In October 2013 I had a feature published in the (sadly now defunct) Disability Now. I’m unable to link to the original piece that featured on their old website, so I thought I’d share the feature here. The photos are my own which were also published with the piece.
Lake District – Land of Wood, Stone and Water
Holidays with the parents aren’t always the best. But three nights in the Lake District during the Easter holidays was a perfect get-away from my university work, and I didn’t mind being there with the ‘rents and my sister. In fact, I find it hard to imagine going to the Lakes without them.
We stayed with my late gran. A few times every year, until she passed away a couple of months ago, we’d visit her. Her house in Morecambe Bay offered beautiful views of the estuary, and was a great base for exploring the Lake District.
On the first full day we headed north to the market town of Keswick. The hour’s drive took us along the boat-speckled waters of Lake Windermere, onwards past the lakes Rydal Water and Grasmere, and then soon we were snaking by mountains high on either side.
Just 1.5 miles to the east of Keswick is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle. I’d been once before, but, this time armed with a camera, I persuaded the others that another visit was needed.
Castlerigg is one of the oldest stone circles in Britain. Believed to date from around 3000 BC, no one knows exactly why this Neolithic site was built. Of course, plenty of theories abound – was it a place of ritual and spiritual ceremony, or a trading spot, or used for astronomical studies of the sun, moon and stars, or something else entirely? One thing is for sure – it’s a stunning place to visit.
Its 38 stones stand on the plateau of a small hill, surrounded by fields which grow into a panorama of rugged mountains. This breath-taking location means that, despite its popularity with tourists, it has an almost otherworldly atmosphere.
This time, there were at least a dozen other people at Castlerigg. Some stayed briefly, while a few families braved the damp ground for a picnic. I spotted a man slouched between two of the stones, scribbling into a notepad – I like to think he was penning an epic poem!
I joined the many others engrossed in photographing the circle and its surroundings. I told my impatient sister that being partially sighted was why I had to take so many photos, as the camera screen is tricky to see which makes it harder for me to tell if I’ve taken a decent snap. Conveniently, this also gave me plenty of time to slowly soak in Castlerigg’s atmosphere.
An hour and over a hundred photos later, I managed to drag myself away – much to my family’s delight – and it was on to the gentle bustle of Keswick town centre.
After devouring a tasty lunch at the Lakeland Pedlar vegetarian café, we went for a wander, mainly along the main pedestrianized street. A handful of high-street chains punctuate Keswick’s range of independent shops, market stalls and cafés. It was worth a look, but after half an hour I was ready to go. Perhaps I’m too used to city life.
The Coniston area is a place we’d go to pretty much every time we were in the Lake District. Ominous grey clouds on the second day meant we gave our near-obligatory picnic on Coniston Water’s pebbled shore a miss. Instead, after my aunt’s recommendation, we headed to the Brantwood Estate.
Resting on the north east side of Coniston Water, Brantwood is the former home of the Pre-Raphaelite writer, artist and social critic John Ruskin.
Ruskin lived from 1819 to 1900, producing vast and varied works ranging from paintings to travel writing to critical pieces on art, architecture and social concerns, to mention just some!
The earlier clouds had mostly cleared when we arrived. “Typical,” muttered my dad. “We should’ve brought a picnic after all”. The emerging sunlight brightened our view from Brantwood over verdant green fields, the north end of the lake, and onwards to the Coniston Fells. I preferred this to shivering on the shore for the sake of our picnic tradition.
We paid the £7.20 each to visit the house and gardens. The house tour starts with a short video introducing us to Ruskin, then we were free to wander around the rest of the house, which brims with Ruskin’s possessions. I could imagine sitting in the study, gazing out of the large window at the view. No wonder Ruskin was so inspired to write!
I had studied Ruskin earlier that year during my degree. Being there in his old house, the floorboards softly creaking as we stepped around, transformed him from a name of lecture rooms and library books into someone who was once very real.
Afterwards, it was time for a coffee and decadent slice of chocolate cake from the Jumping Jenny Café. The café is part of the Estate, but is open to everyone, so there’s no need to pay the entrance fee for the house and gardens if you’re just after a cuppa. The weather was much better now, and we managed to find a table on the café’s busy terrace. Enjoying a drink and cake alfresco while being stroked by the warm tug of the spring breeze, and the gentle chatter of others is abraded by wild bird calls… This was definitely the relaxing break I needed.
On our last day it was time for another old favourite: Grizedale Forest.
Grizedale is near the village of Hawkshead and stretches between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. Several paths for both walkers and cyclists string the forest. This time, we took the Ridding Wood Trail. The mile-long path (which is wheelchair accessible) took us past many of the forest’s sculptures –there are over 60 dotted throughout Grizedale.
It was rarely quiet the whole time we were there – the Easter holidays equals busy! Yet the heady scent of earth lingering in the warm air made it feel so beautifully detached from the rest of the world. Bliss.
Suddenly, I heard a tuneful thud from nearby, then another, and another… The forest xylophones! An old home video shows a three-year old me curiously hitting the rows of giant logs. So of course I had another go. It was still great fun, and my sister quickly joined me. Then she noticed the kids behind us waiting to try, and we valiantly abandoned composing our musical masterpiece.
Red and doe deer roam the forest, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Apparently buzzards, red kites, barn owls, foxes and badgers dwell there too, though the closest we got to wildlife was the geese that made a beeline for our picnic at the first rustle.
The Lakeland landscape makes it seem a timeless place. The mountains stand as if familiar, reliable friends; unchanging in a hectic world. I keep enthusiastically telling my partner we should visit the Lake District. Staying in a B&B rather than at my gran’s, and not having my parents and sister with me means it’s going to seem odd. Will I drag my boyfriend through Grizedale and other places I already know? Or is it time to explore another part of the Lake District?
Either way, it’s a magical place in which to escape.