Lake District Surprises

England’s Lake District felt like Vancouver—there was a lot of rain, which made the loss of a travel day because of our flat tire a little more bearable.

I wandered the one-street town of Torpenhow, marvelling at the quaintness of the houses, the street signs, and the melancholic beauty of the cemetery and old parish church that is still active today—St. Michael and All Angels.

This is the kind of town where being stuck without a car is rather inconvenient since the closest shop to walk to was a pub half an hour away. Needless to say, we were thankful once the car was fixed and we could get on the road to do some driving and hiking in the nearby Lake District.

Buttermere to Rannerdale Walk

When you only have 1 full day in the Lake District (not recommended), it’s hard to choose which hike to do! We opted for a version of this 2-hour route found on the National Trust website along the mountain ridge from the cute village of Buttermere to Rannerdale Valley.

The wind and rain were relentless. Note my hair whipped straight back from my hood. I’m cradling my stomach here as this was baby’s first hike (then just the size of an avocado). The large swath of purple below me is Rannerdale Valley filled with bluebells.

They don’t call this area the Lake District for no reason! The lake in the foreground is called Crummock Water (meaning “crooked”, referring to the lake’s shape) and Loweswater in the distance.

Sheep are everywhere in England, but this type below, Herdwick sheep, are native to the Lake District. Famous children’s author Beatrix Potter was known for keeping and herding them.

Despite the wind and rain, the hike was a blast, especially when we reached the fabulous bluebells that bloom in spring. May was a perfect time to see them. I found this legend interesting:

Sometimes known as the Secret Valley, this area is said to be the site of a battle at which native Cumbrians and Norsemen ambushed and defeated Norman armies in the century after they came to Britain in 1066. Rannerdale offers a popular bluebell walk in spring, when the woodland floor becomes an indigo carpet. Local folklore suggests that the bluebells have sprung up from the blood of slain Norman warriors.

National Trust website

We probably spent close to half an hour just wandering in and out of the bluebell paths and taking photos. I’ve never seen this concentration of flowers before. It felt a bit like we were in a fairy tale.

We learned that the weather in the Lake District changes all the time, so chances are some sun will poke through even on the dreariest days. (Though the rain adds such a moody, dramatic effect to the landscape that’s worth experiencing too!) We enjoyed some sun driving the scenic roads back to Keswick, the hub of the northern Lake District.

Before reaching Keswick (shown above), we detoured along a popular packhorse bridge called Ashness Bridge. Incredibly narrow, I had to get out of our boat-car to direct my husband through it. Thankfully we made it!

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Another gem in this area is Castlerigg Stone Circle, one of Britain’s earliest stone circles dating back to the Neolithic period (4000-500 years ago). I had been to Stonehenge 10 years ago, and even though that site was impressive, I enjoyed these stones so much more. For one, we had it almost all to ourselves. Number two, the setting is incredible. 38 stones sitting on a low hill, surrounded by mountains in the setting sun. Unbeatable. And three, the stones weren’t roped off like they are at Stonehenge, so you can actually walk right up to them and touch them.

Coming back to Torpenhow for our last night was magical. Sunset was spotlighting Scotland in the distance, across the Irish Sea, as we drove in on the single-track road to the soundtrack of bleating lambs and mooing cows.

We said goodbye to this fabulous view out our farmhouse window the next morning and headed for Scotland.

Hadrian’s Wall and an Unfortunate Event

What’s a road trip in a foreign country without some misadventures?

Continuing on from Durham, we drove along Hadrian’s Wall on our first day with the car or boat as my husband often referred to it (we were given a very large car, not ideal for UK’s narrow roads).

Unfortunately, you can’t see the wall from the road so you have to stop at designated attractions, such as Housesteads Roman Fort. This is the best example of a preserved Roman fort in England though and definitely worth a stop. You can walk among ruins of a hospital, barracks, and even see flushable toilets though we missed those. Hadrian built this wall in 122 CE as the northernmost frontier of his empire to separate the Romans from the “barbarians.”

We got there with less than of hour of the fort closing. After a long day of learning to drive on the other side of the street and all your senses on overdrive (pardon the pun), our priority was running along the wall and taking shots with our bright red umbrella (with some occasional meandering through the fort). We had it all to ourselves and look at those pastoral views!

Our end destination that day was a tiny town (and I mean tiny) called Torpenhow that lay just north of the Lake District. We arrived late at night because we got the first of two flat tires on our 10-day road trip. We think the tires were lemons because what we hit would not normally deflate a car’s tires, but in any case, we managed to make it to a gas station and waited a few hours for roadside assistance to rescue us and patch the tire enough so we could get to our Airbnb 20 minutes away. Apparently UK cars don’t have spare tires like Canadian ones do. Who knew? The next day, we had to bring the car in to Carlisle to get the tire replaced, eating up what precious time we had left in this scenic part of northern England.

All that to say, when we got to this Ivy Cottage in the smallest town I have ever visited, we were very much ready to pack it in for the night after eating our gas station dinner of canned soup and beans.