Tag Archives: Keswick

Take The High Road…Alfred


“Thank you SO much Alfred Wainwright…”

Was what I was thinking, as I faced the route before me. All those books he wrote religiously full of every rock and crevice of the Lake District. His passion, writing about all those walking routes, describing each one. The views, the climbs. The terrain that he lived and breathed.

I must admit as a teen I had spent a couple of years with friends, traipsing around the Lakes. Spending a week at a time walking from one Youth Hostel to the next one. Then in the evening going to the pub and making a valiant attempt with my friends of drinking it empty. Because it was a cheap holiday see?

The only reason I went was my friends couldn’t afford a holiday abroad being still at collage. And while I was working and earning, going alone didn’t appeal.. It was a distant prospect. The sun. On the beach. Warm.

Its a resounding memory of walking up hills, carrying everything with us to each destination. Trying to dry it out when we got there. Then going to the pub. Blisters. Lots of blisters. And finally, swimming in the lakes, getting covered in leeches and running round screaming when we realized. The scene was one of a group of frantically shivering lads using a dry stone wall like a sand paper rub in an effort to get the buggers off..Caddy was the worst. I seem to remember him screaming more than most..

So the abiding memory was one of long walks and reading what Wainwright had to say about the next route..

I just wished he drove once in a while and wrote about this one..

Seriously, you can’t beat the smell of burning rubber drifting through your nostrils to make you focus. Especially when its your brakes working overtime that are actually creating the smell.

There was a slight drift of smoke that kept appearing intermittently from below my bonnet accompanied by a finger breaking grip on the steering wheel. My eyes were fixed on the descent before me but there was nothing for it. I couldn’t go back – there wasn’t anywhere to turn around. And this was all downhill. And when I say downhill. I mean there wasn’t any leveling out till you negotiated this winding drop that disappeared from view some 400 foot below. And even then you were non the wiser whether or not it did even out, because the road was swallowed into a black hole that disappeared into a forested area below.

You daren’t take your eyes off what lay before you as you headed towards it.

And all the while the only thing I could think of were the tools, packed into the back of the van, the weighty presence behind me, and, what would remain of any of it and more importantly, ME if these brakes did fail…..

You don’t realize how tense you are until you reach the end of the ordeal. When you manage to break your death grip on the steering wheel and pour from your car on rubber legs and lie face down prone on the tarmac. Hugging the first inkling of level earth you reach. Its at this point you realize you could crack walnuts with your sphincter.

Pope John Paul ii must have been terrible with heights, because he did it every time he got off a plane. He was no sooner off than he was face down on the deck. At least I never kissed it. Well, maybe a little bit..

And walnuts? He must have been a world champion..

This situation was due to a hasty conversation at the breakfast table that morning with Graham, whose B&B I was staying at during the week. (See Ginger Delight)I had relayed to him the fact that the property I was currently working on was on the out-skirts of Egremont, surrounded by rolling pastures filled, mine field like, with lambs, with the sea just beyond the final hill at the back of the house.

It would mean a 50 minute drive back to, and through Keswick onto the M6, to turn South and head home. I was gambling on whether it would be quicker following the A595 coast road past Sellafield down, toward Barrow-in-Furness then swing away from the coast heading inland, entering the M6 some 30-odd miles south of where I would have originally joined it.

“You don’t want to drive all the way through Keswick! You’re right on the A595 where you are! Its a straight drive along the coast. If your lucky, the time you’ll leave you’ll miss the traffic at Sellafield and have a clear run to the motorway.”

Graham also worked as a tour guide around the lakes and knew what he was talking about.

“Oh aye. There’s a little road I know – just past the Brown Cow Inn – that’ll cut a big corner out of the journey. Straight over the top. Great view! Save you 30 minutes..”

I sat thinking it through, eating my poached eggs and the sublime locally sourced bacon (my god it had a taste and smell that brought back child-hood memories. When your mum bought real bacon from the butchers..)

30 minutes…

And the more he talked the better the idea sounded.

And he was right. The view was fantastic. There was a remoteness to the route. I found myself in the middle of no-where. Surrounded by a view that was absent of human occupation, which in this day and age, in this country, is a difficult thing to come by. There were odd vehicles travelling behind at distant points, and cars heading at intervals past me. But it was hills and with dry stone walls giving way to an expansive view of Cumbria to the North. Seriously breathtaking.

I had managed a quick journey down from Egremont, to find the turning by the Brown Cow Inn. I drove up into the hills thinking of the time I was saving.

“I’d be home in no time” I thought..

What I was faced with, as I turned off the A595 and labored up the hill, was a ribbon of a road. Barely wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass each other. Initially, it was narrow, yeah, fine. It had passing points. It was even reasonably level – if patched – and I felt quite confident driving along my merry way thinking,

“Saving 30 minutes here..”

And the view was immense. The route giving panoramic scenes of the valleys through the Lakes, where the sky seemed to go on forever and clouds scudded along above, casting fleeing shadows on the earth below. Flowing up and down hills as you took in the scene arrayed before you. It seriously was breathtaking and I’d challenge anyone not to be moved in some way by it.

