Friday, 31 March 2017

Steaming through the Valleys

A long awaited event happens this weekend. Well, I say long awaited, actually, it is 4 months, in the broad expanse of time not very long at all, but 4 months is long enough if, like me, you are a big fan.

This event happens every year. For those of us that live close by, it heralds the end of winter, and the start of the new season. It coincides with longer days, woodland flowers, and Easter.

If you happen to be in the vicinity not only will you be able to see it, but you'll also smell and hear it. For many it will be a joy to behold, for others it brings back memories of a simpler time, when phones were fixed to a socket on the wall and definitely not smart, and Internet was something a Yorkshire fisherman said to his mate upon landing a trout.

Yes folks, Steam is back on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. Like a trusty old friend returned from a long winter break, 'blood and custard' coloured carriages will carry folk three miles down the Leven Valley from Haverthwaite to Lakeside, behind a steam engine. The sight of that glorious train ambling along at little more than walking pace, it's steam drifting lazily into the Lakeland air, is one of the joys of this part of Lakeland.
Fairburn tank no 42073 hauls a train of 5 'blood and custard' coloured coaches towards Newby Bridge Halt. This photograph is copyright of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.

It joins it's illustrious neighbour up the coast, L'ile Ratty, or to give it a name befitting of Sunday Best, The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Those wonderful little 15 inch gauge engines have been chugging sedately into Eskdale for the past month, and the line dates back to the 1870's. It was originally 3ft gauge,  but following closure was converted to 15inch gauge in 1915.

River Irt, the oldest working 15 inch gauge locomotive in the world, on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

Tomorrow, April 1st 2017, (and this is no April Fools joke by the way) a third iconic steam passenger transport vehicle, one also built by the Furness Railway company and still in full service, also begins a season of operation. The Steam Yacht Gondola, which is reputed to be the oldest steam driven passenger vessel in the world, sails tomorrow, weather permitting, from the pier at Coniston. Another joyous site to behold.

Gondola's story begins in 1849. Having noted how successful the Kendal and Windermere Railway had been at bringing visitors to Windermere, the directors of the Furness Railway decided that the answer to Coniston's transport problems was to build a railway joining the main Barrow to Whitehaven line with Coniston, and at the same time launch a passenger cruise service on Coniston Water. 

The Railway opened in 1859, and steam yacht "Gondola" was launched in November of the same year, entering service for the following summer season. It became an immediate success, so much so that by the turn of the century a second boat was required. "The Lady of the Lake" entered service in 1907. She was sightly longer and carried more than twice the number of passengers than Gondola. She ran until the second world war, when she was taken out of service, never to return. She was scrapped in 1950.

Gondola had been taken out of service in 1936, and the cost of returning her to service in 1945 was considered prohibitive. She was sold and then converted to a houseboat. Little structural work was carried out on her, and by 1960 she had been abandoned and was little more than a derelict hulk, moored at the southern end of the lake. During a violent storm she broke free from her mooring, drifted into a reed bed, and sank. Luckily, the water was not deep, so she did not disappear from view.  
For the next ten years her half submerged remains were a curious landmark to those passing by. 
Salvaging and rebuilding her was no mean feat. Funds had to be raised in order to carry out a feasibility study, and it was found that although the hull and engine were not salvageable, much of the remainder of the vessel was. A second round of fund raising was undertaken in order to have a new hull built, an engine commissioned and the remainder of the boat restored back to it's former glory.
In March 1980, the fully restored "Gondola" was launched by Sheila Howell, granddaughter of Felix Hamill, her first master back in 1859. After final trials she finally entered service for the second time in the summer of 1980. And she's been steaming gracefully ever since.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Things to do in the Lake District when you are bored and 14

"Now pay attention, class. It's been a long journey and we only have three days, so we have to get a move on."
It's the back end of the 1960's. A time of free love and dropping out, only at the tender age of 14 we were all a bit too young for either, so while the rest of the world moved and grooved, we went on a three day long geography field trip to the Lake District.  And we are in a field, which is fitting. Oh, and did I mention the rain? No. Well, just for good measure, it's raining.

