Two go exploring in Glenridding

We used to call in at Glenridding quite often, usually to go walking. There are some great paths on the lower fells between the village and the slopes of Helvellyn which dominate it, and some pretty amazing industrial archaeology left over from the area’s lead mining heritage. But for the last couple of years we haven’t been.

Partly this was due to lack of time, but also partly because the village (and indeed the whole area) was so badly devastated by Storm Desmond that it was too upsetting to go back. However, Desmond’s catastrophic floods, and the three more that followed so quickly afterwards, are more than two years ago now, and repairs have been going on in the village for the whole of that time. The Tourist Information Office, almost completely washed away, has been rebuilt, the beck which overflowed to such terrible effect newly lined with thick stone walls, and the Glenridding Hotel, which flooded four times, has been dried out and re-opened. So on Saturday we decided to go back.

It was a bitterly cold day with a wind strong enough to whip up waves on Ullswater. We started off by the water, with a coffee at the Pier House. This is really a glorified ticket office for boat trips on the lake, but it a few tables and chairs, teas, coffees and cake, a tiny gift shop, and the most amazing views.

After defrosting over our coffees we pottered round the pier, taking photos of the boats, the water and the village rooftops against a backdrop of the high snow-clad fells. It was too cold to hang round for long, though, so we marched back to the village and explored the lanes on both sides of Glenridding Beck. One leads to the village hall and a wonderful farmhouse whose round chimneys suggest a fifteenth or sixteenth century date. The other side passes the Travellers Rest pub then continues past lines of isolated miners’ cottages to the old Greenside lead mine, site of a disaster in 1927 when a dam burst on one of the reservoirs used to run the machinery and, er, flooded the village. It seems to be rather prone to that!

We didn’t make it quite as far as the mine this time but we had a good wander about and I took loads more photos of the cottages, and the fells which were bathed in dramatic, stormy light.

There are still a few scars on the village and the surrounding landscape which will take time to fade. But given the scale of the flooding, and film footage I’ve seen of the beck in spate, it’s wonderful that they’ve come this far with the recovery efforts. We’ll definitely be heading back.

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Stormy light over the head of Ullswater, with the high fells in thick cloud.

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Mine workers’ cottages on the way to Greenside mine.

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An unusually helpful Herdwick posing to have its picture taken…

 

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Windermere Christmas market

P1000011On Saturday we braved the bitter cold (minus 2c, to be precise), wrapped up in our woollies and headed to the Windermere Christmas market.

The town held this for the first time last year, and great fun it was too. It was called ‘Ja Windermere’ in a slightly odd nod to German Christmas markets elsewhere, but had very little German content and this year they’d dropped the ‘Ja’ bit. Sadly, they also seemed to have dropped most of the very stuff that made it so enjoyable. Where there’d been a good range of stalls selling local crafts, gifts and produce, this year most of those had disappeared. All that was left was hot food, and drink. In other words, a whole market full of takeaway stalls.

It still seemed very popular, but I can’t help feeling that food and drink stalls are an addition, not the main event themselves. It felt rather like going to a rock concert where the band doesn’t show up, and the whole gig consists of watching the roadies assemble and disassemble the stage. I’d hoped to buy a Christmas present for my cousin, but I didn’t really think a plastic cup of mulled wine, or a cold congealed burger, would go down too well. And there wasn’t much else. We trailed up one side of the market and back down the other in about ten minutes flat, then visited some of the other shops in the town and headed home.

It’s still early days, and I’m hoping that one, it generated some useful revenue for the town, and two, they manage to bring back the local content next year. If not, I probably won’t bother going again.

Two go exploring in the sleet

Saturday brought a nice crisp sunny morning with snow on the high fells so we ditched the chores and shot out to take advantage of it. We headed to Coniston again because it’s not too far, and perfectly situated at the foot of the magnificent Coniston fells so there’s plenty of options for photographs.

Although everywhere looked stunning there was a knife-like wind blowing sleet flurries across the valley and the outside temperature was only about 2c, so first port of call was a café for a hot drink. This time we chose one at the far end of the high street, which used to be called something cosy like Daisy’s or Mrs Tiggywinkles, but is now the Green Housekeeper. Sadly, the welcome was rather chilly, and the assistant sneered when I chose not to make use of the loo in an unheated outhouse. Given the selection of other warmer and more cheerful establishments, I don’t think we’ll be hurrying back.

Onwards to the lake. The village of Coniston is set back from the water’s edge, so it’s a half mile (or so) walk along a lane and by the side of a tumbling beck. This leads to the rather grandly named Coniston Pier, really just some open ground with lovely views across the lake, some boat moorings, and a lovely modern café called the Bluebird after the boats the Campbell family used to set speed records here.

