lake District.

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. Looks like we’ll have to take it easy and have some lazy days in the Lake District

Lazy days in the Lake District with a hot tub holiday

What to see in the Lake District?

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, the first thing to see in the Lake Distract is common sense – definitely a sign of old age.

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.

Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District

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.

Sam and Nelson being battered at Buttermere in the Lake District

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 (Unsinkable Sailing Ship) Taylor Swift. A fine vessel indeed. Besides, this is probably the only chance I would get to enter Taylor Swift.

In command at the helm of the USS Taylor Swift. A fine vessel. Salty sea dog Lord Nelson looks out for pirates.

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.

The Northumberland Coast, a few days of extreme dog walking adventures in England’s least populated county at the edge of the empire in Northumberland, along the coast of Northumberland from Newbiggin to Berwick-upon-Tweed to Hadrian’s Wall.  A bit like the original tourists here, the Romans, and later, the Vikings, but with less colonising, raiding, raping, pillaging and plundering in the wild frozen barren desolation of the north as some would have us believe. While it may have some savage industrial remains, it also has miles of unspoilt sandy, beautiful beaches and a countryside of crenelated castles.

You know you’ve reached the north when you pass by the Angel of the North, or my wife as I sometimes call her, 200 tons of rusting iron guarding gracefully from Gateshead and where the lasses only put a coat on when its -10.

Sycamore Gap at Hadrian's Wall
Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall

 

Once again we’re stopping in a caravan to shelter us from the cold of the Northumberland coast. It’s not doing a very good job however. The skin  of the caravan is micro-millimeters thick and at nighttime, cold enough to convince any scientist that the big chill has set and the next ice age is well underway. You know those Royal Marines that do ice breaking drills in the Arctic? Try stepping out of the lukewarm shower into a cold caravan, this is a middle-aged man’s equivalent. Bravery indeed. The weather is gloriously sunny but deceptively cold with a vicious north easterly wind that bites at the face, doing a sterling job of trying to mask the damage from the glowing radiation burns that now adorn my crispy friend face.

Bamburgh Beach
Bamburgh Beach

 

Stopping at what we first thought was the inappropriately named Sandy Bay, as the beach appears anything but, as coal washes up, evidence of the savage industrialness that once dotted this coastline. That didn’t last long as the next wild wave from the windy sea swept in and swallowed it up. Newbiggin-by-the-sea is home to the sculpture in the sea of ‘Couple’ by Sean Henry, standing silently as the seas sprays over them. It’s as this point you realise that there is an awful lot of sea. Some say we should never have left the seas and this couple look like they’re about to suicide back into it.

Hadrian's Wall at Steel Rigg
Hadrian’s Wall at Steel Rigg

 

Craster is an unspoiled fishing village with a fine view and walk along a boulder strewn coast to the romantic ruins of 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle. In the distance we can see Bamburgh Castle. Banburgh, once the ancient capital of Northumbria is a small village with the castle rising majestically off one of the finest beaches in all of the UK. We’ve been to many fine beaches from Wales to Cornwall to Scotland and a deserted Bamburgh beach would truly take some beating.

Housesteads
Housesteads

 

From here we head to Lindisfarne, Holy Island, accessible only when the tide is out (check the tide times here).  Today, Lindisfarne is still a small settlement, easily walkable in only a few hours. We decided on a stroll to Lindisfarne Castle currently undergoing heavy renovations and quite typically when we visit anywhere, surrounded by scaffolding (like everywhere in Italy).  The last destination of our Northumberland coast trip is to Berwick-upon-Tweed, an English town on a Scottish river, testament to its history swapping 14 times before finally being conceded to English hands in 1482.

Lord Nelson on the beach at Bamburgh
Lord Nelson on the beach at Bamburgh

 

No visit to Northumberland is complete without a walk on the wall.  For some its a crumbly old ruin, for others, Hadrian’s Wall marks the edge of an Empire, the most northern border of the Roman Empire. In AD122, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. 73 miles of wall up to 15 feet high to keep out the Scottish barbarians I described not so long back and it was built in only 6 years. I’ve seen brand new houses crumble in less than that time, just remember that next time you call the bloody Romans and what they’ve ever done for us. We’ve visited Broclitia at the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, the fortress at Housesteads, Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap for some stunning and familiar film scenery.

Newbiggin beach shell creature

 

Not that our knees enjoyed the steep walk. After climbing the first steep hill, we’ve immediately dismissed the idea of an extreme walking holiday in Nepal and vowed for the 13 millionth time to get fit. Sun-burnt, with our backs plastered with sweat, we can only speak to each with a series guttural grunts. This is not the glamorous and glorious walk I envisaged, it’s endurance not enjoyment and only enthusiasm carries us through. Extreme is in the eye of the beholder and we are now extremely tired…

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