So just to paint the picture, that's 32 bored 14 year olds, in a field, in the rain. We wouldn't have minded if it had been in school time, but this was the back end of the Easter holidays. For dear Miss Robinson, the task of keeping us in order was like herding cats. But she was a determined soul and no doubt her 30 years of teaching experience were what eventually won her the day.

She was not helped by three days of Lakeland sunshine (aka drizzle) and hostel accommodation that was basic with a capital base. However, with a huge helping of Joyce Grenfell style enthusiasm and the promise of the last afternoon off, she managed to persuade us that carrying out a range of tasks such as measuring the pebbles in a stream and counting the number of species of plant in a square yard of sheep field, were not only worthwhile, but also fun.

And so we came to that last afternoon, our well earned afternoon off, and we ended up on a boat, cruising sedately up Windermere, unable to see out of the windows because they had steamed up. Had we been able to look out we would not have seen the shore. The mist was too thick. Little wonder that when we finally returned home we vowed collectively to never return. We'd been sold a dream that had turned into a nightmare. We were told our Lake District field trip would be an adventure we would remember with affection for ever. That it would inspire us to have respect for the natural world and all it's wonders. And yes, it would be the most fun we'd ever had in our lives. When we arrived we were excited. Looking forward to enjoying the freedom of this vast adventure playground. And then all we did was count pebbles in a stream, and have a ride on a boat in the rain.

The thing is that sometime between 1960 something and now, someone invented organised adventure. I'm sure it must have existed before the 1960's. I seem to remember Enid Blyton sending her famous five on one. But other than in story books we were not really told of it's existence. We were meant to discover it for ourselves. So as a child we swung over streams on ropes slung over the branches of a tree, or skidded downhill on a home made buggy, or raced our bikes up a home made ramp to see who could jump the furthest, and land without falling off. All great fun, all totally unsupervised, and it never cost us a penny. So if we had been given the opportunity to swing through the trees in the rain on that last afternoon, or to scale a massive polystyrene wall with steps in, or enjoy the thrill of a zip wire, then we'd have jumped at the chance. But we weren't able to do any of those things because, to the best of our knowledge, nowhere existed where we could. Unlike today.

In my travels around the Lake District, I am impressed by the amount of organised outdoor adventure opportunities available. From tree top adventures, to climbing walls, kayaking to mountain biking, today's 14 year olds have so much to keep them from being bored. And judging by a visit to Grizedale Forest last year, it seems that there is no shortage of teenagers taking full advantage. All of which kind of makes me wish I was 14 again. Actually, there are lots of reasons why being 14 again would be good, but the outdoor adventure opportunities is really high on the list, so we'll leave it at that.

Photo courtesy of GoApe

So with half term upon us, and the Easter Holidays just around the corner, here is a list of some of the adventure possibilities for today's youngsters. (actually, they are not confined to the young, one other change from life in the 1960s is that parents and grandparents can join in!)

Go Ape, swing through the trees, or race through the forest on a segway. There are Go Ape courses at Grizedale and Whinlatter Both have mountain biking opportunities as well. 

If you fancy a spot of indoor climbing, Keswick Climbing Wall is just the spot. A big indoor climbing wall, complete with a cafe for a snack afterwards. Click the same link and you'll find that the there is more than just a climbing wall available. They also do outdoor adventure. You have to book in advance, so check it out.

If you taking to the water is your thing, then check out Platty + , who have water sports on Derwentwater pretty much covered. Or if you are in the South Lakes area, try Windermere Canoe Kayak for your watery adventure.

Friday, 10 February 2017

On the do it yourself trail of Arthur Ransome

Literary heroes; the Lake District has plenty of them. But some fare better than others when it comes to following in their footsteps. Take William Wordsworth for example. You can visit his birthplace, his old school, two of his homes in Grasmere, and his final home in Rydal. You can even eat at a restaurant where he used to have an office. In fact, you could probably spend the best part of a 5 day break just following the Wordsworth Trail.