Annoyingly, the minute we got the maximum distance from the car the heavens opened with torrential, diagonal sleet. Dave had a hood but I didn’t, and had left my brolly in the car. We sheltered at the boat tour ticket office for a while, then set off on a long wet trudge back to the village, during which I got absolutely soaked. And the minute we got back to the main street, it stopped and the sun came out. Typical!

Never mind, I did manage to get some nice shots of the water in the mist, and of the snowy fells. We also came home with some sticky cakes from the Bluebird café, and some amazing artisan bread from a new little baker we’d not tried before. And very moreish they all were too.

Coniston (lake) in the sleet, still managing to look beautiful:

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A snow-covered Coniston Old Man looming over the village rooftops:

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Two go exploring in Keswick

We had a lovely crisp sunny autumn morning yesterday, so hopped in the car and headed for Keswick nice and early before too many crowds got there.

Keswick is one of our favourite Lakeland towns. A few years back it suffered badly during the Foot & Mouth crisis, and it’s been hit by flooding several times as well. Luckily it’s managed to bounce back, and is now home to a wide range of shops and cafes, many of them on the artisan side. On top of that the scenery is stunning, with a walk down to the shores of Derwentwater, and the Skiddaw fells looming over the rooftops.

We started with a mooch round the Saturday market stalls, then had a quick coffee at the Wild Strawberry (not so much wild as livid, to quote the old Not the Nine O’clock News sketch), and then walked to the lake. Here, instead of going to our usual spot by the landing stages, we turned off over some National Trust land to get a different range of views/photographs. I also managed to snap a few interesting bits and bobs around the town, which will no doubt turn up on my Instagram account in the days to come!

By now it was getting pretty crowded and we were running out of time on the car park ticket, so we grabbed some nice grub from the market and set off through yet more sunshine and scenery for home.

Strange wicker sculptures framing the view across Derwentwater:

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Seagulls perched in a line:

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Lights in the sky

We had a bit of an adventure last night. About 10pm Dave got an aurora alert on his mobile phone, which showed we were right in the middle of an active aurora event. Since neither of us has ever seen the Aurora Borealis before we decided to grab some warm clothes and a camera, and hop in the car.

The Northern Lights, as their name suggests, appear in the northern sky. This is a problem for us because we live in the Lake District and between us and the north there are all these socking great mountains in the way! However, we drove (carefully, it’s a tricky road at the best of times let alone after dark) to the top of the Kirkstone Pass, where we hoped the view north would open up.

Of course it didn’t, very much. Even from the Kirkstone Inn car park we could only see a narrow ‘v’ of sky between Red Screes and Caudale Moor. However, it was blissfully dark so the stars stood out like Christmas tree lights. And down in the lower part of the northern sky, there was indeed a weird bright glow.

We’re still not sure if it was the aurora, or something to do with moonlight on mist. However, it was in the north, and there’s nothing in that direction for miles that would light the sky up so brightly. Dave took some long-exposure shots which show the Plough, the mountains, and a definite pool of greenish-white light just above the horizon.

Even if it wasn’t the Northern Lights it was utterly beautiful, and quite exciting to be out in the fells so late at night. If we get another alert, with a bit more notice this time, we’ll try heading for Dunmail Raise (the pass just north of Grasmere) or even the A6 over Shap, where there are much wider views north. But as a brief taster, it was rather fun.

Bits and bobs

Just a quick round-up of various bits of writing news today:

The Being Me charity anthology is now fully available to buy on Amazon. With 16 stories from 15 authors (including my own time travel tale The Visitor) this is a great way of supporting a great cause. Do go and check it out!

Paragraph Planet have listed The Summons in their October archive. This ultra-short story with a creepy feel is based on a real Cumbrian legend of the church bells ringing under Thirlmere. Head for the archive page and choose 9th October from the drop-down list.

And my new book Got Ghosts? is already gathering some lovely reviews. You can find a selection over at Amazon – and why not treat yourself to a copy while you’re there? It’s the perfect size for an early Christmas stocking-filler!

Verbalising at Verbalise

Last night I took my courage in both hands and went along to Verbalise, an open-mic night at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. It seemed daft not to. One, they encourage new people to attend and read; two, this one had a Halloween theme; and three, it was only 4 days after I’d had a ghost book published!

I was incredibly nervous, because although I’ve done open-mic stuff before, it’s mostly been to a room full of friends. This was the first time I was doing it in front of a bunch of complete strangers. The only people I knew were Dave, who came along for the moral support, and my writers’ group friend Julie, who turns out to be a regular. Other than that, I didn’t know a soul.

