This morning I bid farewell to Ambleside and head not too many miles up the road to the self-appointed 'Heart of The Lake District', the town of Keswick where I am to stay at Cumbria House B&B for the next four nights. The morning is one of the most miserable I've experienced in the trip weatherwise; grey, overcast and miserable so I am glad to have only practical considerations such as packing, paying up and driving to my next destination to be getting on with.
Keswick sits on the north-easterly shore of Derwent Water and is a small market-town with a pretty, pedestrianised central market square with plenty of pubs, shops and eateries huddled around the central area.
Having introduced myself to Patrick and Mavis, my hosts for the coming days, I head straight out past St John's Church down towards Derwent Water. I cast a coin into a large wishing well upon the way (sorry can't tell you the wish... it won't come true if I do! :) and pop into The Theatre by the Lake to see if anything's to be playing there whilst I reside in Keswick. I'm in luck! Tomorrow night will be the first preview performance of their new show, a production of the 18th Century comedy 'The Recruiting Officer' by one George Farquhar. £10 for any seat in the house.
Derwent Water from the tip of Friar's Crag.
The sun struggles through to glance off Derwent Water.
Ticket in wallet I head down to the Water's edge, itself heavily populated with a rather inert gaggle of mallard ducks taking in the view. I pose for some inane photos with the little tripod I've bought expressly for this trip but used on very few occasions so far. Walking further along the wooded north-eastern tip of Derwent Water you end up in a little, wooded natural projection of ground edging into the lake called Friar's Crag. The weather has been slowly improving but is still pretty moody, and whilst it's dry, the sky remains steely grey and menacing in an attractive wave-whipping way. The view over this part of the lake offered by Friar's Crag is excellent and a bench invites you to sit and stare out at the troubled waters in silence and I gladly oblige. A memorial stone at the heart of this arborial outcrop of land stands testament to John Ruskin once more, Friar's Crag apparently representing the most formative childhood memories of what would become Ruskin's beloved Lakeland.
Inside the Dog and Gun, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) regaional pub of the year 2007 and home of the scrummiest Hungarian goulash imaginable!
I ask a couple strolling along with kiddy in a pram how long a circuit of the lake would take on foot and when the answer comes back as a fair number of hours I decide to head back into town as I have plans for the afternoon that don't permit me enough time. I head into town for the first time proper and introduce myself to my new surroundings. I have a mooch inside the Tourist Office which is contained within a small, but grand appearing old building or 'Moot Hall' (meeting hall) situated at the heart of the market square. I retire to The Dog and Gun which hails it's achievement as the CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) best pub in the region 2007. This accolade I was unaware of as I have actually been brought here by Patrick and Mavis' recommendation that I "must try their famous Hungarian goulash". 10 minutes later, and only £6.50 to the lighter I have a pint of locally brewed, dark, burnt ale 'Thirst Fall' and a steaming bowl of the most taste-bud tantalising goulash I've had in my life before me! I've ordered the 'small' bowl but it is sizeable and comes with fresh made garlic baguette pieces the likes of which you wouldn't be able to buy for less than £6.
50 alone in the pseudo-pubs of Birmingham! An unexpected dumpling is lodged within the goulash and this stirs memories of times past and gone... not having consumed one for maybe a decade or more, dumplings were always my choice if, when returning home, mum would offer to make me "anything at all I wanted for dinner..for a treat". Perfick! You must try this stuff if you ever find yourselves in Keswick guys'n'gals.
Possibly only in England could you get such cute and unassuming advertising... I was strongly tempted to walk in and cause some blushes by asking "Ummm, could you please direct me to the section of naughty clothes for naughty people?" :)
Time for some sightseeing with an ounce of mystery and a shed-load of history so I head off out of town on a circuitous walk into the hills to take in the Castlerigg Stone Circle.
