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Lake District Adventures - A Summer Weekend

The sun shined. And then it rained, and rained and rained before returning to glorious blue skies and warm sunshine again. So it was coats on, coats off, coats on, etc. A typical weekend for us in the Lake District but this time with the added surprise of the moody teenager vomiting out of the car window. More on that later. Nor did we visit any actual lakes, only seeing them in snatched glimpses through trees as we drove past. But it was still a weekend that we enjoyed immensely as we like nothing more than being surrounded by the hills, the breathtaking scenery and a visit to a beer garden or two.

As the moody teen had a training day on the Friday, we thought it would be nice to head off on a little camping adventure. Searching online for availability, I couldn't believe that all the places we wanted to go to were already booked up and this was two months in advance of our trip. Eventually I found a site that had looked ideal and booked it. However, I'd not properly researched where it was located and that the most direct route to it was over the notorious Hardknott Pass. When the penny dropped I knew that the husband wouldn't be best pleased as he's driven that route twice before and had vowed never to do it again. (I waited until he'd had a couple of glasses of wine before I told him....). However, there is an alternative route, which in terms of miles is quite a bit longer but in terms of time, about the same as driving over the Pass. It's still a twisty, hilly, passing place kind of a drive, but certainly less stressful and blood pressure raising than the pass. He grudgingly agreed to do it and I had to agree to not booking anywhere again without checking with him first.......

First up on our mini adventure was a visit to Allan Bank, a National Trust property in Grasmere. Unless you have a blue badge, you have to park the car in the village and then walk up a little hill near the Miller Howe Cafe (we asked in the National Trust shop in Grasmere for directions). Once home to William Wordsworth and the National Trust's founder Canon Rawnsley, the house is only partly restored and all the more special for it. It has a laid back charm and fully encourages everyone to use the house as a space to create, to inspire and play in. From painting projects, reading, bird or red squirrel watching to playing a board game on the big table and all in front of huge glass windows that allow you to take in those spectacular vistas. Perfect for families in all weathers too. Outside you can wander in the woodland, ride a rope swing, follow the nature trail or even indulge in a game of badminton. There is a pretty kitchen garden too. 

Inside there is a help yourself to tea and coffee (or squash/water) for a small donation and you can choose from a beautiful selection of vintage cups and saucers. Then make yourself comfortable in the old kitchen or any other room you fancy and take in more of the stunning fells that inspired so many artists and writers. You can even take a picnic of your own to the house and eat it inside. 

Heading from Grasmere we called in once more at the fantastic Chesters By The River at Skelwith Bridge for lunch.  This place is a gem in the heart of the Lake District with great food (all vegetarian/vegan), a gorgeous shop full of lifestyle products and a newly opened bakery at the rear. We loaded up on flatbreads for lunch (spinach, artichoke and pine nuts for me)  before perusing the shop and the bakery, buying a few goodies to take home with us and some fresh sourdough for breakfast the next day.

Finally we headed off on the last part of our journey to the campsite that would be our home for the next couple of days.  The drive was fairly challenging with lots of twisty, steep hills and passing places, the scenery utterly breathtaking.  We stayed at Eskdale Campsite, near the village of Boot, close to Wast Water and Scafell Pike.  Not having a tent of our own anymore (it never got over the Green Man Festival of 2012 which also put me off camping at festivals for life), we've been opting to stay in glamping accommodation rather than buying another tent. This time we were in a camping pod which has nothing in it other than a little heater, so you have to bring your own camping gear. The pods are in a little woodland clearing and close to all the facilities - proper toilets, hot showers, a drying and washing up room. The campsite has a little shop which sells essentials and also offers a cool-pack lending service. You can get coffee and tea in there and make some toast for breakfast too. Outside there are swings and a little play area for kids as well as a trampoline. The campsite was busy with walkers, tourists and families all making the most of the Summer weather, but it never felt crowded or noisy. We enjoyed having our meals on the deck and were frequently joined by robins and blackbirds looking for crumbs and on several occasions there were wild rabbits feasting and sunbathing in the grass. The Pod was lovely and cozy at night (I hate being cold camping) and we enjoyed our stay in it so much. At £45.50 per night, no matter what time of year you camp, it's really good value for money too. It's definitely a site I'd return to again and again. 

