There's a much more sociable breakfast arrangement at Cumbria House. The breakfast lounge comprises one LARGE table in the centre of the room around which all guests can sit and natter and "pass the marmalade" in a social, pre-ramble gathering of natter... however, I am currently the only guest at the B&B so sit here Lord of the Manor (and table) sipping my fresh orange juice on my tod. Mavis & Patrick are exceptionally friendly hosts though and I tell ya now, the breakfast choices (all from locally sourced and fairly traded ingredients) are second to none! A true feast is afforded all comers so as to allow you to properrly charge your batteries before heading out on to the fells. I'm informed conspiratorially by Patrick (Mavis being absent) that until yesterday there had been a pair of attractive, bubbly, blonde and uber-friendly Australian backpacking girls stayin' at the place.
.. looks like I lucked out again! I sip my lonesome coffee in a mildly miffed silence.
I'm heading off up the A6 in the car today to another of the famous lakes, Ullswater, which amongst it's other attractions receives water at it's south-westerly corner from a stream that by the time it reaches the lake has passed over two of the District's more renowned waterfalls, Aira Force and it's smaller, sister fall High Force further up the valley. I'm pretty quick out of the blocks this morning and at The National Trust Aira Force car park just shy of . There will barely be a soul encountered all day in my time around Ullswater, and early morning provides me with the perfect opportunity of a private viewing of Aira Force (and time for any random foolish photo-ops that may present themselves).
I've always had this slightly strange idea about my own country that we're not particularly good at creating the grand gesture in either nature or man-made show. This probably has more to do with my own lack of appreciateion & knowledge regarding my home nation than anything else but our attempts at waterfalls and fireworks I've always found fall rather short of expectations and excitement in England. Consequently, despite the gushing guidebook descriptions I approach Aira Force with modest expectations... and to be honest, the two Forces whilst pretty enough aren't really gonna change my mind on this one. Attractive they certainly are and well worth the visit, but Aira at a humble, if picturesque descent of 60 feet is charming but again somewhat underwhelming.
Niagara it is not. High Force, a little further up the trail in some ways I preferred for it's greater breadth and more haphazzard cascades of water.
I will now spend the next 2-3 hours following a frustratingly inaccurate walk-guide up and over the back of Gowbarrrow Fell (1,579ft : 305.6 Weselbys high) that once crested will leave me with panoramic views of the impressive breadth of Ullswater as I descend back towards the shoreline. In terms of weather (and I've experienced most forms in the last week) today is the most persistently, niggling and miserable although rain is for the most part mercifully witheld despite cloud cover ranging low and grew from horizon to horizon... but once AGAIN the winds are here to amuse and torment me in equal measure and having lost the battle (at the expense of a fair few expletives!) to my contacts once again I am forced into the precarious joys of fellwalking in specs.
Higher Force, a little further up-stream from Aira Force.
Gowbarrow is covered in long grasses and scrub bushes and surprisingly populous in sheep, who don't seem to struggle as much as me with the surprisingly boggy, and muddy progress that has to be made up the fellside, my feet sinking into muddy water unexpectedly on a whole bunch of occasions.
As I begin to approach the peak the wind, coming up from behind me, is soooooo strong that I actually have to pinch hold of one of the spectacle arms to keep them on my face. As I trample over the uneven, boggy and rocky ground holding my specs still is out of the question and the confusion caused by the violently wavering, and drisle-covered field of vision and the endlessly blurred areas of peripheral vision crashing and rolling around my brain like unsteady waves of spacial perception risks me becoming the first man ever to get sea-sick whilst walking 1,500 feet above sea level! :) The Trig Point is soon traversed though and I can begin to descend with the fell now acting as a bit of a wind-breaker for the time being.
Next, for a first. In all my walking thus far, miraculously, I am yet to fall over once, something that I will now procede to do TWICE in the next 15 minutes much to my own (and yes, again, probably the sheeps') amusement. One collapse gets me a real corker of a rock on my butt which I bet my last Snickers bar will bruise up nicely by tomorrow morning!
Coming to the South face of Gowbarrow, Ullswater appears below and starts to stretch across your field of vision from east to west. It is impressive but today has it's potential for real beauty and magnificence slightly robbed by the unremitting greyness of the skies leaving it looking unreflective, flat and slightly lifeless... plus I have so many droplets of water on my glasses now, it's hard to hold a clear vision anyways! More of the lake comes into view as I pass the ruined, stoney foundations of an old hunters lodge and start to traverse back around the fellside towards Aira Force.
The top of the Trig Point on Gowbarrow Fell.
Owing to some particularly rubbish (mis)directions in a certain Ms Welsh's guide that I purchased for 60p in Keswick yesterday, I take a 20 minute unintended detour in the wrong direction leading me to curse her name outloud to the grass and trees in general... the lavatory in the carpark so desperately required, but now so much further away! :)
I am soon safely returned, relieved and 10 minutes drive further up the lake having lunch at the Brackenrigg Inn by the lakeside. Pretty empty in here. Again a real hearth glows, burning on the far side of the bar where an old local boy with one leathery, weather-beaten patch over his left eye sits supping Guinness and looking decidedly piratical. I settle down to a pint of 'Coniston Bluebird' ale and a venison and blue-cheese crumbled stew.
Veeery nice! Upon my return to Keswick I manage to get lost in the single track stone-sided country lanes around Ullswater but with no other cars about requiring me to reverse for miles on end, I rather enjoy the aimless driving in the dales, before 15 minutes later I find myself back at the Brackenrigg Inn, exactly where I started from. I decide to return the way I originally came and get a further chance to bid my farewells to the lake.
The evening heralds the opening night performance of 'The Recruiting Officer' at The Theatre by the Lake, a fantastic lakeside drama venue, which being a fairly regular Stratford visitor I take straight to my heart.
This play (skirted upon in my A-level studies I seem to recall) was the theatre equivilent of a box office smash back in the day and was far more popular with, and outperformed in front of audiences than even Hamlet throughout the 18th Century. The performance is by far and away one of the most enjoyable plays I've seen at the theatre for many, many a year! Hilarious and superbly character acted by the whole cast. A perfect end to the day.