I certainly was not long after, as the surface began to change. And what had been a reasonably flat -if narrow -road, was now forced to follow the contours of the land. It now began to wind up and down, in very short troughs and peaks. And bend in and out as it was forced to hug the hillside and overcome the variety of streams that swept off the hill and under the rough bridges built to contend with it. The result was that your view of oncoming traffic was severely limited. I couldn’t see what was before me, or which way the road twisted, until I rose to a crest or crept out of a bend.

What I began to worry about – so short and deep were the rise-and-falls of the road – was had the invisible person heading towards me seen me? Was something in front of me heading in my direction, but unseen, because he was falling into the troughs as I appeared on the crests and we were unknowingly heading towards each other blindly…

Each time I climbed out of a shallow dip in the road, it was to desperately grab a glimpse of the tarmac before me to see if anything was approaching in the opposite direction. If there was I was blindly hoping that he had seen me and was applying the brakes ready to edge round each other, half on and half off the road depending on the accommodating nature of the opposite driver. If either one of us were lucky, there would be a passing point to use. If not…

If your interested in driving it this road, and are heading south on the A595, turn left just after the Brown Cow Inn in Millom. The road will look like something you would squeeze a wide pony up, but it is navigable.

I guarantee the views will be spectacular on a sunny or cloudy day..

I highly recommend you stop to take them in when you reach the tops. If you can find anywhere wide enough to pull over. And, if you can prise your fingers from the steering wheel when you finally come to a halt. A brown paper bag to pant into, or a asthma inhaler might be necessary to help you calm down at this point.

Also leave the bastard in gear when you turn the car off. Gods knows where it’d end up if it starts rolling.

I’ll admit, I wouldn’t send my mother-in-law up there if the weather turned bad mind. Well, Maybe.

And if its snowing. You’d have to find it first then dig your way across if you did.

It made me realize as I finally reached the bottom on the other side. Its no wonder that Wainwright walked everywhere.

You don’t need to worry about changing your brake-pads after every descent when your strolling along smoking a bloody pipe…

And I made certain I went the long way round on the return trip.

Ginger Delight..

Just told he's Ginger

I love quiet.

An Absence of noise.

I  worked in the Lake District on the flood damage to Cockermouth, Keswick, Egremont and Coniston back in 2010, from December – April. And the first thing you notice is the quiet. No traffic in close season. Its a different case when the summer kicks in mind. But during the winter months, places can be quite remote. It can be like sitting in vacuum. The only sound you hear is what you create your self.

Driving was a pleasure. You wouldn’t see anything behind you early morning. Something would pass in the opposite direction intermittently, but bar that it was a wonderful place to be. When I finally returned to Manchester to work, months later, the stress levels shot back up and it took a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the volume of traffic. Every car behind me felt like it was tailgating me, pushing me along. And everyone was so impatient to get somewhere.

Whilst in the Lakes, though, I was fortunate enough to be staying in a lovely B&B run by a couple of geordies who were the most unobtrusive, genuinely kind people  I was lucky enough to meet.

Graham and Gina. (Bacon to die for and the best poached eggs ever)

And Graham was one of those people who inspired you with his own experiences with human nature.

There was a picture on the wall of the dining room which showed Graham and another person, leaning on an Old Land Rover somewhere far away and dry. The sky looked hot and the ground had that dusty, sandy look to it.

When I asked about it he began to explain. Years previously he and his brother had bought an old, ex-council land rover, fitted it out, and driven from Newcastle and right across Africa in it. And the thing that stayed with me is, Graham telling about his experiences of the kindness of people far away, who were desperately poor, and who had nothing.

As I admired the Photos on the dining room wall, he began,

“D’ya know what? For everything you hear about these 3rd world countries being dangerous, They’re made up of people incredibly poor, who, will drop everything to help a completely alien face they don’t know.”

He continued,

“We wrecked our axle on the Land Rover, in the middle of no-where. Completely stranded. No way of getting anywhere. And suddenly people just appeared. Just materialized. And without any prompting they set-to sorting the jeep out. And they strapped a great fuckin log to the axle and it worked. Got us to the next point on our travels where we could repair and carry on.”

And he paused for a moment as he looked into his past.

“What I’m getting at here is this. It was humbling. To see these people with nothing just drop what they were doing to come and help 2 complete strangers on their way. People, who meant nothing to them, who were just passing through they’re lives, to somewhere they’d never see…And they didn’t even hesitate. They just helped in any way they could….

I’m a real believer in Karma and I’ll tell you this. Pass it on man. It comes around. “

I think this view he held was evident in all of my conversations with Graham. We do tend to be eyes down in this busy society of ours, chasing unimportant things, we don’t actually need.

Part of the point I’m trying to get at here is, the lovely quiet. Graham was always busy. But I think he lived somewhere that offered an opportunity to think and really put a value on something. Place a level of genuine importance or not.

Made me try and slow down and take a look around me a little bit more.

Graham and Gina, two genuinely lovely people, never intruded, they were just kind. (Harvington House)

And it’s people like that you don’t forget. Kept me sane while I worked away from my family for 4 months.

But, getting back to it.

The Quiet.

