, 02.02.2008. The radio alarm sounds. "Groooan!" - streeeetch - CRACK! I have just turned precisely 29 years and 2 hours old. It's my birthday. "WOO-HOO!" CRICK! Man, things crack a whole load more at 29 than they used to... is this the right time to be going on a hiking trip?!
No time to contemplate the ravages of age. Cards are read, presents are opened and a smile adorns my face as I hop into the car for my trip up to the Lakes. The radio greets me with meteorological tales of woe, the country having been beset by high winds, storms, frost and snow throughout the night. A ferry has been capsized in the Irish Channel and the first local newspaper sandwich board I will later sight will announce ominously "STORMCHAOSHITSLAKES!" .
Back to the Future... all outta juice! I burn it up and out-strip Doc Brown & Marty McFly's DeLorean DMC on the motorway. "Eat my dust time-travellers!!!"
Car defrosted, I am off up the M6 motorway and it seems that even Doc Brown's famous DeLorean GMC-12 has managed to flunk out on it's Flux-capacitor in the bad weather and is being assisted up the motorway. This curious sight requires me to immediately peel over on to the hard shoulder and fumble for my camera. I burn back up the motorway... this will be evidence of the one and only time I can attest that my shonky old Fiesta will manage to overtake a TIME MACHINE!
The Lakes turn out to be so shamefully close to my base in Birmingham I really can't believe I never made the trip before!!! I am soon parked up in Windermere ready to make my first minor ascent to the viewpoint atop Orrest Head, this being the first spot the famous fell walker, and chronicler of the District and all it's beauties and walks Alfred Wainwright first ascended and fell in love with the views at first sight.
The view from Orrest Head.
At 784 feet (approx 151.5 Weselbys tall) this was a nice gentle start for me.
It is a cold, but crisp and dry. The snow from the previous night has not melted away and so, as with my trip to New York, I have the pleasure of seeing the landscape, if only for this one time, draped in a picturesque white blanket. For miles around all that breaks the silky uniformity of the white hills and dales as they merge into the misty grey-white skyline are the black outlines created by the endless dry-stone walls that run and riddle throughout this land, and the skeletal forms of entirely denuded trees. It looks vaguely like kids've grabbed a stick of black charcoal and scrawled all across the blank white potential of the landscape. A great big land-sized Etcha-Sketch board.
Windermere from Orrest Head.
.. I wanna shake it up and have a go!
Already the air is beginning to work on my city-choked lungs and a large, refreshed grin is spreading across my face. It doesn't matter that walking up this mildest of hillocks has left me somewhat breathless by the time I reach the top..." it's ok Steve, you're 29 after all" I remind myself.
Back down to Windermere, and I stroll the mile or so down to the prettier lakeside sister-village of Bowness-on-Windermere. It's already late afternoon so I grab a ticket to head out on to lake Windermere and travel on a boat slowly to it's northern shore and back again. Here having seen them loom in the distance from Orrest Head I get a closer view of some of the mountains, today almost entirely swathed in snow and ice, their peaks as good as lost in the low-slung misty skyline. I also get my first view of Ambleside as we dock momentarily, where I will be staying for the next 5 days or so.
We return to Bowness, the lake having provided a moody and enticing introduction to my new surroundings. Back into the car and a few miles up the road to Ambleside and the Walmar guest house/ B&B. Malcolm, the landlord is kind enough to step out in to the damp and dark to flag down my car, as frankly I haven't got a clue where to find them. My bags are deposited and I head straight out in to Ambleside to get my bearings. Although I will be very lucky with the weather (mostly) throughout my stay given the time pf year, and the infamous unpredictability of the weather in the region, tonight there is a proper deluge! I collapse dripping, and sodden into the lobby of Zefirellis, a place I have been uber-excited to visit as soon as possible in Ambleside. One of the country's top independent cinemas that operates alongside a very pleasant looking reastaurant where you can buy a sit-down meal + cinema ticket deal together.
To cut a long story short I am informed there will be no table for me tonight... for full story see my review.
Instead I end up in a warm and homely old coach-house pub called The Unicorn where I am happy to collapse with a pint of the pub's eponymous ale and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. I over eat on a very nice hot meal and my first taste of Cumbrian sticky-toffee pudding, drowned in hot custard and butterscotch sauce, a regional speciality that I've not had the pleasure of since being back at primary school where from time to time the dinner ladies would dole out some overbacked, stodgy excuse for this kiddys' pudding fave.
I return happy and wet to my room at the Walmar. A pleasant little affair that you could swing a couple of cats in if you so chose...a rather cruel form of spacial quantification I always thought!... I mean, what if you discover there really ISN'T room for the cat you had brought along for measuring purposesto be swung in, and all of a sudden you have a concussed feline on your hands, or worse!?! Anyway, there's tea, coffee and nibbles and a TV that can be swung on its wall bracket permitting you (whether by design or happy-accident) to watch TV whilst you sit on the loo! Bet ya don't get that in the Hilton!?
A double-bed, ginger-beer, 75% cocoa solids Lindt chocolate filled with red-chilli & cherry centre, coffee, inane TV that I haven't watched for ages and slumber beckon and are indulged in in no particular order and almost simultaneously.
I agree... if you think Mozart had written his first symphony by what?... the age of 6 or something, and most famous old dudes are in their graves by 40... and here I am just worryin' about getting a cheap flight to the Taj Mahal before I'm 30 and nothing more (yet) :) How things change. Time on our hands.