England’s Lake District

From Glasgow we’re driving to the small city of Lincoln in England, but we’ll take a short detour.  I once asked several English couples where they would choose to live in England if they had their choice.  The consensus was “The Lake District”, and we’re passing close to it.  For you poetry buffs, this is William Wordsworth’s stomping grounds (as well as Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey).  It comprises an area of only 30 miles x 30 miles, and we visited just the less-touristy northern part around Keswick, avoiding Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter sights (although we’re Wordsworth fans).  As you’ll see, The Lake District, with a patch of brightthis pristine area juxtaposes a lush green countryside with treeless hills reminiscent of the Scottish highlands – quite a fascinating mix!  However, getting that lush green comes at a cost; rain, mixed with occasional “bright spots”.  Alas, the pictures below should show brilliant colors (it was fall when we were there), but “gloom” and “brilliant” don’t coexist easily.  Still, there were occasional bright spots like that shown above – which, by the way, was absolutely spectacular, in spite of the gloom!

Near Keswick is the Castlerigg Stone Circle, built in the Neolithic period around 3200 BC.  A little quick math says this circle is 5,000 years old, which is going back aways.  It’s one ofAerial view of the Castlerigg Stone Circle, picture stolen from the internet the earliest stone circles in Britain and possibly in Europe.  From that aerial picture, it contains an unusual rectangular inclusion, called the “sanctuary”.  You may recall our previous encounters with similar stone circles in Scotland and Ireland (Isle of Harris and Southwest Ireland Tour and Traditional Irish Music I).  All these stone circles were built on a relatively high hill or ridges, with a view of the mountains in the distance – presumably in order to align the stones with mountain landmarks and the rising or setting sun at particular times of the year.  Since the heaviest stone is estimated to weigh 16 tons, hauling that sucker uphill must have been a chore, not to mention positioning it (Oops!  Nope.  Another foot to the right, please).  This Castlerigg circle is in a beautiful setting, as you can see below.

The Castlerigg circle lies on a line that would connect the two highest peaks on the horizon.  The 2 front stones face due north, toward a cut in the mountains.  Presumably

the stones served as a celestial calendar for ritual celebrations.  The sanctuary points to where the sun rises on May 1, the ancient (northern hemisphere) spring festival.  Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.  As in all these (thousands of!) stone circles, their true function is unknown.  Some archeologists link this circle with the nearby Neolithic stone axe industry (ah, early Capitalism!); the circle may have been a meeting place where stone axes were traded or exchanged.  Ritually deposited stone axes have been found all over Britain, suggesting that their use was more than functional (is that the original “bury the hatchet”?).

The day is getting short but we decide to do a quick hike up Latrigg Peak for an overview of Keswick and the nearby Derwentwater Lake.  The mountaintops are pretty much treeless, so there will be good views; but first you have to get there.  The ascent isn’t hard, but it’s

also not short.  The view, however, is worth it.

Now we just have to hike out of here in failing light!  Our reward as we stumble out is the view of cozy lights from the windows of the hillside farms.

Our B&B is in the Newlands Valley just west of Derwentwater Lake, and the vista that greets us is a nice “G’morning, isn’t this gorgeous!”, even though that “bright spot” in theNewlands Valley, from our B&B picture isn’t shining on us.  Today we’re driving a loop that goes through a lot of Lake District scenery: Newlands Valley, Buttermere Village, the Honister Pass, Borrowdale, and Derwentwater Lake.  We’re heading west, and our two-lane road quickly becomes a single lane, as shown in the first picture below (although the road does have turnouts).  The subsequent pictures show picture-book idyllic scenery.

Then it’s up to Newlands Pass, going up treeless mountains as shown in the first picture below.  At the top is a nice waterfall!

And then there’s a colorful descent down to the hamlet of Buttermere and its scenic lake.

As shown below it’s a pretty lake, but even better, it comes with a mountain-high cascading waterfall!  You can barely see it through the mist in the first picture (left side),

but it’s nicely shown in the next one.  The beauty of the long lake is offset by strange denizens – some of the ugliest, shaggiest sheep we’ve ever seen, a breed called Swaledale.  The poor things look like they’ve been assembled from a variety of leftover animal parts.

As we travel further we encounter another waterfall, even more beautiful than the last one!

It’s coming from the cirque above, probably from a small lake.  If that weren’t enough beauty, a little further along the road are a few more waterfalls coming down the

mountains!  That last picture looks back at the previous waterfall.  This is an awesome area!

Looking back on the way to Honister PassWe’re now heading up to glacier-carved Honister Pass.  This picture also looks back at our previous waterfall, far in the distance.  The river adds a new element to this pretty area.

The scenery going to the pass is treeless, stark and otherworldly empty; for perspective, the tiny white dots in the top right

picture below are grazing Swaledale sheep.  Near the top of the pass is England’s last still-functioning slate mine, which one can tour, but we decide to press on.  Going down is steep, but pretty; we have trees again.

Back at the valley floor there are scattered hamlets, and the scenery is again bucolic.

You remember Derwentwater Lake, seen from above during our hike yesterday (shown earlier), right?   When we climbed Latrigg Peak?  Well, now we’ve circled around to the lake’s southern end, at lake level.   The forest is gorgeous in its fall colors, the lake is choppy and gray but still interesting, and we decide to take a short hike along its shore.

Back on the road, the valley is enchantingly beautiful.  In the pictures below, the green of that grass seems impossible, but it’s real.

A few more stops to enjoy the view, shown below, and then we are back at our B&B with

not much of the day left.  Beautiful isn’t it?  The 2nd picture below is our

greeting the next day – another stunning “G’morning”.  Alas, we must leave this magnificent Lake District.  The next post will be from Lincoln; it’s not really on the tourist trail, but it does have a magnificent cathedral.  You’ll see.