The first time we took the kids away abroad was to Ibiza, and I think it was pure luck we landed in the resort we did.

It was a 16 apartment accommodation and it was, silent. One of the most relaxing holidays I’ve been on. beautiful  flower enveloped balconies, full of geraniums. All the sunbeds laid out of a morning with lovely padded mattresses lain on top. Pure comfort. we made some wonderful friends during that holiday and had some fantastic moments. Most notably was the Octopus latching onto one of the kids legs on the edge of the shore.

(Not one of mine I can happily say. So I just took my time getting there)

The child in question, a young was part of a fantastic welsh family, was frantically hopping one legged around the beach, screaming her head off. She was ploughing furrows in the sand, knocking kids sandcastles over, and generally waving her leg around like Zorro on speed, trying to shake this thing off.

While her dad danced around her, shouting,

“Whats occurin’? WHATS OCCURIN’??” with that fantastic welsh accent.

(Think Gavin and Stacey)

He was wild eyed, almost as frantic as the child, with a bucket and spade in either hand, looking for an opportunity to batter the octopus.

“This should be good I thought.” as I strolled over.

I think in the end the octopus just got motion sickness and fell off, and was then catapulted back into the sea some 600 yards out off the spade. It was like a Jaws with suckers moment, and there was a mass exodus from the water as it flew over everybody’s head.

The other memory is having a sit down meal in by the pool in the evening, surrounded by flowers, clear blue sky with the day gradually cooling down. We pulled an assortment of tables and chairs outside and everyone contributing food and beer.

Poor old Nikki added more than was bargained when after one beer too many, (actually she didn’t drink, I think it was just one beer bless her) led to  her chucking up. There was a general scraping of chairs as she cleared an area of 20 square foot.

Then people tentatively came back and patted her on the back as she moaned, suffering in her own world. I think Kev- her husband – just felt cheated she had wasted one of his beers.

Brilliant holiday. we went back the following year to find the caretakers hadn’t been paid for 3 months.

No flowers or understandably, mattresses on the sunbeds, as they were laundered daily. And the company was nothing like the previous year.

Then we went to Skiathos.

You’d be surprised to find I’m a joiner. I work with wood, machining, manufacturing, fixing. All noise.

I think that has something to do with the yearning for quiet.

But Skiathos was wonderful. So quiet and peaceful.

The defining factor of these holidays for me is spending the time with my wife, Jane and my Kids. We would either be at the pool or beach. And if available go on an excursion to a water park or some other trip.

The kids would spend their time playing in the pool with me or some other kids, or snorkel in the sea, dig in the sand and generally just have fun. But it was a tiny complex and extremely quiet.


Our next door neighbours were a family of 5. Mum, dad, 3 kids, one of whom had fantastically ginger hair.

Enter Giles.

I mean. Come on. Not satisfied with the trials the poor kids going to face in life with his orange noggin, they added to it by calling him “Giles”.

Giles just doesn’t suit an 11 year old. It doesn’t fit the shape. It’s too “Hawhaw” and old for him. And every time he was shouted,


He would appear, like orange lightening. A blur of tangerine every time he ran past you. He was like a wiry Orangutan. It actually scorched the eyes as he whipped by and made them water.

I thought initially every time I saw him coming from the corner of my eye, that someone was throwing a large Satsuma, as he exploded past me.

We never actually socialized with the parents, but the kids all got on well. And when it became too hot, took to playing in a games room where there was a large plastic Wendy house, pool table and various toys. This was slightly lower down the hill from the pool, and we could keep an eye on the children while they played, or just hear them if they disagreed.

This particular day we heard a commotion then a Crash and wail of a small child, as the wendy house collapsed.

It turned out Giles had been up to no good stood on the roof, while his younger brother was inside when the structure finally collapsed on top of him.

His dad hauled him off back to the apartment with,

“Your’e bloody grounded Giles! No meal for you tonight! Your staying in my lad!!. No telling you is there??”

(I hasten to add, the on site beautiful open air dining area was opposite the front door of their apartment.)

And that was the last we saw of him for that afternoon and the quiet descended again around the pool with the only noise being the kids quietly playing and laughing, and crickets chirping in the heat.

So, later that evening, kids all showered and dressed, ready to go out and eat, we were sat on the porch, just relaxing having a drink when,


“Giles!! Pack it in! Deal with it for Christ sake!! That’s all there is to it!!”


And his father, true to his word, obviously exasperated with the ginger demon, having grounded him was refusing to let him come over to sit down for a meal and was making him stay in. A bit extreme I thought, but obviously a man who carried out his threats. Giles in the mean time just continued throwing himself around the room, shouting and roaring, finally descending into out-right tears.

And for some time we had to sit and listen to the screaming and pandemonium next door. And I must admit, I was slightly put-out to say the least, because the lovely silence was shattered.

My kids were sat huddled around me, wide eyed and obviously frightened, and Jane having finished dressing had come out side,

“What the hell was that all about??”

And I looked down at my goggle eyed children and tried to explain in a way they could understand.

“Its ok kids. Its nothing to worry about.”

And I paused before I continued,

“They’ve just told Giles he’s Ginger.”