I needn’t have worried, though, because the organiser/compere was incredibly welcoming, the rest of the audience were friendly and open to newcomers, and I managed to read a brief excerpt from Got Ghosts? (“I’m an Important Television Producer, remember? I don’t do floors.”) with barely a hiccup… apart from juggling one too many pairs of spectacles.

In fact I could have done to read a bit more. Everything I’d seen about the event suggested that performers got a limited time-frame of exactly three minutes, after which someone blew a whistle and that was that. But it didn’t happen like that at all. The official time-frame was four minutes (which at least gave me an extra few seconds to introduce myself) but in reality people spoke for longer than that. I’ll know for next time. At least the snippet I read went down well and raised a few laughs in the right places; even if one chap did snore his way right through!

Pic here. The small dot on the horizon is me.

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The standard of performance was really, really high. There was everything from avant-garde poetry to stand-up comedy, with a smattering of ghoulish tales and comedy verse in between. And after all the open-mic slots had been filled the microphone was cleared away and the headline event came on. This month, in a tribute to Halloween, it was an act called Tallow Tales, who told tall tales of candlelight about local places and events. And boy, were they good. Between the Director and the Grey Lady, they held the entire room spellbound with tales of the Screaming Skulls of Calthorpe Hall, and the strange fates of the Windermere ferrymen. I’ve seen less entertaining turns at expensive murder mystery nights. It was all great fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will definitely be going back for more. If anyone is interested, Verbalise is on the last Saturday of the month, and has a different guest speaker/performer every time. It only costs £5. And it’s worth every penny of that.

A summons to read…

…my 75- word flash fiction ‘The Summons’, which is appearing on the Paragraph Planet website.

Church_Bells_Narikala_fortressThe story is based on an old myth from Thirlmere in the Lake District. The villages of Armboth and Wythburn were drowned (having been evacuated first, I should add – I’m not that much of a ghoul!) during the creation of the reservoir for Manchester Water Works in the 1890s. The villages were small, but houses, gardens, walls, and even Armboth church were covered by rising waters – but it’s said that on certain days, you can still hear the church bells ringing out across the valley.

My chilling take on the legend is available to read at Paragraph Planet today, and will be added to their archive in due course. So do go and give yourself some pre-Halloween shivers!

Book launches, biblical floods, and best endeavours!

I was really looking forward to this weekend.  Two of my writer friends have new historical novels out (‘The Blood of Kings’ by Angela King, and ‘Pleasing Mr Pepys’ by Deborah Swift), and both had launch parties in the space of three days.

First was Angela’s, which she held on Thursday at the Quarter Lounge in Carlisle. I bowled up on the train, quietly boiling as it was a surprisingly warm sunny day, and had a nice meal at the venue with several writer friends. Then came the launch itself, which included Angela being interviewed by fellow writer LP Mennock, and reading from both ‘The Blood of Kings’ and its sequel, ‘To Kill a Queen’. Both books are set, rather unusually, against the backdrop of the earliest years of Elizabeth I’s reign, a turbulent period during which she survived umpteen attempts on her life, and it was fascinating to hear Angela speak about this. And the venue had done her proud, with lots of decorations including metal crowns over all the candles!

Saturday brought Deborah’s launch at the bookshop in Carnforth, a small market town on the Lancashire/Cumbria border. The weather locally had been diabolical overnight and throughout the morning, and we knew some of the roads had been affected by flash flooding. So we got the car out early, and headed for our ‘last resort’, a narrow lane which clambers over the fells at the back of Windermere and links up with the road to Kendal. It’s narrow, steep, and twisting, but hardly anyone apart from the locals knows about it and it’s been something of a life-saver in the past. This time, we got up the steep slope to the first bend to be met by a wall of red brake lights, and had the tricky task of turning round in a road barely six feet wide, whilst braving traffic rushing at us from all directions at once. We managed it eventually, and got ourselves back home. We’d driven the impressive distance of 1.3 miles, and it had taken us over twenty minutes. But all other routes out of Windermere were blocked; the trains stopped running; and the town was effectively cut off for several hours. And in those circumstances, there’s not much else you can do.

It was a real shame to miss Deborah’s event as I’ve been to several of hers in the past and they’re always great fun. This book is an amusing romp involving Samuel Pepys and a fictional maid-servant, skilfully written to include events that we know about from Pepys’s own diaries. I’m hoping to meet up with Deborah for coffee soon, and hear all about both the launch and the book in much more detail.

In the meantime, the floods soon cleared, and we escaped without wet feet (or a wet floor) this time round. But other properties around town weren’t so lucky, and it was quite dramatic while it lasted. As you can see from this photo, which I took just a few hundred yards from our house.

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