The same is true of Beatrix Potter. Her home, her husband's workplace, even a couple of her holiday homes, are all available for modern day visitors to wander around and get an insight into the life and times of this remarkable lady.

But when it comes to the writer of one of Lakeland's best loved fictional works it is a very different matter. "Swallows and Amazons" is one of the most popular childrens' books of all time, thrilling readers young and old since 1930, as well as entertaining television viewers and cinema goers since the 1960's. But look for an Arthur Ransome trail and you'll be sorely disappointed. There is no museum dedicated to the author. No house visits are available. With the exception of the efforts of the Coniston Launch company, whose 'Swallows and Amazons cruises' explore the areas on Coniston Water thought to have inspired the locations in the book, and a relatively small number of exhibits in the region's museums, there is very little trace of Ransome, or his association with the Lake District.
Arthur Ransomes desk, which is on display at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, Kendal
 So why is this? The simple answer is that whilst Arthur Ransome lived in the Lake District for a while, and set some of his books in the area, his tenure in the region was quite limited. Unlike both Wordsworth and Potter, who lived in the  area for a good part of their lives, and contributed to local society in many different ways, Ransome's influence was spasmodic at best. He was not a permanent resident in the Lake District. He spent holidays there as a child, went to school in Windermere, and returned occasionally in his early adult life, but the focus of his attention tended to be elsewhere. For, rather like the characters in his books, Arthur Ransome was something of an adventurer, seeking out and enjoying a life of danger and excitement.

In his late teens, Ransome attended Yorkshire College, training to become a chemist. But a year into the course he got bored and packed it in, moving to London to take up a career as a writer. Having lived in poor conditions, struggling to make ends meet with a number of low paid jobs in the publishing industry; getting married, and eventually publishing critical biographies on Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde; he ended up in court on a libel charge.

In 1913 he left his wife and young child and went to Russia, originally to learn the language and study Russian folk tales. But in 1915 he become, almost by accident, a war correspondent, covering the conflict on the Eastern Front for the Daily News. He also covered the Russian Revolution in 1917, and became friends with both Lenin and Trotsky. He passed a limited amount of information to MI5, who in turn paid him and gave him the code name S76. However, MI5 didn't fully trust him, believing him to be a double agent. This may have had something to do with the fact that he had an affair with Leon Trotsky's personal secretary, Evgenia Petrovna, however, this was to be no brief clandestine liaison in the name of national security. Love was in the air, and an acrimonious divorce from his first wife, and marriage to Evgenia, followed.

Ransome's career as a foreign correspondent was spiced with moments of high excitement and adventure which would not be out of place in one of Ian Flemings 'James Bond' novels.  In 1919, he was asked by the Estonian foreign minister to deliver a secret armistice proposal to the Bolsheviks. He had to cross the battle lines on foot and under cover, at great risk to himself, and then return via the same risky route with the reply.

After the hostilities ended,  Ransome set up home in Estonia with Evgenia, and built a cruising yacht, in which he sailed around the Baltic. Upon his return, he published a successful book about his experiences.

By the time he returned to the Lake District in 1925, he was a seasoned adventurer. He and Evgenia bought a property at Low Ludderburn, near Windermere, and soon after he became re-acquainted with the renowned Lake District artist WG Collingwood, who he'd first met in 1896. After a summer of teaching Collingwood's grandchildren to sail, Ransome wrote the first book in his Swallows and Amazons series, allegedly using the names of some of Collingwood's grandchildren for his characters, the Swallows.

Although the lake and islands in the book have fictitious names, the settings are unmistakeably the Lake District, and range from areas of Windermere and Coniston. But exactly where in the Lake District Ransome would not say, preferring to let his followers do the detective work for themselves.