This is purpotedly at least a thousand years older than the more famous Stone Henge and comprises a crude ring of 38 boulders of Barrowdale volcanic stone of various sizes, with a smaller rectangular arrangement within. Four or five thousand years old, my guidebook speculates that these rocks may have performed astronomical or time-keeping functions, but nobody really knows. En route to the stones I catch up and chat with a pleasant local couple in the earlier stage of my walk. They say it's a nice walk to take to the Circle and in response to my enquiry as to the interst factor of the stone circle I am reliably informed by Mr "s'alright 'f ya like stones I guess." Determined not to let this honest appraisal diminish my more romantic preconceptions of my destination I head on. A mile or two on, several stiles crossed along with very muddy fields and tracks traversed I am in the presence of the stones, and I can't help but feel on a grey day like today they are a little underwhelming.
One of the lanes on route to Castlerigg Stone Circle.
Of course it is not history's job to impress with spectacle per say, but to aid, maybe, a profound connection with things past that we would otherwise lose entirely, and will never fully comprehend... this feeling is quite tangible and eery as I walk around the stone ring being frowned upon by the heights of Blencathra, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, three of the 'biggies', the latter of which I hope to conquer as a climax to my trip. Not having seen a soul for the last hour or so, there are disappointingly a fair few people milling around the stones, slacker-access to this obvious tourist-draw being provided by a road that runs up to and beyond the field boundary wall.
Castlerigg Stone Circle.
Time and photos are taken, before I follow my little guide plan via another route back down into Keswick. 5 miles will do me today so I retire straight back to The Dog and Gun to try another local ale, 'Thirst Ascent' whilst concluding The Secret Agent.
I have brought at least 5 novels as well as this one, 2 travel guides and a book on Indian political history with me to The Lakes but have busied and tired myself so much with walking and sightseeing that I have clocked only the lstter two thirds of this one novel so far! Worth every page though, no matter how slowly consumed. Having had no conception of the novel's content before beginning it, it's themes and events resonate so profoundly with issues of the day such as the nature of terrorism (home grown or otherwise) and it's relationship with the State and foreign policy, both as an enemy and a tool of social control are incredible. Even in the time I have been reading this novel, the fate of poor Stevie within it's pages, has been mirrored with such devastating clarity in modern-day reality, just a day before my departure for the Lakes two women with Down's syndrome having been sent unwittingly into Baghdad markets with bombs strapped to them and taking with them 91 other souls.
I have have read the novel with almost permanent goose-pimples upon my arms beyond the event of this troubling parallel, and they return again as I type these lines.
Sections of the circle are periodically roped off so that footfall can be circulated to different areas of the site and not damage the grass/ rock too much.
Back to Cumbria House to freshen up and chill out and have some coffee before heading back into town to try one of the other pub/ guest houses for dinner. I settle into The Keswick Lodge, as well as a pint of 'Wainwright's' named after the ubiquitous fell-walker and a massive bowl of mashed potato and the famous, curled Cumberland Sausages and veg. I strike up a conversation with Peter, a former metal galvaniser and father of the Landlord. His son, holidaying in Thailand at the minute, has asked his parents up to the Lakes to babysit the dogs (and keep an eye on the business I guess) and we chat for an hour or more as I stuff myself almost to sickness inducing bursting point with a sticky toffee pudding and custard too far! I'm offered free pints and further conversation by Pete but excuse myself as I'm in sudden drastic need of walking off dinner for 30 mins or else I risk bursting at the seams in all sorts of anti-social ways!
The night is fresh and for a town wrapped up in other peoples', touristy expectations of it's rustic quaint idyllicness I am reminded that for the town's younger residents this is 'just another corner of Little England' with it's attendent joys and social boredoms for the young.
The streets seem in part, at this time of night, to belong to rowdy, tracksuit-clad kidz who are bored, drunk way under age and killing time on the streetz probably thinking "why the hell would anyone chooose to come and spend time here?!". One day they may learn to treasure.
All wimmin of 'ding ages' you have been warned, Keswick doesn't welcome you!