Having spent a lot of Friday in the car, we decided to have a day on foot. We headed off to explore the Eskdale Valley and started with a beauty of a walk in the woods as part of the Eskdale Trail. I gathered wildflowers, we watched butterflies and dragonflies and hung out with the Herdys. We met only a handful of people out on our walk, one of which was an elderly lady who was striding with purpose through the fields heading towards the village. She certainly looked like she knew where she was going and as we were a little lost, we followed slowly behind her. Eventually we found ourselves back in Boot and it was time for lunch. 

Only a few hundred yards down the road from the campsite is Dalegarth Station for Boot. It's the final destination of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway, a seven mile stretch of line that begins at the only coastal village in the Lake District and winds through the hills before reaching Dalegarth.  The station is also home to the Fellbites cafe where we ordered toasted paninis and a side order of chips for lunch. We enjoyed sitting outside on the platform in the warm sunshine watching the little train coming and going. It was always busy and one carriage even had the cutest little first class VIP compartment that a couple were relaxing in with a bottle of fizz. The elderly lady we had seen striding with purpose earlier was on the train too and I like to think that's her using local transport. Can you imagine catching the steam train to work or to do your shopping? Dogs are allowed to go on the train too and it was fun watching them board. The cafe is open early for breakfast and have a simple menu that caters for vegetarians well. 

We then meandered through the village of Boot and enjoyed an ice cream at the village shop before wandering some more on the hills. Thirsty, we returned to enjoy a local beer in the garden at The Boot Inn (where the food looked amazing) and whiled away an hour in the sunshine. The three of us talked about how much we loved the Eskdale Valley and that we definitely need to return to explore more and for longer. It's a really special place, a little quieter than the other Lakeland spots but perfect for walking and I'm so glad I booked the stay without knowing anything about the area. We headed back to the campsite to make tea and got there in the nick of time as the heavens opened and the rain came belting down, not stopping for several hours. We went to bed, tired but happy and awoke on Sunday morning to beautiful sunshine.

After a quick breakfast we packed up and headed off once more on the twisty road to Hawkshead. At this point the moody teen turned green and we couldn't find anywhere to stop. (I'd like to apologise to the people in the car behind who may have witnessed something unpleasant on that particular Sunday morning). Thankfully he felt a bit better after that and we were able to continue on to our destination. Arriving in Hawkshead we parked the car and went to find out how to get to Hill Top, once the home of Beatrix Potter. The very helpful lady in the National Trust shop advised us it would take an hour to walk there and on a very busy road and it might be better to catch the little bus instead. We opted to do this and caught the Mountain Goat service which dropped us off right outside Hill Top, the driver informing the passengers of the sights along the way. Parking at Hill Top can be extremely difficult, so my advice is to definitely get the bus which runs frequently from Hawkshead and also connects with the ferry that you can catch from Windermere. 

I've been hoping to visit Hill Top for several years and I'd looked forward to seeing Beatrix's garden so much. The winding path that leads to the house has the most beautiful perennial bed that is divided up the centre with a rustic wooden fence used as a support for all the climbing roses. Bursting with pinks, yellows and blues, it was a stunning feature at the start of what promised to be a great visit. Sadly I was wrong. Hill Top although beautiful, was disappointing for me. It was simply way too busy. Although there is a timed ticket entry for the house the sheer number of people meant you couldn't get near anything. It's also tiny and really dark inside. The garden was packed and a coach party from abroad dominated the space with one gentleman even blowing out of one nostril what could only be described as a 'snot rocket' into Beatrix's flower bed, ahem. I'm pretty sure she would not have approved. Sadly, the visit felt lacking and if you want to see a really beautiful garden in the Lakes in Summer then I recommend Brantwood instead. I'd like to return to Hill Top and try to see it properly, but it would have to be at a quieter time of year. We returned to Hawkshead via the Mountain Goat bus once more before setting off on the journey home to Yorkshire. But I left a little piece of my heart once more in the Lake District. x

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