The Ransomes stayed in the Lake District for just 10 years. In 1935 they moved to Suffolk, and may well have remained there had it not been for the outbreak of war. The Lake District was a far safer place than the Suffolk coast in 1940, and they returned to Coniston, to a property called The Heald, close to the Lake Shore. Whilst there, Arthur continued writing, producing 'The Picts and the Martyrs', the eleventh book in the Swallows and Amazons series, and the last to be set in the Lake District.

In 1944 the couple moved South again, this time to London. He returned to the Lake District in 1960, having bought a derelict farmhouse, Hill Top,  at Haverthwaite, although he was not able to move in properly until it was fully renovated in 1963. By then the adventurer was a frail elderly man who was confined to a wheelchair and who lived out his days overlooking the peaceful fields of the Cartmel peninsula.  He died in 1967, and is buried in the churchyard at Rusland, a short distance from Haverthwaite.

So what of the properties and locations with which he is associated? Well, there are many, but for fans of Ransome the sad reality is that they are either privately owned, or have been converted to a state where they are significantly different to how he knew them. To add confusion to the Ransome trail, there are also many locations used by film makers that may, or may not, be the same as the inspirations for his books. Take the fictional town of Rio. It is generally accepted that this is based upon Bowness on Windermere, and the makers of the 1974 film certainly thought the same as they used Bowness as their filming location. But no one actually knows for certain.

The following is a short list of the properties with which he is known to have a direct association.

The Old College, Windermere. Ransome went to school here before moving on to Rugby. The building ceased to be a school in the 1960's, and has now been converted into flats.

Low Ludderburn, where Ransome had a study and wrote Swallows and Amazons, making it the holy grail for all devotees, is privately owned. Items from his study at Low Ludderburn are on show at The Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, in Kendal.

The Heald, on the shores of Coniston Water is also privately owned.

Hill Top, Haverthwaite, his final home, is perhaps the most accessible of all the properties associated with him. It is now a self catering property, and available to let. So followers of Arthur Ransome may not have an official trail to follow, but they can spend a week living in his last dwelling.

As for film locations associated with Swallows and Amazons, well I am not an expert on those. But I know someone who is. Sophie Neville, who played Titty in the 1974 film production, has written a fascinating blog about the locations used. You can find it here.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Honister - I had to do it, and so do you!

I didn't want to go. I'm not a mining type of person. It's cold and wet and dark underground, not my idea of a good place to be. I prefer warm, dry and comfortable. When I agreed to visit and review attractions I specifically insisted upon joining the museums and historic houses department. As for the idea of climbing a rock face with a thousand foot drop, and precious little between you and the ground the best part of 1,000 feet below, well you can forget it. I don't do high adventure. Birds are meant to fly overhead, not people. When you look down and see our feathered friends soaring majestically 500 ft below your feet you know that you are either in a very bad dream, or hanging from a parachute.

No, there was nothing at Honister that I would consider to be the slightest bit appealing, which is why, when asked to go, I tried my very hardest to get out of it. But the big boss man was otherwise engaged. (I say big, he's five foot five!) So I put my prejudice to one side, bit the bullet and did what I had to do for the Cumbrian Tourism industry. (Double pay for the day and an extra day off also helped swing it!)

It is, I think, the first time that I have ever got ready to go on an attraction visit wearing clothes that are normally reserved for the wettest of walking days, but then the Honister web site advises that you wear waterproofs and strong boots, so, kitted up like a hiker preparing to ascend Scafell Pike, minus the ruck sack, I set off.

I had booked an all day pass, or rather I'd had it booked for me. Had I booked it myself it would have been different. It consisted of a mine tour, which was fine, lunch, which was the one part of the day I was really looking forward to, and a climb of Fleetwith Pike via the Via Ferrata. And due to my not booking the day myself, I very soon found out that the Via Ferrata was to be the Extreme version. Oh how I wished I'd pulled a sickie.

OK, so the only thing to do was take the whole trip one step at a time, and look for the positives. As I drove up Honister Pass, I followed a couple of cars full of tourists, enjoying a memorable day in the Lakes. When we got to Honister both the cars in front of me carried on, over the top of the pass. Oh, how I envied them.

As I got out of the car and looked around at the views I was surprised at how good they are. I've lived in the Lakes all my life, and been over Honister more times than I can remember, but until now I've always been going somewhere else, usually walking around Buttermere or heading for Loweswater. This was the first time I had actually got out of the car and taken a good look around. The scenery lifted my spirits. After spending too long gazing up at Fleetwith Pike, I decided it was time to do what a girl had to do, and headed inside.

I'm not going to describe the mine tour in great detail. A mine tour is a mine tour. I've been on them before and in my opinion the difference between an enjoyable tour and a dull one is the quality and enthusiasm of the guide. You are either left with a sense of what it must have been like to be a miner there, or you stay in the dark. Luckily our guide was not so much boring historian, more enthusiastic dramatist, bringing the lives of the Victorian miners to life in graphic detail.

The cavern that has been carved out of the rock over the centuries may not be in the same league at the show caves of Cheddar, but when you consider the sweat and toil of the men and boys that created it, then it becomes even more impressive, especially when you consider that they were working virtually in the dark!

The mine tour is supposed to last an hour and a half, and when we emerged from the mine after what seemed to be only a half an hour or so, I was a bit disappointed. Until I looked at my watch that is. We were actually running five minutes late! I don't know whether it was the fact that, once in the mine we became so absorbed in the tour that we just lost track of time, or whether it is the case that, underground, time really does stand still ...... and no one can hear you scream.

Lunch was good, well worth looking forward to and over all too quickly, and there was time for a browse around the gift shop and visitor centre before my fear inducing Via Ferrata expedition. As I stared at a display of slate house names, I found my mind wandering back into the mine, to a vision of a small boy,  struggling along on all fours in the dark, clutching his pick axe, his dirty knees bleeding, all to hack into the mountain side so that I could have a nice "Dunroamin" sign beside my front door.

Of course, children do not work in the mines any more, and they have used electricity to power their tools and light the way for many years, but it still makes you think about where something as simple as a slate sign actually comes from.

My browsing time was over all too quickly. The hour, or rather three hours, that I was absolutely dreading, was upon me. I could, I suppose, have made a run for it. Raced off in my car, waving gleefully at the Via Ferrata victims struggling up the mountain as I careered down the pass to the ice cream shop at Buttermere. But no. I did not want my fellow Ferrateers to sense my nervousness, especially as there were only a couple of females in the group. I've never been one to let the side down, and I had no  intention of starting now.

For me, the Via Ferrata was not about climbing the mountain attached to a steel cable fixed very securely to the rock. Nor was it about the obstacles that turned that simple mountain climb into a heart stopping adventure. From a purely personal point of view, it was about conquering something far tougher than a lump of rock, or a rope bridge or cargo net. This was about defeating my fears, overcoming my prejudices and lack of self confidence, emotions that have always threatened to hold me back in life. I was about to try to achieve something that I simply did not believe was possible. But I had to give it a try.

So how can I best describe the experience that is Via Ferrata Extreme? Well I could offer you a detailed description of the route, the obstacles that we had to overcome, the views that we saw, and the fact that the weather closed in and we ended up getting really quite wet. But it really would not do it justice, because describing the route gives no indication of what it actually feels like. The Via Ferrata is not a just a mountain climb combined with an assault course, it is an experience like no other. The emotions that you feel are a heady cocktail of fear and exhilaration. At one point I looked down to my right to see the cars driving down Honister Pass towards Buttermere. But I couldn't hear them. They were too far below. All I could hear was the wind and the sounds made by the rest of our group as they moved forward.

I heard the cry of a raptor, possibly a falcon, on the wind, and several birds, jackdaws I think, flapped frantically away from the rock face about 100m below. I had a sense of being in a different world, a real world, natural and alive, and excitingly dangerous, as opposed to the supposedly safe artificial one that we humans have created for ourselves. Now I understood why rock climbers get so addicted to their sport.

The best moment came when, just under 3 hours after setting off, we reached the summit. Despite the fact that by now it was raining steadily, with a stiff breeze whipping across the mountain tops, the sense of achievement that I experienced that afternoon will live in my memory for ever. I had done it. I had crossed the rope bridge, climbed a sheer rock face, scrambled over the cargo net and made it all the way to the top. I had conquered my fears. My prejudices lay in tatters. My self confidence was no longer lacking. I took a huge lung full of the fresh Lakeland air, and wished that I could have preserved that moment for ever. Put simply, I didn't want to come down, and once down, all I wanted to do was go back up again.

On a practical note, it is probably the case that not everyone will get as much out of the experience of the Via Ferrata as I did. It is not for couch potatoes. A good  level of fitness is required and if you have real problems with vertigo then the fear may well take over as to say that some parts of the route are very exposed is an understatement. Of course, in reality you are probably a lot safer on the Via Ferrata than you are crossing the road. The people at Honister know their jobs. All the necessary safety equipment is provided and in good condition, and you get a lot of instruction in it's use, both before you set off and whilst on the ascent. A guide accompanies each group,  and now I have been I think that it would be a brilliant job to have. Helping others to achieve the same level of exhilaration as I did would be wonderful. For now, all I can do is to say that, if, like me, you think that Honister has no appeal, then think again. I can't wait to go back!

You can get more information about Honister Slate mines and the Via Ferrata here ....

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Copt Howe Carved Rock / Rock-Art - Chapel Stile, Cumbria

I got a tweet today sent by the Armitt Museum in Ambleside, about this carved rock in the Langdale Valley:-

Copt Howe Carved Rock / Rock-Art - Chapel Stile, Cumbria

The rock is featured on a web site called which is well worth a look if you are into archaeology or have an interest in ancient history.

I have to admit that I have passed by this rock on a number of occasions, and seen the shapes carved into it, but always assumed that they were a result of natural erosion. It seems I am not the only one. All of which begs the question, "how many more ancient carvings are just lying around in the fields of the Lake District just waiting to be discovered?"

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Waterfalls, Lakeland's natural attraction

Niagara Falls. So spectacular that they are a must see tourist attraction in their own right. There's certainly nothing like them in the British Isles. But although Britain may not have any falls to match the scale and grandeur of their American cousin, it does boast a number of delightful cascades of unique charm and character.

To illustrate the point that when it comes to waterfalls, size is certainly not everything, here are half a dozen of the finest falls to be found in The English Lake District. Each one not only has a unique charm, but is also easily accessible.

Lodore Falls

One of the the most spectacular, and certainly the noisiest of all Lakeland's waterfalls, Lodore Falls are situated behind the Lodore Falls Hotel, on the edge of Derwentwater. They are easy to access as in Victorian times the owners of the falls built a wide carriageway to take visitors from the hotel to the falls. Those who could not afford the carriage ride simply walked along the wide track to a viewing area that remains to this day. But they still had to pay the entrance fee, and at the gate beside the Lodore Hotel there is a box so that you can also contribute towards the maintenance of the area around the falls.

You can access the falls by either parking in Kettlewell Car Park (National Trust) and following the well signed footpath to the falls, a woodland walk of approx. 1/2 mile, or you can take the boat from Keswick and alight at Lodore and follow the path from the Lake shore, past the hotel and up to the falls.

Stickle Ghyll

Not so much one single waterfall, but a series of cascades set in the shadow of the Langdale Pikes, the lower reaches of Stickle Ghyll are easy to access for most moderately fit, able bodied people. Simply park at the car park opposite the entrance to The New Dungeon Ghyll hotel, and walk up the access road and through the small gate between the hotel and cottages. It is then a short trek up the fell side, along a maintained rocky path, with the lower cascades to your right. Those without any walking equipment should not go farther than the bridge, but for the better equipped it is possible to follow the water course all the way up the fell to it's source at Stickle Tarn.

Skelwith Force

What Skelwith Force lacks in height, (it is just 25 feet high) it more than makes up for in noise and volume. Created by a narrowing of the rivers that drain the Langdale Valley, and all the fells surrounding it, Skelwith Force is also the most accessible of Lakeland's waterfalls. If you park close to the Skelwith Bridge Inn and follow the course of the river upstream along a well made footpath you will soon come to the falls. The only word of warning would be to beware of the rocks as they tend to be very slippery, however, you don't need to get too close to enjoy Skelwith Force in all it's glory.

For a video of the Slater's Bridge and Waterfalls walk, which can be done from Elterwater, click here.

Colwith Force

Located in woodland just off the road to Little Langdale, this is surely one of Lakeland's best kept secrets. Access to the falls is along a clear woodland track, part of the Cumbria Way long distance footpath, so easy to follow. Not so easy for motor based tourists is parking, but one good option on a fine day is to park at Skelwith Bridge and take in both Skelwith Force and Colwith Force. They are linked by the Cumbria Way footpath. (Note, stout boots and a good level of fitness will be required for this walk, which is along a wide stony track, but has wet sections).

Check out a video of Colwith Force here ...

Stock Beck Park and Falls 

A beautiful woodland park and waterfalls on the edge of Ambleside, Stock Beck Park and Falls is also accessible to most people. In Victorian times the park was a major tourist attraction, and visitors had to pay to enter. One of the old turnstiles used by the owners can still be seen today, restored to working order and now used as an entrance to the park..

The waymarked paths lead the visitor on a circular walk around the park, the highlight of which are the falls. At the top of the cascade is a bridge from which the views of the park and town beyond are only spoiled by the rich foliage of the trees.

For a video of Stock Beck Park and Falls, click here

Aira Force

Not the biggest, but possibly the most popular and certainly the most famous of Lakeland's waterfalls, Aira Force is, like Stickle Ghyll, more a series of cascades than simply one large drop. The good news is that access is very good, and unlike the other falls, there is more than one direction of approach.

The paths around the falls were laid out many years ago and those at the bottom of the cascades are well maintained, making access very easy. However, if you follow the course of the river upstream to where the series of cascades starts you will find that the paths get rockier, and in icy weather can be very slippy. The main falls are not particularly high, but after wet weather they are truly spectacular. Because they drain pasture land they are also less likely to dry up than falls that drain rocky areas.

For a video of Aira Force after rain, click here.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

January - the forgotten month

'Tis January. Christmas is over, and has been packed back into it's boxes and stored in the loft until next year. The new year revelry has died down, and the slow trudge back to work has begun. The schools are full of children wishing it was three weeks ago. Life has returned to normal.

Up here in the Lakes January tends to drift by almost un-noticed. At the moment we have snow, even at lower levels, so the photographers will be out in force. But tourists are a bit thin on the ground. After all, it is January. There's nowhere open and nothing on - right?


Actually, Gone are the days when you might as well have put a "closed" sign up at the entrance to the National Park. Nowadays there is a surprising amount going on. Art exhibitions, plays, the odd panto or two. And then there are the attractions. About a third of the Lake District's attractions are open in January, some of them all month, others at weekends.

So if you have a bit of time on your hands then January offers an almost unique opportunity to visit some of the biggest attractions in the region at, how can I put this politely, a quieter time than normal. Or put another way, you won't have to queue up for very long to pay to get in. Actually, at one attraction you won't have to pay at all. At the South Lakes Wild animal park they have dispensed with the tiresome habit of taking money off you - they are letting people in for free so that the animals can get a good look at what humans are like in winter.

To find out what is on and when, check out the What's on guide.

For attractions that are open I've spent a few days compiling this comperhensive list.

Happy visiting!!